Empowerment: Women & Gender Issues: Women, Gender & Peacebuilding Processes

This section examines different dimensions of gender equality and peace and also provides a short history of the growing consideration of the meaning and role of gender and gender relations in peacebuilding processes.

Gender as an analytical tool, an approach and a goal

When gender is combined with peacebuilding, practitioners have in mind different dimensions, which have been reflected in the multiple reports and guidelines produced on the subject over the last two decades. They are not exclusive but instead emphasize different elements of gender.1

An analytical tool: gender analysis of conflict and peace processes

Many formal peacebuilding activities and policies suffer from an insufficient understanding or acknowledgment of the diverse communities in which they operate. Gender analysis can bring to light the experiences of men and women during conflict and peace, assess needs, and show how gender relations change during and due to conflict and peace.

Such analysis also brings to light strong concern about sexual and gender based violence, during and after the conflict. The continuation of this form of violence in post-conflict settings can have lasting, harmful effects on other sectors in peacebuilding. It can dissuade girls from attending schools, and women from owning businesses and property, from collecting water and food, from participating in political activities and can negatively impact the private sphere of the family. Strong judicial and security sector reforms (SSR) that combat cultures of impunity are promoted and advocated for by all actors in the field. Specific recommendations are also formulated on how to accomplish a gendered approach to transitional justice.

An approach: engendering peacebuilding

Men tend to dominate the formal roles in a peacebuilding process; there are mainly male peacekeepers, male peace negotiators, male politicians, and male formal leaders. Power is unequally distributed between men and women and the majority of women do not have a voice in local and national decision making processes. However, women do play an important, if largely unrecognized role, in peacebuilding. The underlying assumption is that women involved in these processes will help design a lasting peace that will be advantageous to the empowerment, inclusion and protection of women. Stemming from this theme is the commonly accepted approach of including women in decision-making processes and empowering women as decision makers and actors in all areas of peacebuilding, as well as activities to sensitize male actors in peacekeeping- through gender-focused curriculum and trainings, codes of conduct, and disciplinary measures for military and peacekeeping actors in response to GBV.2

A goal: gender equality and peace

Gender equality and peacebuilding can also be viewed as goals. Ultimately, the use of the analytical tools and taking a gendered approach to peacebuilding could lead towards gender equality and peace. There are two general theories regarding this topic; the first is that the attainment of peace leads to greater gender equality, and the second is that the establishment of gender equality leads to peace.

[Back to Top]

A short history of a gender approach to peacebuilding

The influence of the evolution of development policies and practices

The international context of peacebuilding policies and, to a lesser extent, programs, has evolved markedly since the mid-1990s. This evolution reflects the changing nature of conflict situations and complex emergencies, as well as the way in which nation states and international organizations continue to redefine the roles of various actors engaged in or affected by the conflict. It also coincides with important shifts in thinking directly related to international development. One is "a growing understanding of the meaning and role of gender and gender relations in development, reflected in a widely accepted change of focus from women in development (WID) to 'gender and development' (GAD) and the complementary notion of empowerment. This gives greater attention to the power relations between men and women in all spheres, from development projects to the workplace and home. It also recognizes that institutions themselves often inadequately represent women's interests, obstructing progress toward gender equality."3 This was accompanied by the formulation of new policies, and mechanisms that were later the subject of many assessments showing the limits of these approaches. The evaluation of past failures also led to the realization that the development process itself needs engendering. "Hence, welfare-oriented, 'add women and stir' approaches that treated women as passive recipients of development were replaced by approaches that attempt to engender development, empower women, and perceive women as active agents in their own right."4 There has also been an overt recognition that the participation and commitment of men is required to fundamentally alter the social and economic position of women. This recognition led to a shift from an exclusive focus on women to a gender approach that also factors into the equation males and the broader socio-cultural environment.

The 1995 Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration

The Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, described itself as an agenda for women's empowerment. Under its section on Women in Armed Conflict, it clearly set out six strategic objectives aimed at increasing "the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels" and urged governments, as well as international and regional international institutions, "to integrate gender perspectives in the resolution of armed or other conflicts and foreign occupation."5

The Millennium Development Goals

Goal three of the millennium development goals (MDGs) is the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The targets for the achievement of this goal are the inclusion of women and girls in education, equal access to employment and recruitment, and the representation of women within decision-making positions. Although the MDGs did not specifically address questions of violence or conflict, heads of state have recognized that positive post-conflict (and by implication post-disaster) interventions are essential to progress towards attaining the MDGs and that women play an important role to that end. The Millennium+5 Summit Declaration stated: "We stress the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peacebuilding. We also underline the importance of the integration of gender perspective and women's equal participation and full involvement in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security, as well as the need to increase their role in decision-making at all levels."6

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security

On October 31, 2000, the UN Security Council held a special session on the issue of peace and security from a womens perspective. At this session, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 was passed unanimously.7 This was the first UN Security Council Resolution to be passed that specifically addresses womens roles in conflicts and peace processes, as well as the impacts of war on women. The resolution advocates for the protection of women and children after conflict, urging parties to take special precautions to prevent gender-based violence; it also calls on states to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls. But it also encourages states to consider women's inclusion in post-conflict reforms such as disarmament, security, and judicial, constitutional and electoral processes. As many international and UN organizations have developed their programs and engaged in peace processes, Resolution 1325 remains the cornerstone for any peacebuilding work aimed at the inclusion and protection of women. "It recognizes for the first time the role of women in conflict--not as victims, but as actors in the prevention and resolution of conflict and in equal participation in peacebuilding and decision-making."8 Women peace activists around the world have taken this as a historical decision in favor of women.9

Since then, other international bodies have adopted resolutions and declarations emphasizing the importance of women participation in peacebuilding processes.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

