Gender and Peacebuilding

Torun Tryggestad discusses the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and how it impacts global peacebuilding efforts.
Recent movements within academic and political communities have recognized that questions of gender are central to the peacebuilding effort globally.

But what should the priorities be when it comes to gender, peace and security, who defines these priorities, and what challenges still lie ahead?
With us today is Torun L. Tryggestad, deputy director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the director of the PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security. She's here to talk to us about the history of gender in the peacebuilding agenda, which predictably got off to a rocky start.

In the area of peace research there had been, historically speaking, little focus on gender issues. PRIO describes itself as the oldest peace research centre in the world, and for many years men were disproportionally represented. This was partially due to a lens of 'gender-neutrality', which some have interpreted as a way that women have been ignored ('gender-neutral' being understood here as taking men to be the default experience).

Things eventually changed, in part, to the efforts of feminist researchers asking for gender to be taken seriously in the field. It helped that peace researchers often had explicitly value-laden agends like antimilitarism (pacifism), and so moving towards gender equality and feminism wasn't as large of a stretch as in some other fields.

And then you get to the point where politicians like Hillary Clinton make speeches claiming that "women's participation is a necessary global security imperative." For Tryggestad this is significant because the US often influences Norway when it comes to peace and security policies. Clinton's work, then as Secretary of State, was a big deal. She was criticised for not focusing explicitly on peace, but praised for her support of women's initiatives.

Probably the largest landmark moment was the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000, which acknowledged "the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls. It calls for the adoption of a gender perspective to consider the special needs of women and girls during conflict, repatriation and resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration, and post-conflict reconstruction."

UNSCR 1325 has seen praise and criticism from all sides, with many women's rights activists noting how slowly the Security Council and other official bodies have been at implementing the resolution. But Tryggestad wants to draw attention to the ways that the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda moved onto the Security Agenda quite fast. The resolution itself was something quite unthinkable in the late '90s.

She describes it as an outcome of 'collaborative governance' between UN member states and the UN secretariat, with a key role played by civil society organizations.

The emergence of women's rights and gender perspectives in international agendas has taken place slowly since the end of the Second World War:


The recognition of women's rights in the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations

The Commission on the
Status of Women (CSW)
1948, 1966

Further inclusion of
women's rights in the
Human Rights Convention

The UN Decade for Women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
1975, 1980, 1985, 1995

Various international
women's conferences

The Beijing Conference, leading to the
Beijing Platform of Action
The tail end of these years was when the internet started to really take off, allowing the international community to learn how to collaborate in different ways. The Beijing Conference was a particularly major milestone as it highlighted not only women's political rights, but also security rights. In particular, this meant the "elimination of all forms of violence against women."

And more than the Beijing Conference and the ensuing Platform of Action, the Cold War was ending and people were becoming aware of a whole slew of new dynamics. In Europe and the US, various African conflicts in the 90's, as the Balkan wars, changed thinking and policy.

In short, new developments opened the eyes of policy makers and researchers to how wars, civil wars, and conflict of all types can impact men and women differently.

There was also the recognition that women play different roles. At first women were seen as needing protection, vulnerable. There was little recognition of the positive and negative roles women can take, as perpetrator, war mongor, politician or peace activist. This new understanding was emerging in the 1990's.

This was partially due to how, in that decade, most conflicts were intrastate (civil) and not just interstate (international). Civilians were growing targets for conflict, which became a different different dynamic from Cold War tactics.

There was also a shift from a paradigm of state security to human security and the developing rhetoric of "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P).

This shift was also motivated by practical considerations with post-conflict work. In a number of male-oriented societies, women's capacities were being rethought because there was a lot less men as certain conflicts ended. The majority of refugee camp and displaced persons' camp residents were women, and many of these women didn't have the archetypal "male protector" with them. A number of stories emerged of women's sexual abuse and favour exchanges.

For many people in the humanitarian community, this was eye-opening.
Sexual violence also emerged as a point on the international agenda in the 1990's. This was something everyone knew about, but wasn't recognized as a war crime so much as something that happened. It was also not talked about often because of the stigma and shame attaching itself to victimized women.

The Balkan wars and the genocide in Rwanda, with the instances of rape that happened there, made it so that the international community couldn't close their eyes to it. It wasn't an accident or collateral damage. Sexual violence had been used strategically, especially in civil wars. This had became undeniable, and there were huge health problems as a result of sexual violence, both physical and psychological.

Women were also increasingly carrying arms, and this became a significant issue for demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) initiatives. Many existing programs were focused on men and needed to be re-thought so as to include women's needs.

