'Add Women + Stir' Doesn't Work Any More

'Add Women + Stir' Doesn't Work Any More

Yesterday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, I attended a roundtable organised on "Women, Peacebuilding and Resolution 1325" where the guest speaker was Senator Mobina Jaffer from Canada, who shared her wide experiences from the ground of trying to enforce conversations around implementing the resolution.

However in the discussions that followed, a gentleman from one of the leading civil society organisations in Colombo/Sri Lanka alluded to the fact that the reason why it was hard to get any parity in gender discussions in Sri Lankan policy was the fact that there were not enough women in the room to call for this. This has been the argument of many groups and gender experts with regards the Sri Lankan experience that "we need more women in the room to speak for women issues"; hence the calling for example of the 25% quota for women to be nominated by political parties during elections.

I am far from being a gender expert and my work has been largely in the inter faith realm and with youth. However one of my experiences has been that whilst it is important that we get people from the 'minority' groups to shout louder about getting representation, it is not until their narrative is understood and mainstreamed by the majority that they can actually move the conversation forward. In other words, in my understanding, it is not enough just to get the women into the room to shout but the fact that the men have to shout as well and shout quite loud. The move for quotas is a start but it should not be the end. It has to be a means towards the end which is ultimately a parity and equality with no discrimination and oppression.

If the recent US elections (or the past eight years of the Obama presidency) or even the Sri Lankan example of having had two female heads of states are anything to go by they bear witness to this fact that unless the majority are convinced, having prominent minority representation may not fully work, and that it can actually become harder.

This seemed to be the crux of the Senator's arguments about understanding the 1325 resolution in that it was about an inclusive participation that was needed for sustainable peace. What does 'inclusive participation' mean? It means that both men and women have to be involved.

This is because conflict and violence, affect women, men, boys, girls etc differently. Whilst gender is central to understanding the needs and vulnerabilities of communities, it also helps us to understand the possibilities of 'agency' of individuals and communities in peace building and conflict-affected situations. In other words, gender is not simply a 'tick box' exercise or a separate technical category to be added onto projects, but is integral to all steps of the peacebuilding process. It has to take into account power dynamics, identities, possibilities and vulnerabilities across societies. A more nuanced gender analysis, as has been pointed out by a report released a few years ago by International Alert called "Rethinking Gender in Peacebuilding", looks at such variations and hierarchies within and across women and men and calls for examining the interplay between gender and other identity markers such as age, social class, sexuality, disability, ethnic or religious background, marital status or urban/rural settings. This 'gender-relational' approach for example understands that the wife of a rural leader may have more access to resources and justice than an urban young male taxi driver.

This is a more nuanced approach that moves away from equating gender simply with women (and girls). It addresses the complexities of roles played by the varying needs and above all the agency of women in the contexts that they faced alongside a better understanding of the role (and needs of men) beyond just being perpetrators of violence against or wielders of patriarchal power over women.

What this means is that we collectively need to move away from the narrow focus and attention on just supporting programs looking at women livelihood or sexual and gender based violence. There has to be a greater holistic understanding of needs and vulnerabilities of gender minorities in conflict and peacebuilding processes but also a reflective look on the masculinities and femininities in other related fields like political participation and economic empowerment. There needs to be greater awareness of how gender roles and relations work in each particular context and how gender differences intersect with other identities. With peacebuilding, how do these roles and relations influence and are shaped by violent conflict and the opportunities presented for transformational change? This then allows us to suggest interventions as well as a sharper focus on people who are vulnerable as well as those that are part or need to be part of the change.

Working on the notion of positive peace as understood by Johan Galtung will mean a greater nuanced gender relational approach that is all inclusive.

Put simply "Add Women and Stir" is and can no longer be modus operandi!!

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