CEDAW establishes the international legal guidelines for the protection and promotion of gender equality by aiming to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.10 The legal requirements of the Convention require that all governments must take measures to ensure the equity and protection of women in all social, political, economical and cultural forums of life. CEDAW and Resolution 1325 fit particularly well together as the first provides the overarching legal structure for the inclusion and protection of women while the latter enforces gender mainstreaming in peacebuilding, and seeks to expand this mainstreaming into a sustainable structure for the advancement of women. "CEDAW enriches resolution 1325 by providing substantive normative guidance on 1325-related interventions. 1325 can broaden the scope of CEDAW's application, by clarifying the relevance of women's human rights standards even in states in conflict that are not parties to CEDAW, or in relation to non-state actors and international organizations."11

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820

In 2008, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted a new resolution which focuses specifically on the protection of women from sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.12 The Security Council especially notes the persistence of rape, and urges states to protect women from such a gender-based crime through diverse peacebuilding processes such as the inclusion of women in conflict resolution and prevention, the enforcement of judicial systems to prevent a culture of impunity and an increase in the number of women in peacekeeping and security forces. This resolution builds off the provisions set forth in CEDAW and Resolution 1325, noting the particular importance of gender-based judicial reforms, which create an enabling environment where women can seek justice or protection from gender-based crimes.

Regional Conventions

In addition the international agreements, a number of regional conventions exist to support this international framework. Some such agreements include the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (or the Convention of Belem do Para) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.13

[Back to Top]

The impact of armed conflicts on women

Despite their civilian status, women (as well as children) increasingly have become specific targets of attack. Moreover, sexual violence appears to be a more frequently employed method of waging war, with the aim of destroying communities and families. Beyond the physical and psychological consequences, women are often victims of stigmatization as a result of sexual violence.
Go to Definitions: gender-based violence and Empowerment: Children and youth

Women may become among the most vulnerable groups during conflict for reasons that also extend beyond violence.14 Reports from human rights advocacy groups document many examples of the exploitation and abuse of women and children affected by conflict. Women in refugee and IDP camps, and while fleeing, face sexual exploitation and a lack of physical security. This is especially true in households without men, and also in those cases in refugee or IDP camps where women are heads-of-households.15

Generally speaking, "women are particularly susceptible to marginalization, poverty and the suffering engendered by armed conflict, especially when they are already victims of discrimination in peacetime. Women may be particularly vulnerable if they are held up as 'symbolic' bearers of cultural and ethnic identity and the producers of the future generations of the community. [...]That being said, men also have to be clearly recognized as vulnerable, as in some conflicts as many as 96% of the detainee population are men and 90% of the missing are men. They are also prone to be wounded or killed as legitimate targets as members of armed forces or groups, who still largely recruit amongst male populations."16

But women are also armed fighters alongside men. "Whether as victims or combatants, women often shoulder an additional burden due to traditional gender roles: their labor, strength and determination maintain their families and communities during war and throughout the long, slow, process of rebuilding the peace."17

[Back to Top]

The two key dimensions of engendered peacebuilding processes

Engendering peacebuilding processes actually entails two main aspects: making sure that women's interests and needs are addressed, and also acknowledging their full role as peacebuilders. This section briefly explains the rationale for both dimensions that are then developed in distinct sections.

Acknowledging the role of women as peacemakers and peacebuilders in their community

Traditionally, women have been left out of peacemaking and peacebuilding, or regarded simply as war-victims.18 Furthermore, too often, they suffer "a backlash against any new-found freedoms, and they are forced 'back' into kitchens and fields," whereas they may have seen their role expanded significantly during the war period.19 Their work in rebuilding communities, building peace and overcoming trauma has often been ignored and remained invisible.20 However, "they have consistently demanded recognition as the active agents in the prevention of war, rehabilitation of victims and reconstruction of physical structures."21

Women are also clearly under-represented (or even absent) in formal peace negotiations, whether as local participants representing warring factions, or as representatives of international authorities overseeing or mediating deliberations and institutions invited to the negotiating table.22 Even if women leaders and organizations are active in track-two mechanisms and civil society forums, these mechanisms do not necessarily find their way into the formal peace processes. "Women not only call for issues specific to themselves but raise issues that affect society as a whole, such as land reform, access to loans and capacity-building."23 Many believe that they can bring a unique perspective on the root causes of conflict, its impact on the daily life or ordinary people, and the kind of future that can be offered to the nation.24

Participation of women is now more regularly acknowledged in peacebuilding processes. For instance, in the Burundi's Peacebuilding Fund Priority Plan, women (and youth) are specifically called on as actors to strengthen peace and social cohesion, but concrete improvements in practices may take more time.
Go to Empowerment: Children and youth

Ensuring that women's needs are addressed

Failure to include women and girls in decision-making processes often means that their concerns and protection risks are not addressed in the community's overall response and in their negotiations with external stakeholders. As a result, resources may be inaccurately targeted and the protection problems women and girls face regarding their security and their access to services may be exacerbated.25 Key issues, such as protection and promotion of women's human rights, especially womens economic and social rights, may be omitted, as may be references to international and regional human rights instruments guaranteeing the rights of women. "Absence of such references, or to the role and place of such instruments in the future domestic legal order also constitutes an obstacle to the effectiveness of an agreement as a tool for the promotion of gender equality."26

Explicit attention to the participation of women and reflection of gender perspectives in peace agreements is also vital to ensure that agreements are supportive of women's equal participation in the reconstruction of post-conflict societies and in the prevention of future conflict. "The absence of women in peace processes and the failure of peace agreements to promote gender equality can lead to the perpetuation of discrimination against women and their continued marginalization in the post-conflict rebuilding of society."27 Conversely, "robust language in a peace agreement to promote gender equality and women's participation, backed by specific allocation of resources and responsibility for its fulfillment can facilitate proactive implementation, including work with local women."28 Some consider the inclusion of a few women delegates in Afghan peace negotiations to have had an important impact of the political developments there.29

Some organizations refer to this process as inclusive security. Inclusive security is a rights-based approach that incorporates certain rights inherent to women's involvement in peacebuilding: "The right to participate meaningfully in policy making and resource allocation; the right to benefit equally from public and private resources and services; and the right to build a gender-equitable society for lasting peace and prosperity."30

[Back to Top]

The protection of women's needs and interests in the aftermath of conflicts

This section explores the main concerns and protection risks of women in the aftermath of conflicts, and how they should be addressed, more particularly:

  • The necessity to protect girls and women against violence, especially gender based violence;
  • The need to protect women against further violence and injuries by engendering de-mining and small arms programs;
  • The need to better address the specific situation of former girls and women combatants;
  • The need to actively support women's inclusion and leadership in politics;
  • The need to prevent the perpetuation of gender injustice;
  • The prevention of women and girls's re-victimization;
  • The need to address women and girls' specific needs in economic reintegration programs;
  • The mainstreaming of women needs into macro and microeconomic programs.
Other subsections of the portal develop these issues in more detail as well as the way peacebuilding programs address them; links are provided for each specific topic.

