Women need greater voice in peace talks

Affirmative action, such as mandatory quotas on the peace table, and more support for women’s organisations are among measures that must be taken to ensure women have a greater voice in peace talks, Flinders University gender studies expert Anuradha Mundkur said.

According to Dr Mundkur (pictured), Associate Director of Flinders Gender Consortium, women are grossly underrepresented in peace negotiations, with United Nations figures showing women make up fewer than three per cent of signatories to peace agreements.

“Peace is often described in narrow terms as the absence of war so therefore negotiations are simply framed around ceasefire agreements,” Dr Mundkur said.

“But when you ask women what peace means to them they are concerned not only about bringing an end to the violence but ensuring they can put food on the table and have access to things like social security, education and health services,” she said.

“These concerns don’t find a voice in peace negotiations because the agreements are so narrowly focused on ending violence, and when you take that approach you only look at who’s involved in the conflict and men are usually the ones at the forefront.”

Dr Mundkur said although women were active in informal peace-building roles through civil society organisations, it rarely translated to official recognition, leaving them invisible in negotiations and political decision-making about the construction of new laws and peace policies.

“Participation in formal peace talks is often facilitated by a designated fund and women’s organisations that are not part of the formal process lack funding to be able to attend,” she said.

“Women also lack the bigger national and international networks who can find them a spot on the peace table.”

She said mandatory quotas for women’s representation at the peace table, along with better collaborations between civil society organisations, especially women’s organisations and official peacemakers, would lead to a more gender inclusive peace process.

“Often the formal negotiations take place separately to the activities run by civil society organisations so we need to make sure women participating in these activities also participate in the formal processes.

“As men and women play different roles in conflict, both as victims and agents of change, their approaches and priorities to peace are going to be different, which is why women should have a voice in the process.”

Dr Mundkur has just released a new book that explores what is being done in conflict-affected countries to advance women’s participation in peace processes, peace-building and decision-making.

The book, entitled Peace and Security: Implications for Women, was co-authored by Professor Elisabeth Porter from UniSA and came as a result of a research project funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

In 2007 Dr Mundkur along with her colleagues Cara Ellickson and Associate Professors Susanne Schech and Jane Haggis set up the University-based Gender Consortium, a group of associates with a wide range of skills in gender and diversity inclusive socioeconomic development.

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