We can draw on a plethora of examples that showcase the importance of including women in transitions and post-conflict situations.
In Northern Ireland, women like Monica McWilliams and May Blood played key roles in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement. They created the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, which directly influenced the content of the Agreement by broadening the agenda to include social issues. They were also able to reach across political and religious divides, build public trust, and “gave a human face to the conflict.”
In neighbouring Colombia, we also saw an active participation of women in Havana, at the main negotiating table, at the Gender Sub-Commission, as representatives for victims of the conflict, and as leaders of women’s organisations. Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, the director of UN Women noted of Colombia: “[women’s] success [and effective participation] underscores the evidence that the participation of women increases the possibility of achieving a Peace Accord.”
In Liberia, Guatemala, Burundi, Somalia, and Sudan, women and women’s organisations have been key in demanding the signing of peace processes. Research by UN Women highlights that women’s participation in peace negotiations increases the likelihood of durable peace.
On the other hand, scholarship and experience shows that the lack of balanced representation can have negative consequences for a post-conflict society. We can see this in the potential peace negotiations in Afghanistan, for example, where women fear that their lack of participation at the negotiating table will result in a roll-back of their rights, and “herald a new war on women.”
The issue of women’s participation can no longer be regarded as a side show to the struggle for democratization, because it represents a crucial component of the larger project; incorporating a gender perspective has the potential to transform representation, participation, political behaviours, cultural attitudes, and perceptions, but also to create a more peaceful and stable society.