Protection of women against violence

During the period following the end of a conflict, gender based violence often remains a persistent issue and may even increase within the domestic sphere. "Increased domestic violence and crime in the private sphere is a direct and continuing result of conflict and accompanying social upheaval."31 Awareness campaigns and other prevention efforts on domestic violence are particularly needed in that context, in collaboration with local womens movements, UN peace operations gender units, and local police. Equally important in this is the role and commitment of youth and men to issues of gender and gender equality. In Timor Leste, the establishment of a special civilian police unit, staffed by women, to handle cases of rape, domestic violence and other gender related crimes, also helped create an environment where women felt safe to report cases. But the shortage of female peacekeepers and female international civil police officers is a clear limitation in these contexts.32 To face such situations, practitioners also recommend the application of "a gender analysis to police reform processes, ensuring gender equality principles are systematically integrated at all stages of police reform planning, design, implementation and evaluation."33
Go to Empowerment: Children and youth; Human Rights promotion and protection; Security sector reform

Unfortunately, peacekeeping forces have also contributed to sexual and gender based violence in a number of cases. In too many countries, "rape, trafficking in women and children, sexual enslavement, and child abuse, often co-exist alongside peacekeeping operations."34 Various UN Security Council resolutions have expressed concerns about the involvement of blue helmets in sexual abuse of women and children and supported the Secretary-General's policy of zero tolerance for such abuse. This situation has also been pointed out by the Secretary-Generals report on the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies.35 Official investigations are now systematically conducted and the UN code of personal conduct for blue helmets clearly points out that situation.36 The UN Human Rights Commission has also been following this matter for several years. However, ultimately, Member States are responsible for prosecuting their soldiers, a situation that often results in a de facto impunity. But military personnel are not the only concern. In different countries, humanitarian workers (working for international organizations and non-governmental organizations) have been convicted for similar violations, and more particularly for trading food or services against sex services, including from children.

Engendering de-mining and small arms policies

Incorporating a gender perspective in mine action initiatives and operations is also important as women and girls are considered to constitute an important proportion of the victims. Their protection and the integration of a gender perspective into a monitoring system for the protection of civilians is now a central concern of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.37

Women/girls and children are clear victims of violence related to small arms and light weapons (SALW) proliferation. There is in particular a gender-specific violence (domestic violence, rape and other sexual abuses) committed by men (including law enforcement officers) using SALW.38 The probability, affordability, and utility of small arms and light weapons may dramatically increase the lethality of violence. This also concerns the violence perpetrated in the domestic sphere, a pattern that has been observed in most post-conflict situations. Effective disarmament strategies at the community level are therefore crucial for improving women's physical security.39 These strategies also need to take into consideration the situation of girls and women who are also associated with and play multiple roles in criminal gangs using SALW and perpetrating some of the violence against women.40

Women and girls as former combatants

Women are not only victims of conflict, but may also play an active role in violence. However, "Women combatants are often invisible and their needs are overlooked."41 DDR programs often focus on the so-called 'young men with guns.' "They are seen as the powder keg that must be diffused and tend to be the most visible."42 In the past, DDR programs have given very little attention to the specific situation of girls and women, in both forced and voluntary capacities.43 Yet the number of women who participate in fighting forces is reported to be increasing in nearly all conflicts. "Women have constituted significant proportions of combatants and combat support operations in conflicts in Eritrea, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda, and Rwanda."44Female combatants are either abducted or voluntarily joined armed groups to serve as nurses, cooks, sex workers, messengers, spies or administrative or logistical personnel, but also as armed combatants.45

During DDR programs they tend to be categorized as 'vulnerable groups,' a category that includes also wounded or disabled male combatants and all women and children who accompany warring factions.46 In many cases, because they do not fit social stereotypes of what makes a 'good woman,' they attract the greatest social opprobrium in the post-war period. These women are most likely to slip through the net of DDR processes and become either social outcasts who barely survive on the margins of society, or an increased security threat in the subsequent months and years. In Sierra Leone, the 2002 riots and female militia activities have indicated that some young mothers had little to lose from resorting to violence as a means of survival.47 As exemplified by the case of Uganda, DDR programs tend not only to fail to address the specific needs of women and girls, but past discrimination against women. As a result, programs designed to target female combatants tend to be absent or if they exist they remain ill informed.48 Insufficient consideration is also paid to the different dimensions of traumas these women have experienced during the war, as well as to the inherent modifications in their status and position in society.49

If neglected in the process of identifying ex-combatants, girls and women may be disregarded by programs of assistance from which they ought to benefit; experiences have also shown that without a close attention to the specificities of their different roles and needs, "DDR activities run the risk of widening gender inequalities."50 In Lebanon, for instance, women combatants could not be re-integrated into the army and were therefore disadvantaged. In Sierra Leone and Angola, women and girl fighters were only classified as "dependents": their real experiences were not acknowledged, and they were precluded from receiving the benefit provided to "combatants."51 In the case of DRC and Burundi, the national DDR programs excluded those women who served as porters, cooks and sex slaves in armed groups.52 In some cases as in Liberia "the change in the eligibility criteria to include women associated with fighting forces provided, for the first time, greater accessibility by women to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program, thus ensuring inclusion of over 20,000 women."53

