Recently, several momentous peace-related events have occurred: The people of Colombia rejected the historic peace agreement in their country as it didn’t provide sufficient punishment to the perpetrators of violence, women in Israel and Palestine organized a joint rally demanding peace, and the relations between India and Pakistan hit a new low.
Despite playing a very important role in the run-up to important peace-conflict events like these and their roles in leading non-violent movements, facilitating peace-building activities and working across groups to create space for discussions, women are often excluded from peace negotiations.
Last week, I spoke at an event organised by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on the role of women in non-violent movements. Julia Bacha, founder of Just Vision, spoke about her documentary on the First Intifada in Palestine and women’s role in it. According to her, it took a young girl protesting by standing in front of a bulldozer for people to realise that they could stop the oppression and protest. She also recounted how women were excluded from the peace negotiations and as a result, many important inputs like drinking water wells and schools were excluded from the territorial demarcations. This is an example of how women’s “lived experiences” are very different from men’s and their inputs can either “make or break” a deal.
Overall when it comes to peace and conflict, women usually opt for non-violent means and very rarely resort to violence, but they are often excluded from peace negotiations. According to UN Women, a sample of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011 reveals that only 4 per cent of signatories, 2.4 per cent of chief mediators, 3.7 per cent of witnesses and 9 per cent of negotiators are women. This is not that surprising given how on a daily basis, we continue to see women being excluded from board rooms, conference panels and television debates and instead have to depend on “manels” to formulate policies, drive debate and discussion and form public opinion. This not only excludes women from critical negotiations on matters that affect them, their children, and their communities directly but further disrespects them.
This has to change!!
Despite being excluded from peace talks, women have found creative ways of expressing their concerns in peace processes, including women in India. For instance, Irom Sharmila was on a 16 year hunger strike to protest against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act and women of the Chipko movement hugged trees to prevent deforestation.
With the current crisis escalating between India and Pakistan and the threat of war looming over us, we must give peace a chance. People from both countries don’t want war so it would make sense to try a new strategy of involving women to explore peaceful solutions.
Some of the recommendations for a lasting and sustainable solution given at the USIP panel include:
Incorporating women and women-led movements into the peace process.
Amplifying their presence, raising their visibility and giving them due recognition for their non-violent movements.
De-emphasising the secrecy of peace negotiations and including diverse voices.
Expanding negotiations to not only include perpetrators of violence but also include those who lead “non-violent” movements.
Using the soft power of these non-violent movements to take the momentum of peace building forward post the negotiations.