Empowerment: Women & Gender Issues: Actors & Activities

Main actors


The inclusion and empowerment of women in peacebuilding settings requires representation at the levels of government. This may include tacit or implicit legal efforts to include a number of women in positions of authority, particularly in the legislature.1 The case of Rwanda has been well regarded for mandating that a minimum of one third of legislative seats be allocated to women, and in practice having nearly half of the national parliament comprised of women.2 In addition, ministries may be established specifically on womens affairs. For instance, in Haiti, the Ministry of Women's Affairs has been more active in advocacy and support than many of the other ministries. Some states may equally establish a State Secretary for Women, while in certain circumstances temporary units have been organized to deal with the immediate needs of women, such as a government task force on women's rights. For instance, the latter measure was taken on in Afghanistan in order to counter the prevalence of domestic violence.3 Women may also be intentionally represented in a constitutional engineering process.4

However, some circumstances have different emerging challenges. For instance, some states may have a transitional government or international administration, with a heavy role in governance during early stages of peacebuilding. On this basis, some missions have worked to encourage employment and engagement of women in leadership capacities. Gender-balance in such capacities is seen as important to any post-conflict government apparatus.5
Go to Constitutions - Womens role in constitution building and gender equality in future governance

Still, women have a long-standing history of exclusion from these official channels of governance. "Women's exclusion from formal governing structures--elected or appointed positions--has been a driving force behind their involvement as leaders in civil society."6 Through civil society networks, women have been able to "claim spheres of influence within civil society and use its growing importance to structure an equality agenda. Many areas of civil society are sympathetic to the empowerment of women and others form a powerful platform to have the ideals of equal participation aired in a public, sub-state space."7 Civil society has provided an alternative means for women to be involved in governance, as "women's groups in conflict zones have used Resolution 1325 as a mobilizing tool to demand involvement at all level of decision-making, including at negotiation tables, and in the implementation of peace processes."8 In addition, this space allowed women to find access to services, such as mental and physical health, and education, that they were not afforded otherwise.9
Go to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security

Groups advocating for these issues often find alternative means of representation. Groups representing marginalized populations, including women, "are often re-creating their own coping strategies and cultural products and projects in the more hidden sectors of cultural life. These often incorporate the artistic dimensions of everyday life, including artisanship, work songs, prayers and narratives."10For instance, in the DRC, women have formed collective groups to express and relay their trauma, particularly instances of sexual violence.11 This may include singing, and theater, as expressive activities.12 The success of women's networks has also had broader implications for civil society. For instance, women's networks in Sierra Leone have been so useful that they are used as dissemination mechanisms for broader civic education programs.

The media may also play an active role in promoting women's issues in peacebuilding settings. Indeed, there has been an increased recognition in the need to include women in media forums, and develop access to media platforms.13 This is also being done primarily at the local level, where peace media outlets, such as talk shows, soap operas, and community radios, are used to encourage women's equality and participation.14
Go to Public information and media development - women and media

Increasingly, programs are also targeting women as leaders in the private sector. Many micro-finance and micro-credit initiatives provide grants and loans to women entrepreneurs to catalyze growth. There have also been projects targeting the improved employment of women in the private sector.15


International actors play an important role in promoting and capacitating the inclusion and empowerment of women.16 To that end, a number of international organizations are involved in supporting programs of this nature, as well as internally mainstreaming gender. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works on both of these approaches. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) also is instrumental to that end, as it "supports women's participation in peace processes and reconstruction by providing leadership training and capacity building, facilitating contact with the international community, supporting indigenous women's peace activism and advocacy and initiating conflict early warning and prevention projects."17 Funding for such initiatives may also be supported by such agencies as UNHCR and UNESCO.18 Furthermore, the Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues (OSAGI) plays an instrumental role within the UN system to ensure that gender issues are mainstreamed throughout the organization, and leading the "Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, the Inter Agency Task Force on Women, Peace and Security under Security Council resolution 1325 and other Task Forces."19 The UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) also has established specific gender units and offices for missions.20 Finally, the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission has emphasized the need to include gender components in various facets of peacebuilding, including participation in governance and justice sector reform.21

Within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) also works on gender issues, through the lead of GENDERNET, "an international forum of gender experts from bilateral and multilateral agencies to share experience and develop common policies and approaches."22

International justice mechanisms also may play important roles when it comes to promoting women's rights. For instance, "The International Criminal Tribunals of the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have raised the standards of accountability for crimes of sexual violence against women. In so doing, the judgments of the ad hoc Tribunals have clarified definitions of sexual violence, recognizing rape as a means of torture and a form of persecution."23  Go to Transitional justice

International financial institutions may fund women's groups, or organizations working toward socio-economic empowerment of women. For instance, the World Bank has funded local womens associations that seek to improve employment capacities of women.24 It also may build capacity through training programs for civil society and government, and attempts to meet quotas for womens participation in trainings on such issues as public financial management.25

Go to Economic recovery: Public finance and economic governance Bilateral donor agencies, such as USAID, SIDA, CIDA, JICA, DfID, and so forth provide assistance to gender specific programs.

