Why It Matters

A growing body of research suggests that standard peace and security processes routinely overlook a critical strategy that could reduce conflict and advance stability: the inclusion of women.


Last Updated September 13, 2017 at 07:36 am

Nearly half of the conflict-resolution agreements forged during the 1990s failed within five years and recidivism for civil war is alarmingly high. New thinking on peace and security is needed.


How Women Contribute to Conflict Resolution

Despite the historical exclusion of women from the peace table, a growing body of evidence shows that women’s contributions to conflict prevention and resolution reduce conflict and improve stability. For example, women’s participation in formal peace processes contributes to the achievement and longevity of peace agreements. A qualitative review of forty peace and constitution-drafting negotiations since 1990 found that parties were significantly more likely to agree to talks and subsequently reach an agreement when women’s groups exercised strong influence on the negotiation process, as compared to when they had little or no influence. Read more in an original CFR report by Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein: How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution Advances U.S. Interests.

Work Across Lines

Women often take a collaborative approach to peacemaking and organize across cultural and sectarian divides. Research suggests that such an approach—which incorporates the concerns of diverse demographics (e.g., religious, ethnic, and cultural groups) affected by a conflict and with an interest in its resolution—increases the prospects of long-term stability and reduces the likelihood of state failure, conflict onset, and poverty.

  • Israeli and Palestinian women have long built coalitions across national, ethnic, and religious lines to lead nonviolent efforts to promote security and access to basic services.

  • The women’s advisory board to Syrian negotiations, which includes members from a range of ethnic, political, and religious backgrounds, finds consensus on many contentious issues.

Act as Honest Brokers

Including women at the peace table can also increase the likelihood of reaching an agreement because women are often viewed as honest brokers by negotiating parties. This perception is rooted in the reality of women’s exclusion: because women often operate outside existing power structures and generally do not control fighting forces, they are more widely perceived to be politically impartial mediators in peace negotiations, compared to men.

  • Women from Northern Ireland were respected as “honest brokers” who represented both communities, which allowed them to lead back-channel conversations with opposing parties, including when Sinn Fein was temporarily barred from the talks.

  • An evaluation of negotiations in the Philippines found that women were more likely to be trusted and were better able than men to preserve interethnic alliances as tensions in the Mindanao conflict escalated.

Stage Mass Action

Women often advance peacemaking by employing visible and high-profile tactics to pressure parties to begin or recommit to peace negotiations, as well as to sign accords. Women’s groups have successfully staged mass actions and mobilized public opinion campaigns in many countries to encourage progress in peace talks. In recent times, women’s groups have organized more mass action campaigns in support of peace deals than any other social group.

  • In 2003, Liberian women led by activist and future Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee led marches, organized weekly rallies in central fish markets, and staged nationwide women’s strikes and sit-ins.

  • Women’s groups in Guatemala led public marches that gathered thousands of people to protest against the military’s brutal insurgency campaign and urge progress in peace talks.

Access Critical Information

Because women tend to have different social roles and responsibilities than men do, they have access to information and community networks that can inform negotiating positions and areas of agreement.

  • In Northern Ireland, female negotiators held regular meetings with the public to learn more about the needs and concerns of both the Catholic and Protestant communities.

  • In Afghanistan, a network of women activists in Kabul and Ghazni noticed Taliban fighters smuggling weapons—local security personnel failed to heed their reports, resulting in an attack on a nearby prison.

Broaden the Agenda

Women are more likely to raise social issues in negotiations that help societies reconcile and recover. Evidence suggests that women frequently raise issues in conflict resolution processes beyond military action, power-sharing arrangements, and territorial gains, instead introducing political and legal reforms, social and economic recovery priorities, and transitional justice concerns that can make agreements more durable. 

  • Women on Israeli and Palestinian technical committees in negotiations provide critical expertise on issues like water access and legal and human rights concerns.

  • In Colombia, women successfully facilitated the inclusion of provisions in the final agreement on the rights of women and girls, access to property for rural and indigenous communities, women’s political participation, gender-based violence, and postconflict accountability for sexual violence.

Aid Postconflict Recovery

Ensuring diversity—including through women’s participation—in postconflict recovery and rebuilding processes advances stability. Studies show that commissions charged with delivering on specific aspects of a peace agreement—such as monitoring disarmament and demobilization, establishing a truth and reconciliation process, or drafting a constitution—are more effective when women participate. Women are also more likely to direct postconflict resources to the reconstruction of public institutions and provision of services critical to long-term stability, including schools, healthcare services, clean drinking water, and judicial systems.

  • To promote rule of law during Myanmar’s democratic transition, women’s groups documented and publicized human rights violations perpetrated by the military and armed ethnic groups.

  • Women in Guatemala organized campaigns for disarmament and developed strategies to help former fighters move into productive work.

Women and Foreign Policy Program

The Women and Foreign Policy program works to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives. The program informs policymakers, opinion leaders, and the general public about issues related to gender equality and U.S. foreign policy through scholarship, roundtable discussions, briefings, and the Women Around the World blog.

How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention
How Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention and Resolution Advances U.S. Interests
Despite growing international recognition of women’s role in security, their representation in peace and security processes has lagged.
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Countering Sexual Violence in Conflict
Sexual violence in conflict is not simply a gross violation of human rights—it is also a security challenge.
Read the report