Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 12 February 2017

The inclusion of women in the peacemaking process

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By Adeeb Yousif

The idea of this is to guide and provide an analysis of the impact of female activism on peace building efforts and it will discuss the effects of such activism on the ability to establish sustainable peace in war-torn countries such as Sudan. The involvement of women in peace building and post conflict reconstruction is a vital part of establishing sustainable peace in Sudan, as well as in other war-torn communities across the globe. Like many other women in the world, Sudanese women are essential to the provision of care and support to the family structure as well as the community at large. The ongoing conflict in Sudan “has made the burden of women even heavier.” (McFarland, 2001) “Many are charged with the sole responsibility of caring for the entire family while their husbands are away at war or after their husbands have been killed.” (McFarland, 2001) Women are crucial to maintaining cohesion in the community, especially during times of war and during the post-conflict period that follows. Unfortunately, the women who live in these conflict zones continue to be either excluded from formalized peace processes or they continue to be minimally engaged in such processes. Consequently, it is imperative that women’s groups and organizations become more heavily involved in peace building efforts. Moreover, this project is aimed at building the capacity of women so that they can be positive agents of change in their communities.

Throughout the 60-years of Sudan’s independence it has been embroiled in protracted civil conflicts for about 50 years. This conflict has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, widespread sexual assaults, the burning of villages and the displacement of millions from their homes which has caused many to live in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps or refugee camps with limited humanitarian services and poor security (Natsios, 2012). In many conflict zones, including Darfur, women often pay a high price. Oftentimes many women have been subjected to sexual violence, including rape, abduction for the purposes of sexual exploitation, indecent assault, sexual humiliation and serious injuries or killings and displacement (Security Council, 2015). In addition to being victimized by the aforementioned crimes, many women have assumed the additional burden of being the sole providers for their families because large portions of the male population have been killed in battle.

Consequently, many women are forced to raise their children, provide care for other family members and generate income without additional support. Thus the family network is compromised, and many widows fall into cycles of poverty. Despite the significant role that women have played and are still playing to support their families and cope with the detrimental ramifications of conflict, their intrinsic value in the conflict resolution process continues to be marginalized. Although some efforts have been made to include women in decision-making forums regarding peace building; the Sudanese government and the international community have to make more strides toward understanding the inseparable link between gender equality and peace and security in order for sustainable peace to be obtained in Darfur in the near future.

An examination of female agency in the Darfur peace processes will greatly contribute to an understanding of the plight of women living in conflict zones, the ways in which they cope with such incredible hardships and the various forms of political activism that are utilized by these women to overcome their dire circumstances. Such a study will highlight the need for more female agency in the political processes of Sudan at the local, regional and national level. Additionally, this study will augment current scholarship on women’s culture because the “efforts of women’s civic organizations and how women organize themselves within these organizations will be addressed. This will provide further insight concerning female perspectives pertaining to power and development” (McFarland, 2001).

The lack of women’s participation in conflict resolution forums promotes the victimization of women through a culture of impunity and gender inequality, which makes sustainable peace more difficult to attain. Widespread gender bias and the perpetual violence that has been committed against women, continues to prevent them from making great strides as peace builders in war-torn communities. Women are oftentimes excluded from participating in peace processes because they have a much more inclusive approach to peace and security matters rather than a “winner takes all approach” which is commonly adopted by their male counterparts. Because women have a much more inclusive approach to peace and security matters, the engagement of female activists in conflict resolution processes will result in other social and economic issues being addressed that would otherwise be ignored.

To examine the assumption mentioned above there is a need to consider the following questions: How to empower women so that they can be viable participants in the peace-making processes in Darfur as well as in other parts of the country? How can current political institutions and civic organizations in Darfur be more effective at institutionalizing democratic processes by ensuring that women’s voices are heard on a local, regional and national level? What needs to be done to build a bridge between male decision makers and their female counterparts? What can be done to change the stereotypic views of women, which characterize them as victims? I think minimal or no involvement of female agency in conflict resolution forums has an adverse impact on the ability to attain sustainable peace in war-torn regions such as Darfur, Sudan.

In order to achieve sustainable peace, women must be involved in all stages of the peacemaking process, including participation in conflict resolution forums and the restoration of justice. As a group disproportionately affected by the conflict, and as victims of widespread sexual violence, it is critical for women to be empowered and available to other women and children that have experienced trauma. The resilience, courage, and above all compassion that women possess are necessary to the rebuilding of healthy communities. Lasting peace requires an inclusive process that addresses the root causes of the conflict as well as restoring communities that have been ravaged by war. This conflict has permanently altered Sudanese society, thrusting women into independence and new territory of non-traditional roles. Women’s participation will also help transform corrupted Sudanese institutions to democratic institutions and help with laws that focus on rape as weapons of war and the recruitment and use of youth as soldiers. Once a peace agreement is finally reached, there is no guarantee for peace, making it critical that the proper structures are put in place and there is a strong and inclusive civil society.

Adeeb Yousif, is Doctoral Candidate in School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He can be reached at: aabdela2@gmu.edu



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