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Failing to empower Women peacebuilders: a cautionary tale from Angola
Failing to empower Women peacebuilders: a cautionary tale from Angola
To Keep the Peace, We Need More Women
To Keep the Peace, We Need More Women
Op-Ed / Africa

Failing to empower Women peacebuilders: a cautionary tale from Angola

Originally published in PeaceWomen

In the summer of 1994, against the backdrop of the Rwandan genocide and the deterioration of conditions in Somalia, one of the few hopeful developments on the African continent came from the Zambian capital of Lusaka, where Angolans from the Government and the rebel UNITA movement and international mediators were working to end two decades of civil war that had killed a half million people. In my position as President Clinton's special assistant for African affairs, I had the privilege of supporting these negotiations, which bore fruit in November 1994 with the signing of the Lusaka Protocol.

This comprehensive peace accord promised an end to the conflict and a new era of national reconciliation and reconstruction.

Addressing an audience of African scholars on the Lusaka Protocol in late 1994, I was asked about the role of women in its negotiating and implementation. I responded that there was not a single provision in the agreement that discriminated against women. "The agreement is gender-neutral," I proclaimed, somewhat proudly.

President Clinton then named me as US ambassador to Angola and a member of the Luanda-based Joint Commission charged with implementing the peace accords. It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda to realize that a peace agreement that is "gender-neutral" is, by definition, discriminatory against women and thus far less likely to be successful. The exclusion of women and gender considerations from the peace process proved to be a key factor in our inability to implement the Lusaka Protocol and in Angola's return to conflict in late 1998.

Consider the evidence. Most telling was the failure to insist that women participate in the Joint Commission itself. As a result, at each meeting of this body, forty men sat around the table. Not a single delegation - the Angolan government, UNITA, the United Nations, Portugal, Russia or the United States - had a woman on its team. Not only did this silence women's voices on the hard issues of war and peace, but it also meant that issues as internal displacement, sexual violence, abuses by government and rebel security forces, and the rebuilding of social services such as maternal health care and girls' education were given short shrift - or no shrift at all.

Those in the Joint Commission who sought to address gender issues encountered other barriers. The peace accord was based on 13 separate amnesties that excluded the possibility of prosecution for atrocities committed during the conflict. One amnesty even excused any actions that might take place six months in the future. Given the prominence of sexual abuse and exploitation during the conflict, including rape used as a weapon of war, thse amnesties meant that men with guns forgave other men with guns for crimes committed against women. This flaw also undercut any return to a culture of rule of law and accountability, and introduced a cynicism at the heart of our efforts to rebuild and reform the justice and security sectors.

Similarly, as we launched disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs for ex-combatants, we soon realized that the agreement defined a combatant as anyone identified as such by their military's leadership. The thousands of women who had been kidnapped or coerced mostly into the rebel forces were largely excluded by their leaders, since most of them were exploited as cooks, messengers, bearers, and even sex slaves. Thus, we had to scramble to provide any support to these victims.

Male ex-combatants received a little money and demobilization kits consisting mostly of seeds and farm tools. We then shipped them back to communities where they had no clear roles, since they lacked marketable skills and the communities had learned to live without them during the decades of conflict. As elsewhere around the world, the result was a dramatic rise in alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, and domestic violence, and the breakdown of the coping mechanisms that gave women some protection during the conflict. Thus, the end of civil war unleashed a new era of violence against women.

Even such well-intentioned efforts as clearing major roads of landmines to allow the more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes backfired against women. Angola was plagued by up to a million landmines planted by a dozen separate military forces throughout its conflict. But road clearance demining efforts preceded the demining of local fields, wells, and forests. So as newly resettled women went out to plant the fields, fetch water, and collect fire wood, they faced a new rash of landmine accidents.

The Lusaka Protocol was largely silent on or had inadequate mechanisms to deal with a wide variety of other issues, including trafficking in persons, reconstitution of reproductive health care systems, a displacement-related burgeoning of the HIV/AIDS rate, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in civilian hands, and psycho-social assistance to the victims of rape and other sexual violence.

