Women and Peace: What are the Issues?

Women's Rights in Afghanistan

The campaign is currently highlighting women's rights in Afghanistan.

When the UK and USA entered Afghanistan in 2001, they promised to improve the lives of Afghan women. In the past ten years, some progress has been made, especially in the areas of education, the right to work and increased freedom of movement outside the home. However, women still continue to suffer discrimination and violence in Afghanistan. This includes child and forced marriage, sexual and domestic violence, and baad, the exchange of women and girls as payment or to settle disputes.

At this crucial time for women in Afghanistan, talks, meetings and negotiations that will decide the future of their county are taking place. Conferences have been held to discuss transition, international long-term engagement, and peace and reconciliation. We asked the UK government to help to make sure that women’s voices are heard before, during and after these talks. 

Women who are active in public life, including parliamentarians, provincial councillors and women active in NGOs, face attacks and threats from the Taliban and other armed groups. Unless women’s rights are made central to the reconciliation process, the pressure on women seeking to enter public life may increase.

More on women's rights in Afghanistan can be found here.

Women - an untapped resource

Women have the right to shape peace and to contribute to rebuilding their societies. However over the last twenty five years only 1 in 40 peace signatories have been women. [1]  Women’s experiences of conflict and the contribution they make in their communities go unnoticed in formal peace building processes.  

Why must women be included?

 “How we make peace determines whether the end of armed conflict means a safer world for women or simply ushers in a different and in some cases more pernicious era of violence against them.” Former US Ambassador to Angola, Donald Steinberg

Women have the right to be involved in decisions that shape their societies.  There are also practical reasons why women must be involved.

Building stable societies
Women are essential to building stable societies. Research shows links between gender inequality and increased levels of violence within a state [2] and where there is acute gender discrimination and abuses of human rights, (specifically women’s rights) countries are likely to be unstable. [3]  

Reducing violence
Women’s inclusion in peacebuilding means the particular forms of violence they face during conflict, such as brutal sexual violence can be addressed. Peacebuilding that fails to recognise the different experiences of women and men also threatens to erode women’s rights and put them at increased risk.

Reducing poverty                                              
Women make up 70% of the worlds poorest people [4]. A significant proportion of these women live in countries affected by violent conflict. By failing to empower women to engage in rebuilding conflict affected countries, we greatly undermine our ability to tackle global poverty. 

It just makes sense
You can’t build peace leaving half the people out.

Issues faced by women in conflict

"It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict”
Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DR Congo [5]

Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)
During conflict women are a prime target for violence. Sexual violence including rape, forced impregnation, trafficking, sexual slavery, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections is used as a weapon of war.

Destruction of services
Women are usually the primary caregivers within families. The destruction of services and infrastructure during conflict impacts particularly on women.

n many places widowhood is a “social death”. Women widowed by war face extreme stigma, social isolation and poverty.

Erosion of rights
In some countries women’s rights are traded as a bargaining tool in the name of peace. There is a real fear that current efforts at reconciliation with the Taliban - deemed widely necessary for peace - may come at a high price for 50% of its population.  

UN Resolution 1325 

This extraordinary UN resolution recognises the devastating impact of conflict on women and states that women must be involved in building peace from the earliest stages.

Whilst the resolution is extraordinary in principle and on paper, more than 10 years later, its real impact is yet to be felt by women affected by conflict. In the 16 peace processes undertaken since 2000 women’s involvement has been minimal and in 5 cases no women were involved at all. [6]

The UK’s role

The UK is a key player on the world stage. It was influential in ensuring women, peace and security was placed on the global agenda. Whilst the government supports Resolution 1325 on paper in the form of the UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, it is yet to back this up with adequate, assertive action.

In terms of women's rights in Afghanistan, the UK government can make a difference by funding Afghan women’s rights organisations, using diplomatic pressure to ensure women participate in negotiations and talks, and that plans reflect the experiences and needs of both women and men. The UK government can make a difference for Afghan women.

We need you to help us hold them to account.

[1] UN Development Fund for Women – UNIFEM (April, 2009) Women’s participation in peace negotiation: Connections between presence and influence (ongoing research). New York, US.
[2] Caprioli, M, (September, 2003), Primed for Violence; The Role of Gender Inequality in Predicting Internal Conflict http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118686002/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0; World Bank: CPR Working Papers. Paper No. 8: Gender Equality and Civil Wars,: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTCPR/214578-1111996036679/20482367/WP8trxtsep3.pdfcited in Hayes, C, Conflict Gender and the MDGs, Women for Women International UK September 2010
[3] ibid.
[4] International Labour Office (July 1996). Available at http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/inf/magazine/17/women.htm 
[5] UNIFEM. Available at http://www.unifem.org/gender_issues/women_war_peace/facts_figures.php
[6] ECD-DAC, Aid in Support of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, July 2008: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/8/13/40346286.pdfcited in Hayes, C, Conflict Gender and the MDGs, Women for Women International UK September 2010