CRITICALLY ASSESS THE ARGUMENTS MADE FOR THE INCREASED INCLUSION OF WOMEN IN PEACE PROCESSES. DISCUSS IN RELATION TO PEACEMAKING PROCESSES IN TWO CASE STUDY EXAMPLES.
“Women have always participated in peace negotiations and peacebuilding, but always at the informal level and rarely visible to the formal peacemakers. […] As a result, a great deal of effort and programming at the international level has gone into including women in formal peace processes” (Coomaraswamy, 2015, p.40).
Since the launch of the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) first resolution (UNSCR 1325) for women, peace and security (henceforth WPS) in 2000, it has been internationally recognized that women’s equal and full participation in peace processes is crucial. Participation is one of the four often identified pillars of the UNSC’s WPS agenda, whereas the other three are prevention, protection and relief/recovery (Swaine & O’Rourke, 2015). Women’s increased participation in peacebuilding is highlighted in all the UNSC resolutions, but nevertheless, the NGO Working Group on WPS wrote an open letter to the UNSC in 2019, claiming that women are still excluded from peace processes and therefore their rights and needs are ignored. This happens although it is proven, they argue, that including women in peace processes can lead to more sustainable peace (NGO Working Group on WPS, 2019). This argument (more women leads to more sustainable peace) is commonly used by a variety of actors who advocate for women’s participation.
In this paper I will elaborate critically on the implications of such an argumentation when assessed from a feminist gender perspective. In order to answer the essay question, I find it crucial to begin with a brief description of a feminist, decolonial understanding of peace, which I will use as a framework for further discussion. I will also briefly touch upon the question of what is understood as ‘peace process’ and especially ‘peacemaking’. I then analyze two main arguments for including women in peace processes made by the UNSC in its WPS resolutions, by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and by the UN Women. I critically engage with those arguments by considering feminist scholarship about peacebuilding and hence identify various problematic assumptions triggered through the arguments made by the actors above. Additionally, I discuss the arguments in relation to peacemaking by consulting two case studies, which are Guatemala and Mexico. Those case studies are employed to illustrate what ‘adding women’ to peacemaking entails for the local women’s situations.
A FEMINIST, DECOLONIAL UNDERSTANDING OF PEACE
If we write about ‘peace’ from a feminist perspective, the goal is to reveal that there is no static or universal definition with which we work. Sara Shroff warns us that “asserting a singular definition of peace and violence is not only irresponsible, but also colonialist, racist and sexist” (2018, p.152). The feminist aim is to complicate the already existing knowledge by highlighting contextuality, ambiguities, fluidity, contradictions, overlaps, and to disrupt the status quo. The status quo in relation to the ‘mainstream’ understanding of peace, is, that it is seen in juxtaposition to ‘war’. Feminist scholars, in contrary, understand war and peace not as strictly separated, but as deeply related to each other, and are therefore investigated in making sense of this relation. Parashar (2013) criticizes the way International Relation (IR) theories reproduce the assumption that war breaks out and ends on one particular day. Unlike those theorists, feminist scholars like Cohn (2013) argue that war is not bounded to a certain space or time, rather it is to be seen as a “continuum of violence” (Cockburn as cited in Cohn, 2013, p.21). Additionally, Enloe (2010) reminds us of the fact that there are various phases of war and each phase has its own (gendered) dynamics.
A feminist understanding of war helps us to understand the feminist conceptualization of peace, as demonstrated by Parashar: “People live in wars, with wars, and war lives with them long after it ends. […] Wars begin in peace and there is peace in wars” (2013, pp.618-19). Shroff (2018) adopts a queer, feminist, intersectional and decolonial approach to understand peace and importantly asks to whom peace belongs, for whom peace is wanted and by whom it is enforced. When we engage with peace, we have to be aware of who is defining the peace (as peace is a form of power) and which peace is promoted. Most of the forms of peace are not peaceful, rather they are “peaceful violence” (2018, p.148), argues Shroff by referring to Fanon. This form of regulated peace is rooted in (direct or structural) violence and needs to be analyzed through a decolonial lens. What kind of peace, consequently, is promoted in the UNSC resolutions for WPS?
If we relate peace and power, it makes sense to also briefly mention that war and peace are both deeply gendered, as the former is associated with masculinity, whereas the latter with femininity (Cohn, 2013). Besides gender, categories like race, sexuality, ethnicity, class, sexuality, caste and ability/disability determine how a person experiences war and peace (Cohn, 2013), yet Cohn is convinced that gender is the category which infuses all the others. To learn that all those factors shape the way people conceive of peace, is an important starting point for this essay. Because, as we will see, many arguments for including women in peace processes reproduce deeply gendered essentialisms of what women are and what they can therefore contribute to those processes.
