Women for peace
- Gunda Achterhold
More than 20 years after adoption of the UN Security Council resolution on women, peace and security, women are still massively under-represented within peace building processes. Yet a shift in thinking is taking place within public perception.
A video went viral on social media shortly after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. It showed a Ukrainian woman facing up to these soldiers and reviling them as occupiers and fascists. She advised them to fill their pockets with sunflower seeds. ‘At least then sunflowers will grow when you’ve all fallen here.’
Women are starting to exert influence: we see examples from Ukraine and Iran
Until now, women have mostly been seen as victims of wars and conflicts. Yet recent news reports from Ukraine and Iran frequently show women who are actively exerting influence. In the struggle against the Mullah regime, it was young women who burned their headscarves, cut their hair and danced through the streets. ‘Their resistance is an act of self-determination; they’re fighting for their civil liberties’, says Professor Susanne Buckley-Zistel, managing director of the Center for Conflict Studies at the University of Marburg. This political scientist conducts research into aspects including sexualised violence and victim attributions during wars and times of upheaval. ‘The Iranian women’s courageous actions unleashed an incredible dynamism and attracted many different protagonists. This mass mobilisation wouldn’t have occurred without these women.’
Explainer: What is "Women, Peace and Security"?
Peace researcher Susanne Buckley-Zistel on the change in coverage
Women have never before been so widely included within war coverage as they are nowadays. The first images from Ukraine showed determined young women in soup kitchens, or as soldiers carrying weapons. Is their behaviour changing, or is it simply that there’s greater focus on women within media coverage? ‘It’s difficult to say, but the media do certainly shape our perception of reality’, says peace researcher Susanne Buckley-Zistel. She observes a significant shift here. At the start of the Syrian civil war, women were primarily portrayed as victims in destroyed cities or fleeing as refugees, as ‘Pietà in the dust’. This has fundamentally changed. ‘Women are increasingly evident in the media as agents in a variety of roles.’ A policy that sees gender equality as an essential prerequisite for peace also contributes to this. ‘One of the core concepts of feminist foreign policy is to extricate women from this role of victim’, believes Buckley-Zistel. On her worldwide travels, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock took every opportunity she could to meet with women's groups. ‘She describes women in crisis areas as self-confident agents and generates public attention for their concerns.’
Women are therefore becoming more visible, including as demonstrators or activists in Sudan, Columbia or Belarus. Albeit their participation in decision-making related to security policy remains limited. Yet the findings very clearly indicate how important it would be to increase women's participation in peace building processes. UN Women reports that the likelihood of peace agreements enduring for at least 15 years is 35 per cent higher if women are involved in the process. The appropriate participation of women in peace building processes also ensures that the diverse interests of women are comprehensively addressed in the negotiations. The figures say differently, however: according to UN Women, women were only actively involved in negotiations in 13 per cent of major peace processes between 1992 and 2019, and only in six per cent of signed peace agreements.
Gender equality as a prerequisite for peace
Countries with a higher degree of gender equality are apparently less prone to violent extremism. This is pointed out by Kristina Lunz and Nina Bernarding, heads of Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy in Germany, in their introduction to a Heinrich Böll Foundation dossier that considers aspects of feminist foreign policy. The authors see a foreign policy geared towards eliminating inequalities as the most promising response to globally growing populism and authoritarianism. ‘A feminist foreign policy is a must if we’re really striving to achieve a sustainable global security policy.’
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