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Best way to make peace out of war? Women.


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Beyond protection to participation

But protection is not enough. Women must also have a say in peace negotiations. Of the 24 major peace processes since 1992, fewer than 3 percent of signatories to peace agreements have been women. Women are also strikingly absent when it comes to chief mediating roles. The lack of women at the negotiating table means not only an unstable peace, but also a peace that does not address critical issues that contain the seeds of further violence, including sexual violence, abuses by government and rebel security forces, and demobilization programs for female combatants.

Engaging women in peace negotiations is thus critical, not just because it upholds women’s rights or promotes equality. Their involvement in peace building is vital to an entire society’s recovery. The opportunity cost for ignoring half the population in any fragile post-conflict society – obvious, though difficult to quantify – is reflected by the fact that over 40 percent of post-conflict countries have slid back into conflict within a decade. International actors must insist on opportunities for women to participate in the political processes, and if necessary, quotas should be instituted. Without quotas, very few, if any, women would have had a seat in the recent Afghan Peace Jirgas.

Data collection can't be gender blind

Finally, we need to begin counting women, both literally and figuratively. Wars and post-conflict reconstruction processes have very different impacts on the sexes, and therefore must be monitored separately. However, in many countries, data collection, including casualty and displacement numbers, is gender blind, which is to say that data doesn’t distinguish between men and women. We can even see this in the latest United States unemployment figures. Rarely do such figures describe whether lay-offs are affecting women differently than men, but instead we deduce the gender by the sector represented. This skews the way we look at the world, define problems, and generate solutions. In short, it often leads to ineffective policies.

IN PICTURES: Military women of the world

As we celebrate the rights that women have acquired over the last 100 years, let’s make sure that our policies reflect our aspirations in the decades that lie ahead. Women cannot remain disproportionately affected by war as victims, fight wars and protect nations as soldiers, and yet be denied their rightful place as peacemakers. Without the full participation of women, durable and lasting peace will not be attainable in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, or Europe. At home and abroad, we need to celebrate the advances of women today. But when we wake up tomorrow, it is time to transform the celebration into a firm commitment to bring half of the world’s population fully into participating in the decisions of the 21st century.

Tara Sonenshine is executive vice president of the US Institute of Peace. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat and Kathleen Kuehnast, together with Helga Hernes, are the editors of “Women and War: Power and Protection in the 21st Century."


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