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  • Erin Gleason Alvarez

Thoughts on Peace

Though women are often the targets of wartime violence, they are rarely included in the peace talks that seek to end conflict. And while concerns over gender parity certainly exist here, the bigger issue is that when women are excluded from peace negotiations, those agreements are less likely to endure.

The present conflict involving Russia’s war against Ukraine is another case in point. Roughly 54% of people in need of assistance from the ongoing crisis are women. Reports of violence against women including murder, rape, trafficking, attacks on maternity wards, and attacks on humanitarian corridors and aid convoys mount each day. To date, over five million refugees from Ukraine – the vast majority women and children – have fled to neighboring countries or been displaced within the country.

Throughout this conflict, women have played an instrumental role in providing vital logistics and non-combat support, while also serving on the frontlines. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that women-led organizations have helped to fund and supply the Ukrainian military; provided medical care, food, and social services to the large internally displaced population; and conducted dialogues between ethnic Ukrainian and Russian groups on the margins of formal negotiations.

But women have been largely excluded as peace negotiators historically. In peace talks between 2014 and 2019, Ukraine sent at least ten men but only two women as delegates; Russia sent none.

“If the goal of a peace process is only to end violence, then women — who are rarely the belligerents — are unlikely to be considered legitimate participants. If the goal is to build peace, however, it makes sense to gain more diverse inputs from the rest of society.”
Marie O’Reilly, Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, and Thania Paffenholz, “Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes”

While it is important to acknowledge the active and important roles that women have played in combat and non-combat capacities, it is critical for women to be involved in formal negotiation processes during times of war and conflict as well. The Graduate Institute in Geneva conducted an in-depth analysis of 40 peace processes since the end of the Cold War. This research showed that in cases where women’s groups were able to exercise a strong influence on the negotiation process, there was a much higher chance that an agreement would be reached than when women’s groups had little or no influence. In fact, in cases of women’s participation in peace negotiations in earnest, an agreement was almost always reached. Furthermore, strong influence of women in negotiation processes also positively correlated with a greater likelihood of agreements being implemented and lasting.

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