War disproportionately affects women but they are excluded from peace talks and national rebuilding plans – over the last 25 years only 1 in 40 peace treaty signatories have been women. It’s not only women’s right to help decide the future of their country, but there’s evidence to show that when they do peace is more likely to last.
Yesterday we launched some joint research with ActionAid and the Institute of Development Studies which showed that men and women in the five countries we visited – Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sierra Leone – have different definitions of what peace actually is. Estella Nelson, the director of our partner the Liberia Women Media Action Committee put it best:
Peace means different things to women and men because of their unique experiences of war, and as a result of how society is structured. Peace to women means putting food on the table, economic empowerment, access to healthcare and education, and that we can speak up against abuse in the home. There is violence in the home, but too often women are silent. That is not peace.
Women are more likely to cite freedom of movement, freedom from domestic violence, food and financial security, and access to education for themselves and their children as important aspects of peace, while men’s definition rested more on the end of formal conflict and the return of stable government.
Before I go any further I just want to make clear we’re not in the gender essentialism business. It’s not that women are ‘naturally’ more caring or men just can’t get enough of fighting, their different perspectives on peace arise out of different social roles.
The other major finding from the research was that even though women are shut out of formal peace processes and their priorities for peace are often sidelined in national plans, women are building peace themselves, from the ground up.
Although they aren’t at the negotiating table, women’s groups make peace a reality through their collective work at community level. They heal communities through mediation, provide crucial services and safe spaces, help women engage in civil and political processes and give women who have experienced violence support and access to justice. Where women were involved in grassroots peacebuilding, the whole community (including the men) acknowledged the positive results.
Despite the danger and difficulty they face women are working to build a better future for their communities, but their vital work goes unrecognised and unsupported. All the women’s organisations we spoke to identified a common challenge: lack of funding at its most basic level. Many groups struggle to survive, let alone connect their work at the community level with national plans.
We’re launching a campaign to get the UK government to put women at the heart of peace with proper recognition and funding for the work they already do, and the role they should be supported to play at all levels of peacebuilding.
The opportunity is there: the UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security is due to be reviewed in 2013. The money is there: the UK has already pledged to support women’s rights in post-conflict countries. All we’re asking for is 15% of the UK’s existing peacebuilding fund to be ringfenced for women’s rights. It’s 15% because that’s the minimum recommended by the UN, and given that women are around 50% of the global population we think that’s a pretty good deal for the Foreign Office.
Please email your MP to help us send a clear message to the UK government. It will take two minutes of your time and it could make a real difference for the women all over the world who are building peace from the ground up.
Womankind Worldwide is an international women’s human rights charity working to help women transform their lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It partner with women’s rights organisations who are challenging discrimination and violence. Womankind delivers the essential support – funding, expertise, contacts and publicity – these women’s organisations need to amplify their voice, increase their impact and bring about greater change. Last year Womankind worked with 42 women’s organisations in 14 countries.