In addition, international non-governmental organizations (INGOS) play a critical role in women's empowerment. Many of these programs focus "on peace and democracy education or other education on women's rights. They support the forming of women's groups, training in governance or peace and democracy, and women's involvement in decision-making in traditional conflict-resolution structures."26 Others develop workshops, and engage in livelihood promotion, and advocacy around women's affairs.

Prominent INGOs working on advocacy and from a policy perspective include, but are not limited to: Amnesty International, Femmes Africa Solidarit, Human Rights Watch, International Centre for Research on Women, International IDEA, NGO Working Group for Women Peace and Security, Peace Women, Peace Women Across the Globe, Peace X Peace, Raising Womens Voices, West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, Women in Security Conflict Management and Peace, Women Making Peace, Womens International League for Peace and Freedom.

Organizations working on relief, early recovery, and development for post-conflict countries, attempt to promote methods of women's employment as well.27 These are of equal importance, and are more engaged in education and technical programming. They include agencies like the ICRC, CARE, the IRC, and ActionAid.

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Activities supporting women's role in peacebuilding

Women's conferences

In order to share experiences and strategies for the promotion of women's equality, inclusion, and empowerment in leadership roles, a number of international women's conferences have been organized. Given the breadth of challenges that must be tackled in this domain, conferences may target specifically narrow issues. For instance, while the International Conference on Women, Peacebuilding and Constitution Making addressed broader issues, it also sought to "develop strategies for supporting, developing and enhancing women's peace building and constitution making capacities at multiple levels," thus, giving greater specificity to constitutional issues.28

Similarly, conferences may attempt to target regions or countries, rather than gender in peacebuilding overall, which may be effective in promoting engagement across actors interested in the same area, as well as allow stakeholders to coordinate approaches to problems. For example, the International Conference on Women, Peace and Security in Somalia attempts to "Establish an open and continuous dialogue among Somali women both from Somalia and the Diaspora; Support the creation of an enabling environment for women's equal participation in conflict-resolution, peace-building and political processes in Somalia and among the Somali Diaspora; Outline a roadmap for the development of a National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in Somalia, and define strategies and mechanisms for its participatory negotiation and implementation."29 Conferences may be held outside of the particular country as well, in order to offer a safe and neutral space.30

Some significant international and regional conferences held on issues of gender and peacebuilding, include:

In addition, International Women's Day is commemorated in order to bring women's voices into peacebuilding.

Women's networks and movements

Networks and movements established by women have been particularly successful in a number of contexts, and are at times able to address delicate issues that are particularly challenging for other agencies to approach. For instance, the Women in Black movement in Israel/Palestine has been acclaimed for its success in crossing cultural barriers that have largely been closed off to other initiatives. This movement has brought together Israeli and Palestinian women to advocate for peace, a model that has since been used elsewhere.

Another particularly successful case has been the Mano River Women's Peace Network (MARWOPNET), which spans Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. This network, "sent a women's delegation to meet the three presidents, and on a platform focusing on human suffering caused by war, and their own leverage as women, they succeeded where all other mediators had failed in getting the presidents to agree to a regional peace summit."31 Though these networks may also encounter difficulties, due to their often inherently informal nature, and thus difficulty to technically include in peace processes, they have been able to make strides toward peace unachievable by other stakeholders. Other prominent international networks of this kind include Women Waging Peace, and the Peace Women Project.

Working Groups

Working groups constituted at the international level, in particular under the UN umbrella, serve important functions and are often used to mainstream and harmonize gender policies and related processes within and between organizations. As they are on-going, they are able to adapt to changing needs, and are good forums for sharing lessons learned.32 Roundtables may be periodically arranged for informal discussion on pertinent issues. For instance, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security and International Alert has hosted a recent roundtable discussion to think through ways in which gender can be incorporated and streamlined across the UN Peacebuilding Commission, and served to connect policymakers with local counterparts, in order to better understand practicalities of measures undertaken.33 Some working groups may take on specific tasks as part of their mandate. For example, the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office has established a working group in order for the EU to take on board mandates from the UN Security Resolution 1325.34 Hence, working groups can be particularly useful ways to create policy discussions around gender, given that they need not be formal, and can meet frequently enough to evolve along with emerging realities.
Go to A short history of a gender approach to peacebuilding

Research and training programs

Many actors involved in gender empowerment and participation of women in peacebuilding processes undertake research and training programs. Research initiatives on the one hand can play the dual function of informing policy, or advocating for change of policy, and may target an array of actors. For instance, many task forces on gender will produce summaries of findings, best practices, and lessons learned. Further guidelines may produces for internal reference on how to mainstream gender.35 Such initiatives, and the production of policy and research, often comprise a component of the packaging for donor's National Action Plans related to UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Countries with such programs in place include:Austria, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.36