PEACEMAKING / PEACEBUILDING
As noted in the previous section, peace is a deeply gendered phenomenon. It is usually thought of as something feminine, rather than masculine, but nevertheless the typical mediator in peacebuilding is the male diplomat (Jauhola, 2016). Jauhola points out that post-conflict peace negotiations follow a masculinist agenda and the way peace is made locally and internationally is highly masculinized.
In this section I briefly delineate what is usually understood as ‘peacemaking’ or ‘peacebuilding’, respectively in which areas actors want women to participate, in order to afterwards discuss the arguments for including women. When we consider Shroff’s perception of peacemaking as making false promises and as a “corporatized social enterprise, as a foreign aid (militarized) intervention, as a humanitarian exercise” (2018, p.153), this will certainly not coincide with the peacemaking ideas of the UNSC.
Usually, “post-conflict transition [peacemaking] tends to be presented as a move from madness to sanity, or from evil to good” (Keen, 2000, p.10). The UNSC does not define peacemaking or peacebuilding in its resolutions, but as stated in the UNSCR 1889, they want women to be involved in all the stages of the peace-process (UNSC, 2009). In the UNSCR 2106 they specify that women should be included in mediation, conflict resolution, post-conflict planning, recovery processes and peacebuilding (UNSC, 2013). Furthermore, women should engage in decision making and there should be more special representatives, special envoys and women leaders (UNSC, 2009; UNSC, 2013). In the UNSCR 2122 and 2467 it is recommended that women should increasingly participate in elections and also in DDR programmes, security institutions and in judicial reforms (UNSC, 2013; UNSC, 2019). Finally, in the UNSCR 2493, member states are urged to let women participate in peace talks (UNSC, 2019).
The CEDAW confirms the recommendations from the UNSC in its GR30, but their contribution towards the issue of women’s participation is rather modest. They state that women should be included in international, national and regional negations, in all levels of diplomacy, mediation, humanitarian aid, reconciliation and in the criminal justice system (CEDAW, 2013). So far, we can see that the UNSC and CEDAW both agree on the fact that women should be able to participate. The reason why they should participate, however, is still not evident.
ADDING WOMEN LEADS TO INTERNATIONAL PEACE
The UNSC never explicitly specifies, why women should be included in peacemaking processes, but in the very first resolution, UNSCR 1325, the important role of women is connected to preventing and solving conflicts, to build, maintain and promote international peace and security (UNSC, 2000). Women’s participation is seen as ‘vital’ in order to build ‘durable’ peace (UNSC, 2009). In the UN Women’s study (2015) the authors write that “in cases of women’s participation and strong influence, an agreement was almost always reached. Furthermore, the strong influence of women in negotiation processes also positively correlated with a greater likelihood of agreements being implemented” (Coomaraswamy, 2015, p.41).
The statement that ‘adding’ women leads to more international peace, and that peace agreements are more likely to be implemented, raises some questions, especially given Shroff’s contributions. The two case studies I consider in this essay both show that women did have a crucial impact during the peace processes, but after the ‘official’ end of the armed conflicts, the violence in the everyday life of the local women did not disappear. Apparently, it is not the local women’s peace the UNSC is concerned about.
Guatemala’s peace process is internationally seen as one of the most “inclusive, participatory and human-rights-oriented negotiation processes” (Nakaya, 2003, p.463). Zachariassen (2017), who wrote a case study on women’s participation in the Guatemalan peace process (1994-1999), states that during the peace negations, women’s organizations were able to enter the Women’s Sector of the Assembly of Civil Society. This Assembly could send recommendations to the formal negotiations between the government and the opposition, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (GNRU). The negotiations were mediated by the UN, who left the peace talks as soon as both of the parties signed the agreement for ‘lasting peace’ in 1996, which should mark the ‘end’ of the armed conflict since the 1980’s. The agreement, however, was never implemented and constitutional changes were rejected.
Thus, although women were able to participate for the first time in Guatemalan history, they could only give recommendations, which were never implemented due to the resistance of rich landowners. The consequence was the following: “While the peace agreement officially ended the armed conflict, the country continues to have extremely elevated levels of violence and organized crime. […] The situation in the country remains precarious for women. Women continue to be politically marginalized and experience one of the highest rates of violence in the world” (Zachariassen, 2017, p.10). Finally, the participation of women didn’t bring peace into their lives, and neither into the lives of other marginalized people, like Indigenous people. Zachariassen (2017) adds that, while men had negative attitudes towards gender issues (also within the Assembly), male leaders welcomed public promotion of women’s refugee organizations, because it helped them internationally to become more visible and to gain financial support.
