The news channels are no stranger to the devastating conflicts that rage tirelessly across the world. The disastrous scenes in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years tell of a time in history where modern warfare means the number of fatalities keeps on rising. As discussions bounce across peace tables and peacekeepers are placed on the ground, stability and peace surely stand as everyone’s hoped outcome. However, where are the women in these processes? In 2014, it is noted by the Armed Conflict Survey that 42 armed conflicts across the world produced a total of 180,000 fatalities, a large number of which civilians. Current conflicts disproportionately affect women and girls in a variety of manners. Conflict provides a stage upon which law and order starts to break down – ‘normative social behaviors and positions, by their nature, constitute an order, and that order is in many and profound ways suspended, deformed, or destroyed in conflict situations’. As the European Institute for Security Studies (ISS) presents, ‘violent conflict benefits few and tends to exacerbate the negative consequences of inequalities and marginalisation’, often meaning gender-based inequities are aggravated, with women and girls often left particularly vulnerable in the conflict and post-conflict period of disorder.
What does ‘peace’ mean for women?
UNICEF highlight how societal gender division of roles and responsibilities provide varying experiences of displacement for women in comparison to men. The frequent targeting of female victims within conflict, especially the perpetration of sexual violence by armed forces, further exacerbates the situation. How do the experiences shape a women’s idea of peace and security? Buss outlines how ‘tracing a women’s involvement and experience of armed conflict can challenge dominant conceptions about the start and end of ‘conflict’. For women ‘peace’ is not necessarily represented by the change in government power or end of armed battle. For instance, the global prevalence of sexual violence among modern conflicts may mean that for women in these conflicts peace is simply the absence of rape. The UN Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, stressed the need for women’s invaluable experiences of war to be involved in peace talks. Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon urged more women to be involved in peace processes to address ‘the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women’. Yet, they often remain invisible when the conflict fades – where are women in peace processes?
Stable peace needs women
The UN enthusiastically claims that the inclusion of women in peace processes increases the probability of an agreement lasting at least 2 years by 20 per cent. However, it seems that despite such statistics demonstrating the increased chance of peace when women are involved, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Between 1992 and 2011 only 9% of negotiators included in peace talks were women, a reality seen in the Syria peace talks in October 2015 when only the proportions stood eighteen men to one woman. These overpowering male settings stands to reflect one of two stories; either women are purposely being excluded, or rather, not included, from peace processes, or there just aren’t enough women involved.
Women taking action
Well, there are definitely plenty of women not sitting around and just hoping for change. Although it may seem that the UNSCR 1325 may have fallen short, the situation in Afghanistan shows how there is hope. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) interviewed two prominent Afghan women who have significant roles in shaping women’s place in Afghan peace processes – Shukria Barakzai, previous chair of the parliamentary defence committee and Hasina Safi, director of the Afghan Women’s Network. Both outline how the UNSCR 1325 has gradually provided increasing recognition for the influence of women in Afghanistan. Extensive grass-roots involvement has provided the Ministry with ideas and recommendations for the progression of gender equality across civil society. In times of social crisis there is often greater ‘political space’ for radical change in social relations, including for instance those of gender. Women’s perspectives of war and peace need to be recognised, listened to and acted upon if peace is to prevail.
 Walker. 2009. ‘Gender and Violence in Focus: A Background for Gender Justice in Reparations.’ pp 30
 Buss. 2014. ‘Seeing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict societies: the limits of visibility.’ p.6.
Afghan Women’s Network. Accessed 08/05/2017. http://www.awn-af.net/
Buss, , Doris. 2014. ‘Seeing Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-conflict Societies: the Limits of Visibility.’ In Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies: International Agendas and African Contexts, edited by Doris Buss, Joanne Lebert, Blair Rutherford, Donna Sharkey and Obijiofor Aginam, pp 3-27. London: Routledge.
Armed Conflict Survery. 14/04/2015. ‘Armed Conflict Survey: The worldwide review of political, military and humanitarian trends in current conflicts.’ Accessed 05/04/2017.
European Union Institute for Security Studies. 11/2014. ‘Gender in Conflict.’ Brief Issue
Hodgeson, Fiona. 07/09/2016. ‘Was disproportionately affects women, so why so few female peacekeepers?’ In The Guardian, accessed 28/03/2017.
Hodgeson, Fiona. 20/01/2016. ‘Women must be at the peace table for a chance of ending war in Syria.’ ’ In The Guardian, accessed 29/03/2017.
Norton-Taylor, Richard. 20/05/2015. ‘Global armed conflicts becoming more deadly, major study finds.’ In The Guardian, accessed 05/04/2017.
OSCE. 2015. ‘Afghanistan’s Women: Keeping the Peace.’ Security Community Issue 3-4.
UN Security Council. 31/10/2000. Resolution 1325. S/RES/1325. http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1325(2000)
UN Security Council. 25/10/2016. ‘Women Too Often Omitted from Peace Processes.’ http://reliefweb.int/report/world/women-too-often-omitted-peace-processes-despite-key-role-preventing-conflict-forging
UN Women. 2016. ‘Women at the forefront of peacebuilding.’ Accessed 07/04/2017.
UN Women. Accessed 08/04/2017.
Walker, M. U. 2009. “Gender and Violence in Focus: A Background for Gender Justice in Reparations.” In The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies while Redressing Human Rights Violations, edited by Ruth Rubio-Marín, pp 18-62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.