Peacekeeping is one of the cornerstones of the United Nations and was, is and will be an essential tool for creating lasting peace in war-torn societies. The international system has changed in many ways since the first deployment of peacekeepers in 1948; new actors and challenges have emerged and mandates have evolved. The 21st Century brings enormous challenges to the international community’s peace and security – and peacekeeping will have to address many of these challenges. This series, culminating on International Day of UN Peacekeepers, 29 May, will bring innovative analysis and offer solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing peacekeeping today.
At the outset of the 2011 Syrian revolution, Syrian women played an active role in protests and grassroots mobilisation. They played leadership roles in local committees. They organised and participated in demonstrations and sit-ins. However, with the militarisation of the uprising, women have been sidelined and their voices marginalised in military and political decisions. Women have largely been shut out of the Geneva I and II peace talks. This may change in the next round of talks, expected to last until June. Although more Syrian women are set to join than in previous rounds, they have not been selected by women to speak for women. However, they have the potential to bring a gendered focus to issues on the agenda and increase women’s voice in the transition.
In December 2015, the UN Security Council, for the first time, agreed on a road map for the peace process in Syria. UNSC Resolution 2254 (2015) mandated the UN to facilitate formal negotiations between the Syrian Government and opposition, but actors who fall in between these opposing spectrums were not mentioned. The sensitive question of who represents the Syrian opposition was left unanswered. Political and armed opposition factions have formed a negotiating bloc, called the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). Indeed, opposing views on whether actors who were not part of the Riyadh Agreement should be invited to Geneva delayed the start of the initial negotiations and remain contentious
The January round of talks were placed on hold after a few days. Talks are expected to resume in mid-March so long as the ceasefire brokered by the USA and Russia in February, holds. The UN has been very careful to call it proximity talks that will focus on immediate priorities in line with UNSC Resolution 2254 (2015). Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has been conducting shuttle diplomacy between the Syrian Government and HNC opposition delegations, as well as other groups supported by Russia, and women and civil society actors. However, the focus of the diplomatic efforts is to facilitate agreement between the political and armed actors on the political process, including on future elections and the new constitution. Women’s civil society actors are likely to remain on the decision-making margins even though these issues will affect them and the broader Syrian society.
UNSC Resolution 2254 (2015) encourages the “meaningful participation of women in the UN-facilitated political process.” In practice, Syrian women can only gain direct access to the talks if they are included in the government or opposition delegations. So far some women have been included – either as delegates or advisers – in the government and, to a larger degree, in opposition delegations. They are not representing a specific women’s agenda and are bound by the positions of their delegations. Although more women will join the talks, women, as a group, will remain in the minority. In this scenario, women’s voices are more likely to be heard if consensus decision-making instead of majority rule is used in the deliberation processes. The former may reduce women’s deficit of authority and establish group behaviour that allows them to exert influence.” But, as in most negotiations, the real decision-making power often lies with a small group of male leaders.
Women’s civil society actors will not be directly involved in the official talks in Geneva. They will largely remain in the corridors. In fact, civil society, in general, and women, in particular, are often excluded from formal peace processes – due to a perception that introducing new actors could destabilise an already unpredictable process. However, recent research has shown that this perception is flawed. The rate of reaching agreement is higher when women’s groups take part in negotiations. Nilsson (2012) found that peace agreements were 60% less likely to fail when both civil society actors and political parties participated in the process. Stone (2015) found that when women are included in a peace process, the resulting agreement is 20% more likely to last at least two years and 35% more likely to last for 15 years. Gender advocates argue that the presence of women at peace negotiations brings alternative perspectives and approaches to the processes. This could produce positive gains for women and shape a more sustainable and meaningful peace.
How could women increase their influence over the negotiations and final agreement? For starters, the UN must adopt different strategies to work with women who are inside and outside of the talks. Combining insider with outsider tactics has been successful to ensure that the inputs of women, who are not directly participating, are fed into negotiations. A further step could be to launch a parallel forum for civil society to give women a say in the Syrian negotiations. The UN, furthermore, could push for the inclusion of women in any working groups tasked with considering negotiating issues. A separate gender civil society advisory group could be created. Legal and gender experts could seek the inclusion of gender language and clauses in the agreement. The above strategies will more effectively advance women’s positions if formal mechanisms reporting to negotiators are created.
Getting women to the table is only the first step. The next step must be to ensure that inclusion translates into more meaningful outcomes for women. Peace negotiations and constitutional processes in post-conflict countries present opportunities for re-negotiating gender regimes. Before the conflict, civil society in Syria promoted legal reforms to remove discriminatory laws and practices. The peace process could be an opportunity to revive these efforts and create a more equal society. However, if gender rights are not addressed in the final outcomes, it will be more difficult to advance them at a later stage.
The views set out here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the United Nations. Neither the United Nations institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.
DFID / R.Watkins; Exchanges Photos
Challenges to Peacekeeping in the 21st Century: Ortrun Merkle, Diego Salama and Khalid Koser
Women in the Syrian Peace Process: More Than a Seat at the Table? Karen Lock
The Role of Civil Society in Peacekeeping Missions: Tamara Kool
Peacekeeping in Cities: Is the UN Prepared? UNU-CPR
Is Hybrid Peacekeeping a Model of Success? The Case of UNAMID: Diego Salama