Women in UN Peacebuilding Discourse

Women have not been systematically included in the practices of peacebuilding. A decade ago, Hilary Charlesworth noted that “[t]he need to involve women in peace-building is regularly ignored by the UN and other international institutions,” citing Sanam Anderlini’s damning indictment of “the UN’s “Triple-A” syndrome with respect to women and peace: apathy, ad hoc practices and amnesia.”[1] More recently, a team of researchers led by Radhika Coomaraswamy undertook a global study to assess progress at the global, regional, and national levels in implementing Resolution 1325; the report was published in 2015 to inform the high-level review that took place in the same year.[2] Several chapters in the report focus on women’s participation in peace processes and the importance of women’s representation in peacebuilding-related activities. The report found that 27% of peace agreements since 2000 have made reference to women, more than double the 1990-2000 level.[3] The increase in the proportion of agreements that reference women is a welcome change, but this does not necessarily correlate with increased numbers of women in mediation or peace negotiations, nor does it mean that careful consideration is given to how women’s interest can best be represented. As the report comments,

“[t]he present programmes put forward by the international community tend to be extremely narrow: just to bring a female body to the table.”[4] This chapter picks up on the implicit question posed at the conclusion of the previous chapter: if gender in UN peacebuilding discourse is largely synonymous with women, how are women constructed within the same discourse? I draw out the ways in which women are represented in the documentary and spoken sites of discourse that I analyze, first building on the arguments in the previous chapter to develop an analysis of women as victims of violence. The association of women with victim- hood, evident in much peace and security discourse, is reproduced in this discursive terrain, although, as I explain the pages that follow, the temporal dimension of the research I have undertaken provides particularly interesting insights into the ways in which this discourse is becoming contested at the UN in the context of peacebuilding. I discuss the representation of women as “agents of change,” with particular reference to the constitution of women’s economic agency, and the construction of women as rights-bearing subjects upon whom various expectations are placed in the peacebuilding context. Finally, I explore the articulation of women with civil society, by way of linking the arguments about the subject of women in this chapter to the analysis that follows in Chapter 5. I argue, ultimately, that the association of women with civil society, and the depoliticization of their roles as economic actors, functions to heavily circumscribe women’s meaningful participation in peacebuilding, even as analysts might wish to celebrate the shift from representations of “victims of violence” to “agents of change.”

  • [1] Hilary Charlesworth, “Are Women Peaceful? Reflections on the Role of Womenin Peace-Building,” Feminist Legal Studies, 2008, 16(3): 347-361, 358-359; see alsoAnderlini, Women Building Peace, 193.
  • [2] Radhika Coomaraswamy et al., Preventing Conflict, Transforming Peace, Securing thePeace: A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution1325. New York: UN Women, 2015. Online at http://wps.unwomen.org/ (accessedJune 22, 2016).
  • [3] Ibid., 44.
  • [4] Ibid., 40.
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