Making Women’s Participation Meaningful: A Call for Flexible Funding and Political Space

23 June 2020   ·   Aneesa Walji

Capacity building initiatives are insufficient to ensure women’s participation in formal peace processes. UN Women’s discussions with women peace actors and lessons from around the world show that to address the resistance to inclusivity, the new German National Action Plan should ensure long-term, flexible funding and create political space for women civil society organizations.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the United Nations Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire recognizing the threat that armed conflict poses to any COVID-19 response. While there has been wide resonance with the appeal, conflict around the world largely continues, and in some cases, has escalated. Women’s participation is an essential part of the solution to achieve a sustainable humanitarian pause. As soon as discussions about peace and security get serious, however, experiences show that women tend to be sidelined. 

Ensuring women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in formal peace processes has proven to be an immense challenge. Exclusion remains the norm, and political space is often missing. In designing the forthcoming national action plan (NAP), Germany could consider further underpinning its women, peace and security (WPS) approach by an assessment of the political realities that shape the implementation of the agenda, all the more difficult now with the global pandemic. 

Including Women in Peacemaking Processes Increases the Chances of Sustainable Outcomes 

In addition to women’s right to participate in decision-making that will shape the future of their societies, meaningfully including women is key to effective peacemaking. Women’s meaningful participation can lead to a shift in dynamics and a broadening of the issues discussed, increasing the likelihood of community buy-in and potential to address root causes of conflict. Evidence suggests that when women are included, peace agreements reached are more likely to be durable. Yet, data shows steep resistance. Between 1992 and 2018, women comprised only three percent of mediators, four percent of signatories and thirteen percent of negotiators. While Security Council resolution 1325 is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, much work remains to be done. UN Women is leading some of this work with civil society, experts and others through a long-term collaboration with BMZ and GIZ. The ideas that inform this piece are drawn from programme planning exercises, lessons learned and discussions with women peace actors in the Middle East and beyond.

One of the main hurdles that has arisen time and time again is the perception of women as victims, rather than as powerful agents of change. While COVID-19 is highlighting and exacerbating vulnerabilities of women around the world, an appreciation for women’s knowledge and leadership must not be lost. The rise of regional women mediator networks, comprised of peacebuilding practitioners, researchers, activists, experts and others who are ready and willing to engage, is but one example of women demanding the political space they need to participate. 

For the political reality of women’s exclusion from peace processes to change, interventions must go beyond capacity building initiatives targeting women – they must create political demand for women’s meaningful inclusion. 

Here are three recommendations for Germany to consider: 

1. Offer Increased Long-Term, Flexible Funding for Women’s Civil Society Organizations

Women’s movements and civil society are key drivers of gender equality and any momentum for peace. Neither can be achieved without sustained bottom-up pressure. Therefore, significant and targeted investments in civil society are vital.

In addition to securing sufficient funding, funding must be structured to encourage results and sustainability. Long-term funding enables partnership building across political divides and across peace tracks, as well as investments in political solutions that cannot occur in a single, annual project cycle. Flexible funding allows for innovation, learning and necessary adaptation in quickly evolving conflict-affected contexts. For example, when women are invited to attend peace talks, it is often at the last minute without prior engagement, specific knowledge of earlier political discussions or much time for preparation to ensure influence. Childcare, flights, and other logistical arrangements and costs often need to be provided instantly, making flexible funding a relied-upon route to secure participation. Long-term, flexible funding enables women’s civil society to take advantage of more opportunities, strengthening the results that they can achieve and increasing their political might.

2. Create Political Space for Women and Their Perspectives 

In addition to pushing for women’s direct participation at peace tables, multi-track initiatives can broaden participation in and around formal processes, providing additional entry points for women’s inclusion; by creating meaningful linkages with peacebuilding efforts occurring within different levels and spaces across society, inclusivity can be expanded. Such linkages will create opportunities for women in particular, whose participation continues to occur more frequently in less formal spaces outside of track 1. The Syrian Women’s Advisory Board and Civil Society Support Room, each with diverse representation of Syrians, including many with their own peacebuilding initiatives, are two examples of established mechanisms that offer multi-track approaches. Ad hoc initiatives that respond to evolving political opportunity areas and connect women civil society to formal processes are important, too. For instance, in 2018, UN Women partnered with Libyan women civil society, the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, women mediator network members and others to ensure women’s direct participation in the Palermo Conference on Libya.

Gender-responsive conflict analysis exercises can also open spaces for women. Such analyses are valuable to the extent that they are regular, robust and applied to inform peace process design and planning. Germany can further support such exercises by ensuring dedicated gender expertise to amplify the substantive issues that women raise and carry the outcomes of these exercises forward to inform subsequent efforts. When gender inclusivity is prioritized early on in peace processes and sets the logic for what follows, spaces for women’s meaningful participation are more likely to ensue. In Colombia, for instance, women from civil society led marches and participated in discussions to ensure that gender equality issues were on the agenda even before peace talks began with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC). Their efforts, supported by UN Women and others, eventually contributed to the establishment of the Gender Subcommission and a peace agreement with more than 100 gender provisions. Still, there is a long road ahead in implementing the Colombian peace agreement.

3. Provide Further Leadership and Action in Political Fora

Germany plays a powerful role within the international community, shaping global policy and practice on inclusive conflict prevention, management and resolution. From its Security Council to G7 and UN Peacebuilding Commission memberships, and its upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union, it is able to wield considerable influence. For instance, during the Berlin Conference on Libya in January 2020, Germany’s influence was felt: it helped lead to an acknowledgment of gender-based violence and the need for women and youth inclusivity in the final communique.

In 2019, recognizing the need for further operationalizing political leadership on women’s meaningful participation, Germany and others signed the Commitment 2025 on Women’s Inclusion in Peace Processes led by Spain and Finland. Along with many specific commitments, Germany has committed to using its membership in multilateral organizations to “guarantee the meaningful participation of women in … peace and negotiation processes.” Operational commitments made continue to require attention and leadership to implement. Germany can and should continue to play a decisive role in moving the implementation of the WPS agenda forward into the next decade, and its NAP could serve as a holistic framework. The COVID-19 pandemic has made inclusive, sustainable peace ever more pressing, and Germany’s role that much more critical.

Zivilgesellschaft Gender Finanzierung

Aneesa Walji

Aneesa Walji is a Policy Specialist with UN Women’s Peace, Security and Humanitarian Section. @awalji1