This recognition spread, people wrote about it, but many critics pointed out that solutions were moving slowly. The problems continued to exist.

The other day we went to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and heard a lot about what the country had been doing as part of the peace process in Colombia, and the country had influence in bringing women to the table. They brought in women from other rebel groups to help with the process.

Signs like this were taken positively, as women tend to be marginalized during peace processes, both during negotiations and post-conflict reconstructions, in political and economical ways. This, claim UN and its member states, is being addressed.

There's also a lot of change now with UN peacekeeping practices.

Among these are calls from within the UN to recruit women for roles as peacekeepers, civilian workers and police. There was a statement by the UN Security Council on Women's Day 2000 recognizing women's role in the process. That same year, the Beijing +5 group met to discuss how things have progressed since 1995, said they haven't a whole lot, which sparked a campaign. After this, the WPS agenda started picking up speed.

Soon after Beijing +5 there was a meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, to review research reports, and they came up with the Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Plan of Action. These were important bricks that would later lead to the UNSC Resolution 1325 later that year in October.

In August that year, Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi led an initiative to go through UN peacekeeping agendas and other documents and saw there was no real reference to women and gender. For some this was something of a last straw, saying there was a commitment coming out of Beijing yet there was no focus on gender in this 'expert channel.'

These, as well as civil networks such as the International Women's Movement and Transnational Advocacy Network on WPS, were all part of the momentum leading up to the eventual adoption of UNSC Resolution 1325, unanimously, on Oct 31st 2000.
Many of the women lobbying for this were the ones writing and negotiating the text. While some critics considered UNSCR 1325 an act of appeasement, Tryggestad argues that they don't understand that women were the true force behind the resolution. They continued to push and to lobby and didn't let the Security Council rest.

This was the first time in the history of the Security Council that women's issues and rights were recognized as important factors in peacebuilding as such – usually women were seen as people to be protected. There had not been a lot of recognition of women as actors other than as victims.

There were eighteen action points, which included the recognition of women's roles and contributions as actors and not just victims, a call for women's representation in conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding, the application of gender perspectives on UN peacekeeping operations, support for local women's peace initiatives, an increase in the number of women in high-level positions, the protection of women from gender-based violence and more.

"But where are we," Tryggestad asks, "in terms of implementation?"

First, there's a politically-recognized agenda, with seven follow-up resolution (four of which address sexual violence. There is now (at least on paper) a zero tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by peacekeepers, and 2010 saw the appointment of a special representative for the Security General on sexual violence in armed conflict.

Of course there were also the action plans, policy directives and guidances. Gender units were established, as well as gender advisors and/or gender focal points in most peace operations established after 2000. In 2011 UN Women was formed, headed by an under-secretary general.

In terms of academics, there were three reports in 2015 looking into peace operations and architecture, all emphasizing the importance of including women. There was also the Global Study of Women, Peace and Security, as well as initiatives within arms like UN Peace Operations and UN Peacebuilding Architecture.

The then-new UN Secretary General had made women's equality and inclusion a priority in international peace and security and has a senior gender adviser in his office. The head of UN Women is a member of his executive cabinet.

There's a group of member states that formed the Friends of 1325 and they and others support a growing number of national action plans. Regional associations have also made steps, like the African Union, NATO and more. There are also civil society and transnational advocacy groups in the movement, with the formation of the NGO Working Group on WPS with 14 women's and human rights organizations.

But there are still gaps.

Approximately under 10% of people in uniform on the ground are women. If we look at women's presence in peace negotiations, 4% of general signatories are women, 2.4% of chief mediators arere women, 3.7% of witnesses arere women and 9% of negotiators are women.

When talking about terms like 'gender perspective' in peacebuilding initiatives, this usually is meant to imply women's participation and inclusion in negotiations, the inclusion of provisions that address women's particular needs and interests, assessments of the implications on women and men in any peace agreement provision and more.

Only 18% of peace agreements reference women, with 11% before 1325 and 27% after. Very few peace agreements apply gender perspective throughout, which is one of the reasons why the process in Colombia is so highly praised. Peace agreements are improving over time in terms of substance but the most holistic agreements tend to be highly internationalized and hard to implement. And thus often fail to be implemented.

The question of what contributions do women make to peace processes is also asked, with the response being that while substantial contributions are made at the grassroots levels, not a lot of research is done on that yet. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence, but more research is in the pipeline.

Many women's organizations seem to be more successful in banding across ethnic and religious lines (such as the case in the Liberian peace process we discussed earlier this month). Women activists tend to be more vocal and organizational, as well as focus on different areas. From many best guesses, men are seen to focus on infrastructure, roads, and so on while women focus more on schools, health care and reconciliation.

