Equalizing Peace: Law, Solidarity, and Global Support in the Fight for Female Participation

by / 0 Comments / 141 View / May 4, 2014

On April 2, 2003, the female delegates to the Inter-Congolese Dialogue (ICD), an assembly to reconstruct the Congolese government, formed a chain around the main assembly hall, blocking all of the exits and preventing the other delegates from leaving.1  Moved by the actions of these women, the other representatives at the ICD agreed to finally sign the compromise papers, officially ending the conflict that had torn apart the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).2 Three years later in Nepal, the Inter-Party Women’s Alliance, a group of united female political leaders, set up local alliances of women in over sixty districts in Nepal, helping to spread the message of peace and unity throughout the country.3  Even though many believed that peace had been restored after official warfare had ended, these women understood that peace could not exist if any hostilities continued.  Their efforts helped to finally bring lasting order to their country.4

These are just two examples of the difference that women can make at the peace table.  Despite their exclusion from many peace negotiations, women all over the world have found ways to make their voices heard and affect significant change in the aftermath of conflict, even if they have not yet completely overcome patriarchy.  In several countries, women have formed such strong syndicates that they have succeeded in changing the convictions of major leaders, often sparking the first peace talks.  This strength is further bolstered by generations of suppression that “[have] made women adept at finding innovative ways to cope with problems.”5 It is clear from history that three factors are necessary for women’s movements to be successful: they must find ways to enforce gender quotas, they must overcome cultural and social barriers between women, and they must gain international support.  Women’s movements in the DRC and Nepal help to symbolize these factors.

In 1999, the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement was signed in an attempt to finally bring peace to the DRC. The Agreement called for an official settlement between the major factions of the conflict that was to be shaped at the ICD.6 A preparatory committee met in Gaborone to set the terms for the meeting.7 The Gaborone convention was the first sign of trouble for women’s groups around the DRC: of the seventy-four delegates selected for the meeting, only six were women, most of whom had been chosen simply because of their personal relationships to influential party members.8 Additionally, many attempts by the female delegates to put gender issues on the agenda were met with opposition, directing attention away from matters such as reparations to rape victims.9

Likewise, only one group at the ICD had female representation above ten percent.The total representation of women (about forty of over four-hundred total delegates were women) did not even come close to meeting the quota of thirty percent suggested by the UN in Article 1325.10 However, those forty women did more to foster peace than did most of the other delegates combined.  Strong leaders urged the female delegates to come together often and to overcome the sectarianism that still existed between them.11 Having stabilized their cause, they petitioned the party leaders to address issues of crimes against women and of women soldiers, eventually succeeding in gaining funds to begin rehabilitation centers for traumatized victims.12 They also took great strides to destroy the social stigma of rape that occurs in many cultures, providing aid for victims of sexual violence who would otherwise have been outcasts in the community.13  They did so much with so little.

Unlike the DRC, women in Nepal had to find more informal ways to bring about change since they were excluded from official peace processes. In fact, Ian Martin, head of the United Nations Mission in Nepal, wrote, “At all the political negotiating tables I have seen in Nepal during the peace process, not once have I seen a woman at the table.”14 However, even under such circumstances, women still found ways to influence the men controlling the peace process, albeit much more circuitously.

In 2006, the People’s Movement brought about a change in the government of Nepal and a settlement between the Maoists and the other major parties that controlled Parliament.15 The Movement was largely successful at bringing together most social factions for a united political cause.  Traditionally repressed minorities, such as the Dalit community, took to the streets to protest their exclusion from government participation.16 However, no group found a louder voice in the revolution than women.  Seeing a chance to finally take active stances on political and gender issues, many women organized rallies and boycotts, stirring up their communities.17 Women worked at the grass-roots level to bring peace to the country.

