Barriers to Inclusion

Better Peace Tool

Barriers to Inclusion

The inclusion of women peacebuilders in peace processes is a crucial step toward a transformative approach to peacemaking, yet it remains elusive in practice.

The Better Peace Tool explores six common barriers to inclusivity. Click on each barrier to explore steps to overcome these challenges.

Barrier One: "We represent everyone"

“We represent everyone”. Conflict parties won’t accept women at the table.

Experience and research show that belligerent parties are open to interaction with civil society actors, notably elders and religious leaders. But on the question of women, there is significant resistance across most contexts. While parties may claim that the exclusion of women is a ‘cultural’ matter, data suggests that it is universal and often steeped in sexist norms. Excuses for the exclusion of women range from “they are not qualified” to “it is not safe for them to travel”—even when women are living in war zones.

How to overcome this barrier? Know more here

Barrier Three: “Who are these women anyway?”

“Who are these women anyway?” Questioning the legitimacy of women peacebuilders.

Questioning the legitimacy of a group or individuals is a sure means of excluding them from the mediation process. On the inclusion of women, this ‘legitimacy’ question is often raised. They are framed as either ‘too grassroots’ or ‘too elite’—thus lacking the credibility and credentials to participate in peace talks. At the same time, other civil society groups, such as religious leaders or elders, are more likely to be included without facing these qualification hurdles.

However, the legitimacy of groups that bear arms and use violence is rarely questioned; because they can spoil the process through force, they are often invited to participate without question. This double standard risks incentivizing violence by rewarding perpetrators of conflict with a seat at the table, while overlooking women peacebuilders and other civil society actors committed to nonviolent conflict resolution.

How to overcome this barrier? Know more here

Barrier Five: “I’m here because of my own credentials.”

“I’m here because of my own credentials.” When women delegates say, “We don’t represent women.”

Resistance to inclusivity can come not just from armed groups or state actors but from within civil society, causing tensions between women delegates or representatives and civil society groups. In some cases, women delegates try to disassociate themselves from women on the ground, fearing that their position at the table will be viewed as a token female placeholder rather than a result of their hard work and merit. It is important to remember that simply having a woman at the table does not automatically make her the representative of all women in her country or guarantee that she is linked to the peacebuilding community.

How to overcome this barrier? Know more here

Barrier Two: “The mediator can’t do everything”

“The mediator can’t do everything,” or doesn’t consider inclusion of women a priority.

Given the urgency of ending violence, mediators often assume that women are not directly relevant at the early stages of mediation. Some worry that engaging women will complicate a delicate process, or “overload” the negotiation table, and increase the risk of failure. Even where they favor inclusion, “the mediator isn’t a god,” and cannot always persuade the parties to include women. But research shows their inclusion is a worthwhile goal. In many instances, women have been key players in enabling a ceasefire and creating the environment for talks to proceed.

How to overcome this barrier? Know more here

Barrier Four: “This doesn’t concern women.”

“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? Know more here.

Barrier Six: “The exclusion of women is cultural.”

“The exclusion of women is cultural,” and “the peace table isn’t the place to deal with gender equality.”

If the exclusion of women from peace processes was a cultural phenomenon, then we would see significant differences between Colombia and Syria, Burma and Burundi—places that are very different from each other. Yet the exclusion of women from peacemaking is common to all these cases. It is a universal phenomenon, suggesting that other factors are relevant, notably that the peace table is a place where power is brokered and shared. Those who come to the table want to keep it limited. They neither want to share the power nor be accountable to alternative forces. At the same time, some argue that the peace table is no place to address sensitive cultural norms, either through women’s participation or through placing issues of gender equality on the agenda. But the assumption that women come to the table only to demand gender equality is false.

How to overcome this barrier? Know more here

“When mediators have the will to engage and include women and civil society, they find a way”

– Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini

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