How Women Found A Place At The Table In Conflict Resolution And Peace-Building
In 2000, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution requiring states and non-state actors settling conflicts to consider and respect women’s rights, and include women in the negotiating process.
Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini helped draft UN Security Council Resolution 1325. She’s the co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and the author of Women Building Peace: What They Do, Why They Matter.
“Because [women] are in civil society, they’re often not related to political parties or military parties,” Naraghi-Anderlini says. “But they want to have a voice because they’re taking responsibility when others are talking about power. So it’s kind of that duality of power and responsibility, saying ‘We have a voice as well, and we have needs, and we have solutions to bring to the table.’”
But Naraghi-Anderlini says even with the best intentions, sometimes other cultures bear the brunt of Western ignorance or misunderstanding.
“We might say, ‘Here’s a country that’s had a dictatorship for 40 years. They should have democracy. They should have elections.’ But when we say women’s rights, they say “Oh, no no no. That’s not their culture’,” Naraghi-Anderlini says. “So our own relativism and our own patriarchal notions come out.”
Naraghi-Anderlini says more than a decade after the passage of Resolution 1325, conflict resolution has evolved to bring more non-state, yet armed actors to the negotiating table. She says the next step is to change the paradigm to involve more non-state, unarmed participants.
On the role of women in conflict resolution
If you look at any conflict's context, you have typically male-dominated either political elite, or non-state armed actors that are going to be male-dominated movements. Sometimes you have women in them, but the men are at the height of it. Then you have a civil society space, a community space, where women are active in trying to address the impact of violence very often. Maybe they're involved in trying to reach out to the other side and moderate and make peace. They typically are non-state, non-armed actors. So I think that if we look, we see them in every setting. We see them in Syria today. We've seen them in Libya. We see them everywhere. It's not just that they are just going for peace. They may be wanting change. So in Libya they were the first ones on the streets. But the tendency for women or women's movements when they emerge in the public space is to do it through non-violent action. I think that's a really important piece that is getting lost in the debates around what we mean by peace and security.
On how the idea of “security” can democratize the debate about women’s rights.
Very often if you ask [men] "What do you want for your children?" it opens up the conversation. So women very often bring that human security framework to the discussion. In 1996 I met a Rwandan woman who was talking about peace and reconciliation, and she had lost something like 100 relatives in the genocide. But it was this ability to look and say, "These things happened. Where do we want to go now for the future?" And it is often because they are dealing with children in a more immediate way that they have to think about that.
On whether working with civil society movements or state actors is more effective in addressing women’s rights
We need the voice of governments because at the end of the day, civil society is not there to challenge government. There's a relationship between civil society and government, and moderating and holding it accountable, but you need government. And then the UN system is really an extraordinary entity, because it's a space where people from all around the world get to engage and interact and we get to know each other. And we get to know each other on health issues, on cultural issues, and air traffic control. All these things that we take for granted have evolved through this mechanism of international global relations. So we need that as a body that can help moderate that space.
SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, welcome to World Views.
SANAM NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: Thank you very much. Great to be here.
GRILLOT: Well you've done a lot of work on the role of women in conflict prevention and conflict management. You've written some about gender dimensions of violence. What do you mean by gender dimensions of violence? There's a UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) project that you've been involved in that focuses on gender and violence issues. But we're not talking about typical domestic violence, or are you?
NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: It's a mixture. It can be violence that is perpetrated in relation to somebody's gendered social identity. So for example, it could be domestic violence because we live in societies where you have male-dominated patriarchal systems. If women step out of line, for example, or they assert themselves, there's a notion that they should be pushed back in, and that can have a domestic context. It can have a public context. In conflict contexts, we sometimes see that you have rape or sexual violence as a form of trying to scare a community, trying to do ethnic cleansing - in the case of Bosnia, where they also were trying to destroy the community because they were trying to forcibly make women pregnant through rape to destroy the identity of the Bosniaks. To me, the word "gender" really isn't just about women, it's also about men. So we also need to look at what pressures young men especially are under to get involved in perpetrating violence. Whether, for example, they're being paid by politicians, let's say in the case of Kenya a few years ago after the elections, are they being paid to go after the other sides? Are they being forced in gangs and so forth to get involved in perpetrating violence? Those have gender relations because it might be older men who are pressuring younger men. It might be peer-to-peer pressure that you might get even in gangs in the United States. Or it could be the pressure that young men might face because they think that they have to live up to some standard of manhood that women are imposing on them. There's a sociological dimension to it.