Although it seemed that Nepal had taken a step forward with the level of female participation in the People’s Movement, women found it much harder to bring up gender issues in the new interim government.18 Most political parties were dominated by male leaders who rarely listened to the opinions of women.19 However, even without political power, women still found strength in civil activism.  Some of their non-governmental organizations, such as Nagarik Aawaz and DidiBahini, drew support from international institutions and became so powerful that they helped elect women to Parliament and leveraged their voting influence to gain support from party leaders.20 Eventually, participation in the Assembly even came close to meeting the thirty-percent quota mandated by UN Resolution 1325.21

The DRC and Nepal help to exemplify the need for quotas in peace and political processes.  Although quotas might seem like a shallow solution to a deeply rooted problem, they are crucial to breaking down the structural barriers that prevent female participation in politics.  If men do not have the option of exclusion, then women are at least guaranteed valuable opportunities for change.  This was seen clearly in the DRC peace negotiations: the female delegates were able to participate in the negotiations to begin with because of pressure to follow international guidelines on the inclusion of women.22 However, quotas cannot replace activism.  The lesson learned in Nepal was that much more was needed to break the gender stereotypes that still existed in the minds of important political leaders.23 Female inclusion is necessary, but female participation is equally important.

Additionally, in order to overcome the stigma of women participating in politics, it is clear that female representatives must show solidarity by overcoming social and cultural divides.  In the DRC, women were only able to truly impact the ICD by meeting regularly and ignoring the sectionalism that often destroys unified protest.24 In other countries, such as Burundi, racial tension overwhelmingly hindered women from gender advocacy and other crucial issues.25 However, brought together by the common factor of oppression, women are generally able to come together in much stronger and more ready union than the men who dominate society.26 This solidarity is strengthened by additional commonalities.  Women in nearly every country fill the roles that transcend societal barriers, such as those of mother and caregiver, thereby wishing to ensure the safety of their homes and children.27 From Ireland to Lithuania, women have become examples of the type of cooperation that is needed to overcome strife, a cooperation that seems to spread to the militants that control peace negotiations.  Nepal shows the best example: even without being part of the peace talks, female organizations drove the negotiations in the right direction, helping to ensure equality in the new restructured government and showing the militants the strength of community.

The final critical factor for successful female movements is international support.  Other countries have gone through gender struggles and have developed their own unique solutions to similar problems.  By connecting women’s movements to international organizations, these movements gain access to invaluable experiences that help to further their causes immeasurably.28 In the DRC, UNIFEM provided leadership and guidance for the female delegates to the ICD by sending in Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a strong activist (and future president) in Liberia, another country that had struggled with political misogyny.29 Similarly, women in Nepal received assistance from the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance, an organization that sent experienced women to help organize petitions and peaceful rallies.30 With such strong international support, female organizations around the world have gained the ability to influence conflict and peace.

The DRC and Nepal are not the only examples of the power that women possess to exact change, both inside and outside official negotiations.  In Afghanistan, women are finding ways to break Taliban oppression.31 Pakistani and Indian women have had success in ending the violence between their countries.32 Regardless of what example is viewed, it is clear that a great amount of unity is necessary for women to achieve their objectives and to alter the norms that often hamper progress towards increased participation.  Gender quotas, cooperation, and global support are all crucial for women to break gender stereotypes and contribute to their own welfare along with the welfare of their nations.  When the world realizes the importance of including women, we will be one step closer to peace.


Works Cited:

1 Whitman, Shelly. “Women and Peace-building in the Democratic Republic of Congo: An Assessment of Their Role in the Inter-Congolese Dialogue.” African Security Review 12.4 (2003): 34-35. Print.

2 Whitman, “Women and Peace-Building in the Democratic Republic of Congo”

3 “Inter Party Women’s Alliance.” Inter Party Women’s Alliance. IPWA, 2012. Web. 3 Jan. 2013. <http://ipwanepal.org/introduction.php>.

4 Yami, Hisla. “Women’s Role in the Nepalese Movement: Making a People’s Constitution.” Monthly Review. Monthly Review, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2012. <http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/womens-role-in-the-nepalese-movement>.