Support for women's inclusion in politics

An increasing number of states have attempted to incorporate women in government institutions through constitutional regulations, particularly surrounding quotas.54 A variety of gender-inclusive / affirmative action mechanisms can be used to help women overcome the obstacles that prevent them from entering politics in the same way as their male colleagues, or even more clearly ensure the election of women to legislative office, such as reserved seats, quotas within parliament or for party candidate selection, and other affirmative action inducements or requirements.55 Among the different types of quotas, the main distinction is between voluntary party quotas on the one hand and constitutional and legislative quotas on the other.56 When applied during the nomination process, the aim of quotas is to make it easier for women to be placed strategically on a party's lists of candidates in such a way as to give them equal--or close to equal--opportunities to be elected to the legislative body. This is particularly important in contexts where patronage and other undemocratic characteristics pervade and prevent women from naturally acquiring positions of leadership within the party structure.57

International assistance is now actively involved in encouraging the recruitment and training of women candidates. The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO), for instance, has organized national civil society consultations in order to enhance the role of women in politics (more recently in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and Liberia). Based on these meetings, the DPKO and the Electoral Assistance Division are jointly preparing guidelines on enhancing the role of women in post-conflict electoral processes. The United Nations Democracy Fund, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) have sponsored a variety of projects to support women candidates or improve their press coverage for instance.58

In relation with the organization of elections, international organizations (such as UNIFEM) and local NGOs are also involved in the training of election commissioners on women's voting rights, in the organization of discussions between women's activists and political candidates, and also in raising women awareness about the importance of their vote.  Go to Constitutions

Another area where gender attention is needed is the media as they often face specific gender challenges.59 Women are often portrayed in the media strictly as victims, and also may have greater difficulty accessing media outlets. This often constitutes a serious obstacle to women full inclusion in politics.  Go to Public information and media development

Preventing the perpetuation of gender injustice

Girls and women are usually rendered invisible or are marginalized within judicial processes, including war tribunals, when they seek justice in response to gender-specific violence. In the aftermath of armed conflicts, "gender injustice perpetuates inequality, violates fundamental human rights, hinders healing and psychological restoration, and prevents societies from developing their full potential."60 The general lack of access to justice for survivors of sexual assault is a major problem. Violence against women in the private sphere (in particular at home) and in schools is drastically under-reported even in countries with a vigorous women's movement and an advanced commitment to judicial and security sector reform.61 Therefore, "rule of law and justice structures in the recovering society must lay the foundations for long-term protection to women and retribution for any wrongs done to them. Truth commissions must ensure that issues of gender equality and gender-based violence are thoroughly addressed. To encourage women to seek justice, the composition of truth commissions and judicial panels must be gender balanced, and police and judiciary personnel properly trained, with the provision of safe space for testimony and evidence."62 There is a growing literature on engendering transitional justice and more particularly truth commissions but still insufficient practical experience in this regard.63 Furthermore, customary or traditional justice mechanisms often play a significant role in local justice. However, these structures may not provide adequate protection and justice to women survivors.64

Of considerable importance also is the vitality of engendered justice programs. Scholar and practitioner Nahla Valji notes "the need to move beyond a focus on individual incidents of sexual violence in conflict to addressing the context of inequality which facilitate these violations as well as the continuum of violence from conflict to post-conflict which becomes visible through a gendered analysis."65 Such a process of engendering justice systems "will entail a fundamental rethinking of the goals, structures and foundational assumptions upon which the field is built as well as the future incorporation of a gendered perspective in all levels of planning and implementation."66  Go to Access to justice and Judicial and legal reform/(re)construction

Preventing women and girls' re-victimization

Women and girls run also the risk of being "re-victimized" by the lack of adequate healthcare and support structures for assisting victims of sexual violence and other forms of violence. "The shame and psycho-social stigma that survivors of rape suffer is another form of re-victimization. Thus, simply reaching out for help is problematic. Programs to assist survivors of sexual violence have to be designed so that women and girls can access them without that very help serving as another marker of victimization."67 Women and girls also face additional health threats that stem from biological differences. "The spread of HIV is fuelled by gender inequalities, with women making up the majority of newly infected young people. Violence severely impacts on physical and psychological health of many women."68  Go to Trauma, mental health and psycho-social well-being

There are other health issues that relate specifically to gender roles and identities. For example, "the combination of malnutrition and gender-based discrimination may result in the stunted growth and development in adolescent girls and girl children and contribute to additional health risks for pregnant or lactating mothers, and in some cases result in death."69 Girls' re-victimization can also come from the fact they remain "disproportionately disadvantaged by lack of educational opportunities, a situation that is usually aggravated in conflict situations."70 The obstacles and challenges to recruiting and retaining of women teachers after conflict are also vast and tend to feed into each other. However, post-conflict contexts can be good windows of opportunity to bring radical changes towards gender equality in education.71

Addressing women and girls' specific needs in reintegration programs

Many economic reintegration programs, including land reform initiatives, and public works programs have "blatantly excluded women and girls. Where training initiatives have included women and men, their relevance to individuals' experiences of the conflict or consideration of gender-differentiated access to assets and markets is often limited. Also, reintegration and resettlement programs often fail to address customary practices that erode women's right to land and other property."72 Women often may face difficulties in claiming property, especially when there are informal titles to land and property.73 (Moreover, UNHCR explains how returnee women going back to traditional social structures may face setbacks in their advancement for equal rights. They may also be vulnerable to a backlash from traditional elements within the community.74 Despite greater awareness of ways in which women's lives are profoundly affected by reintegration activities, there has been little progress in understanding or altering the norms and institutional practices influencing womens economic reintegration.75
Go to Natural resources and Community (economic) reintegration