REBECCA CRUISE: Well, these are issues dealing with the conflict and what's going on in conflict. One of the other areas that you've really focused on is bringing women to the table in terms of post-conflict reconciliation or peace-building. In fact, you've written a book on this. What is the role that women currently play in peace-building, and what role can they play?
NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: On a very simple level, I sometimes think that if you look at any conflict's context, you have typically male-dominated either political elite, or non-state armed actors that are going to be male-dominated movements. Sometimes you have women in them, but the men are at the height of it. Then you have a civil society space, a community space, where women are active in trying to address the impact of violence very often. Maybe they're involved in trying to reach out to the other side and moderate and make peace. They typically are non-state, non-armed actors. So I think that if we look, we see them in every setting. We see them in Syria today. We've seen them in Libya. We see them everywhere. It's not just that they are just going for peace. They may be wanting change. So in Libya they were the first ones on the streets. But the tendency for women or women's movements when they emerge in the public space is to do it through non-violent action. I think that's a really important piece that is getting lost in the debates around what we mean by peace and security. We often just talk to the guys with the guns, and the women who are often unarmed, we say “Well, who are they? Why should they be in...? They don't represent this and that.” We don't ask the same questions.
CRUISE: Well, in 2000 as part of your work, the passage of (U.N.) Security Council Resolution 1325 came into effect to try to bring women to the table and really engage them. It's been about 13 years now. Do you think that's been successful, or what would you like to see to continue to improve women's place at the table?
NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: I think if we look at it in the context of just the 13 years, there's a lot of frustration. Why hasn't this happened? This resolution was passed. Why don't we have women at the table more often? It's very ad hoc. We have them sometimes. We forget them, and so forth. If we look at it from the context of what diplomacy is, and we think that literally 2,500 years of diplomatic history has always been elite-based. It's always been state-to-state. Never have we had in the context of real war and peace negotiations actual public presence and public involvement. Women, as I say, because they're in civil society and they're often not related to political parties or military parties, but they want to have a voice because they're taking responsibility when others are talking about power - so it's kind of that duality of power and responsibility - are saying, "We have a voice as well, and we have needs, and we have solutions to bring to the table." It's hard to change a paradigm to say ordinary citizens should have a place at the table to make decisions going forward. That's the trend we're going toward. I think it's inevitable. If we look at the way the conflict has evolved. If we look 20 years ago, we would've not brought together guerilla groups to the table. Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist, right? So we've evolved in the sense of bringing non-state armed actors to the table. We bring them, we pay them, and we train them, even. And the next step is why are we not bringing non-state, non-armed actors? So I like to think that that's where we're going, but it's still changing a paradigm that's been in place for a very long time. But in 13 years we've raised an issue that didn't exist, and now it's a whole field, and many women around the world are talking about this. Everywhere you go there are women active, and then when they hear about 1325, they say "That resonates with me. That's something that matters to us." On an optimistic day I think that things are moving in the right direction.
GRILLOT: So that's wonderful work that's being done obviously involving women and non-state and non-armed actors in the post-conflict reconciliation process. Peace-building, peace-making process. But what is the role that women can play in preventing conflict to begin with? What are some of the things, strategies that can be used? Are women engaged in trying to actually prevent violence from happening before it ever even happens?
NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: That's the billion-dollar question in the sense that not only women, but civilians. The silent majority that does not want armed violence to take place. If you think about Syria today, it started as a non-violent context. Ordinary civilians were out in the streets, Egypt, et cetera. I think that what we see very often is that women are, as I say, taking non-violent action in and of themselves. We even see them getting involved sometimes in disarmament. Actually talking to young men and trying to collect the weapons, or trying to moderate. Getting involved in mediation as violence is escalating to try to calm things down. So there's sort of very direct prevention that they're getting involved in. But in a sense, conflict prevention generally is a longer-term issue because I think that what we need to do is to be able to look at context and say, "Where is this going? Where is this country heading? Think five years out, or six years out in terms of the types of mechanisms that you might need to put in place. If we anticipate that there's going to be a big conflict between the minority and the majority, how do you give them spaces to talk about it? In the case of Kenya, what we saw was that actually a woman peace activist who died in a car accident a couple of years ago unfortunately, she set up peace councils. The peace councils that she set up in the areas where she set them up were exactly the areas where there had been conflict between different pastoralist groups and so forth, different clans. But during the election violence in Kenya back in 2007-2008, those were exactly the areas where the violence was much less because of the mechanism that she'd put in place for people to actually talk to each other. So there are models and women are often at the center of them, but they're very invisible. They're kind of woven into the social fabric of society very often. It's almost like we don't have glasses to look that deep. We're looking for the big political structures and so forth.
