10 Myths that Prevent Women’s Participation in Peace and Security

   •    April 17, 2012

Myth #1: There isn’t evidence that including women makes a difference.

Quite the opposite. Research shows that inclusive processes are more credible to the public and have a higher success rate. There is also empirical evidence of women‘s contributions to improving peace negotiations, sustaining ceasefires, disarming and reintegrating fighters, and improving governance and justice. The best evidence is the failure of current efforts. Fifty percent of peace agreements fail within a decade, unleashing more violence and fragmentation of armed actors.

Myth #2: This is a “Western” agenda. We have to be culturally sensitive.

UNSCR 1325 came from women in conflict zones worldwide and today, in every war zone, from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka to Libya, women are endangering their own lives to bring about peace. Sidelining them or suggesting that they are “westernized” due to our own lack of cultural understanding damages their efforts.

Myth #3: It is hard enough getting an agreement. Adding women will just rock the boat.

The immediate goal of stopping warfare and ensuring a ceasefire often overshadows everything. A common argument is that pushing the issue “too soon” may rock the boat. However, research indicates this assumption is unsubstantiated by evidence and that bringing women in earlier in the process enhances stability, decreases corruption in political institutions, and promotes higher living standards.

Myth #4: We are already working with women.

The lone woman or ad hoc meeting are not enough. Traditional development programming does not address the issues of peace and security that the UNSCR 1325 agenda tackles. This agenda is about ensuring women‘s central role in the key moments when their future is being negotiated at the end of war. It is about ensuring that 50 percent of the population has a say in determining national security, constitutional, governance, justice, social and economic priorities, and systems that will govern their lives.

Myth #5: We do not have the budget to do more training, add more staff, etc.

Many argue that the U.S. government lacks the budget for additional training and staff to support implementation of UNSCR 1325. However, the U.S. and its allies currently dedicate huge resources to peace and security issues, despite poor returns on their investments. This is in part because efforts are not targeted adequately to the people and realities on the ground. Gendered-situational analysis provides important information about the context and the actors, including their capacities and needs. It ensures that U.S. resources are targeted correctly. This agenda does not require new funds. It requires reallocation of existing funds and reprioritization of activities.

Myth #6: “The Women” need to organize themselves and speak with one voice.

The notion that women are disorganized and lack an agenda is inaccurate. At most it is a relative concept, as it presumes that other actors, especially armed groups and political parties have a coherent agenda. In many cases, women are not only organized but also have a shared message.

Myth #7: We cannot find any qualified women. We need to focus on girls’ education first.

There are double standards as it is rarely asked if the men are qualified. Willingness to use violence is often qualification enough for a seat at the table where decisions about the future are being made. Women who have experienced violent conflict and cared for others during war have a firm grasp of the impact of conflict on the lives of ordinary people. Even in the midst of chaos, they demonstrate resilience by caring for their dependents (as in refugee camps worldwide) and providing islands of normalcy (as Afghan women did in their secret schools and clinics). They are uniquely qualified to talk about priorities for peace and security.

Myth #8: Not all women are peaceful.

Where war and oppression exists it is unfair and unrealistic to assume that all women will be pro-peace. A minority of women takes up arms to fight for a cause and, in communities where injustice is rife, women can encourage vengeance and violence. But overwhelmingly, women are the first to mobilize for peace and reconciliation. From Northern Ireland to Rwanda, Cambodia, and Iraq, women have been at the frontlines in the struggle for real democracy, peace and moderation. The fact is women are never passive victims. Their influence – positive or negative – should not be underestimated.

Myth #9: Sexual violence is an inevitable consequence of irregular warfare and the changed nature of conflicts.

Sexual violence is common in many crises. But it does not have to be inevitable. It is often assumed that rebels or non-state militias are the primary perpetrators of sexual violence. But research shows that close to 50 percent of known cases are perpetrated by state military, police and other officials. In Iraq, U.S.-funded and trained police have been implicated in civilian rapes. The U.S. government works closely with many governments and funds the training of security personnel. We cannot prevent every incident but more can be done to ensure U.S. allies and U.S.- trained security forces are not perpetrators.

Myth #10: We are implementing UNSCR 1325. We have a national action plan.

Declaring “we have a plan!” is not enough. Creating a national action plan (NAP) on UNSCR 1325 is not the same as implementing it. Planning a plan or even finalizing a plan is not implementation – it is aspiration. Every day there are opportunities in real-time, real-life contexts where civil society can make a difference – and in doing so – contribute to peace and saving lives. The women of Libya, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and elsewhere cannot afford more missed opportunities. Civil society does not need a plan to start acting. The time to act is now.

These 10 myths were adapted from the US Civil Society Working Group’s Expert Statement on UNSCR 1325 and the US National Action Plan [PDF].

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