This article is part of the series—Raisina Edit 2022
Worldwide, there are more active conflicts
today than at any time since 1945. Conflicts have become increasingly complex and protracted as a growing number of non-state armed groups, regional, and global powers pursue their respective agendas.
The complexity and fragmentation of contemporary armed conflict has important implications for peace-making and mediation efforts. It requires a rethinking of orthodox approaches to peace processes and suggests that ‘bottom-up’ peacebuilding, starting at the community level and addressing a range of local concerns and dynamics, has a crucial role to play.
Empowering communities to better shape their own future is an opportunity to ensure that solutions are inclusive, locally owned and, thus, more sustainable. This includes capitalising on the important role women play as mediators and peacebuilders in their communities. Women are making essential contributions to peace in some of the world’s most devastating contemporary conflicts, including in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq. They have successfully mediated local ceasefires, negotiated with armed groups to end the recruitment of child soldiers, brokered the release of political prisoners, and engaged in crossline negotiations that secured access to water and other vital resources. Their contributions deserve greater recognition and support.
Women are making essential contributions to peace in some of the world’s most devastating contemporary conflicts, including in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq.
This is not to suggest that community-led processes can replace national-level ones. The relationship between local and national peace efforts is complex and there are many ways they can interact. Yet, whether local mediation efforts are complementary to, integrated with, or entirely separate from
national peace processes, they play a vital role in addressing local drivers of conflict that are frequently beyond the interest, scope, and capability of national processes to address.
A case in point are community-based approaches to natural resource management and climate-related security threats, where local women have been at the forefront of mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Women’s Roles at the Forefront of Climate Action
Climate change is perhaps the most formidable challenge of our time. Many women play critical roles
in their local communities as they mobilise to adapt to climate change and preserve natural resources. There is strong evidence to suggest that this leads to better outcomes in terms of conservation and sustainability.
Women make up
43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, two-thirds of livestock-keepers worldwide, and 30 percent of artisanal miners. They, therefore, have extensive, hands-on experience in managing natural resources and understanding the effects of climate change on the ground.
Climate change affects gender roles and livelihood patterns in ways that can create new entry points for engaging women in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
A study from South Asia
shows that often, women have long adopted strategies to protect their livelihoods from being destroyed by flooding, such as storing their seeds in high places. In Libya and Yemen, women have played important roles in local negotiations to solve conflicts over natural resources. In Taiz, Yemen, women led crossline negotiations
that produced resource management deals, including access to water. These successes need to be amplified and built on.
Removing Barriers to Inclusion
Climate change affects gender roles and livelihood patterns in ways that can create new entry points for engaging women in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. For example, in communities where climate-induced resource scarcity drive men to migrate in search of alternative livelihoods, women often take on roles that challenge traditional gender norms, such as mediating local conflicts or working in traditionally male-dominated economic sectors. If capitalised on effectively, these shifts have the potential to overcome longstanding barriers to women’s empowerment in peacebuilding processes, and secure more inclusive political, social, and economic structures that advance gender equality and environmental sustainability in conflict-affected contexts.
However, threats and attacks
on women peacebuilders, human rights defenders, and grassroots activists are on the rise, and this severely impedes their participation and leadership, especially in contexts where women must already overcome cultural, political, economic, or other obstacles to entering public life. The lack of adequate protection measures is one of the fundamental barriers preventing women’s full and equal participation in peace processes at all levels and must therefore, be addressed with the sense of urgency and priority it deserves.
Women’s contributions to local mediation, peacebuilding, and climate action efforts still often go unrecognised. Women mediators and peacebuilders are frequently required to prove they have the ‘skills’ needed to participate in negotiations and decision-making processes—something that tends to be assumed for men. The less formal, behind-the-scenes roles
women sometimes assume in conflict resolution—either as a strategy or because of restrictive social norms barring them from more visible positions—deserve greater credit and attention. Women’s peacebuilding and mediation work needs to be better documented, understood, and supported.
Women mediators and peacebuilders are frequently required to prove they have the ‘skills’ needed to participate in negotiations and decision-making processes—something that tends to be assumed for men.
Finally, the growing digitalisation of peace work not only offers new opportunities, but also challenges for inclusion. While new digital tools have the potential to reach a growing number of underrepresented constituencies at the grassroots level, the digital gender divide persists
. Unequal internet connectivity, limited access to technology and hardware, privacy concerns, and fear of technology-facilitated gender-based violence can serve as another barrier to women’s participation in the online space. Active steps must, therefore, be taken to mitigate the risk of technology perpetuating patterns of exclusion, and leverage its inclusive potential in new and transformative ways.
Inclusive Solutions are Sustainable Solutions
The failure to break down barriers and create an enabling environment for women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in peace processes at all levels not only deprives women of their basic human rights, but also means that we all miss out on their experience, expertise, and resourcefulness. Peace cannot simply be imposed from the top down, it must be lived by those directly affected by conflict.
Empowering local actors of all genders and backgrounds to resolve conflict and shape the future of their own communities is essential in the face of increasingly complex and intractable conflicts. While there is no silver bullet to overcome the limitations of orthodox mediation tools and processes to bring about lasting peace, it is clear that as we seek to develop new and innovative approaches to peace-making, only genuinely inclusive solutions have the potential to deliver sustainable results.
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