Agency and Accountability: Promoting Women’s Participation in Peacebuilding Feminist Economics

Feminist Economics

Anne Marie Goetz and Rob Jenkins

Women’s participation in peacemaking and peacebuilding in conflict situations has been shown to bring positive results such as generating broad social buy-in to peace agreements and helping prevent relapses to conflict. However, despite a detailed international normative framework (including Security Council resolutions and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW]) mandating women’s participation, the institutions within the United Nations charged with peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding have been slow to take necessary steps to ensure women’s agency in peace and security processes. Focusing on international policy and practices, Anne Marie Goetz and Rob Jenkins discuss this problem in relation to three areas: women’s participation in formal peace talks, post-conflict elections, and economic recovery programs.

Women’s agency in three peace and security processes.

With regard to formal peace talks, Goetz and Jenkins find that the numbers of women in negotiating delegations has not exceeded an average of 10 percent. The UN itself has only ever appointed one woman (Mary Robinson) to the position of Special Envoy to mediate a peace process – and in that case, it initially failed to include an expectation or requirement that she promote women’s agency in her job description. If that was so in her case, in spite of her reputation as a woman’s rights advocate, it is a safe assumption this is so for all other mediators and envoys.

In post-conflict elections, women face significant barriers to the exercise of their political rights stemming not just from heightened insecurity but from the ways conflict has destroyed livelihoods and weakened women’s civil society organizations. This can inhibit women from running for office. If gender quotas are not adopted and enforced, post-conflict elections typically deliver parliaments with, on average, 10 percent women representatives, a proportion inadequate for the project of building leverage for gender equality in legislative agendas.

Finally, post-conflict economic recovery programs that rely on fostering private-sector recovery and opening markets to external investment have tended to promote minimal-state models that rule out the types of state-sponsored anti-poverty programs (such as employment guarantees or food subsidies) that have proven valuable for poor women and in particular female-headed households facing gender discrimination in the market.

Contributors to women’s limited agency.

Spoilers” in peacebuilding and recovery. Goetz and Jenkins identify a combination of factors contributing to poor performance of international actors in promoting women’s agency in these three domains. The dominant political dynamic is the privileging – by the international community and national authorities – of those groups capable of acting as “spoilers” in national decision making about recovery priorities and wealth-sharing arrangements. This dynamic has tended to exclude women’s groups from the categories considered most important to involve in decision-making, whether in peace negotiations or post-conflict power-sharing arrangements. The authors illustrate this problem with examples from mediation efforts in Libya in 2011 and Mali in 2012.

Ambivalence in encouraging gender quotas. Exacerbating women’s exclusion and limited political leverage is the ambivalence in international election-support programs to encourage affirmative action measures in post-conflict contexts. Within the UN, in spite of an internal policy decision to routinely provide post-conflict governments and women’s groups with information about the potential benefits of gender quotas, there is marked inconsistency in using the UN’s leverage in post-conflict situations to do this. Patterns in electoral support in Sierra Leone and Liberia show relatively weak support for gender quotas, while in contrast, there is evidence to show that a determined effort was made in Libya to encourage gender quotas.

The minimal-state approach. Ambivalence about supporting women’s agency carries through to the minimal-state approach to economic recovery efforts. Goetz and Jenkins illustrate the lack of investment in active-state approaches to recovery in the food economy in post-conflict agriculture, where, for instance, investments in building state capacity to purchase and redistribute food grains, so as to limit price volatility or to promote producer cooperatives to share the costs of innovation and marketing, are not considered, in spite of obvious benefits to women producers.

Women’s political agency is closely linked to their market engagement and livelihood security; the latter, it is commonly argued, would have a multiplier effect on their civic engagement in countries emerging from conflict. While much is made of the potential for renegotiating gender contracts in the aftermath of conflict, this cannot be achieved without specific and positive provisions to support women’s agency whether in the market or the state, to build women’s livelihood security, and to invite their voice (though quotas and consultations) in public decision making.

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