Researcher Thania Paffenholtz has some ongoing projects, not peer-reviewed papers yet, but nonetheless her work is influential. She places an emphasis on quality participation (instead of having a token woman in a peace process), and quality participation seems to correlate to both positive negotiation outcomes and positive implementation outcomes.

The main thing, Paffenholtz says, is that it's not just about the number of women involved. It's about the influence they have.

She lists seven modalities for inclusion:
Direct Representation At The Negotiation Table
Observer Status
Inclusive Commissions
High-Level Problem Solving Workshops
Public Decision Making
Mass Action
So we see that UNSCR 1325 has a lot of momentum, and that there's strong political and normative support for the resolution. There's also a rise in what some are calling 'feminist foreign policy', and this is a high priority for the United Nations Security General.

But there are still a number of other major questions, not even taking into account the gaps in implementation.

One of these is the controversial role of Hillary Clinton, which was particularly felt in the aftermath of the 2016 American presidential election. When it comes to peace researchers, she's not seen as a particularly strong advocate for world peace. In fact, in many ways, she can be quite hawkish. But on the other hand you can't ignore how she's strongly (and, in a number of ways, successfully) pushed for women's needs to be included in foreign policy and national agendas.

It's also a sign of compromise that she's looked at positively in this way, because originally the field of peace research was rather ideologically-driven. Many of the researchers involved were pacifists, and so seeing someone like Clinton as an ally would have been not doable just a few decades ago. Which poses a number of hard questions about the relationship between compromise and progress.

Related to this is the idea of tokenism, which is controversial for obvious reasons. You have people like Paffenholtz saying that it isn't enough to have women in the room: you have to make their voices count. But then there are other women who, in the absence of other opportunities, use that tokenism to put their voices in there and attempt positive change.

Which means collaborating with the people who underestimate you in the name of Getting Things Done. Or being frustrated with the bureaucracy and criticism but also understanding that, for now, this may be the best it's going to get. Until you push for more, that is.

There are also a lot of mixed feelings about the increased presence of women soldiers, particularly in rebel groups. In Colombia, for example, both the FARC and the ELN have a lot of women fighters. For some this is a matter of progress, for others (note: the pacifists mentioned above) it's just another sign that there are more soldiers on the field.

There's some discussion after the election about polarization and its effects, particularly when it comes to women who have positions that conflict with elements of the conventional Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. Women, for example, who advocate for more conflict, or who pursue traditional ways of life that conflict with ideas of human rights, or women who identify as pro-life. These needs and interests are often seen as in conflict with the WPS ideas as we're presented, and thus they are (with good intentions) shoved to the margins. And what does it mean if WPS is marginalizing certain women? Not to mention how the margins are often where people are more likely to be radicalized. So, is there space at the table for women with uncomfortable or dangerous beliefs, and what place would that be?

On a related note, there's a push for UN bodies to start taking more from gender theory – particular criticisms are levelled at how words like sex (biological phenomenon) and gender (social phenomenon) are used interchangably. While this would allow for greater integration with contemporary critical theory, these words can be loaded with cultural baggage and may, inadvertently alienate women with certain beliefs or positions.

Then there is a particularly enduring question: 1325 talks about the need to protect women, but also resists reducing women's roles as people who need to be protected – so how do activists and policy makers address this very real need without falling into the trap of making women look absolutely helpless and in need of male saviours?

A lot of great work's been done, Tryggestad says, but we're still far from where we need to be.
Torun L. Tryggestad is the deputy director at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the Director of the PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security.

Josh Nadeau is a freelance writer and peacebuilding practitioner.
He studied at PRIO in 2018.
Banner photo by Fardin Waezi on UNAMA
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Further Reading
Uncomfortable Truths, Unconventional Wisdoms: Women's Perspectives on Violent Extremism and Security Interventions
Anderlini, Sanam Naraghi (2016).
WASL Briefs on Policy and Practice, No.1, March
Women's Alliance For Security Leadership (WASL)
The Futures Past of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda
Kirby, Paul and Laura J. Sheperd (2016).
International Affairs 92: 2 (2016) 373–392
Making Women Count - Not Just Counting Women: Assessing Women's Inclusion and Influence on Peace Negotiations
Paffenholz, Thania, Ross, Nick, Dixon, Steven, Sc hluchter, Anna-Lena and True, Jaqcui (2016).
Report from Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative
and UN Women.

Trick or Treat? The UN and Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security
Tryggestad, Torunn L. (2009).
Global Governance 15(4): 539–557