Today’s post is by Diana Koester, a consultant working with the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF).
On Thursday, 26th September, the UN’s Conference Room 1 was packed with over 25 ministers from around the world. They had accepted an invitation by the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and UN Women to discuss “women’s economic empowerment for peacebuilding” only a day after the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Special Event on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
You may wonder why that’s especially worth noting. After all, outside of this event the UNGA week heard pleas for related causes: a post-MDG framework that would “make the 21st century the century of women” and a post-MDG framework that would “make the 21st century the century of peace”. And these pleas echoed the proposals for respective standalone goals that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his High-Level Panel had already expressed in their visions for the post-2015 development framework.
What makes the PBC/UN Women event especially worth noting is that discussions of the post-MDG approach to building peaceful and effective states have typically proceeded as though the century of women and the century of peace would take place in parallel worlds. There has been little emphasis on the specific links between these goals and their achievement.
We need to work to bridge this gap by emphasizing women’s important role – and challenges – in peacebuilding and statebuilding, as well as the need for targeted and integrated responses in the post-2015 approach to institutions and conflict. There are at least three good reasons why.
First, statebuilding in fragile and conflict-affected situations can provide critical opportunities to pursue gender equality. Empowering the world’s women requires special efforts to tackle the severe and specific challenges women face in fragile situations. Sexual and domestic violence, economic marginalisation, and exclusion from the decisions that determine women’s futures help explain why fragile and conflict-affected states have made relatively slow progress on the MDGs overall, but also have notably lagged on most of the gender-specific MDG areas.
The good news is that post-conflict situations also offer immense opportunities to “build back better”, for example by supporting women’s participation in peace negotiations, constitution-making and emerging political processes. In this context it is interesting to note that about one-third of the countries with 30% or more women in parliament are also countries that have experienced conflict, fragility or recent transitions to democracy. Taking the example of Rwanda and Burundi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Judy Cheng-Hopkins highlighted during the PBC/UN Women event how such increased participation can in turn lead to better outcomes for women, thus transforming vicious into virtuous circles.
Second, gender equality is not only “smart economics” – it’s also smart peacebuilding and statebuilding. The fundamental aim of statebuilding should be a state that is legitimate, responsive and accountable to all. Tackling the marginalisation of women and girls is a precondition for realising this vision.
What’s more, women’s empowerment can help achieve internationally agreed peacebuilding and statebuilding goals. “Women’s political participation is associated with lower levels of corruption, more inclusive decision-making, greater investment in social services, job creation for women, and family welfare”, the new Executive Director of UN-Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed out. In like manner, PBC Chair and Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusić recalled the strong evidence that “women’s access to land and productive assets, to jobs and markets, results in improvements in family well-being, community stability and poverty reduction.”
In other words, gender equality goes beyond “smart economics”. It can strengthen key pillars of peace. Reflecting on his own country the day before the PBC event, Finland’s Foreign Minister, H.E. Mr. Erkki Tuomioja, affirmed these links: “If I was asked to give one specific reason why Finland is rated in the index of failed states as the least failed state in the world, I would answer that it is gender equality and the empowerment of women.”
Finally, the post-2015 framework offers a historic opportunity to realize women’s rights in fragile states and make smarter peacebuilding and statebuilding the norm. Current approaches tend to neglect women’s potential and priorities. “Let’s face it”, Cheng-Hopkins proposed, “women play peacebuilding roles every day (…) Sadly though, when negotiations get serious, when stakes get high and when money shows up, women are pushed into the background.“ The OECD INCAF’s forthcoming policy paper on Gender and Statebuilding aims to address this gap by offering a set of specific recommendations to help donors integrate a gender perspective into their work on statebuilding.
The post-2015 framework is one of the key opportunities the new INCAF publication highlights in this regard. In the words of the President of the UNGA, John W. Ashe, this is a “historic opportunity to define development.” The post-MDGs can therefore also be a historic opportunity to make women’s full participation in peacebuilding and statebuilding the norm and the PBC declaration’s call for “further measures to improve women’s participation during all stages of peace processes” a reality. We can and must seize it.