Womankind Worldwide > Policy and resources > Women, peace and security

Women, peace and security

Photograph of painted sign reading 'The voice of women is the voice of the nation: let them be heard'

Sign in our partner’s Peace Village in Sierra Leone

“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict'” – Major General Patrick Cammaert, former UN Peacekeeping Commander

Whilst conflict inflicts suffering on everyone, women are particularly affected by its short- and long-term effects. This is due to a number of factors including: gender inequality, their status in society, and the lack of structures to protect them.

  • Today close to 90 per cent of current war casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are women and children. A century ago  90 per cent of those who lost their lives were military personnel.
  • Violence against women is greatly exacerbated in conflict zones. But it is important to remember that violence is often an extension of the gender discrimination that already exists in peacetime.
  • Women face many challenges in conflict and post-conflict environments – including extreme poverty, displacement from their homes, destruction of social networks, and limited opportunities for employment and income generation.
  • Because of their lack of status within society, women are systematically excluded from decision-making opportunities. They are often stereotyped as victims and their experiences and contributions are virtually ignored in conflict zones and in nations emerging from war. There is a conspicuous absence of women at the peace negotiating tables and policy making processes on war and peace issues.

Women experience armed conflict in diverse ways as victims, survivors, leaders and peacemakers. Women are rarely mere passive victims of conflict. In particular, women can play a vital and significant role in peacekeeping if they are properly supported and genuinely included. Much of this work to help end conflict is usually behind the scenes

Putting women at the heart of peace

Women are hit hardest by war but they are excluded from national peace talks and plans – over the last 25 years only 1 in 40 peace treaty signatories have been women. It is women’s right to help decide the future of their country, and when they do peace is more likely to last.

  • Only 9 per cent of the 14,000 police officers and 2 per cent of the 85,000 military personnel in UN peacekeeping operations are women.
  • There have been no female chief mediators in UN-brokered peace talks.
  • Between 1990 and 2010 only 12 out of 585 peace accords referred to women’s needs in rehabilitation or reconstruction.

Figures from the Gender Action on Peace and Security 2011 report The Participation Promise (PDF)

International action – what’s been done?

The Platform for Action, (adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995), identified the effects of armed conflict on women as one of 12 critical areas of concern requiring urgent action by governments and the international community. The Platform for Action stressed the need to promote the equal participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels.

Since the Beijing Conference there have been important developments at the international level:

  • Rape is explicitly recognised as a crime against humanity by the UN Security Council
  • At the regional level, inter-American and European human rights bodies have found sexual violence and rape in conflict situations to constitute violations of human rights treaties.
  • War crimes including rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, and any other form of sexual violence constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.
  • In 2000, UN Member States made a commitment to supporting women’s peacebuilding roles by unanimously adopting UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on Women, Peace and Security. Womankind has been working to support the implementation of UNSCR 1325.
  • Since this historic resolution was passed, a number of supporting UN Security Council Resolutions have been passed such as UNSCR 1820 and UNSCR 1888 (which recognise sexual violence as a weapon of war), and UNSCR 1889 (which builds on UNSCR 1325’s focus on the importance of women’s participation in peace building and post conflict reconstruction).

Our work on women, peace and security

Womankind works in post conflict and fragile countries to support women’s participation in peace building:

Photograph of our partner Afghan Women's Resource Centre member writing 'peace'

An Afghan woman writes ‘peace’. Photo from our partner the Afghan Women’s Resource Centre


In 2012 Womankind produced joint research with ActionAid and the Institute of Development Studies on women’s role as peacebuilders, read the summary: From The Ground Up - Summary

Womankind and our partners also produce reports, responses and briefings on the subject of women, peace and security, you can find these in our Resources section.