“This doesn’t concern women.” Military and security issues are ‘technical’ and ‘not relevant’ to women peacebuilders.
Some argue that women do not need to be included in peace negotiations because the military and security issues on the table are not relevant to their concerns. Women are underrepresented in security and military roles, and may be perceived as lacking credibility without this experience. Conversely, there is a perception that so-called “women’s issues” are not relevant to the security-focused agenda.
But this dismissal overlooks the key role that these issues play in conflict dynamics—from sexual violence to the security needs of civilians during ceasefires. When they are included in peace talks, women consistently broaden the set of issues to be discussed, raising a variety of short-term and long-term security and development issues. This agenda ultimately helps push the process toward a more comprehensive agreement and a more lasting peace.
How to overcome this barrier:
1. Point out that the majority of topics women raise are security related, including knowledge of land-mined areas, threats, and security needs of civilians that armed actors may not raise.
2. Highlight women’s keen understanding of changing patterns of violence and their monitoring of risks; they are often more mobile in conflict settings and have valuable local knowledge to share.
3. Note that women are well connected to their communities and can serve as excellent members for ceasefire/monitoring teams as in the Philippines.
4. Remember that women peacebuilders tend to be trusted in their communities; they can support perception surveys and collect valuable information on civilian opinions of security threats, ceasefires, and other matters.
5. Be aware that conflict-related sexual violence is often a key factor exacerbating conflict and making ceasefire agreements fragile; if addressed during peace talks or included in ceasefire agreements, it can build confidence in wider process, and limit harm if talks fail.
In October 2010, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus launched its all-women contingent of the Civilian Protection Component deployed to monitor ceasefire agreements. The initial 30 women came from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds from across the Philippines. Many had lobbied hard for greater attention to women’s war experiences and adherence to UNSCR 1325. Aged between 20 and 62, they were deployed throughout the conflict affected areas of Mindanao with a clear mandate to monitor the safety of civilian communities, ensure that conflict parties respected the sanctity of places of worship, monitor the delivery of aid to local populations and IDPs, and deepen local ownership and buy-in for the peace process. While some military and religious leaders were initially skeptical of the women, community responses were positive. By virtue of their diversity, they bridge the divide between different warring communities, and because members of the group lived through war, they have deep compassion for and commitment to civilians and the willingness to negage the military and rebels constructively.