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In the past 50 years, gender equality and women’s empowerment have come a long way in many parts of the world, benefiting each area’s economic development and strengthening peace, among other positive changes. Evidence suggests that when women are involved in formal peace processes, the agreements are more inclusive, the welfare of both male and female combatants are considered, and better peace outcomes result. In the more than 20 years since the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was announced, more women have been involved in formal peace processes. At the same time, the implementation of electoral gender quotas have led to an increase in the number of women who are elected as representatives of their communities, from grassroots initiatives to national law-making bodies. Having more elected women involved in shaping the law has, in some instances, also resulted in more gender-sensitive policies. Other advances towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in the past few years include global improvements in school enrolment, maternal and child health and women’s participation in labour markets.
Barriers, setbacks and challenges
Despite these advances, overall, progress in increasing women’s participation in peacebuilding has been disappointingly slow. While there are myriad reasons for this, it reflects that advances in gender quality and women’s empowerment have been highly uneven; for example, many women still have far fewer legal rights than their male counterparts and face persistent barriers to participation in politics. Also, although women today do participate more in labour markets, a gendered wage gap remains. Furthermore, although more women are participating in formal peace processes, significantly more remain relegated to informal peacebuilding spaces. In these spaces, women may find their agency constrained, as they must navigate local ways of sharing resources and making decisions which are often male dominated.
The effects of violent conflict, climate change and Covid‑19 on gender equality
In addition to these setbacks, in the past few years, some advances in gender equality and women’s empowerment have been reversed or are slowing down in many regions and countries due to violent conflict, climate change, and more recently the Covid-19 pandemic. Studies have shown that violent conflict and climate change are not conducive for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment because they increase physical insecurity, often lead to the destruction of infrastructure, and cause men and women in conflict-affected communities to change how they live and do their work. Conflict and climate change can also lead to the internal and international displacement of communities and the erosion of institutions that protect women and girls.
This can have devastating effects on female-headed households and women in general, who already tend to have restricted access to individual assets, weaker rights over shared community assets and less access to decision-making spaces than their male counterparts. This is further compounded when they are displaced, and the institutions which protected them in the past are no longer functional. In addition, women’s rights during violent conflict can shrink if formal and informal community leaders unilaterally decide to adopt more conservative social rules. This has happened recently in Afghanistan, where, since coming into power in 2021, the Taliban have defined the types of jobs women can do and regulated their movements.
Another example comes from South Sudan, where women and girls were displaced during recent flooding, losing their homes and sources of livelihood. Consequently, they are exposed to violence both in their households and in the community as they go out to collect water and firewood or as they go to work. Moreover, in almost all countries, Covid‑19 has reduced performance on education, health and employment indicators generally. Given that women’s vulnerability increases in crises, it is essential to include them in peacebuilding efforts, as they are not victims but rather agents of change who have the skills, knowledge, and networks required for rebuilding peaceful and resilient communities.
Why resilience and peacebuilding?
Of the 25 countries considered vulnerable to climate change, 14 are in violent conflict. For communities in these countries, the effect of violent conflict and the repeated exposure to climate change events often leave households poorer and more food insecure. While these events affect the whole community, female-headed households, who have fewer assets and savings to begin with, are often worse off. In addition, certain factors shape the opportunities and barriers to women’s participation in resilience and peacebuilding initiatives at the local level. For example, discriminatory laws and institutions make it difficult for women to own or inherit land, acquire necessary resources, and access and participate in decision-making platforms, including running for office.
Interventions to assist such communities have often focused on recovery and resilience-building to aid communities in bouncing back, with little external support. These interventions can also contribute to peacebuilding; however, because they lack explicit activities for building peace, the opportunity to build both resilience and peace is missed. We consider placing resilience and peacebuilding in silos as a missed opportunity to build more resilient and peaceful communities in the context of protracted crises, which in turn become compounded by environmental crises.
Can new programmes build gender equality, resilience and peace more effectively?
Our session considers some practical ways in which gender equality, resilience and peace can be achieved through donor, government, and research perspectives. While governments and their development partners contend with climate change, violent conflict, and the effects of the Covid‑19 pandemic on their work towards resilience and peacebuilding, shouldn’t they also ensure that efforts towards gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the fore? How can they ensure that interventions are gender sensitive and include female leaders when local systems are based on different ways of doing things? How can they mainstream resilience and peacebuilding into natural resource management activities that include women and girls?
In addition to considering the importance of women’s empowerment and gender equality in resilience and peacebuilding, which go hand in hand, governments and their development partners should also consider the context-specific reasons why previous interventions have not succeeded in transforming old gender norms into new opportunities that empower women. With this context-specific knowledge, they can consider how gender-inclusive interventions can be structured to build resilience and peace.
The topic of gender equality, resilience and peacebuilding will be explored in more detail at the Stockholm Forum panel ‘Applying gender inclusive approaches to improve livelihoods and contribute to women’s and girls’ agency in a changing climate’. The panel is led by CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Foundation and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
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