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The participation of women and the inclusion of the gender perspective in peace processes

Maria Villellas Ari˝o
Researcher on the Conflict and Construction of Peace programme at the Peace Culture School (UAB)
Maria Villellas Ariño

Maria Villellas Ariño

Peace processes are above all unique opportunities for societies that have been affected by armed conflicts to end direct violence, but can also act as a trigger for more profound transformational processes. In this regard, peace processes can be exceptional opportunities for transforming the structural causes that led to the armed conflicts, and for designing policies to deal with issues such as exclusion, poverty and democratisation.

These processes are usually defined as organised efforts to end armed conflicts by means of dialogue, involving the parties in the conflict, and very often, involve external assistance. The main objective is therefore to end armed violence by means of dialogue as opposed to by military methods. However, from a feminist point of view, this conception is insufficient, because as many authors have pointed out, and the facts on the ground stubbornly show, the end of armed conflicts does not necessarily mean the end of violence for women.

Women and the gender perspective have been absent from peace processes. The presence of women in negotiating teams has often been of a token nature and negotiations like those in Guatemala, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka, in which women have played an important role, are not representative of the majority of peace processes. Furthermore, the gender aspect has also not been included on the agendas of negotiations. The opportunity to envisage changes in negotiating formats and new agendas for peace processes is therefore a challenge that is unfulfilled as well as urgent, taking into account that the inclusion of certain issues at the negotiating table may have major effects on the lives of individuals and especially of women.

The presence of women in the negotiations is a prerequisite in achieving processes that take the gender dimension into account, but this presence in itself is no guarantee of issues linked to gender inequality being covered, or the gender perspective being included in the discussions, or influencing the decisions taken or the agreements reached. Peace processes require the presence of women, but they also need agendas that include the gender dimension. The patriarchy's status as a cornerstone for violence and armed conflicts throughout history reinforces the need to include the gender perspective in peace processes.

In order to move forward from the idea of merely including women in peace processes towards a more broad-based focus, which includes the gender perspective in peace processes, it is necessary to consider what this integration involves, and what issues need to be covered. The exclusion of women from peace processes has led to very specific peace processes, which focus mainly on issues such as ceasefire agreements, arms control, distribution of power by means of electoral formulas, agreements to form governments, and the distribution and division of territory. This means that many issues are excluded from both the discussions and formal agreements. Nonetheless, agreements can be decisive documents formalising the framework in which post-conflict policies are designed. It is therefore necessary to start with an assessment of the impact of gender on armed conflicts, the acknowledgement of the various experiences of women in these conflicts, and to call into question ideas such as post-conflict (which suggest that violence against women can continue despite the end of armed violence) and reconstruction/rehabilitation, as many women may prefer not to return to the situation that prevailed before the conflict, but instead to begin profound reforms ranging their status in a given society.

Which issues need to be covered on an agenda that takes the gender perspective into account? The list of issues may be very long, but some are essential in any peace negotiation. The first issue is violence. In the post-war period, women must deal with the consequences of the violence that took place during the armed conflict, and especially sexual violence. Violence in the domestic sphere generally increases during this period, and it shifts from the public to the private space. The inclusion of this issue in peace agreements means that the opportunities for impunity are reduced, and there is more and greater protection for women survivors. It also implies the creation of more secure states without sacrificing the security of many of its citizens, who are women. Second, consideration must be given to the issue of security, the re-establishment of which is one of the main post-war challenges, so that women are not marginalised or excluded from the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes, for example. The stereotyped notion of the role of the combatant, and the idea that women do not represent a threat to the resumption of armed hostilities may lead to this exclusion. Third, the legislative and economic reforms that are approved would also be vital in the transformation or persistence of gender inequalities. Laws which exclude women have been used to legitimise political, social and cultural practices which have prevented them from fully developing their skills, and have led to the social normalisation of violence against women, their lack of access to ownership, and hindered their personal autonomy. In short, they have been denied their full rights as citizens. It is therefore necessary to end discriminatory legislation in this period. In the economic arena, an important challenge is to ensure that the breakthroughs made by women during the fighting in terms of autonomy are not cut back due to the important transformations in social roles that occur during these periods. Meanwhile, a critical perspective on liberal economic reforms, especially those imposed by international bodies, which have a serious impact on women's everyday life, is also necessary.

In short, a broader outlook is necessary to ensure that the construction of peace does not reproduce the patriarchal paragon of violence and exclusion. The aim must be not only to include women, but also to adopt critical positions from which to redefine gender relations, in order to construct a truly sustainable and inclusive peace.