10 January 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: Excluding Women in Peace Talks

Photo: Arne Hodalic/UNHCR
IDP camp Mugunga II near Goma, DRC.


Just before Christmas last year, women activists from the Democratic Republic of Congo requested to be involved in the ongoing peace talks going on in Kampala between the DRC government and rebel forces.

There is no question that the DRC women should be granted their request. But this, once again, brings to the lime-light the issue of women's role in peace negotiations; if, indeed, women in their capacity as women have any role, according to some arguments.

One such argument appears pragmatic suggesting practical reasons long held by international mediators aimed at maximising chances of success in peace negotiations.

The argument holds that the larger the number of participants involved, the harder it is to reach agreement. Exclusion therefore seems practical.

Another argument contends that peace agreements are gender-neutral. This is to say that peace agreements affect men and women equally because they share identical interests in peace.

Further, it is not a necessary condition that only when women are involved in peace processes will gender concerns be included in final outcomes. Besides, not all women are gender experts, while there are men who understand and can articulate gender issues.

Reality, however, is different. Gender concerns are repeatedly neglected in peace negotiations. Of 585 peace agreements signed between January 1, 1990 and May 1, 2010 across the world, only 92 mentioned women.

Therefore, while the above arguments might have some modicum of merit, they appear academic in the face of what plays on the ground.

The women and children in eastern DRC have suffered greatly due to the seemingly unending conflict in the region. Many women and girls continue to suffer untold atrocities of gender-based violence, of which rape and other forms of sexual violence are rampant.

Together with their children, women form the overwhelming majority of the displaced populations. The children have often been forcefully conscripted as soldiers.

That the women and children bear the brunt of the conflict is perhaps the single most important reason why women should be involved in peace negotiations.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, recognises the impact that conflict has on women and the important role that women play in peace building.

It calls for greater participation by women at decision-making levels in conflict resolution and for the inclusion of a gender perspective in peace agreements.

Women have, however, continued to be under-represented in peace processes. It has been argued that if the international community is to give substance to its commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, it must ensure that an institutionalised process of women's inclusion is mandated.

According to UN Women, drawing from a representative sample of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011, only four per cent of signatories, 2.4 per cent of chief mediators, 3.7 per cent of witnesses and nine per cent of negotiators were women.

Regarding DRC; during the 2003 Sun City Agreement that ended the Second Congo war that had pitted eight nations from the continent and came to be known as the Great War of Africa (1998 - 2003), five per cent comprised women signatories to the agreement, and 12 per cent in the negotiating team.

During the 2008 "Acte D'Engagement" negotiations between armed groups in Northern Kivu, similarly five per cent comprised women signatories with 20 percent comprising women lead mediators. A second "Acte D'Engagement" negotiation in South Kivu also featured 20 per cent women as lead mediators.

There is no reason why the DRC women should not be involved in Kampala.

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