Women's experiences in war and peace
Women and girls suffer disproportionately during violent conflict. Sexual violence is often used as an instrument of war, and although men and boys may also be abused in this way women and girls are the primary target. During Sierra Leone’s 11 year civil war an estimated 250,000 women experienced sexual violence.
The destabilising effect of conflict on families and communities can mean other forms of violence increase in intensity, including domestic violence. Sexual exploitation and trafficking also tend to rise during armed conflict. Refugee women and girls are especially vulnerable.
After the conflict has ended survivors of sexual violence are often forced to live through the traumatic legacy of these experiences without access to support or counselling and without hope of seeing justice done.
Although they are disproportionately affected by conflict women tend to be sidelined from formal conflict resolution and peace processes, meaning that post-conflict recovery and reconciliation programmes often overlook women’s specific needs. Over the last two decades women accounted for just 9% of negotiators at peace tables and out of 585 peace agreements from 1990 to 2010 only 92 contained any references to women.
Women and peacebuilding
Despite this, women play an essential role in building peace in their local communities. Research by Womankind Worldwide, Action Aid, and the Institute of Development Studies has shown that women are highly active in grassroots level peacebuilding during and after conflict, coming together to create change.
However, women face multiple barriers to building peace in their communities including:
- Prejudice and traditional ideas about gender roles
- Poverty and economic inequality
- Lack of access to education
The skills of women as mediators, decision makers within the home and their experiences building trust and dialogue in their families and communities are frequently dismissed as irrelevant or are not sufficiently valued by national governments, the international community or by women themselves.
There is also evidence to show that formal peace agreements which include women's perspectives are more likely to last (PDF). Placing women and girls at the heart of all efforts related to peacebuilding is vital to ending violence and ensuring sustainable peace.
Supporting women in conflict resolution and building peace
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) and subsequent Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security have been adopted since 2000. These commitments mandate the international community to ensure women’s participation in all aspects of peacebuilding, protect women’s rights in conflict and address violence. UNSCR 1325 was groundbreaking as the first ever Resolution to recognise the particular impact of violent conflict on women and girls and the role of governments in supporting survivors to recover.
Although UNSCR 1325 has led to some positive changes, progress over the last 15 years has been slow.
During and after conflict women's organisations are on the frontline providing expert support and services to survivors of sexual violence. As our research shows, they also push for inclusive peace processes, and are essential in holding parties accountable for their implementation once agreed.
Women's rights organisations are key players in ensuring that the post-conflict ‘window of opportunity’ to increase gender equality is not missed, for example by working to secure strong women’s rights provisions in new constitutions wider legal frameworks.
Yet, these organisations are consistently sidelined and their work severely underfunded. Recent OECD data shows that women’s organisations in fragile states received only 1 per cent of gender equality focused aid.
Ground-breaking strategies to address the funding shortfall are being developed. For example, the new Global Acceleration Instrument is an unprecedented collaboration between Member States, UN entities and civil society – including Womankind Worldwide. It provides a unique opportunity for coordinated, dedicated and scaled-up financing, which crucially will support grassroots women’s rights organisations in conflict-affected countries.