Faced with these challenges, the indefatigable UN Special Representative Aliouene Blondin Beye - who later lost his life in the pursuit of peace in Angola - brought out gender advisers and human rights officers to guide our efforts. Our embassy launched programs in maternal health care, girls' education, humanitarian demining, micro-enterprise, and support for women's non-governmental organizations. Moreover, we insisted that women be involved as planners, implementers and beneficiaries for our humanitarian and reconstruction assistance programs under the guidance, "Nothing about us without us."

These efforts were greatly assisted by excellent guidance from the Women's Commission on Refugee Women and Children, Widtech, and Special Envoy Paul Hare. But it was too little, too late. The peace process was already viewed as serving the interests of the warring parties rather than the general population. Thus when the peace process faltered in mid-1998 because of insufficient commitment from both the government and especially UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, there was insufficient civil society pressure on the leaders to prevent a return to conflict.

I leave it to an enterprising researcher to fully document the case, but I have no doubt that the exclusion of one-half of the population from the Angolan peace process - and from institutions of governance and the formal economy - meant that inadequate attention was paid to areas essential to consolidate peace and reconstruct the country. This contributed to the return to another three years of fighting that ended only with Savimbi's death in 2001.

The adoption in 2000 of UN Security Council resolution 1325 brought the promise of a systematic approach and concentrated energy to address these issues, but thus far, has largely been a dream deferred. Courageous and talented women trying to help build peace around the world still face discrimination in legal, cultural and traditional practices. Sexual violence and threats against women in power structures still impose a stigma of victimization that makes the most impressive women think twice before stepping forward. And yet there are more and more cases -- from Liberia to Rwanda to Nepal to Uganda -- where women are contributing to peace and reconstruction processes.

There is much to do to make such cases the norm. As a global community, we must safeguard and strengthen women peacebuilders with personal security and training. We must ensure a critical mass - beginning at 20-30 percent - of women in peace talks, reconstruction conferences, and governance mechanisms.

We must focus on rebuilding social structures with particular importance to women, such as reproductive health care and girls' education. We must end the culture of impunity that turns a blind eye toward violence against women. We must bring more women into the security forces of post-conflict countries.

Even within the UN system itself, we have a long way to go. As the world hailed the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president of Liberia, the UN Secretary General issued a report in September 2006 identifying the benchmarks that would allow for the drawdown and withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from that country. Of 39 benchmarks on security, governance, rule of law, and economic revitalization, there was not a single mention of women or gender. Of the remaining seven benchmarks on infrastructure and basic services, only the last item mentioned the need for girls' school enrolment.

This situation is dangerous. Including women in building peace it is not just a question of fairness and equity. Peace agreements and post-conflict governance and reconstruction simply work better when women are involved and gender is taken into account. With the growth of new peace negotiations and peacekeeping mission globally, the case of Angola is a cautionary tale that we ignore at our peril.

Op-Ed / Global

To Keep the Peace, We Need More Women

Originally published in The Globe and Mail

Ahead of the 14-15 November 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver, Crisis Group's President & CEO Jean-Marie Guéhenno writes that greater female participation in UN peacekeeping can help UN missions fulfill their mandates.

International commitment to greater female representation in peacekeeping has lost considerable impetus. Though rhetorically committed, United Nations leaders, both civilian and uniformed, have often regarded gender issues as non-essential and dispensable. But in the absence of genuine attention to women's political participation and gender dynamics in conflict-affected societies, UN peacekeeping risks failing to fulfill its mandate.

On Nov. 14 and 15, Canada will host the annual UN peacekeeping summit. With more than 500 delegates from 70 countries and international organizations gathering in Vancouver, this high-profile event can serve as a much-needed catalyst to reinvigorate international commitment to gender equality in peacekeeping. Without global leadership, decades-long efforts to strengthen gender-sensitive responses risk falling into inertia.

