I-Matter: From Northern Ireland to South Sudan, Why Women Must Be Included in Peace Negotiations

“I-Matter” women’s rights campaign graphic.

Women continue to be largely excluded from negotiating peace. Fionna Smyth, Oxfam’s Head of Humanitarian Campaigns and Advocacy, highlights the importance of women’s participation in any peace process.

I was born in 1970, one year after the war started in Northern Ireland. Those were grim times, fear and violence was everywhere and permeated everything.

Through every news bulletin or conversation, violence became normalised.

“Police officer shot dead in South Belfast.”
“10-year-old child hit with a plastic bullet.”
“Booby trap found in Crossmaglen.”

We internalised this fear. However, along with this darkness there were glimmers of hope. On a glorious August day in 1976, my mother took me to the first of the peace marches.

This peace movement was led by two fearless women, Maread Maguire and Betty Williams. They mobilised many thousands of women and men to campaign for peace. They were just two examples of the brilliant women of Northern Ireland who worked tirelessly for peace throughout the conflict.

The conflict in Northern Ireland dragged on for nearly 30 years. Thousands of people were killed, many more were maimed. Throughout it all, women were often the first responders — the peacemakers, the humanitarians, the advocates — those who kept families together and fed them, and who rebuilt their society after the war had finished.

Since that first protest in 1976, I have had the privilege to share a platform with women from numerous conflicts around the world.

Women peacemakers

In Yemen, women are facing the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis as the conflict enters its fifth year. There, women are brokering local ceasefires to ensure civilians can flee the violence to reach safety and services.

In South Sudan, up to 80% of displaced households are female-headed. Despite their multiple burdens, women have served on the technical committees to the peace process, working around the clock to impact the agreement’s language.

In Colombia, thanks to women’s tirelessly advocacy, the 2017 peace agreement was the most gender sensitive to date. The details of our stories are different, but we have a collective history of perseverance, strength and action.

Yet despite all this experience and impact, around the world the facts do not reflect these stories.

Women in the peace process

Between 1990 and 2017 only two percent of mediators and eight percent of negotiators in formal peace processes were women. The minimum recommended quota of women in negotiations is 30%, yet that is almost never met. In 2017, only 1% of all gender-focused aid went to women’s organisations event though they are often the first responders to conflict.

Peace agreements are still elite bargains between the men with guns, despite the evidence that when peace processes include civil society organisations, especially women’s groups, the peace is much more durable. According to the UN, when women are included in peace talks, peace agreements are 35% more likely to last at least fifteen years.

The time has come for governments to support women pushing for peace and security and enable us to take our rightful places at the top table. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 — a policy framework which if fully implemented could transform the lives of women and girls in conflicts and crisis.

Women are leading change

2019 has been a year of protest and change, from Lebanon to Algeria, Iraq to Sudan. Women have been at the front-line of these protests demanding dignity and making sure their voices are heard. It has been a joy to see the women of Sudan, so central to the peaceful protests, despite being targeted with sexual violence, claim their space and demand positions of responsibility.

Yet history tells us that this transition phase will be vital to make sure their hard won gains are not lost.

Stand in solidarity

The time has come to strengthen our solidarity with these incredible women who work so hard despite the risks. To say, “they matter.” We need them to know they are not alone — we will stand with them to ensure they get the support they need, whether its resources or access to decision makers, self-care or protection.

Let us demand women’s rights be respected. Let us demand women be heard, respected and dignified.

And I ask you — each person of conscience — to be part of this big-hearted movement to respond to the call of “I Matter.”

Join the I-Matter movement now.

The entry posted on 11 November 2019, by Fionna Smyth, Oxfam’s Head of Humanitarian Campaigns and Advocacy.

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