Imagining A Day Without Women Peacebuilders


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In 1996, following a brutal bombing, women organized a peace vigil in Belfast. Photo: Max Nash/AP

Picture this: It’s 2008 in Belfast. The Good Friday agreement was signed ten years ago, but—despite the months of thoughtful negotiation behind it—peace is falling apart. Catholics and Protestants still live in segregated neighborhoods. Young people go to school surrounded by students and teachers from the same backgrounds. Armed factions on both sides have refused to disarm, saying they won’t relinquish their weapons until every political prisoner is freed. The situation is reaching a breaking point.

Thankfully, it didn’t quite happen that way.

During the peace talks, women like Monica McWilliams and May Blood foresaw such potential for relapse. When the parties reached an impasse, the women mediated between them. They also insisted on including integrated education for Catholic and Protestant youth, compensation for victims of violence, and reintegration of political prisoners in the final agreement so that peace would have a long-term chance. Though reconciliation is a work in progress, the country has been at peace for almost 30 years.

Indigenous women mourn loved ones killed during Guatemala’s civil war. Photo: Brooke Anderson.

Now imagine: Across the Atlantic, negotiation teams for the Guatemalan government and opposition, largely comprised of the same men who led the violence, have finally reached an agreement to end 36 years of civil war. In that time, more than 200,000 people were killed—most of them (about 83 percent) indigenous Maya. But the signed accord neither addresses these atrocities nor provides a structure to prevent their recurrence, and the underlying economic grievances that led the guerrillas to take up arms in the first place remain.

In reality, women like Luz Mendez helped prevent the resurgence of war in Guatemala by highlighting the needs and perspectives of marginalized groups. They developed legislation against crimes of sexual violence—of which the overwhelming majority of victims were indigenous women—and created bodies to institutionalize broad civic participation. Women successfully pushed for equal access to education, credit, housing, health services, justice, and land to ensure the agreement addressed the war’s the root causes.

These examples mirror post-conflict experiences in Liberia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and around the world.

When women are involved in the creation of peace, it’s 35 percent more likely to last. But we don’t have to go that far to imagine what might have happened. In the vast majority of peace processes, women are still absent.

So let’s imagine one more scenario: It’s 2017 and women are at the table as equal contributors to the peace agreements that shape their lives and that of their families and communities.

What does that world look like?

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