Evidence suggests that female peacekeepers can serve as role models for local women, improve relations with the host community, and facilitate information-gathering in societies where locals are dissuaded from interacting with outsiders of the opposite sex. Increasing women's presence is also key to reducing the incidence of rape and use of prostitution by peacekeeping forces. In cases of sexual abuse, victims indicate that it is easier to report sexual crimes to peacekeepers of the same sex.

Increasing women's presence is [...] key to reducing the incidence of rape and use of prostitution by peacekeeping forces.

Efforts to increase the number of female peacekeepers, however, have long been disappointing. In recent years, women's participation, which comprises less than five per cent of peacekeeping forces globally, has remained low and shows no signs of increasing. There are currently only two women out of 15 heads of peacekeeping operations.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has pledged to reach gender parity across all UN agencies by 2030, but the organization has little influence on who gets recruited and deployed by troop-contributing countries. Some member states have adopted policies to increase the number of women in their security forces – Canada is a case in point, with its goal to increase the number of female peacekeepers every year – but most troop-contributing states have poor credentials in female representation in their forces. Contributing nations should be encouraged to provide more female peacekeepers.

Of course, addressing gender-specific needs and interests in peacekeeping requires more than simply increasing the number of women. It calls for thorough analysis of gender dynamics and realities in societies where peacekeepers operate. This can only be achieved if UN peacekeeping leaders make a conscious effort toward integrating gender dynamics in their work and reflecting them as they devise new policies and interventions. Increasing the number of gender advisers directly supporting heads of peacekeeping missions, and ensuring that they are not sidelined, would be concrete steps in that direction.

Research on gender by International Crisis Group has shown that, in times of conflict, the experiences of men and women vary considerably. As conflict disrupts traditional livelihoods, men predominantly join the ranks of soldiers on the front line, while the economic burden on women increases, along with the number of female-headed households. Likewise, crises are likely to exacerbate existing discrimination against women and girls and distort traditional social norms. Devising sustainable solutions for peace is impossible without taking into consideration these issues. Liberia, where women played an important role in the negotiations leading to peace, is a case in point.

There is also a need for greater awareness of the gender-specific impacts of conflict, in order to devise appropriate interventions. In recent decades, forms of violence have emerged that take the gender identity of the victim as their primary target. This is especially true in situations where sexual violence is turned into a weapon of war. But more broadly, at times where law and order have broken down, women and girls of all ages may be left with few options to survive, sometimes compelling them to break societal norms. This fuels a vicious circle of violence, exclusion and stigmatization.

It is particularly regrettable that reports keep emerging of sexual abuse by peacekeeping troops while the UN has limited means of holding those responsible to account. The revelations of widespread sexual abuse in recent news illustrate that violence against women and girls, including in the home, exists within many societies – rich and poor. But as conflict exacerbates underlying tensions that encourage predatory behaviours and further compound women's insecurity, it is the responsibility of national leaders, as well as peacekeeping heads, to support robust systems to prevent such violence and protect groups at risk. A strong personal commitment of the leadership is a critical component of an effective response to sexual abuse.

Without resources or dedicated personnel, there is a strong possibility that gender expertise will remain excluded from decision-making and program development processes.

In June, the UN General Assembly voted to cut $600-million (U.S.) from the organization's annual $8-billion peacekeeping budget, resulting in the removal or downgrading of several field-level positions responsible for integrating the gender perspective in the work of peacekeeping missions. One of the impacts of budgetary pressure on peacekeeping has been the reluctance to ensure that vacant gender adviser positions within missions are filled. Without resources or dedicated personnel, there is a strong possibility that gender expertise will remain excluded from decision-making and program development processes.

As Vancouver prepares to host this year's United Nations peacekeeping summit, member states should follow Canada's lead as an internationally recognized advocate for women's rights and gender equality. They should make concrete commitments to expand female recruitment in their security services and concurrently increase the deployment of female peacekeepers.