One-quarter of the world’s population—1.5 billion people—live in societies affected by war, where fundamental human needs go unsatisfied and communities are divided and insecure. The lives of women and children are most deeply affected: According to UN Women, the number of women affected by conflict-related rape and sexual violence, forced displacement, and abduction far exceeds that of men. In the absence of men—drawn away or perished in fighting—women often have sole responsibility for taking care of their families financially, even as discrimination and violence against women and girls influence their economic and political opportunities, their mobility, their personal health, their ability to get an education, their families, their communities, and, ultimately, their country.
The background paper for the 2013 global technical review of UN Security Council resolutions on women, peace, and security coordinated by UN Women states that levels of gender equality and women’s security in society are firmly correlated to indicators of national health, economic growth, corruption, and social welfare. During and after a conflict, women have an immediate understanding of the many implications of violence and must be involved in peacebuilding processes to identify what needs to be done to establish greater security for themselves, their families, and their communities. This security is not only about ending the shooting but also about raising the quality of daily life, reducing day-to-day violence and fear, strengthening justice for women, and improving relations within communities. Addressing women’s needs and priorities and protecting them from violence can therefore strengthen peacebuilding processes, socially, economically, and politically.
“Based on 100 years of experience it is our conviction that there is no such thing as ‘peace’ when women are not on board. There is no excuse for not having women on the negotiation table. This lesson should be implemented in current crises like in Syria, South Sudan, or the Central African Republic,” states Simone Filippini, Cordaid’s executive director.
Developing a Barometer for Security in Women’s Lives
According to UN Women, in the major peace agreements signed between 1992 and 2010, only 2.5 percent of signatories were women. Peacebuilding processes rarely include women’s priorities, which in turn significantly undermines the prospect of sustainable peace in many countries. Cordaid, one of the largest development organizations in the Netherlands, is working with a collective of local women’s groups in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other countries to strengthen local women’s capacities to improve the collection of information about the insecurity women face in their communities. In this initiative, called “the barometer of local women’s security,” local women themselves document and monitor the security situation from their own perspectives.
The barometer process has quickly revealed that women’s perceptions of security are drastically different and far broader than traditional paradigms of state security. For example, local women identified three priorities for regular monitoring: effects of militarization and armed conflict; access to justice and legal services for women who are victims of violence; and access to rights and entitlements, such as property rights—particularly for the most vulnerable women, such as those widowed by conflict. Using a series of indicators or conditions under each theme, local women not only are generating the evidence needed to raise awareness about their concerns and lobby for change but also are breaking the isolation of vulnerable women and giving them a voice. The barometer connects women, raising their collective awareness and, therefore, their collective power to take action to address their concerns about security in their communities. They are using information to connect and empower themselves and promote security through their eyes and their lives.