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"Measuring Up" features new and cutting-edge research related to the status of women and girls, and identifies how evidence-based findings can inform and evaluate policy approaches to global challenges. This post is authored by Nicole Smith, a Senior Global Communications Officer for the International Rescue Committee, and MA candidate in Global Affairs at New York University.
The United Nations recently announced that almost 80 million people were forcibly displaced around the world last year due to war, conflict, or persecution. As COVID-19 continues to spread across borders and calls for a global ceasefire go unheeded, there is an urgent need not only for peace, but to build back better. Returning to normal after a crisis does not work for more than half the world’s population, if ‘normal’ includes discrimination against women, and if planning for recovery excludes them. At the same time, as the pandemic has exacerbated threats to peace and security around the world, there is an urgent need to ensure that progress towards building inclusive and sustainable peace is not lost. This requires women’s meaningful participation. A recent study by masters’ students at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs in partnership with the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, explored the effectiveness of gender provisions in peace agreements in terms of their influence on women’s political and economic participation after conflict. The findings take on new urgency as countries around the world look for ways to strengthen their societies during a global pandemic, a crisis that invokes aspects of social disruption associated with conflict.
We know that peace negotiations typically do not include women (they average about 10 percent of negotiators), but when women are at the table, the resulting agreements are more likely to include gender provisions. Once these agreements are finalized, what are the outcomes for women years later? To learn more, the researchers used a database created by Monash University Professors Jacqui True and Yolanda Riveros-Morales, which catalogued 98 peace accords from 55 countries signed between 2000 and 2016. The dataset is designed to identify whether the peace agreements contain gender provisions: references in the agreements that acknowledge the gendered experiences of conflict and pertain to post-conflict issues and transitional justice, the participation of women, violence against women, women’s economic empowerment and development, and international women-specific legal or human rights mechanisms.
The first quantitative analysis found that in 37.4 percent of cases where women participated in peace negotiations, gender provisions were included in the final agreement. This finding is in line with previous research confirming that women matter at the negotiating table. The finding does, however, raise questions about the effectiveness of women’s participation. This is in line with other studies that demonstrate that the ways in which women are included matter for the quality of their participation. For example, if women are included in a tokenistic manner, are disconnected from feminist networks, or not in touch with support systems that could supply useful analysis, their participation may be more of a symbolic presence than one that leads to lasting influence.
In looking at the longer-term political participation for women in post-conflict countries, the researchers found that quotas are better predictors of improved outcomes than gender provisions. Specifically, quotas predict a 9.2 percent increase in women’s political representation. In most post-conflict contexts, women use each successive election to increase their share of parliamentary seats. In assessing the different types of quotas and which are most effective for women, it was not surprising that reserved seats are most likely to guarantee female representation in parliament. However, just as women simply being at the table during peace negotiations does not necessarily lead to better outcomes for them, having women within parliament, particularly when seats are reserved to be filled by a ruling party, does not ensure effective representation of gender equality concerns.
In analyzing gender-sensitive provisions specific to women’s economic outcomes, the researchers found that women’s labor force participation and their share of gross national income do not improve five years post-conflict. Peace agreements rarely address women’s livelihoods, much less the structural reforms necessary to create truly inclusive economies. Analysis of 660 peace agreements by Edinburgh Law School Professor Christine Bell found that only 36 included economic provisions specifically mentioning women. This makes systematic and meaningful inclusion of women in decision-making on post-conflict economic recovery less likely. Yet, inclusive recovery is of paramount importance to create more sustainable systems after a conflict or crisis–such as COVID-19.
Fragile economies, weak governance, and high levels of corruption, particularly in extractives-based economies, that afflict most post-conflict countries, make recovery difficult for everyone, but women face particular challenges moving beyond subsistence agrarian livelihood systems in these situations. They may be denied the right to land and other property or they may be running households on their own (female household headship tends to increase in post-conflict situations). Interestingly, the research found that gender quotas are associated with better outcomes in terms of labor force participation than other gender provisions in peace agreements. However, they do not make up for the lack of dedicated provisions on economic inclusion.
While gender-sensitive agreements had disappointingly little effect on women’s post-conflict economic prospects, the inclusion of women in peace processes consistently predicted better economic outcomes for women five years after the signature of the agreement, compared to when women were not involved. The research also addressed the consistent failure of international funding to support women’s economic empowerment as a principal target of aid funding. Using OECD DAC data, the researchers found that in Burundi, Sierra Leone, and Nepal such funding was less than 2 percent of total aid and primarily went to project-based interventions with limited prospects for long-term income security (candle-making, basket-weaving, sewing etc.).
For women to have the opportunity to reach their full potential, women’s economic empowerment in post-conflict countries must be a bigger priority for governments and donors. Despite the growing recognition of the humanitarian-peace-development nexus, economic empowerment continues to be perceived as a development rather than a peacebuilding issue. It is crucial to address it as a priority during peace negotiations and in the immediate aftermath of the conflict.
Secondly, there remains a strong need to guarantee women’s sustained meaningful participation in the implementation of peace agreements, including through their formal inclusion across the range of implementation mechanisms established in support of the agreement. The United Nations and Member States should put pressure on governments that have signed peace agreements to ensure full and swift implementation.
The time is now to disrupt the status quo. Not only is the full and meaningful participation of women morally the right thing to do, but it has never been more necessary with record-numbers of displaced people, longer-lasting conflicts, and economies devastated by COVID-19.