In addition, training programs may be utilized in two ways. Staff may be trained on promoting gender issues internally. Alternatively, training is used for local groups and networks of women, as an empowerment tool. For instance, the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women has conducted a course for women leadership in post-conflict situations in South Africa, Guinea, and Rwanda.37 Another example is in Iraq, where "To address the need for more women peace-builders, the Office for International Women's Issues (G/IWI) will sponsor Women as Agents of Peace, a targeted training program for Iraqi women peace-builders...The participants in this targeted training program will be grassroots women peace-builders who are leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), working on peace-building initiatives, women who are leading peace-building programs independently or women who are interested in starting their own peace-building initiatives."38

Support for women in government, legislature and civil society

Various international agencies, such as UNDPKO, the United Nations Democracy Fund, UNIFEM, and UNDP, have been involved in supporting women's role in government. UN agencies have hosted civil society forums, which have encouraged women's role in politics. These groups also produce policy work on the importance of engaging women in electoral processes, and have supported projects to increase women's representation in political parties.39 In what may be an intimidating environment, women candidates and potential candidates may create networks of mutual support and training through the development of cross party caucuses, which may take the further step of undertaking women-only training on a cross-party basis. 40 Similar support is provided to women's role in civil society.
Go to Electoral processes and political parties

1. Public International Law and Policy Group, "Human Rights: Women's Rights. A Quick Guide," 2006, 2.
2. Sherrill Wittington et al., "Women in Government in Solomon Islands: A Diagnostic Study," 2006, 8.
3. Ibid, 11.
4. Birgitte Sorensen, "Women and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Issues and Sources," United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Programme for Strategic and International Security Studies, WSP Occasional Paper No. 3, 1998, 23.
5. UNDPA Division on the Advancement of Women, "Peace agreements," 2003, 20.
6. United Nations Security Council, "Resolution 1325," New York, United Nations, 2000.
7. Potter, "Women, Civil Society," 2004, 19.
8. Julie Ballington in collaboration with EISA and the SADC Parliamentary Forum, eds. The Implementation of Quotas: African Experiences (Stockholm: International IDEA, 2004), 101.
9. UNDP Evaluation Office, "From Recovery to Transition: Women, the Untapped Resource," Essentials 11 (2003): 5.
10. Roberta Culbertson and Batrice Pouligny, "Re-imagining Peace After Mass Crime: A Dialogical Exchange Between Insider and Outsider Knowledge," in Pouligny, et al., After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities (Tokyo/New York/Paris: United Nations University Press, 2007), 285.
11. Film: The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. Director: Lisa F. Jackson.
12. Batrice Pouligny, Thtre Participatif pour la Transformation des Conflits au Sud Kivu (Rpublique dmocratique du Congo), Juin 2007.
13. Sirleaf and Rehn, "Women War Peace," 103.
14. Ibid, 109.
15. Ylli Bajraktari, Economic Empowerment of Women in Iraq: The Way Forward, (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2006).
16. 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, 23.
17. Hunts Alternatives Fund, Inclusive Security, Sustainable Peace: A toolkit for advocacy and action (2004), 5.
18. UNIFEM, Securing the Peace (2005).
19. OSAGI, About the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.
20. Sirleaf and Rehn, "Women War Peace," 2002.
21. NGO Working Group on Women Peace and Security and International Alert, "Enhancing Security and the Rule of Law: How can Gender be better integrated into the priorities of the UN Peacebuilding Commission," NGO Working Group and International Alert 2007, 6-8.
22. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, About Gender Equality and Development, (September, 2004)., 27.
23. Sirleaf and Rehn, "Women War Peace," 2002, 93-94.
24. The World Bank, Improving Womens Lives: World Bank Actions Since Beijing, (The World Bank Gender and Development Group, 2005), 53.
25. Ibid.
26. Robynn Collins and Saskia Ivens, "NGO's and Peacebuilding; Canadian Experience and Guidelines," For the Gender and Peacebuiding Working Group and the Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee.,GPWG and CPCC, 2005, 11.
27. BirgitteSorensen. "Women and Post-Conflict," 1998, 36.
28. The International Conference on Women, Peacebuilding and Constitution Making.
29. International Conference on Women, Peace and Security in Somalia.
30. Osnat Lubrani, "E-Discussion for the SG Report Phase 2: Gender Equality in Recovery and Peacebuilding," UNIFEM, December 10, 2008.
31. AusAID, Gender Guidelines for Peacebuilding, Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID: 2006).
32. KOFF Working Group on Gender and Peacebuilding.
33. NGO Working Group, "Enhancing Security," 2007, 6-8.
34. European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, "Gender, Peace and Security," EPLO, 2008.
35. See for instance: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), "Gender Aspects in Post-Conflict Situations A Guide for OSCE Staff," 2001.
36. Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, "National Implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000)," Taskforce on Women, Peace and Security, 2008.
37. AusAID, "Gender Guidelines for Peacebuilding," 2006.
38. US Department of State,"Focus on Iraq: Upcoming Events," 2008.
39. UNSG, "Strengthening the role," A/62/293, 2007, 6.
40. OSAGI , Enhancing Womens Participation (2004), 7.

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