From the ground up
6 From the ground up“A keycharacteristicof women’sinvolvementin peace -buildingacross thestudycountries isthat womenand girlsorganisethemselvescollectively toachievechange.”3. UN Security CouncilResolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325),adopted in 2000, recognises theimportance of women’s equalparticipation and fullinvolvement in peace andsecurity.A key characteristic of women’sinvolvement in peacebuilding across thestudy countries is that women and girlsorganise themselves collectively to achievechange. Some of the most importantadvances in women’s rights – including forexample UNSCR 1325, 3 various legal reformsin all countries that expand women’s rights,and institutions such as UN Women – havebeen secured through the efforts ofinternational and national women’smovements. This research has revealed thatwomen’s peacebuilding efforts at the locallevel are no different.“In a patriarchal society, it is extremelydifficult for women to be heard, so it isimportant that women come together.Unless they act together, no one is goingto hear them. They find security andstrength in each others’ experiences.”– Bandana Rana, Executive Chair, Saathiand member of UN Women Global CivilSociety Advisory Group, NepalAcross the study countries, women cometogether and form support networks tocreate spaces where they can be heard,settle disputes, address unjust treatment,promote women’s involvement in decisionmaking, propose initiatives for communitydevelopment and seek justice for femalesurvivors of violence and sexual abuse. Thiscollective action results not only in a greaterimpact in building peace in the community,but also offers a degree of protection andsupport for women.“Women build peace among themselves.They mediate and solve disputes at thecommunity level. Most men solve conflictsat the ‘chief’ level.”– Male Interviewee, Justice and PeaceCommission, Sierra LeoneWhile there is evidence in this research thatin many study communities, women’s rightshave regressed in the aftermath of conflict,it also appears that the post-conflict periodhas given women space to organisecollectively and to assert their power indecision making. This change was mostnoticeable in Liberia, where womendescribe a new standing for women in thepost-conflict period. However, there wasalso evidence across the countries of howthe transformation of gender roles duringconflict as well as the post-conflict recoverywork of external organisations has led tothe emergence of women leaders or astronger women’s rights movement.The missing link – local tonationalAcross the study communities, participantsexpressed concern with the disconnectbetween national peace and decisionmakingprocesses and local communities.Central government and associatedpoliticians and political parties were notviewed as contributing to local-level peaceby the majority of respondents. Womenfrequently did not see the links betweentheir own peacebuilding activities at thecommunity level and national-levelactivities. There are clearly few spaces forthe voices of those working for peacewithin their communities to have dialoguewith decision makers at a national level andthis is compounded by remote geographicallocations and technology barriers.“At the national level it’s the samepeople all the time. We need to start atthe community because we’re notchanging anything at the moment.”– Women’s rights activist, AfghanistanA large number of research participantsacross the study communities agreed on theneed for a bottom-up approach topeacebuilding with peace built from theindividual, to the household, and to thecommunity level before it can be achievednationally. NGOs, and in particularnetworks, are seen as the key connectorbetween local-level peace processes andpriorities and the national level.Supporting womenpeacebuilders – what works?This research found that the work of localNGOs and women’s rights organisations isrecognised and valued by people acrosscommunities. These organisations becomethe focal point of support for excluded andmarginalised women, who struggle to getattention and support from formal stateinstitutions. The study revealed a number ofkey approaches to empowering women aspeacebuilders at the local level:a) Long-term support and investment:Peacebuilding requires long-term support
7 From the ground upPhoto: Womankindand funding. Changing structural andcultural barriers that have existed forgenerations is a gradual process that takestime and persistence, yet funding forwomen’s participation in peacebuilding isfrequently inadequate and not sufficientlylong term.b) Empowering women through access tojustice: Many of the organisationsinterviewed in this research recognised theimportance of access to justice for womenin building peace. In order to achieve this,empowering women through increasedawareness of their rights and participationin justice structures is key. Access to justicealso requires providing support and safetyfor survivors of violence against women.“I’m proudest of solving conflict cases –particularly domestic violence caseswhere, as a group, we have heldhusbands to account and let them knowthey cannot get away with it. They knowthat we will take it further, even tocourt.”– Head of Women’s Peace Council,Community C, Afghanistanc) Creating safe spaces for women’sparticipation: Organisations can helpfacilitate space for women to engage inpeacebuilding in the local community andbuild on the safe spaces women alreadycreate for themselves. This requires thecreation of formal peacebuildingmechanisms at the community level as wellas informal safe and secure spaces forwomen to collectively organise for peace.d) Changing attitudes towards peace andvaluing women’s contribution: Genderresponsivepeacebuilding requires theprevention of violence against women andthe recognition of women’s rights in thehousehold and in the community. Thisinvolves awareness-raising, such as throughthe media, on women’s rights, thedifferent impact of conflict on women anda broader understanding of ‘peace’ at thelocal level.e) Recognising the diversity of women’sexperiences: Women in post-conflictcountries are not a homogenous group.Widows, ex-combatants, survivors of sexualviolence, displaced women, women livingwith HIV and AIDS or disabilities all faceunique challenges and require differentapproaches to enable their participation inpeacebuilding and post-conflict recovery.Successful support for women’sparticipation in peacebuilding at the locallevel requires recognition of the diverseneeds, priorities and experiences of women.The vital roles that women play aspeacebuilders at the local level indicate thatthe meaningful participation of women inpolitical structures can have significantpositive consequences for peace andstability at a wider level. Given the findingsof this research that women areinstrumental as peacebuilders within theirfamilies and their communities, an idealgender-responsive approach topeacebuilding should recognise theimportance of gender equality forsustainable peace, support the importantroles that women undertake within theirfamilies and communities as peacebuildersand bring these skills, experiences andpriorities to the regional and national levels.