Mainstreaming women needs into macro and microeconomic programs

Wars tend to shift economic and social burdens disproportionately onto the shoulders of women as they often becomes the main support for their family. However, recovery efforts may not prioritize the needs and realities of women and girls, including health needs, domestic responsibilities and needs for skills training and credit.76 Additionally, women may face discriminatory policies, structural barriers and cultural prejudices in the labor market.77 Even when post-conflict legislation forbids gender discrimination, "employers frequently ignore laws while enforcement mechanisms are weak."78 Due to the constraints to women's employment, the informal economy is particularly important to women trying to support their families. Economic vulnerability and restricted economic opportunities can also force women into dangerous, damaging or illegal activities such as prostitution or smuggling of contraband articles. 79  Go to Employment and Empowerment

"Methods to remedy gender inequalities include targeting credit to women and men equally, ensuring equal training opportunities for new bank jobs, using non-property collateral methods, and maintaining sex-disaggregated records to identify and remove gender disparities."80 Indeed, women frequently have the drive and the resourcefulness to make successful entrepreneurs, but require specific support, including targeted micro-credit programs. "Micro-credit programs with developmental aims may serve to target women who are denied financial support by banks or government projects. Nevertheless, this has not cumulated in dramatic perception changes by the latter institutions, nor does it accommodate to women who lack the business skills and knowledge to aptly use their financial support." 81
Go to Private sector development

Generally speaking, women's needs and gender issues should be mainstreamed into all macroeconomic and microeconomic policies and activities.82 But the macro-economic principles and strategies underpinning Peacebuilding Frameworks drawing largely from the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks - may inadvertently undermine national strategies for gender equality. "It is well known that women suffer disproportionately from the stringent macro-economic polices often put in place during a country's transition to peace. Composing eighty percent of the rural agricultural workforce, women often experience a severe adverse impact from the commercialization and privatization of agricultural land. [...] Because women and men occupy unequal positions in the labour market and the household, women are more negatively affected by policies that privatize basic service provision, including energy, communications, transportation, health care and education."83  Go to Economic Recovery Strategies

[Back to Top]

The specific role of women in the different components of peacebuilding

This section explores how women are asserting themselves as key actors in peacebuilding processes and provides concrete illustrations in different areas, namely the role of women in:
  • Democracy and governance;
  • Security matters;
  • Justice;
  • Psycho-social recovery; and
  • Womens entrepreneurship as a vehicle for economic recovery and social change.

The role of women in democracy & governance

The role of women in politics has been made extremely clear. The first aspect concerns their role in constitution-building and reform. Given "that a country's constitution, even where it may appear neutral, impacts disparately or differently with respect to gender," an important feature of constitutional engineering is the role of women.84 Women's roles in the building of constitutions are particularly crucial. Practitioners highlight the vitality of incorporating women's voices into constitutional bodies and at every step of the constitution-building process (civic education, public consultations and drafting).85 Women often play a crucial role in ensuring that equality is reflected in the language of the constitution as well. "Inclusion of this principle through the constitution is sometimes referred to as engendering the constitution."86

Women's representation in political institutions and legislature is another dimension that has attracted increasing attention. Several international legal instruments call for the rights of women to participate in governing bodies.87 A number of governments have recently attempted to incorporate women in government institutions through constitutional regulations, particularly surrounding quotas.88 Both the definition and the achievement of equality for women are complex matters and are not necessarily inclusive of every interest of diverse women. Women's organizations are often at the forefront of this effort. Increasing the presence of women as voters, candidates and administrators, is generally valued for its own sake, for reasons of gender equality. However, some studies have suggested that "there may be extremely important spinoffs stemming from increasing female representation: if women are less likely than men to behave opportunistically, then bringing more women into government may have significant benefits for society in general."89 As parliamentarians, women can play a key role in demanding accountability and transparency in different areas of governance.90

In public administration (the sector through which government policy is actuated) progress has generally been slower for women.91 While women have experienced greater representation, this does not necessarily translate into empowerment. Even when holding positions of power, in several cases women have been deferring to husbands or other decision-makers, thus indicating that other factors exist besides opportunity (such as norms) that must be taken into account when dealing with the roles of women.92 This is particularly important in local governance and suggests that efforts need to be made at the national level, in the work with political parties and local civil society, so that a better understanding of the specificities of the context are taken into consideration and more adequate mechanisms are put in place. In many cases, greater partnership with existing women's organizations may be an important intermediary step as these associations significantly structure portions of the community life during war and post-war period.  Go to Public administration, local governance and participation 

In elections, women have also increased their roles, both as voters and candidates. Significant efforts have been made by women's organizations, in particular, to increase turnout of women voters.Their civic and voter education campaigns aim at targeting women's needs, both in the formulation of the message, the media chosen, and the organization of electoral workshops, for instance, as women may face specific constraints.93 For women candidates and potential candidates, the environment may be particularly intimidating. To face that specific challenge, networks of mutual support and women-only training have started to be developed through the development of cross-party caucuses. 94
Go to Electoral Processes and Political Parties

Women's organizations are often among the most active components of local civil societies. They play a crucial role in popular protests and mobilizations and in different forms of citizen-empowering movements.95 They have also been pushing for a greater consideration of their concerns and participation in discussions at the international level. For instance, for countries on the agenda of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (UNPBC), womens engagement in the work of the commission has been enhanced by international actors (in particular UNIFEM and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office) but also by women leaders themselves.96

Women are also increasingly involved in the media, making sure that their voice is heard and that the media reflects a more gendered-balance perspective. Many local women organizations have been also engaging efforts to create "cyber center" where women can have access to internet resources in a safe environment.97  Go to Public Information and Media Development

The role of women in security matters

Like many other public institutions, the police and the different security services tend to reproduce the stereotypes and prejudices of their society with respect to women and men.98 Therefore, incorporating gender sensitive security sector reforms is not sufficient. Most policies also recommend "the recruitment of more female police officers and women in decision making positions within the police units, ensure for safe and supportive work environments for these women, build special units dedicated to gender sensitive crimes, and overhaul the previous training and operating practices that may have discriminated against women."99 As a result, women progressively play an increasing role in security sector agencies, even though the evolution may be slower that many could have hoped.  Go to Community policing

