On the Need for Women as Peacemaking Agents

During and after any armed conflict, women are visible only as overpowering victims of war. In Nepal, women's agency as peacemakers and social transformers are always overshadowed by the notion of "victimology". Even though the women, during the worst days of conflict, came out into the public sphere, confronted the security forces, dealt with the court system to protect their disappeared husbands and sons and managed homes single handedly while the male members of the family fled from homes and cities. Active participation by women, in every struggle for the reinstatement of democracy and peace, still didn't mean that their efforts received due recognition, value and support that it was owed. The patriarchal structure, compounded by the existing cultural stereotypes, thwarts the society from considering women as agents of peacemaking and restricts them to a constrained periphery of social life.

The scant attention that these issues received culminated in the bare representation in decision-making process by the non-involvement of women in the peace accord. There was no representation during the official negotiation of peace, either as members of the government, the Maoists or civil society groups. It was distressing to see this, as every third woman is supposed to form the fighting strength of the Maoists. Even a single woman representative for official negotiations with the government was not seen. During the press conference, Maoists leader Prachanda expressed the party's commitment to addressing gender concerns but it was limited to words as the actions of the Maoists contradicted the same. The advocacy message and rhetorical agenda that the government and the Maoists both have carried on working for gender equity does not match in terms of its implementation into reality.

If the participation of women is excluded right at the very beginning of the peace process, how can the same be guaranteed in the latter phases of peace process—be it while framing the constitution or during reconstruction activities? How can women be sure that the government and the Maoists will keep up to their words of addressing gender concerns? The exclusion faced while framing the peace accord can have long and lasting impacts. The skills that women acquired, efforts they made in coming out in the public sphere during the times of armed conflict will serve no good and these women will relapse back to the private constrained periphery of social life due to their exclusion faced while framing the peace accord. Their status will be relegated back to their pre-conflict positions in the society.

However, without the involvement of women in the peace building process, peace and status quo cannot be guaranteed. The experiences of Northern Ireland, South Africa, Guatemala and elsewhere depict that bringing women to the mainstream peace table enhances the quality of the agreements reached and increases the chances of better implementation. In Rwanda, after the conflict, the government recognized the importance and contribution of women in conflict prevention and peace building and therefore the effort resulted in bringing reconciliation and fostering peace in the communities. Today Rwanda is exemplary and leads the world with a female representation in parliament of 48.8 percent of the National Assembly following the 2003 election.

Nepal, in this critical situation, should learn from the experiences of other post conflict countries and provide women a meaningful role in peacemaking process. There is a need for equal representation of women in the peacemaking process and in decision-making roles. And bodies of governance like the parliament should foresee a need to change the tone, style and inculcate a culture of peacekeeping in which women also play a role. Further, more women also need to be guaranteed a role that reflects their participation in every sphere and can formalize their increased participation in public life and assert new roles for themselves. Till date, the reservation system has been one of the most commendable methods for guaranteeing minimum percentage of women in political bodies. The Beijing Platform for Action (PFA) calls for a thirty percent minimum representation of women in decision making bodies, and the Security Council Resolution 1325 urges the appointment of women in decision-making bodies and peace processes. However quotas alone cannot and do not guarantee the emergence of a "gender perspective" in the political process –although one is more likely to develop when a critical mass of women are in decision-making process.

The twelve year long, conflict did bring pervasive changes in gender roles and responsibilities both in the community, the society and in the national level. With the ever increasing dimensions of women being recognized, a mere quota system seems to be worn out to match the present context and instead, a parity should be called for with a range of forty five to fifty percent of women representation as acceptable in a democracy. A serious dearth of proper representation of women in peacemaking process in political bodies is being felt today. This impedes the process of bringing their experience, knowledge, and interest to be inculcated in the development agenda. So, once women are in the forefront of the peacemaking process, the concerns of marginalized groups will emerge out. They will also be able to represent different constituencies, those in need of education, health care system, and women's empowerment—in its true spirit—will be felt.


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