Something similar happened in the peace process (1994-2001) in Chiapas, Mexico. The most important phase of this peace process was during 1995 and 1997, when the San Andrés negotiations took place and an agreement in favor of the Indigenous autonomy and in favor of gender issues was reached (Ross, 2018). The two fronts which were bargaining with each other during the peace negotiations were the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Mexican government. Women, in contrast to those in Guatemala, were represented directly at the negotiation table and had support from one of the conflict parties, which gave them more influence on the outcomes of the agreement. But in Mexico, like in Guatemala, there were no institutional changes and no implementation either (Ross, 2018). Ross states: “Beyond the dialogues, the changes women achieved in the politics of the EZLN did help improve conditions for women in Zapatista-controlled areas of Chiapas, but these communities remain patriarchal, and gender equality is hampered by continued poverty” (2018, p.11). In an information letter directed to the CEDAW written in June 2018, the author declares an alert in relation to gender specific violence (feminicidio) (Flores-Ruiz, 2018). It is stated that the violence towards women derives from the structural and social conditions, which are not addresses by the government: “They [the state] violate women’s and girl’s access to healthcare, to education, to a dignified job, to culture, to land ownership, to nutrition, to political participation, to the freedom of expression, to mobility, to justice and to a life free of violence” (Flores-Ruiz, 2018, pp.8-9).
The examples above are employed to show that the argument from the UNSC, CEDAW and the UN Women in the narrative of ‘adding women brings (durable, stable) peace’, is problematic and the question has to be raised, once again, what peace means and for whom, because the contemporary situation of women in Chiapas is definitely not representing a peaceful environment.
In the case of Guatemala, as shown above, the participation of women was instrumentalized by the elites for their own interests in order to gain more international support. Pratt analyzes the UNSC resolutions and concludes that especially the UNSCR 1889 “instrumentalizes women’s role on the achievement of peace” (2013, p.775). Gibbings (2011) goes even further by stating that the UN recognized women as their ‘marketing resources’. This argument is underlined by Otto (2012) who identifies the UNSCR 1325 as symbolic capital of the UNSC, which needed something new to legitimize its highly criticized interventions after the Cold War. To commit to the inclusion of women in decision making helped the UNSC to increase its legitimacy and restore the international trust (Otto, 2012). Otto further argues that “statistics showing an increase in women’s political participation, pursuant to Resolution 1325, may serve institutional needs [...] while failing to address women’s daily insecurities in the post-conflict period” (2012, p.271). Additionally, “women’s increased participation may be used to advance military [...] agendas that maintain the marginality of women and other disenfranchised groups, while enacting the formal performance of inclusivity” (2012, p.274). De Almagro is also arguing in the same line and asks, whether the WPS agenda is really a tool to increase women’s life quality in conflict zones, or whether the agenda helped the UNSC and “Western donors to instrumentalize women participants in post-conflict and reconstruction spaces for the objectives of an international agenda on peace and security” (2018, p.403). She therefore sees the women participant as the “new subject of international intervention” (Ibid.).
WOMEN ARE PEACEFUL, WOMEN ARE PEACEBUILDERS
A different line of argumentation about why women should be included in peace processes is the following: In the UNSCR 1889 it is stated that women have a key role in relation to recovering the society, and that they should help to develop post-conflict strategies which account for “their perspectives and needs” (UNSC, 2009, para. 6). The fact that in most of the resolutions the women’s role is either related to recovery of the society or to the promotion or the building of peace, and that this is related to expressions like ‘their perspectives and needs’ implies that any women can represent any other women’s needs and perspectives. Feminist scholars criticize that women are essentialized and homogenized in the UNSC resolutions, whereas I would add that this is also done in other UN documents, as in the one from UN Women, where the authors write that women bring a “particular quality of consensus building” (Coomaraswamy, 2015, p.42) into peace talks.
In relation to women’s essentialization, Carpenter analyzed UNSC documents in order to find out how they use the term ‘women’ and ‘men’, whereas ‘women’ was used 163 times in relation to ‘children’ (as cited in Puechguirbal, 2010). This could as well be counted in the resolutions, where the term ‘women and children’ appears very frequently. The stereotyping of women as mainly caregivers, caretakers and providers, writes Puechguirbal, “keeps them away from the peace negotiation table on the grounds that they did not participate in the fighting” (2010, p.177). Thus, women, even within the UNSC, are seen as passive individuals without agency in need of international protection, and not as “subjects with rights of their own” (Puechguirbal, 2010, p.176).
