Foreign Policy Blogs

Violence, Peacekeeping and Negotiations: Being Part of the Solution

Female peacekeeper, courtesy United Nations Photo/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This past month has seen some well-written policy briefs being published on NOREF’s (the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre’s) website. As the name might suggest, a major theme running through the collection of articles is peace — and also how women can contribute.

I’ve just chosen three to focus on in this post, however there are many more to be found on the NOREF website under the theme,”‘Women, peace and security,” all of which are worth a read.


The first short policy brief by Inger Skjelsbaek, “Sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings” opens with a provocative statement:

The laudable focus on assisting victims of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings distracts attention from the need to focus on dealing with the perpetrators of such violence, which is the only way to prevent it from happening.

Skjelsbaek calls for a shift from just a victim-centered approach to one which also includes a perpetrator-centered focus. Documenting the inexcusable actions and supporting those who have experienced sexual violence is no less important but as is pointed out, “Preventing perpetrators from committing acts of sexual violence is the only way to effectively combat such violence in armed conflict.” There has been a push for (international) criminal prosecution, which may act as a deterrent — however is this enough? If this is the only measure, a mentality of  “only if I get caught” isn’t difficult to imagine. Skjelsbaek suggests that pre-emptive measures should be taken, with rigorous gender sensitivity training included in military preparations; any incidents should also be taken seriously by those in charge so that a culture of ambivalence is not allowed to develop or continue.

Will this policy recommendation be taken seriously and adopted by various military organizations? Or will it be one that is agreed to and then swept under the carpet, seen as “more meddling” in the ways of soldiers?


“More meddling” is an accusation which could be thrown at the author of “Moving beyond the numbers: integrating women into peacekeeping operations,” Olivera Simić. In her four-page brief, Simić argues that women need to be integrated into senior, decision-making leadership roles as the current, somewhat ad-hoc approach to increasing the number of women peacekeepers is not translating into gender equality or mainstreaming. Improving the gender balance is one thing; deconstructing gender hierarchies and attitudes is another.

The author also discusses gender stereotyping, questioning whether the assumption that women’s “feminine”qualities — as “innately more nurturing and peaceful” — would have an impact on the number of sexual offenses committed by male colleagues. She argues such reinforcement of stereotypes is damaging and also detrimental to women peacekeepers in that they are characterized as being primarily there “to reduce aggressiveness and hypermasculinity…[they] are essentially expected to take on the responsibility for preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.” This links back to the key point made in Skjelsbaek’s brief — that diverting responsibility does not eradicate the cause.


The third brief focuses on peace negotiations and the often limited role that women are allowed. Christine Bell argues that today’s peace processes and negotiations are structurally biased, and not in favor of women. For example, if the process is fragile, there may be a reluctance to admit participants not at the heart of the conflict, as this may somehow upset key parties, and also with an increased number of interests, impede reaching agreement.

A 2012 study conducted by UNIFEM found that of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011, only four percent of signatories, 2.4 percent of chief mediators and nine percent of negotiators were women, with the UN never having appointed a woman to be a chief mediator of a peace process. Furthermore, only 16 percent of peace agreements actually mention women specifically.

Bell outlines the various types of peace negotiations and agreements and highlights the opportunities and challenges facing women wishing to become involved. Furthermore, Bell provides substantive recommendations for consideration during negotiations, acknowledging there cannot be a single “women-friendly” blueprint as any peace agreement “must respond to local contexts to be effectively implemented.”

But, as is stated in the introduction, a peace process “not only aim[s] to institute a ceasefire and end the conflict, but often also define the new structures and constitution of the country.”

Can a process which does not involve or listen to the voices of women, who make up around 50 percent of the population, be called “peace”?



Cate Mackenzie

Cate works as an editor in Zürich, Switzerland. She holds an MA in Comparative and International Studies from ETH Zurich, and a BA (Hons) in International Studies with Political Science from the University of Birmingham (UK).

She has previously lived and worked in Fiji and the US.