You may have seen the images. Thousands of Liberian women – both old and young, Christian and Muslim, all dressed in white – sitting in silent protest outside of Charles Taylor’s Presidential Palace during the civil war, demanding peace. These women mobilized for peace in other ways too, from mass demonstrations across the country, to influencing belligerents to attend peace talks, to pressuring the parties to reach an agreement at the negotiation table. And you know what? It worked. The women of Liberia played an instrumental role in ending the country’s Second Civil War, and have continued to mobilize for peace since. This month, the world again saw images of Liberian women in white marching for peace. In large part thanks to them, Liberia just had its third successful Presidential election since the war.
Liberia is just one of many places where women have played an instrumental role in bringing about peace. Research has shown, time and again, that women’s involvement in peace processes leads to more successful negotiations, more responsive peace agreements, and more sustainable peace.
Why, then, are women almost always excluded from formal peace processes? Those working to build peace often focus on engaging the “guys with the guns,” the traditional military and political elite that are often male, at the expense of including those most vulnerable during conflict. The problem, though, is that this method of peace-making repeatedly fails; in countries that have experienced a war in the last 10 years, conflict reoccurs over 50 percent of the time.
The world needs a new way of thinking about how to create peace. That much is clear. In searching for new ways to end war, it is also clear that we should start by meaningfully including women in peace processes. Here’s why.
Women play a significant role in providing momentum to peace talks, moving them along, and pushing for conclusion. In peace processes that had strong participation and inclusion of women, a peace agreement was almost always reached.
Women’s participation leads to more responsive peace agreements, ones that directly address the inequities in society and the root causes of conflict. Women – from Northern Ireland to the Philippines to Colombia – have pushed for the inclusion of reconciliation, victim’s rights, and women’s rights provisions in peace deals.
Perhaps the most important and compelling reason to include women, however, is that women’s participation directly contributes to the legitimacy of agreements and to sustainable peace. The evidence is staggering. A UN study released in 2015 found that, when women participate, peace processes are 20% more likely to last for two years, and 35% more likely to last for 15 years. In other words, future war is far less likely when women are actively included in building peace.
War Child has known this for a long time. Through our work, we have seen over and over again that women are not passive victims of conflict, but drivers of peace and stability within their communities. That is why we actively include women in the design of our programs, and why we meaningfully invest in women in conflict zones.
Given that war has such a devastating impact on individuals and communities, it is baffling that women are excluded from peace processes when their involvement has been shown to directly contribute to peace. Sure, there are challenges to women’s participation. The inclusion of women takes resources, it cannot just be assumed that all women will advocate for peace, and some negotiators fear that broadening inclusion will jeopardize their ability to get a deal with the belligerents.
These challenges, however, are unconvincing. We know from the example of Liberia that women will mobilize for peace whether or not they are formally included, but when women’s formal participation can build peace, save lives, curb displacement, and prevent trauma, no challenge is compelling enough to justify exclusion.
Given how often countries relapse into conflict shortly after a peace deal is signed, it is clear that the world needs to find new ways of building sustainable peace. In On War, Carl von Clausewitz speaks to this tragic cycle of conflict, claiming that “the result of war is never final.”
But if women were given a chance to lead, maybe it could be.
Join us on November 6th for our What if…? event, celebrating the power and potential of women. The event includes performances by Sarah McLachlan, Chantal Kreviazuk and Ruth B. Show only tickets are still available for $150 (include hors d’oeuvres and drinks).