Women, in the UN documents, are furthermore designated as soft peacebuilders with mainly domestic interests and less oriented towards “the serious discussions about peace and security which men, ‘the legitimate actors’, have around negotiation tables” (Puechguirbal, 2010, p.177). The problem of this naturalization of women with peacefulness, is, that their real peacebuilding efforts are not valued, because it is women’s nature to do that (Chinkin & Kaldor, 2013). Importantly, women, as well as any other ‘marginalized’ group in our societies, are not a homogenous group, neither does every woman know every other women’s needs. Especially in relation to peace building, it is problematic to see how generalizations about the women as peace promoters are made. Puechguirbal concludes as follows: “It [the UN Secretary General’s report] assumes that all women in all conflict areas are in favor of peace […] irrespective of their differing ideologies, their urban or rural background, their marital status, their religious beliefs, their status as combatants or civilians (2010, p.181). Nakaya (2003) confirms that if women’s commonality is always emphasized, their diverse identities, needs and experiences are not taken into account. As Lorde (1979) has already shown us 40 years ago, it is a certain Western (feminist) arrogance not to take the differences between women into account and to claim a somewhat natural bond between all of us.
The UNSC resolutions reproduce this arrogance by privileging gender (add women) above all other power relations as race, sexuality, class or ethnicity (Pratt, 2013). Pratt (2013) traces this ‘error’ back to the origins of the UNSCR 1325, where postcolonial feminism was excluded. De Almagro agrees upon the fact that other power relations determine the access to participation, and writes that “the effort to include women as participants will do little to address the experiences of a diversity of women until the ramifications of racial, class and sexuality stratification among women are acknowledged” (2018, p.413).
In Guatemala, not only gender equality has to be challenged, but other political, social, economic and structural inequalities as well. Other marginalized groups of society, especially the Indigenous community has to be included, too (Nakaya, 2003). During the Guatemalan peace process, the Indigenous activists demanded the acceptance of their identity, their autonomy and their rights, whereas the “right wing political and economic elites feared that the new constitutional reform would bring preferential treatment to the Indigenous population and thus launched an active ‘No’ campaign [against the constitutional amendment, which should have improved women’s and Indigenous rights]” (2017, p.8).
The case of Chiapas (Mexico) underlines the problematics of ignoring other categories besides gender. Ross (2018) writes that the women who were involved during the peace process in Chiapas had diverse backgrounds, some of them were Indigenous, some not. Indigenous women were fighting for autonomy, self-governance, access to welfare, healthcare and employment support, whereas non-Indigenous women were focusing on political rights and protection against discrimination. As they worked together, obviously, there were tensions between their goals and their feminisms: they were discussing whether they should push forwards an orthodox Western kind of feminism or the Indigenous visions of how they wanted to claim their inclusion and their rights. Finally, even though in this discussion, there was a tendency towards the Indigenous visions and hence more emphasis on subsistence and access to services, the fact that most of the dialogues were held in Spanish, had already marginalized many Indigenous women (Ross, 2013).
In this essay, I discussed two arguments which are commonly reproduced by international actors as the UNSC, CEDAW and UN Women in relation to the question of why women should be included in peace processes, and especially in peacemaking. I argued that the claim that if women are included, more stable peace is enabled, may not necessarily mean peace for local women. For this purpose, I used the critical lens of Shroff who speaks of ‘peaceful violence’ promoted through international institutions like the UNSC with its WPS agenda. Pratt, by referring to Orford, for such reasons considers the UNSCR 1325 as an “imperial feminist project” (2013, p.780).
In relation to the second argument, I criticized that the UNSC resolutions represent women as vulnerable peacebuilders rather than political subjects, and that a universal category of women is produced through the privileging of gender. I supported my analysis with the two case study examples of Guatemala and Mexico. Finally argued that it is problematic not to take differences between women, such as race, ethnicity, class, caste, sexuality and ability/disability into account.
As a final remark, I would like to point to the hypocritical practices of many UN decision-makers, by using a statement from Puechguirbal: “Reference to resolution 1325 has been used by UN decision-makers as a proxy for appearing to be concerned with gender-related issues in the country of mission without actually committing to its implementation” (2010, p.182).
CEDAW is a UN human rights treaty body which monitors international human right’s treaties (especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW). The document I use from CEDAW is the General Recommendation Nr. 30 (CEDAW GR30) from 2013, which contains a recommendation for state parties to ensure women’s human rights especially in relation to women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations.
The UN Women is an entity which belongs to the UN and aims at women’s empowerment and gender equality.
There is absolutely no doubt that women should be included in peace processes and in every other area of policymaking and of public life. This essay, although, focusses on the critical aspects of internationally made arguments for this inclusion, which do often not result in positive transformations of women’s lives. It is not about whether women should be included or not, but rather about the instrumentalization of women in those processes and about the arguments which trigger problematic essentialisms about women.
DDR stands for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.
Original title of the document: “La situación de las mujeres en Chiapas en el marco de la Declaratoria de alerta de Violencia de Género”.
Original statement (translated by me): “Vulneran el acceso de niñas y mujeres a la salud, a la educación, al trabajo digno, a la cultura, a la tenencia de la tierra, a la alimentación, a la participación política, a la libertad de expresión, de movilidad, a la justicia y al acceso a una vida libre de violencia”.
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Written for the course "Women, Peace and Security" at London School of Economics.