Zahia, Sarah and Hanadi, Syrian refugees living in a neighbourhood of Tripoli. Photo: Pablo Tosca/Oxfam.

Three reasons why an intersectional approach to women’s peace and security agenda is important

Conflict, Gender, Humanitarian

Zahia, Sarah and Hanadi, Syrian refugees living in a neighbourhood of Tripoli. Photo: Pablo Tosca/Oxfam.
Zahia, Sarah and Hanadi, Syrian refugees living in a neighbourhood of Tripoli. Photo: Pablo Tosca/Oxfam.

October 31st marks 19 years since the historical recognition of the unique gendered impact of violence on the well-being of women and girls.

The adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was the first time where women rights and leadership were acknowledged as vital components in peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. It changed the way the international community conceptualised security, and there were calls for better protection of women and girls in conflict, as well as the participation of women in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peace-making and peacebuilding.

The women, peace and security agenda has been one of my main focuses academically and professionally, and over the last few years, I have had the privilege to attend panel discussions and community events exploring the role of women in post-conflict transitions. 

However, through my experiences, I realised that the approach to women participation in peace processes had become simplified to a matter of filling women-specific quotas, as described by Sahana Dharmapuri – an independent advisor on gender, peace, and security – a ‘adding women and stirring’.

In 2015, women made up only 2 per cent of mediators, 5 per cent of witnesses and signatories, and 8 per cent of negotiators in peace processes.

There was a lack of effort within the international community in promoting in real inclusive participation. The International peace processes remained exclusive and confined within the traditional realms of state centrism and formal institutions, that mainly focused on bringing armed groups who were rarely women, to the peace negotiation table.

Even when a selective group of women are invited to these spaces of decision making, there remains unequal power dynamics and gendered norms within formal processes, that are inherently designed to cater to the prioritisation of men’s experiences and needs, while excluding the voices of women.

‘We don’t just need to be at the peace table. it’s time to redesign the table.’  Sahana Dharmapuri

Inviting women to peace negotiation tables that are inherently patriarchal does not equate to the meaningful inclusion or participation of women, as power is often unequally distributed within these spaces of peace.

So it is time that we re-define peace-building processes and adopt a radical intersectional feminist approach that is based on the different experiences and identities of women, it is through this approach that we are able to recognise how structural inequality, gender norms  as well as the power dynamics continue to make up peace processes. 

It gives us the opportunity to move beyond traditional gendered framework of peace-building to a more inclusive approach to women, peace and seucirty.

Three reasons why an intersectional approach to women’s peace and security agenda is important:

It will identify and build on the capacity of existing community-led initiatives and spaces. There are many examples where women globally have demonstrated their ability to mobilise and influence in times of conflict and post-conflict transitions, often within local informal grassroots spaces (e.g. from women-led community meetings to poetry and storytelling). An intersectional approach allows us to recognise the value women play at the ‘informal’ level and more importantly bring these mechanisms into the broader peace and negotiation process.

It will allow us to critically analyse barriers, challenges and social norms that prevent the meaningful participation of women. Bringing women to the negotiation table does not necessarily lead to an inclusive peace process, so an intersectional approach will allow us to go beyond quotas to understand the deep structures barriers, norms and practices that contribute to the marginalisation of women’s experiences and needs during and after conflict.

It recognises women as autonomous actors, and the different gendered experiences in a conflict situation. Within many peace processes, there is a universally accepted narrative of women in conflict zones as being simply victims of war. This is often the reason why women are excluded from peace talks. Adopting an intersectional approach, we are then able to move away from narrow gendered binary assumptions and stereotypes and instead recognise women as autonomous actors and the various roles in which they play during the conflict as either local peace mediators, humanitarian responders, and combatants.

Acknowledging the need for inclusive peace processes was a significant milestone for the international community. But it is the now how this approach is put into practice that will truly ensure the transformative participation of women.

If women’s participation in peace processes in the last two decade has remained minimal, then it is time that we adopt an intersectional approach that will move away from male dominated peace structures and instead invest and amplify existing women-led spaces and recognise the different roles that women hold.

Author
Sagal Bafo

Sagal Bafo

Yemen Campaign Coordinator at Oxfam