It is worth mentioning that local security services are not the only sectors facing difficulty in increasing the percentage of female personnel. The UN peace operations continue to face a huge deficit, including in the police, despite of many official directives and recommendations.100

However, even as ordinary citizens, women and their movements often play an important role in issues of security concerns. For instance, "as holders of knowledge in their communities, as members of the communities that receive demobilized combatants and as former combatants themselves, women possess particular insights and skills that are relevant to DDR, as well as needing particular provisions, services and outputs from DDR."101 Women's organizations and other civil society organizations often do the work of providing alternatives to combatants and catalyzing new, more peaceful, codes of conduct in society.102These initiatives may include counseling to address trauma and psychological issues, health and medical assistance and education and skills trainings. Generally speaking, there is an increasing acknowledgment that women can be a critical component of successful DDR.103

Women are also often engaged in grassroots disarmament before official disarmament processes begin. For instance, in Albania, "local women's groups worked with UNDP and UNIFEM on disarmament. First, they organised public awareness events and capacitybuilding workshops for women's organisations to address the specific challenges and concerns that the presence of weapons pose to women. Subsequently, through local conferences and rallies, they appealed to the public to "Stop Guns" and sponsored tapestry design competitions under the slogan "Life is better without guns." In towns where the project was implemented, around 6,000 weapons and 150 tons of ammunition were collected in exchange for community-based development and public works projects. Due to the success of the program, similar projects were launched in two other Albanian districts, leading to a total of 12,000 weapons and 200 tons of ammunition destroyed."104

More generally, women often play a crucial role in the prevention of violent conflict in their communities. According to the 2004 Report of the Secretary General on Women, Peace and Security: "Women can call attention to tensions before they erupt in open hostilities by collecting and analysing early warning information on potential armed conflict. Women play a critical role in building the capacity of communities to prevent new or recurrent violence. Women's organizations can often make contact with parties to conflict and interface with Governments and the United Nations."105

The role of women in justice

Women organizations are often very active in the promotion and protection of human rights, in particular in monitoring, advocacy and public awareness as well as education functions. As women may have more difficulty accessing justice, their organizations are also often very active in the domain, both in an advocacy role and in providing direct support to women in need. As traditional and informal justice mechanisms have attracted increasing interest, women are also increasingly mobilized in raising awareness about potential bias against women, as many traditional justice mechanisms are structurally based on patriarchical power and help to reinforce it. Last but not least, transitional justice is an area in which women organizations have been increasingly involved to make their voice heard, support victims in trial processes, and push a gender perspective in the work of the truth commissions, among other dimensions. The mobilization of women organizations in obtaining the qualification of rape as a war crime has been central in the case of the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia, for instance.

The role of women in psycho-social recovery

Many women's groups have taken the lead in addressing one of the most significant yet rarely acknowledged consequences of violent conflict--deep-rooted trauma. "In addition to providing psychosocial services, many of these groups are engaged in training and research in order to foreground the role that trauma plays in sustaining social conflict."106

Participation and empowerment not only goes toward improving self-esteem, but also to issues directly related to living conditions that underlie improved mental health. Women often play a central protagonist role in ensuring that mental health and other dimensions of people psycho-social well-being be taken into consideration, and that these interventions are part of larger processes of social and political change.107  Women often hold different key roles as actors of change in their community. The role of women teachers is particularly important in that perspective.108

Women's entrepreneurship for economic recovery and social change

Women can also play an important role in peacebuilding and economic recovery through entrepreneurship. Women in poor countries typically engage in the labor market at the grassroots level through "informal" micro-level businesses due to limited access to education, capital and low social status.109 The down-side of this is that economic vulnerability and restricted economic opportunities can also force women into dangerous, damaging or illegal activities such as prostitution or smuggling of contraband articles. On the other hand, "women frequently have both the drive and the resourcefulness to make successful entrepreneurs."110

The empowerment of women in the economic dimensions of the peacebuilding agenda is an investment useful for the whole community and the society at large. "Firstly, the extension of women's participation in employment and entrepreneurship strengthens the economy required for societal stability. Secondly, the economic independence of women contributes to their options for emancipation, which is a pre-requisite for a just and egalitarian society. Thirdly, such training builds women's confidence and capacity to challenge traditional power structures and exert pressure on decision-making processes, leading to a fully role in the reconstruction of society. Finally, the empowerment of women in the community provides greater recognition of the resources available and potential for leadership in civil society in its role in peacebuilding."111  Go to Employment and empowerment and Private sector development

