Peace: A Gendered Perspective

It is no secret that women have historically been excluded from many aspects of political life and international relations. Despite a general notion that women are inherently “peaceful,” the peace profession is no exception to the gender gap. 

The role of women in peace has been examined from a variety of aspects. Gender theorists have looked at whether peace activities come “naturally” to women due to their biological roles as life-givers, or because of the social constructs dictating female/male roles. “Some writers have stressed that there is an essential link between women, motherhood and non-violence, arguing that those engaged in mothering work have distinct motives for rejecting war which run in tandem with their ability to resolve conflicts non-violently” (Citizens for Global Solutions, 2015). 

The UN has taken a less theoretical and more empirical approach to the inclusion of women in peace. Instead of making claims to women’s “special” abilities, they cite evidence that higher levels of gender equality in societies coincide with lower levels of conflict (United Nations, 2016). Additionally, the UN claims that including women in peace roles allows for greater trust and support from women in conflict areas as well as an increased focus on gender-based violence.  The UN prioritized gender inclusivity through Resolution 1325 to “promote the participation of women in decision-making levels in conflict resolution and peace processes, expand the role and contribution of women in UN field-based operations, and to integrate gender perspectives and training into peacekeeping” (USIP 2009). 

While everyone seems to agree that for one reason or another it is good to have women in various peace positions, there is still a gender gap in the actual peace roles themselves. Over the last two decades, the UN has divided its approach to peace into two distinct areas - conflict and response - which include peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. 

Between 1992 and 2011, 4% of signatories to peace agreements and less than 10% of negotiators at peace tables were women.
— UN Women

Peacemaking

Peacemaking activities include negotiation, mediation, and other forms of dispute settlement, which usually occurs though high-level diplomacy. It is no surprise, then, that the number of men conducting these activities greatly outweighs their female counterparts. “Between 1992 and 2011, 4% of signatories to peace agreements and less than 10% of negotiators at peace tables were women” (UN Women, 2016). This reflects a much larger gender gap between male and female world leaders and diplomats. For example, in the U.S. only 9% of ambassadors (throughout history) have been women (Feierman, 2016).

Peacemaking can also refer to non-governmental and grassroots organizations. According to some gender theorists, “Women in civil society tend to seek transformative change in a way that conceptualizes peace beyond the cessation of hostilities and the disarmament of warring troops” (Chang, Alam, Warren, & Bhatia, 2015). However, there are not widely available statistics on the gender gaps in such organizations, especially since such NGOS greatly vary in their mission. 

Women face yet another gender gap in peacekeeping operations. There is a lack of women in military and defense positions, as peacekeeping involves military and police-style forces charged with protecting populations and preventing armed conflicts. According to the UN, “in 2014, out of approximately 125,000 peacekeepers, women constituted 3% of military personnel and 10% of police personnel in UN Peacekeeping missions,” and this is a greatly improved statistic compared to earlier numbers (United Nations, 2016). Women peacekeepers are assigned to these positions by Member States, not the UN itself, and so a lack of women in defense positions in individual states will be reflected in the UN’s peacekeeping force as well (United Nations, 2016).

Peacebuilding

Peacebuilding is perhaps the most varied and complex stage of peace, often encompassing a wide range of activities such as education, government restructuring, reconciliation efforts, and trauma support. This category of peace seems to be the most female-inclusive. According to USAID, “in 2013, over 2.3 million women took part in peace-building and reconciliation events” (USAID, 2016). For example, The Peace Corps, an organization that takes part in peacebuilding-related activities, actually has a female majority.  Women make up 63% of their participants (Peace Corps, 2016).  It is possible that this stage of peacebuilding is most comprehensive because it offers a wider range of roles, including more “traditional” female activities such as education and counseling. Regardless, the role of women in peacebuilding is a step in the right direction for women in the peace business.

Like many aspects of foreign policy and international relations, there is a significant gender gap in peace activities. This discrepancy is a result of sector-specific trends at the Member-State level that exist globally. Continued efforts should be made to include women in all stages of peace. However, the addition of more female participants should not be based on a belief that women are inherently “better” at peace activities, but rather that women make up about half of the population and are increasingly attaining the skills necessary to be successful peacemakers, peacekeepers, and peacebuilders.


Erica DeKranes is the Assistant Director of the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, NJ.  Follow her on Twitter: @EricaDeKranes.