GRILLOT: Do you think in your experience that women involved in this kind of work engage in this longer-term thinking by nature? Because they're thinking about their children and the future of their families. They're thinking about education and development as opposed to war and conflict. Is that your experience?
NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: It's certainly our experience that when you talk to women about, for example, the term “security.” What does security mean for you? It democratizes the debate, if you want, because all of a sudden people are saying, "Well, security means walking down the street and my child having good education, water." In fact, if you ask men - very often if you ask them "What do you want for your children?" it opens up the conversation. So women very often bring that human security framework to the discussion. Then what we also see is that maybe because they have not been so involved in the politics, or even actually women who have been involved in the politics, they do have the tendency to look beyond the past and the present and think "Where do we want to go? Where do we take this forward?" I remember in the case of Rwanda the genocide that happened in 1994. In 1996 I met a Rwandan woman who was talking about peace and reconciliation, and she had lost something like 100 relatives in the genocide. But it was this ability to look and say, "These things happened. Where do we want to go now for the future?" And it is often because they are dealing with children in a more immediate way that they have to think about that. And it's also thinking, "Where do I get the food? Where do I get the water?" So it's the bread-and-butter issues of today, but also looking forward, which I think is more a citizen or civilian-based approach and maybe not so much where the political, and certainly very often armed, entities lose sight of that.
CRUISE: Well and Rwanda is actually a very interesting case because of course there are now a number of women in political power in Rwanda. I think well over 50 percent of the parliament there, so they really have moved in that direction. I was wondering about specific case countries. Are we seeing enhanced interaction then between these movements across countries? This idea of cultural relativism often pops up, or differences between the global north and the global south, kind of tensions there. Is that still a barrier?
NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: It's a barrier and it's a barrier more at the international level with Western policymakers often. There's a tendency to say "our values" and "their values." When we work with women, for example right now we're doing a lot of work in the Middle East; we have women in Egypt who are standing out on the street. We've had women in Egypt who have been sexually assaulted and raped standing out there demanding basic universal human rights. So the universality comes out very, very strongly. We talk to people in Afghanistan and they say, "We want free and fair elections! We don't want a different standard. We want the same standard." So the voices from the ground are aspiring to basic universal norms, and yet sometimes because of Western misunderstanding or ignorance about what these cultures are or what our values are, we make assumptions about them. Often with women it's always that case. We might say, "Here’s a country that's had a dictatorship for 40 years. Well, they should have democracy. They should have elections and minority rights even though the minority's been oppressed." But when we say women's rights, they say, "Oh, no no no. That's not their culture." So democracy is their culture. Privatization is their culture. All of a sudden those are all universal, but women's rights? “Oh, no no no." So it's our own relativism and our own patriarchal notions come out, and they end up having to bear the brunt of it. So it's very important to bring it back to the universality question, I think.
GRILLOT: So clearly you've been very involved in civil society movements and working with them, researching them, and educating us about them. But you've also worked with governments. You’ve worked with the United Nations. You've worked with individual governments, collections of governments. Which one's more effective in addressing this issue? Where do you place your hope? Or is it perhaps in the fact that we've seen these two working more closely together, and that's really the solution?
NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: So my experience with this is that when we were trying to get mobilization around a Security Council resolution, we found very quickly that we need to collaborate with all three. So we need the voice of civil society because that's the voice of ordinary people affected by war and peace and so forth. We need the voice of governments because at the end of the day, civil society is not there to challenge government. There's a relationship between civil society and government, and moderating and holding it accountable, but you need government. And then the UN system is really an extraordinary entity, because it's a space where people from all around the world get to engage and interact and we get to know each other. And we get to know each other on health issues, on cultural issues, and air traffic control. All these things that we take for granted have evolved through this mechanism of international global relations. So we need that as a body that can help moderate that space. I think very often we think of the UN as the lowest common denominator, and it's just a place where politics are going. But it's also where we bring our ideals. I think many of us who are civil society actors try to aspire to the higher levels of what the UN stands for, and what it could stand for, and to bring them and make them relevant in terms of the people. I sometimes say the charter of the UN doesn't say "We the member states of the United Nations" it says "We the people of the United Nations," and that's us. So we want the institution to be responsive to us the people as well. I think we need all three, and each of them has something unique to bring to the table.
GRILLOT: A collective effort is almost always better. Well Sanam, thank you so much for being with us today on World Views for a very interesting discussion.
NARAGHI-ANDERLINI: Thank you very much.
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