Women make up half the population, yet in times of war, in peace talks, and in rebuilding efforts, women are rarely at the table. The issues that impact them and their families – from living safely in camps for the internally displaced to holding rapists accountable – are too rarely made a priority, despite a strong United Nations Security Council Resolution adopted 15 years ago this October that embeds work relating to women, peace, and security into the Council. Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Taylor talks to Amy Braunschweiger about why women’s rights are fundamental to long-term peace and how we can pressure countries to act on this.
How are women’s experiences in armed conflict different from men’s?
Governments and organizations creating camps or programs should consult with affected communities and let them take part in any decision-making. The government should also be transparent in its decision-making, giving communities feedback. And critics of the government should not face revenge attacks.
But what about instances where the presence of women could scuttle peace talks? Right now, Afghanistan is looking at talks with the Taliban, and I doubt the Taliban would react well to women being at the table.
I don’t think that the vision of a peaceful Afghanistan is dependent on the exclusion of women. I don’t think you can make a legitimate argument that a peaceful future for any country is dependent on the exclusion of half the population. Let’s remember that donor countries and the Afghan government have been excluding Afghan women from peace talks. And actually the Taliban has been willing to talk to women and discuss women’s rights. That doesn’t mean they have changed their horribly oppressive views on women, but they do seem to be willing to talk to them.
When you really look at places where women and respect for their rights have been excluded, I’d argue that it hasn’t worked. No women from the former Yugoslavia were involved in the peace accords, which has likely exacerbated the huge challenges for rape survivors and women who bore children of rape.
But just because there’s good language in a peace agreement, that doesn’t mean it’s implemented. Take Guatemala, where among other atrocities, the government committed genocide against its indigenous population in the 1980s. There was promising language in the 1996 peace accords, including some reflecting international treaties on women’s rights. Yet, after the agreements were signed, there has been little accountability for the mass rapes and killings of women that were part of how the war was waged.
And, just because women are in a peace process, it doesn’t guarantee respect for women’s rights. You need to ensure people who abuse women are prosecuted. You also need judicial reform that embeds women’s rights, and to train judges, prosecutors, and investigators on these issues. Colombia’s peace process over time became more inclusive of women than most other such negotiations. But there are real concerns about the result of those negotiations, including regarding accountability for violations of women’s rights, particularly as gender-based violence has been characteristic of Colombia’s long conflict. In the September 23, 2015 agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) guerrillas, in exchange for confessions, those who committed war crimes may escape prison. The question also remains as to whether victims will receive the support services they need.