5Hunt, Swanee, and Cristina Posa. “Women Waging Peace: Inclusive Security.” Foreign Policy. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2001/05/01/ women_waging_peace?page=0,1>.

6 Rogier, Emeric. “The Inter-Congolese Dialogue: A Critical Overview”. In Challenges of Peace Implementation: The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, edited by Mark Malan and João Gomes Porto, 25-42. Johannesburg: Institute for Security Studies, 2003.

7 Rogier, “The Inter-Congolese Dialogue: A Critical Overview”

8 Whitman, “Women and Peace-Building in the Democratic Republic of Congo”

9 Hunt and Posa, “Women Waging Peace: Inclusive Security.”

10 Ballington, Julie. “The Implementation of Quotas: African Experiences.” International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (2004): 120-22. Abstract. Print.   United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 was created in 2000 to acknowledge the need for women in the reconstruction of war-torn societies.  With the support of several international women’s organizations, including UNIFEM, the resolution was adopted unanimously on October 31, 2000.

11 Whitman, “Women and Peace-Building in the Democratic Republic of Congo”

12Nadine Puechguirbal, “Women and War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”, in Signs, Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 2003, The University of Chicago Press.

13 Hultman, Tami. “Congo-Kinshasa: Bring Women into DRC Peace Talks.” All Africa.
N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.fasngo.org/assets/files/RDC/

14 Arino, Maria Villellas. “Nepal: A Gender View of the Armed Conflict and the Peace Process.” Peacebuilding Papers (2008): n. pag. Print.

15Thapa, Gagan. “People’s Movement Defines Nepal.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 3 Jan. 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5033512.stm>.

16 Falch, Ashild. “Women’s Political Participation and Influence in Post-Conflict Burundi and Nepal.” Peace Research Institute Oslo (2010): 6-7. Print.   See note 10 for more information on UN resolution 1325.

17Baechler, Gunther. “A Mediator’s Perspective: Women and the Nepali Peace Process.” Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (2001): 6-7. Print.

18 Falch, “Women’s Political Participation and Influence in Post-Conflict Burundi and Nepal.”

19Arino, Maria Villellas. “Nepal: A Gender View of the Armed Conflict and the Peace Process.” Peacebuilding Papers (2008): n. pag. Print.

20 Paudel, Samira. “Women’s Role in Peace Building in Nepal.” Nepal Democracy.
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2013.
<http://www.nepaldemocracy.org/gender/role_women_peacebuilding.htm>.  Nagarik Aawaz (Citizen’s Voice for Peace) is a forum for information to be spread about the conflict and peace process in Nepal as well as for stories of victims to be told.  DidiBahini is an organization committed to educating both women and men about gender issues and changing the cultural idiosyncrasies that hinder progress for women.

21 Falch, “Women’s Political Participation and Influence in Post-Conflict Burundi and Nepal.”

22 Ballington, “The Implementation of Quotas: African Experiences.”

23 Ballington, “The Implementation of Quotas: African Experiences.”

24 Whitman, “Women and Peace-Building in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

25 Falch, “Women’s Political Participation and Influence in Post-Conflict Burundi and Nepal.”

26 Whitman, “Women and Peace-Building in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

27 Whitman, “Women and Peace-Building in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

28 Baechler, Gunther. “A Mediator’s Perspective: Women and the Nepali Peace Process.” Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (2001): 6-7. Print

29 Baechler, “A Mediator’s Perspective: Women and the Nepali Peace Process.”  Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in the history of Africa.  She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2011 “for [her] non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.

30 Falch, “Women’s Political Participation and Influence in Post-Conflict Burundi and Nepal.”

31Filkins, Dexter. “Afghan Women Defy Convention, and Crowds, to Protest New Law on Home Life.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Apr. 2009. Web. 07 Jan. 2013.

32 Vlacboud, Marie, and Lea Biason. “Women in an Insecure World: Violence Against Women, Facts, Figures, and Analysis.” Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (2005): n. pag. Print.

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