A women, peace and security approach to women’s empowerment

Contemporary gender and peacebuilding practice is overwhelmingly characterized by a women, peace, and security approach, which is broadly focused on (a) inclusion of women in peacebuilding, and (b) preventing and addressing conflict-related gender-based violence? UN Security Council resolutions like UNSCR 1325 and the others that make up the UN WPS Agenda6 have not only structured the type of gender programming on the ground but have also embodied the dominant narratives of women and war. Some have argued that heightened global awareness around gender-based violence in conflict has led to an overemphasis on prevention and protection (Scully 2009), which has in turn shaped donor priorities and thus the nature of peacebuilding interventions for women (Helms 2013). The concern is that this overemphasis has the potential to overshadow dimensions of the WPS framework that push for greater engagement of women in the decision-making processes of peacebuilding, which could sideline efforts to increase women's participation in peacebuilding. Fifteen years after passing the landmark United Nations Security Resolution 1325, which solidified the issue of women, peace and security within the international peacebuilding agenda, women remain underrepresented in decision-making processes (Porter 2007, 38: Oudraat 2013), revealing that the policy rhetoric in which gender is prioritized does not always translate into practice.7 The significant role of women in conflict transformation8 underscores the critical importance of understanding not only the role they play in restoring the social fabric of their communities but also what it means to them to "participate" in peacebuilding (De la Ray and McKay 2006) and how international postwar policy and programming can better support women in shaping these processes.

The reality of women’s increased risk of violence in situations of conflict and crisis is well documented (IRC 2013: UNFPA 2014), but so is their capacity to

From story subjects to agents of change 147 be agents of change (UN Women 2015; Porter 2007; Schnabel and Tabyshalieva 2012, 21). For example, women in BiH were subject to particularly horrific forms of gendered-violence during the war, but they also played a crucial role in sustaining families and communities during and after violent conflict and have continued to actively facilitate positive social change in the country (see Berry's contribution in this volume). As is the case in many patriarchal societies, women in BiH are central to families and communities, and thus have a key role to play in how communities recover from violence and how they move forward toward peace. Sustained attention to the multiplicity of women's experiences (see Spahic Siljak in this volume) - not focusing exclusively on women's vulnerability to victimization but also highlighting their resilience - will increase the likelihood that policy instruments such as UNSCR 1325 work to support women's capacity to participate in their own protection and emancipation. For this reason, empowerment of women in these contexts must be prioritized alongside efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence.

However, this prompts the question of what it means to women to be "empowered'' in these contexts. Literature on women's empowerment reflects overall inconsistency in how the concept is understood and measured (Duffy 2011; Aston et al. 2006; Bradbury-Jones, Sambrook and Irvine 2008; Tew 2006). Malhotra and Schuler conducted a review of 45 studies, the majority of which used quantitative methods to try to capture "women’s empowerment" (2005, 81). Although specific definitions of empowerment varied across studies, Malhotra and Schuler found underlying consensus that the concept of empowerment entails "enhancement of women's ability to make strategic life choices" with elements of process (change occurs over time) and agency (women participate in this change) as defining features of the concept (Ibid., 84).

The rise in popularity of the term "empowerment” within development discourse has led to what Cornwall and Anyidoho refer to as "empowerment-lite,” a "depoliticized and instrumental version of empowerment” (2010, 145). They claim the term has taken on a liberal notion of agency located within the individual, arguing, "The anaemic forms of 'empowerment' that are promoted by international development agencies and their national government partners do not acknowledge global inequalities" (Ibid., 147). The danger in the proliferation of empowerment-lite, to which Cornwall and Anyidoho call attention, is that it does not adequately question "how women can be empowered within disempowering structures and systems" (Ibid., 145).

This concern seems especially salient not only in contexts where patriarchal norms are particularly disempowering to women but also in situations in which state institutions are dysfunctional or corrupt. For example, in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, interethnic conflict has become embodied in political parties’ struggles for power, forestalling the realization of a thriving democratic state and leading to broad political disenfranchisement for both men and women across the country (Griffiths 1999). These challenges, alongside a strong history of traditional gender norms, necessitate approaches to women’s empowerment and engagement in peacebuilding that extend beyond quota arguments for women’s inclusion inexisting systems and structures (“empowerment-lite”) toward a reimagining of how to support BiH women in effectively maneuvering for change. As scholars such as Pupavac argue, quota systems designed to increase women's participation in decision-making processes may benefit a select number of "female members of the urban elite” but fail to generate “real changes in the political, social and economic opportunities of Bosnian women” (2005, 403). Without ongoing attention to intersecting forms of oppression9 that constrain women's expression of agency in these spaces, including disempowering discursive factors embedded within policy discourse, efforts toward women’s empowerment will continue to fall short of any kind of sustainable transformation that is truly emancipatory for women.

 
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