Women, peace and a pandemic: Translating gender provisions in peace deals into peaceful and inclusive societies during the COVID-19 outbreak

Women, peace and a pandemic: Translating gender provisions in peace deals into peaceful and inclusive societies during the COVID-19 outbreak

June 16, 2020 by Jenaina Irani and Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos

“Today, it should be unthinkable for peace talks or negotiations that take place in the world to not incorporate gender as a central aspect, since women not only have a right to meaningful participation, but are also key actors in the construction of peace.” – Nigeria Renteria, principal negotiator in the peace process between the Colombian Government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC)

Ms. Renteria’s statement during the online panel discussion on Gender in Peace Deals and COVID-19 responses organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) in collaboration with the New York University Center for Global Affairs (CGA) and UN Women on June 03, 2020, validates the findings of the research conducted by the NYU CGA in partnership with GNWP.

The research has established that more women at the peace table leads to greater inclusion in political and economic life after conflict; and that women’s meaningful participation is a pre-requisite for a just and inclusive peace.

The research was carried out by graduate students Ms. Jillian Abballe, Ms. Emma Grant, Ms. Foteini Papagioti, Ms. Dorie Reisman, and Ms. Nicole Smith as part of a practicum in late 2019. Using quantitative and qualitative analysis, the researchers examined the impacts of women’s participation in peace negotiations on political and economic outcomes five years after the conflict. They also analyzed existing opportunities and barriers for women’s meaningful participation in peace processes and in the implementation of peace agreements.

The findings were discussed, and validated, by  Ms. Ayak Chol Deng Alak, Deputy Coordinator for the South Sudan civil society forum, Ms. Nigeria Renteria, a principal negotiator in the peace process between the Colombian Government and the FARC, and Ms. Miriam Coronel Ferrer, Chair of the Government Peace Panel in the peace negotiation between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The discussion was moderated by Dr. Anne-Marie Goetz, a clinical professor at NYU CGA, and Ms. Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the GNWP.

This event could not have come at a more critical time. As we are approaching the 20th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 this October as well as the Generation Equality Forum that commemorates 25 years of the Beijing Platform for Action, a reflection on women’s meaningful participation in peace processes cannot be missing from these historical processes. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has further emphasized the importance of women’s participation in peace negotiations and the implementation of peace agreements and brought to the fore many of the barriers they face.

The presentation of the final research report by Ms. Agnieszka-Fal Dutra Santos, Program Coordinator at GNWP, and Ms. Foteini Papagioti, NYU CGA graduate student, paved the way for a critical and lively discussion. The panelists were joined by over 250 people on the Zoom webinar, and over 3,000 watched via a live webcast.

Key recommendations from the NYU-GNWP research

1. The design of peace processes needs to be diverse and inclusive.

The meaningful participation of women requires thoughtful and intentional design. Tokenistic representation, or participation only in advisory or observer roles is not enough. Participatory peace processes need to be built on broad-based and diverse participation.

Participatory design leads to more inclusive processes, and a more just and equal peace. As stated by Nigeria Renteria, the inclusion of women negotiators and the creation of a gender commission in the peace process between the Colombian Government and the FARC ensured that the interests of people of all sexual orientation and gender identity in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programs at the political, social and economic levels. This is consistent with the messages of the GNWP-NYU research, which found that women’s participation in peace agreements predicted a higher labor force participation rate, women’s  higher share in the Gross National Income, and a lower female-to-male GNI ratio five years after the conflict. “Today, it should be unthinkable for peace talks or negotiations that take place in the world to not incorporate gender as a central aspect, since women not only have a right to meaningful participation, but are also key actors in the construction of peace”, concluded Ms. Renteria.

In this context, it is critical to create stronger links between official (Track 1) peace negotiations and unofficial (Track 2 and Track 3) processes, where women are often at the forefront. This allows for more diverse participation and effective implementation of the peace agreement.

Read more about GNWP’s work to localize the peace agreement and bridge the gap between Track 1 and Track 2 & 3 peace processes here, here and here.

2. We need concrete action: gender provisions in peace agreements have to be actionable, context-specific and have a concrete implementation framework

In 2018, the proportion of peace agreements with gender-responsive provisions stood at only 7.7%, down from an average of 26% between 2001 and 2010. The GNWP-NYU research showed that concrete and actionable gender provisions – such as quotas for participation – can make a tangible difference in women’s political participation after conflict. With quotas, women use each successive election to increase their share of parliamentary seats.