1. This distinction is suggested by Jean Munro, Gender and Peacebuilding (Peacebuilding and Reconstruction Programme Initiative, International Development Research Centre, 2000), 6.
2. Communication with Sunita Vyavaharker (9 December 2008).
3. Duvury, Richard Strickland and Nata, Gender Equity and Peacebuilding: From Rhetoric to Reality: Finding the Way (Washington DC: International Center for Research on Women, 2003), 17.
4. Asian Development Bank, "Policy on Gender and Development," 2003, art. 41-49.
5. Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration, Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, China 1995); and United Nations Department of Political Affairs (UNDPA) Division on the Advancement of Women, Peace agreements as a means for promoting gender equality and ensuring participation of women A framework of model provisions, Report of the Expert Group Meeting, 3.
6. United Nations Development Programme, Empowered and Equal: Gender Equality Strategy (New York: UNDP, 2007), 8.
7. United Nations Security Council, "Resolution 1325 Women Peace and Security," (2000).
8. Leatherman , Janie, "Sexual Violence And Armed Conflict: Complex Dynamics Of Re-Victimization," International Journal of Peace Studies, v. 12 n. 1, (2007): 53.
9. Anju Chhetri, "Women's Intervention in the Peace Processes," Nepal Samacharpatra, August 29, 2006.
10. United Nations, "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women," 1979.
11. United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), "Cedaw and Security Council Resolution 1325: A Quick Guide," New York, UNIFEM, 2006.
12. United Nations Security Council, "Resolution 1820," Ss/RES/1820, 2008.
13. Other major international and regional agreements may also be found as listed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Population Issues, "Promoting Gender Equality: International and Regional Agreements".
14. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), "Women in War: A particularly Vulnerable Group?"
15. United States Agency for International Development (USAID), "Women and Conflict: An Introductory Guide for Programming," 11.
16. ICRC, Women in War.
17. UNIFEM, "Securing the Peace: Guiding the International Community Towards Women's Effective Participation Throughout Peace Processes," edited by Camille Pampell Conaway Klara Banaszak, Anne Marie Goetz, Aina Iiyambo and Maha Muna (New York: UNIFEM, 2005), 1.
18. Posa, Swanee Hunt and Cristina, "Women Waging Peace," Foreign Policy, no. 124 (2001): 38-47.
19. Donna Pankhurst, "The Sex War and Other Wars: Towards a Feminist Approach to Peace Building," Development in Practice 13, no. 2/3 (2003): 161.
20. UNDP, Can Conflict Analysis Processes Support Gendered Visions of Peace Building (New York: UNDP, 2006), 10.
21. Chhetri, "Women's Intervention," 2006.
22. United Nations, Women Peace and Security: Study Submitted by the Secretary General Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) (New York: United Nations, 2002), 74.
23. Ibid.
24. Hunts Alternatives Fund, Inclusive Security, Sustainable Peace: A toolkit for advocacy and action (2004), 10.
25. United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls, 20.
26. UNDPA Division on the Advancement of Women, Peace agreements, 9.
27. UNDP, UN Peacemaker, Operational Guidance Note.
28. UNDPA Division on the Advancement of Women, Peace agreements, 12.
29. United Nations, Women Peace and Security (2002), 76.
30. Greenberg, Elaine Zuckerman and Marcia, "The Gender Dimensions of Post-Conflict Reconstruction; an Analytical Framework for Policymakers," Gender and Development 12, no. 3 (2004): 70.
31. UNDPA Division on the Advancement of Women. Peace agreements, 27.
32. Sirleaf, Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson, "Women War Peace: The Independent Experts' Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Womens Role in Peace-Building" (New York: UNIFEM, 2002), 69.
33. UNIFEM, Gender Sensitive Police Reform in Post Conflict Societies (New York: UNDP, 2007).
34. Sirleaf,and Rehn, "Women War Peace," 2002, 70-72.
35. Report of the Secretary General on The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies,S/2004/616 2004, 11.
36. United Nations, Code of Personal Conduct for Blue Helmets, 3.
37. United Nations Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Women and Peace and Security," S/2007/567, 2007, 8.
38. Jackson, T., N. Marsh, T. Owen and A. Thurin, "Who takes the bullet?" Understanding the Issues, No. 3/2005, Oslo: Norwegian Church Aid, (2005):26.
39. UNIFEM, Women Building Peace and Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict-Affected Contexts: A Review of Community-Based Approaches (New York: UNIFEM, 2007), 23.
40. Vanessa A. Farr, "The new war zone: The ubiquitous presence of guns and light weapons has changed the definitions of 'war', 'victim', and 'perpetrator'." The Womens Review of Books. Special Issue on Women, War and Peace. (February 2004): 16.
41. Ernest Harsch, "Women: Africa's ignored combatants Gradual progress towards a greater role in DDR," in Africa Renewal, Vol.19 #3, United Nations, (2005):17.
42. United Nations Peace and Security through Disarmament, Gender Perspectives on DDR: Briefing Note 4, 1.
43. United Nations Report of the Secretary General, "Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration," A/60/705, 2006, para. 9; Susan McKay, and Dyan Mazurana, Where Are The Girls? Girls in fighting forces in Northern Uganda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique: Their lives during and after war, (2004): 18.
44. USAID, Women and Conflict, 10.
45. Harsch, (2005):17.
46. Ibid.
47. Beatrice Pouligny, "The politics and anti-politics of 'Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration' programs," Centre dEtudes et de Recherches Internationales, Science Po/CNRS, Secretariat General de la Defence Nationale, France, 2004, 9.
48. McKay and Mazurana, (2004), 18.
49. Pouligny, (2004): 9.
50. UN Peace and Security through Disarmament, Gender Perspectives on DDR, 1.
51. Ibid.
52.UN Secretary General Report, Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, para. 7-8, 3.
53. Ibid.
54. See International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and Stockholm University, Global Database of Quotas for Women: Election Law Quota Regulation; Political Party Quota for Electoral Candidates; Political Party Quotas by Country: All Regions.
55. Andrew Reynolds, "Electoral systems and the protection and participation of minorities," Minority Rights Group International, 2006, 25; United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Enhancing Women's Participation in Electoral Processes in Post-Conflict Countries, Expert Group Meeting on Enhancing Womens Participation in Electoral Processes in Post-Conflict Countries, EGM/ELEC/2004/BP.2., background Paper, January 1922, 2004, Glen Cove, 7.
56. Stina Larserud and Rita Taphorn Designing for Equality: Best-fit, medium-fit and non-favorable combinations of electoral systems and gender quotas (International IDEA, 2007), 8.
