Once the fighting ends and soldiers lay down their arms, the difficult work of negotiating peace in preparation for post-conflict recovery begins. At this point, leaders have an opportunity to reshape their countries’ politics and socioeconomic landscape. And it is imperative that women be offered a seat at the negotiating table. That’s because, in the words of Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, women are critical to the reconciliation process, since you cannot build peace with only half a nation’s voices at the table.
Women and girls have a unique perspective on the causes of conflict, and its effects on the population. Civilians suffer disproportionate amounts of abuse in wartime, and too often, women and girls are specifically targeted for exploitation and violence, particularly sexual violence, by both sides. They suffer material hardship, are frequently displaced by the conflict, yet must still perform day-to-day chores to keep the family and community alive. They understand obstacles to peace and survival on the local level, and know what needs to be done to fix the problems.
Nonetheless, they are often under-represented, or even denied any role in efforts to resolve hostilities and address their root causes. They get no say on how to rebuild society in a manner that promotes peaceful resolution to conflicts. Their most pressing concerns, such as violence against women, or holding perpetrators accountable for past abuses, are too often given short shrift. But these are problems that affect the civilian population as a whole. If they are not resolved as part of the peace process and grievances are allowed to fester, they often make post-conflict recovery difficult.
“Women’s perspectives enlarge the scope of conversations about peace and reconciliation; they draw attention to critical priorities that might otherwise be overlooked,” said Assistant Secretary Malinowski.
“Supporting women to play a role in peace building is not a new concept. It’s an idea that the United States has emphasized for over a decade now at the United Nations. It’s an idea that women and men around the world have embraced as a cornerstone of peace and prosperity.”