Inclusive Ceasefires: Women, Gender, and a Sustainable End to Violence

Michelle Barsa, Olivia Holt-Ivry, Allison Muehlenbeck   •   March 2016


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This paper was submitted to the International Studies Association’s 57th Annual Convention

Traditional approaches to ending wars—where armed groups meet behind closed doors to hammer out a truce—are falling short in the face of 21st century conflicts. In 2014, the world experienced the highest battle-related death toll since the Cold War. Belligerents increasingly target civilians, and global displacement from conflict, violence, and persecution has reached the highest level ever recorded. States that emerge from war also persistently relapse; in the 2000s, 90 percent of conflicts occurred in countries previously afflicted by war.

Partly as a means to address these challenges, calls for inclusive approaches to resolving conflict and insecurity have grown louder. The full impact of women’s participation on peace and security outcomes remains poorly understood, but overwhelming anecdotal and quantitative evidence shows that women’s empowerment and gender equality are associated with peace and stability. While the inclusion of women and civil society in peace processes is consequently gaining normative traction, one consistent exception has emerged: ceasefires.

The terms “ceasefire,” “truce,” and “cessations of hostilities” have long been used interchangeably, both on paper and in practice.  Even today, the distinction between them remains at best unclear and, at worst, contested. This paper defines ceasefires as negotiated agreements between parties that “define the rules and modalities for conflict parties to stop fighting.” As such, we treat them as more binding and comprehensive in scope than truces, which can be unilateral and encompass many types of breaks in the fighting.

Cessations of hostilities can also be declaratory and non-binding, but when reached as negotiated agreements, they too are typically narrower in scope and more temporary in nature than ceasefires. True to their name, cessations of hostilities simply suspend the violence. As such, most ceasefire agreements include a cessation of hostilities section that lists the violent acts to be halted. But ceasefires go further by outlining additional rules and modalities to de-escalate tensions between the warring parties: lines of disengagement and withdrawal of forces, demilitarized zones, cantonment of forces, monitoring and verification, dispute resolution, and disarmament. These additional mechanisms are designed to support (and as one econometric model shows, are more likely to achieve) a more durable cessation of violence. This paper will focus on ceasefire and cessation of hostilities agreements that are or were intended to create space for comprehensive peace negotiations.

That ceasefires in particular remain unquestionably untouched by the principle of inclusion is remarkable, given the foundational role they often play in peace processes. Ceasefires can heavily influence—if not determine outright—which actors will subsequently be invited to the peace table and which issues will appear on the agenda of those talks. And the stakes are high. According to one of the most extensive studies to date on ceasefires and peace, strong agreements—defined as those that implement detailed mechanisms like demilitarized zones and peacekeeping forces—reduce the risk of another war by more than 80 percent. At the very least, this warrants an evidence-based debate of the merits of including stakeholders other than the belligerent parties. Yet the growing body of research on ceasefires contains little information on if, how, and why women’s and civil society’s needs, perspectives, and considerations are being incorporated.

This paper will explore the possible benefits of women’s participation in ceasefires; the inclusion of women in the 2014 South Sudanese Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and the 2015 Myanmar Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement; women’s impact as measured by the two agreements’ meaningful attention to gender; and the consequences for the agreements’ implementations and women’s inclusion in subsequent phases of these two peace processes. Our findings will be analyzed together with the sparse literature on women, gender, and ceasefires to generate hypotheses on the value of women’s inclusion at this stage.

The paper is structured as follows: (1) the case for women’s inclusion; (2) a review of relevant literature on women, gender, and ceasefires; (3) South Sudan case study; (4) Myanmar case study; (5) findings and hypotheses for further research.

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