However, panelists emphasized that implementation of the gender provisions – including quota – is not always a given. As attested by Ms. Coronel Ferrer, gender provisions in the Bangsamoro peace deal included a provision for a minimum number of political seats for women. Today, women form only 16% of total political representation in the transitional Bangsamoro Assembly. Coronel Ferrer emphasized that even though the number of the women in the Assembly is still not enough, their positive impact has already been apparent. She noted that these very leaders have been acting as catalysts of change in their communities via gender advocacy to change dominant, patriarchal culture.

Even where quotas have been formalized, such as in the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), implementation has been extremely slow. Ms. Deng Alak pointed to the lack of political will, as well as patriarchal norms and attitudes toward women as the main reasons for this. Presently, only 4 of the 32 ministers are women; although that is a first, it still falls short of the 35%. Moreover, in political spaces, women are looked upon as “weak” and are forced to choose alliance to the party over the women’s movement or lose their career. Mali stands out in this matter, as pointed out by event attendee Ms. Mariam Diallo. Due to the 2015 gender quota law, Mali now has 29% of women parliamentarians, up significantly from the 10% or so representation prior to the law.

Thus, including quota in the peace agreements is important, but it is not sufficient in itself. Equally important is the inclusion of other gender provisions and concrete mechanisms for their implementation. In this context, Ms. Coronel-Ferrer shared that mandating concrete budgetary allocations for the implementation of gender provisions and for gender-responsive programs is a good practice for peace agreements to be effective.

3. Women’s economic empowerment in post-conflict countries must be a bigger priority for governments and donors.

This recommendation, echoed by the panelists and many of the event attendees, is not new. Local activists and peacebuilders constantly demand including women in decision-making on economic recovery. Event attendee Ms. Rahama Baloni from Mercy Corps, Nigeria commented that there is still very little support for peacebuilding programs that encompass economic empowerment. Ms. Deng Alak pointed out that economic empowerment and financial security is a must for women to have political participation and political support.

We have also seen the clear benefits of small economic empowerment initiatives. For example, young women whom GNWP trained in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shared that running their own small businesses increased their decision-making power within their families and communities. As highlighted by Ms. Coronel Ferrer, the current gender provisions have not prevented women from being disproportionately disadvantaged economically. All five provinces of the Bangsamoro are at the bottom of the Human Development Index (HDI) rank and women make up only 26.1% of employed members of the labor force.

Women’s meaningful participation in peace processes is one of the six priority areas of accelerated implementation for UN Women in the context of this year’s 20th anniversary of resolution 1325. Ms. Mireille Affa’a, a Policy Specialist in the Peace and Security Section, reaffirmed their commitment and spoke about how UN Women prioritizes women’s leadership and economic empowerment to ensure their peace interventions are sustained through economic recovery and inclusion in economic life post-conflict.

Impact of COVID-19 on women’s meaningful participation and implementation of peace agreements

The panelists also discussed the impacts of the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 on peace processes and the implementation of peace agreements. During this crisis, many functions of governments, UN, and other institutions have slowed down or cease. Financial, human, and technical resources for the implementation of peace agreements have shifted to COVID-19 response. However, as noted by Ms. Cabrera-Balleza, the founder and chief executive officer of the GNWP, this is a self-defeating strategy, since conflict and violence amplify the impacts of the pandemic and conversely, the pandemic is also a conflict multiplier.

In Colombia, COVID-19 is one of the biggest challenges to peace since 2016. It has affected the implementation of the public policy integrated into the government plans, as well as the development plans at the municipal, departmental, and national levels. The crisis is also aggravating the health and food security challenges in local communities, particularly marginalized communities, who do not have adequate medical and service infrastructure to address COVID 19.

Ms. Deng Alak stated that COVID 19 has brought South Sudan to a standstill. The national government is using the pandemic as an excuse to stall peace processes and keep women out. The threat of hunger and disease plagues the whole country, but women face an additional threat of violence, with reports of increased gang rapes of women by men in uniform during this period. In the Philippines, COVID-19 has further compounded ongoing issues of loss of overseas jobs, investments and tourism, all of which the region relies on heavily.

Despite ongoing challenges, women are expected to play a key role in the reconstruction and recovery of their community and society after this pandemic. As emphasized by UN Women’s Ms. Affa’a, concrete, and sustainable investments into women’s livelihoods are a necessary intervention to build societies up better than before.

The ongoing pandemic compounds many challenges that women peacebuilders and peacemakers face. Yet, as stated by Ms. Cabrera-Balleza, “Peace cannot wait and peace cannot be a casualty of the COVID-19 crisis!”

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