It is a long-held axiom of human development that if the focus of that development is on women, then their children and their communities are more likely to thrive, to do better economically, to be better educated and healthier. In her book Sex and World Peace, Valerie Hudson argues that equality between the sexes is directly linked to peaceful societies. When societies pay attention to the security of women and their liberation to live full lives, those societies are, overall, more secure and experience lower levels of conflict of all sorts and war. A recent UN Women report also recommended that ensuring the security of women should be a key component of any country’s work to end war and restore peace; that ‘we cannot allow women to continue to be considered “collateral damage” in conflict environments.’ Note that ‘security’ is not limited to physical safety but it is also about food, housing and income security, the ‘security’ that comes with information, education, freedom of movement and health care.
The data show that peace deals are simply less likely to last without the integral involvement of women. The United Nations has recognised this for a long time and, in 2000, adopted UN security council resolution 1325, which not only calls for women to be ensured full political participation but also for governments to take ‘special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict’. According to the UNDP, the level of sexual violence experienced by women and girls tends to increase during times of violent conflict – domestic violence, sex trafficking and sexual harassment.
‘Ensuring full security and equal treatment of women and girls is the basis from which individuals can feel safe and fully contribute, but it is also the foundation stone from which nations can reduce violence and ultimately prosper. Nobody loses out when the rights of women are protected and promoted, so their continued exclusion from decision-making platforms in various conflict zones around the world makes little sense.’ (Jessica Neuwirth, ‘Why are women not included in Peacebuilding efforts?’ New York Times, 9 Jan 2017)
If all of this is true – and it is – to include/focus on women is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. With only one notable exception, we have worked with groups that are inclusive of both women and men. In the safe container that is the training venue and culture, all genders are enabled to ask questions about gender and social norms and how and why women need to be included and, in many situations, taking the lead in situations of violent and protracted conflict. It is a difficult topic, without doubt, and yet cannot be set aside as inconsequential. Through experiential, play-based learning exercises, participants are invited to consider new ways of being with and working with one another across gender lines. In many places in the world, the invitation to women to leave their household space to participate in a training in peacemaking and nonviolence is controversial. In order to be effective participants and then players in the field of peacemaking, women require the consent and the support of their households and their communities to take the time to build the necessary skills to do so.