It is widely observed and reported that women bear the brunt of armed conflict. From Uganda to Kosovo, women have suffered the physical and mental consequences of violence that is perpetrated and perpetuated by men. Seeing that peace talks involve the alleviation of damages sustained from conflict, one would think that women would be key stakeholders within the discussion and negotiation. However, even with the recognition and pronunciation from the UN to include women in all levels of peace talks, it has yielded a pitiful change in representation. Of the 21 major peace processes between 1992 and 2008 only 2.4% of signatories were women. This is a problem for two main reasons: first, as previously stated women bear the burden of war and second, women have inherent characteristics that would aid to the negotiation process.
There are a number of offenses inflicted upon women during war. The most obvious offense being the violence against women and their children used as a means to manipulate and terrorize a population to control and dominate them. There is however less awareness around the social catastrophes that incur because of armed conflict. The death of family members, especially of men who are most often the breadwinners and the heads of households, leaves a woman with little to no income. For instance, when the Taliban took control over Afghanistan they imposed strict rules that forbade women from leaving their homes or coming into any contact with men outside of their families. For those women who lost entire families to the preceding war, they had no means for income or stability leading them to a life of begging, prostitution and suicide. There is also the destruction of communities and infrastructure keeping their children out of school and demolishing local economy. These violations of human rights need to be at the forefront of the negotiation tables and women need to be the prime carriers of this message.
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Women in developing countries have proven themselves to be excellent managers of resources and this is seen in examples of microfinancing. When women take part in microfinancing and gain an income, sometimes for the first time in their lives, it is evident that they not only provide for their household but they also help out their neighbors and give back for the betterment of the community; whereas the men of the household tend to spend money on alcohol, entertainment, and far less on the family. This is important because it is in these developing nations that peace talks and negotiations are most crucial to future sustainability. Representation from the local women would bring pertinent issues to the table and have a more holistic approach to damage control. These skills and priorities inherent to women would greatly help in the allocation of resources and reparation. A great narrative of the maturation of women’s leadership in developing nations resides in Half the Sky, an excellent book that depicts the inequities faced by women all over the world and how it is slowly but surely changing.
Of course, there are generalizations through out this response that do not apply to every female or every male of this earth. But the takeaway point is that if we want peace for our future generations, and even now, then we need to include women up to at least parity with men in peace negotiations. There is too much to be lost in the sanctity of reparations that are over due to those who suffer, mainly women and children in the times of war and conflict. This is not only about peace but the empowerment of women and with so much change going on in the world right now (think Egypt, Tunisia, and the stirrings in Algeria) women are at a great precipice where their voices and leadership need to be welcomed and embraced.