As you might have seen on your social media feed, today is International Women’s Day – officially declared in 1975 by the United Nations.
Decades later, we now understand that building support for women’s rights and participation across societies is not simply a nice thing to do – it is critical to building long-term peace and economic prosperity.
On the economic front, McKinsey & Company released an estimate in 2015 that $28 trillion of additional GDP could be added in 2025 if all countries bridged the gender gap in their workforces.
Further, the full inclusion and participation of women in the peace and security arena stands to positively shift the trajectory of decades-long conflict. If civil society groups, including women’s groups, are included in a peace negotiation, the resulting agreement is 64% less likely to fail. And, if women are involved in the creation of a peace agreement, it is 35% more likely to last for fifteen years.
It goes without saying, in a world where conflict abounds, sustainable peace solutions mean lives are saved and societies are positioned to prosper.
Yet, despite these known factors, for conflicts between 1990 and 2017, women account for just 2% of mediators, 5% of witnesses and signatories, and 8% of negotiators, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations.
So, what does the inclusion of women in the security sector look like?
In Bangladesh, women have played a significant role in combatting the spread of extremist ideology. As part of this effort, education and training have emphasized the importance of women’s economic empowerment. By elevating the roles of women in society and ensuring their rights to operate freely, they are better positioned to take on the rise of harmful ideologies among their male peers and family members.
In Colombia, women were all but excluded from a round of peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in 2012 in Norway. But due to grassroots advocacy and pressure from the international community, in 2015 during talks in Cuba, women accounted for 20% of the government and 43% of the FARC negotiating delegates. And notably, a first-ever Gender Subcommission was formed, wielding an influence throughout the peacemaking effort.
In Afghanistan, it would require elevating the voice and concerns of women in current negotiations with the Taliban, and unequivocally refusing to trade their rights for a deal.
Here in the United States, as in many parts of the world, we must still work toward gender parity in wages, in leadership positions, and even on panels. As we mark the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote this year, we must not forget the work that remains to be done.
In 2017, the United States passed the Women, Peace and Security Act “to promote the meaningful participation of women in the mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict.” While it still awaits a government-wide strategy in order to be enacted, its passage signaled a meaningful first step for the inclusion of women in preventing and ending the conflict.