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She can work it out

A UN resolution aims at reducing gender inequality in peace-building. Rita Manchanda writes.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2011 23:51 IST
Rita Manchanda

The Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded this year’s prize to three women activists for their struggles “for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. But when it comes to women in peacekeeping, one wonders why UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 should matter to Irom Sharmila ‘fasting’ against state militarisation in Manipur, Khesilie Chisi building reconciliation in Nagaland, Parveen Ahangar demanding justice for the ‘disappeared’ in Kashmir, Sheba George struggling to end sexual violence in Gujarat and Vasanthi, a ‘human shield’, protecting tribals in Chhattisgarh?

What difference should it make to the local peace work of women that the Security Council, in a resolution, recognised for the first time in 2000 that women matter in peace-building and security? UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) affirms the linkage between women’s status and their vulnerabilities in conflict situations to sexual- and gender-based violence, economic impoverishment and social exclusion. Analogously, it exhorted attention to women’s rights and empowerment, and local women’s capacities to build a peace that changes the status quo on socio-political conditions and gender relations.

But more than 10 years after the resolution was adopted, how much do women count in peace-building? Barely 16% of peace accords (1990-2010) contain specific references to women. After UNSCR 1325, such references have increased. Nepal’s UN mandate contains only a preamble reference to women. But decision-making structures have forgotten women. Through strategic alliances, women wrested 33% reservations in Nepal’s constituent assembly. A UNSCR 1325 filter was affixed to the UN-managed peace-building fund and the nation adopted a National Action Plan to mainstream the resolution.

In the UN mandate for Afghanistan, the 2002 agreement ignored women. But gender concerns were added to its renewal in 2010. International lobbying got nine women to sign the Bonn Agreement on provisional arrangements. Two hundred women sat in the Emergency Loya Jirga (a grand council) and provided for quotas. The 2010 elections recorded 27% representation of women in the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People).

With entry to peace talks determined by who heads an army and who doesn’t, women who are otherwise visible keeping peace become invisible when peace is negotiated. In 21 peace agreements since 1992, just over 2% women were signatories and less than 6% were part of the negotiating teams. The analysis of Transitional Justice Institute’s Professor Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke on peace agreements between 1990-2010 reveals that non-internationalised peace processes where women’s groups have made an impact include broader social justice and economic issues.

It’s hard to establish a causal relationship among women’s inclusion in peace processes, gender-sensitive peace agreements and sustainable peace-building. But a peace deal that is insensitive to women’s needs, especially women’s security, will be deprived of peace-building capacities of 50% of the population.

Take the case of the Government of India-Naga ceasefire agreement. Civil society/women successfully pressured the two ‘armed’ parties to redefine the ceasefire agreement to include civilian security issues and independent monitors. In Sri Lanka, in the 2002-2006 peace process, local women leveraged a ‘gender sub-committee’ but the talks soon collapsed. The peace process’ last gasp in 2006 saw Colombo include a Muslim woman as a token minister in the team. Women’s concerns and needs were ignored and the collapse of the peace process showed how little ‘ordinary’ people work for peace if there is no dividend.

Despite setbacks, there is some receptivity to women’s participation. The reasoning is instrumental. The grim material reality of faltering peace processes - 40% collapse within five years - has prompted rethinking on bringing in gender perspectives to introduce broader social justice, economic and participatory rights issues. This line of inquiry leads us to the peace work of local women in the conflict zones.

Hardeep Puri, Indian ambassador to the UN, has supported greater participation of women and emphasised the role of civil society in internalising the provisions of UNSCR 1325. India, with Bangladesh, is way ahead in sending an all-women police contingent for peacekeeping. But when it comes to India’s own armed conflicts, there is weariness. Strategic lobbying is essential but local peacekeepers need to first recognise that UNSCR 1325 is of great value for them.

Rita Manchanda is from the South Asian Forum for Human Rights

The views expressed by the author are personal