57. United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations/Department of Filed Support-Department of Political Affairs. Joint Guidelines on Enhancing the Role of Women in Post-Conflict Electoral Processes, (United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Department of Field Support in cooperation with the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political Affairs, October 2007).
58. United Nations Secretary General, Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization, A/62/293, August 23, 2007, 6.
59. See the Gender Media Monitoring Project of the Global Media Monitoring Project: Who Makes the News? The reports provide an extensive analysis of gender representation and portrayal in the worlds news media.
60. Susan McKay, "Women, Human Security and Peace-Building: A Feminist Analysis," In Conflict and Human Security: A Search for New Approaches of Peace-building, (IPSHU English Research Report Series No.19, 2004), 157.
61. International Crisis Group Africa Report 112, Beyond Victimhood: Women's Peacebuilding in Sudan, Congo and Uganda (28 June 2006), 22.
62. UNDP, Empowered and Equal: Gender Equality Strategy (New York: UNDP, 200)7, 27.
63. See the analysis suggested in The World Bank, Gender, Justice and Truth Commissions (The World Bank, 2006), 14-15.
64. Communication with Sunita Vyavaharker (9 December 2008).
65. See Valji, "Gender, Justice and Reconciliation."
66. Ibid, 21.
67. Leatherman , Janie, "Sexual Violence And Armed Conflict: Complex Dynamics Of Re-Victimization," International Journal of Peace Studies 12, no 1 (2007): 53.
68. United Kingdom Department For International Development, Gender Equality: Are We on Track to Meet the Mdg Target 3? (DIFD, 2007).
69. UN, Women Peace and Security: Study Submitted by the Secretary General Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) (New York: United Nations, 2002), 31-32.
70. UNDPA Division on the Advancement of Women, Peace agreements, 29.
71. Jackie Kirk, "Promoting a Gender-Just Peace: The Roles of Women Teachers in Peacebuilding and Reconstruction," Gender and Development 12, no. 3 (2004): 51-52.
72. Richard Strickland Duvvury and Nata, "Gender Equity and Peacebuilding: From Rhetoric to Reality: Finding the Way," Washington DC: International Center for Research on Women, 2003, 25.
73. Khalid Koser, "The Return of Refugees and IDPs and Sustainable Peace," The Brookings Institution, February 10, 2008.
74. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities ( The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, May 2004), 24.
75. Ibid.
76. CIDA, Gender Equality and Peacebuilding: An Operational Framework, 5.
77. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Guide to the Implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth (Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations, 2006), 4.
78. Elaine Zuckerman and Marcia Greenberg, "The Gender Dimensions of Post-Conflict Reconstruction: An Analytical Framework for Policymakers," Gender and Development: An Oxfam Journal, Volume 12, Number 3 (2004): 4.
79. Piet Goovaerts, et al., "Demand Driven Approaches to Livelihood Support in Post-war Contexts: A Joint ILO-World Bank Study," paper no. 29, (The World Bank and International Labour Office, October 2005), 4-5.
80. Zuckerman and Greenberg, "The Gender Dimensions," 2004, 6.
81. Ibid, 6.
82. Ibid, 4.
83. Jennifer F. Klot, "Women and Peacebuilding. Independent Expert Paper," Commissioned by UNIFEM and PBSO, January 2007, 9.
84. Helen Irving, Gender and the Constitution: Equity and Agency in Comparative Constitutional Design (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 1.
85. Jolynn Shoemaker, "By the People for the People: Constitution-Building, Gender and Democratization," in Women for Women International, Gender and Constitution-Building: From Paper to Practice. Critical Half Bi-Annual Journal of Women for Women International 3, no. 1 (2005): 9.
86. Ibid, 10.
87. Ibid, 11.
88. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and Stockholm University, Global Database of Quotas for Women.
89. D. Dollar et al. "Are Women Really the 'Fairer' Sex? Corruption and Women in Government." Policy Research Report on Gender and Development, Working Paper Series 4. (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1999): 8.
90. International Alert and Women Waging Peace, Inclusive Security, Sustainable Peace: A Toolkit for Advocacy and Action (London: London Hunt Alternatives Fund and International Alert, 2004), 6.
91. Harry Blair, "Participation and Accountability at the Periphery: Democratic Local Governance in Six Countries," in World Development 28, no. 1(2000): 24.
92. Ibid.
93. UN DPKO/DFS-DPA, Joint Guidelines (2007), 28.
94. OSAGI, Enhancing Women's Participation (2004), 7.
95. Swanee Hunt Posa and Cristina, "Women Waging Peace," Foreign Policy, no. 124 (2001): 38.
96. Jennifer F. Klot, "Women and Peacebuilding," UNIFEM, 2007, 4.
97. Peace X Peace, The Daily Power of Women in Peacebuilding, Ed. Patricia Smith Melton, 7.
98. UNIFEM, Gender Sensitive Police Reform in Post Conflict Societies (New York, UNDP, 2007), 5.
99. Ibid, 10.
100. Sirleaf, Women War Peace, 2002, 64; DPKO, "Gender Equality in UN Peacekeeping Missions."
101. Women War and Peace, "Women, War, Peace and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR),"
102. Ibid.
103. International Alert, Inclusive Security (2004), 6.
104. Ibid, 6.
105. United Nations Association of Canada, Gender, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding: Background on gender and UN peace operations.
106. Lisa Schirch and Manjrika Sewak, "Introduction Chapter: Using the Gender Lens." In People Building Peace II (2006) 13.
107. Lisa Laplante, "Women as Political Participants: Psychosocial Postconflict Recovery in Peru," Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, v. 13 no. 3 (2007).
108. Jackie Kirk, "Promoting a Gender-Just Peace: The Roles of Women Teachers in Peacebuilding and Reconstruction," Gender and Development 12, no. 3 (2004): 51.
109. International Alert, Local Business, Local Peace: the Peacebuilding Potential of the Domestic Private Sector, International Alert; Carment Niethammer, Mark Blackden, and Henriette Von Kaltenborn-Stachau, Creating Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs in Conflict-Affected Countries, (New York: International Finance Corporation, April 2008), 1.
110. Piet Goovaerts, et al., Demand Driven Approaches, paper no. 29, (The World Bank and International Labour Office, October 2005), 5.
111. Michael Potter, "Women, Civil Society and Peacebuilding," Training for Women Network, 2004, 31.

The news, reports, and analyses herein are selected due to there relevance to issues of peacebuilding, or their significance to policymakers and practitioners. The content prepared by HPCR International is meant to summarize main points of the current debates and does not necessarily reflect the views of HPCR International or the Program of Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. In addition, HPCR International and contributing partners are not responsible for the content of external publications and internet sites linked to this portal.