How are gender perspectives in peace agreements evolving?
Laura Wise and Anna Asproni discuss their review of peace agreements with gender provisions in 2021.
This article draws on updated statistics from Version 6 of the PA-X Peace Agreements Database to reflect on gender mainstreaming in peace agreements reached in 2021, both in relation to previous years and in specific contexts where peace agreements referenced gender.
On March 25th 2021, three women – Mary Nyapet Puok, Alek Manyuon Deng, and Mary Beri Oleyeo – signed a peace agreement on behalf of women from their respective communities in Jonglei, South Sudan. In doing so – along with Elizabeth David Dabuol Ngot, who later signed two other agreements as the Women League Chairperson, Koch County, also in South Sudan – they became the only women’s groups representatives to sign a publicly available peace agreement in 2021. Although they were not the only women actively participating in peace processes that year, these exceptions as signatories are perhaps an example of the limited progress of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, over 20 years after the landmark resolution came into force.
In this short piece, we use updated statistics from Version 6 of the PA-X Peace Agreements Database to reflect on gender mainstreaming in peace agreements reached in 2021, both in relation to previous years and in the specific contexts where peace agreements referenced gender. We conclude with some thoughts on what this means for assessing the impact of UNSCR 1325 amid the changing nature of both conflict and peace processes, whereby competing negotiations led by a multiplicity of actors means that peace processes are increasingly fragmented and multi-level. We suggest that a WPS agenda modelled on a more traditional, hegemonic track I process between two core conflict parties risks becoming outdated if it does not quickly adapt.
The proportion of peace agreements referencing women, girls and gender in 2021 continued to recover from 2017 back to the post-1325 rough average.
The PA-X Peace Agreements Database Version 6 now records 25 formal, written peace agreements as being reached in 2021, across Armenia, Azerbaijan, India (Assam), Pakistan, Kosovo, Serbia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Libya, Mali, Papua New Guinea (Bougainville), Senegal (Casamance), South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), and Yemen. Of these 25 agreements, only eight include references to women, girls, and gender (32 per cent). As shown in Figure 1 (below), this is consistent with previous years: for example, in 2020, 26 per cent of global peace agreements contained references to women, girls, and gender1. The figure for 2021 suggests that the proportion of peace agreements with gender references continues to recover following the drop to 9 per cent in 20172 and is once again within the post-1325 (2000) rough average. However, this is nowhere near close to realising UNSCR 1325’s ambition of “all actors involved, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt a gender perspective”.
If we delve deeper into what these 32 per cent of 2021’s agreements tangibly provide for women, girls and gender, we see variation across the agreements, in terms of comprehensiveness and issues raised. Of the 8 peace agreements with gender references in 2021, none of the agreements reach Bell and McNichol’s (2019) maximum ‘gender score’ in which a peace agreement includes provisions relating to all of the following categories: participation; equality; particular groups of women; international law; new institutions; violence against women and gender-based violence; transitional justice; institutional reform; development; implementation; and other references to women. It is not common for peace agreements to reach the maximum gender score, and it would be possible to reference all of the gender categories with only rhetorical provisions that mention women, but do not provide substantively for action. The variety of gender issues that peace agreements address in 2021 are therefore consistent with previous years.
The most substantive agreement in terms of referring to a number of these different issues in 2021 was the Lou Nuer-Dinka Bor-Murle Action for Peace agreement in Jonglei, South Sudan, which included provisions on: women’s participation; pregnant women; abducted women; women and development; and women’s role in implementation. Qualitatively, the Jonglei agreement included the most detailed and substantive provisions for some of those issues. This contrasts with several of the other 2021 agreements that also contained multiple gender provisions, as they referred to women, girls and gender with aspirational or rhetorical language but had little to no detail on how they would be implemented.
Ceasefires – both agreements and provisions – continued to ignore gender in 2021, with no ceasefire provisions that included references to women, girls and gender.
Our data shows that only one ceasefire agreement was signed in 2021, compared to the six and five ceasefires signed in 2020 and 2019 respectively. Although parties across various conflicts announced more ceasefires in 2021, these were not included in the PA-X database as they did not match the PA-X definition of a ceasefire agreement, or ceasefire arrangements were reached as part of a renewal, implementation or other form of agreement, but were not the core focus of the agreement. As with ceasefires signed in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the ceasefire Agreement between the Joint Forces and Ansar Allah failed to include gender-sensitive provisions. Even if we include announcements that were not classified as ceasefire agreements on PA-X, but were recorded on our Covid-19 Ceasefire Tracker, none of these statements or accompanying reporting included any mentions of women, girls, or gender. Ceasefire provisions in broader peace agreements listed on PA-X for 2021, which appear in 36 per cent of agreements reached in 2021 (9 out of 25), also do not contain any gender references.
The lack of gender provisions in the ceasefire provisions and agreements of 2021 is in line with previous years since 2018. This demonstrates that the prevalence of ceasefires addressing gendered aspects of conflict is currently low to non-existent, and that Covid-19 has not greatly influenced the drafting of ceasefires to be gender sensitive – despite the possibility for change that such a disruptive global event could have engendered. For gender-equality advocates this is concerning, as in recent years, there has been growing awareness of ceasefires serving as critical junctures to legitimise women’s participation in peace processes at a later stage, or to set an expectation that gender-related issues will be included on the agenda of future talks. Additionally, some gender-equality advocates argue that ceasefires should clearly include provisions that prohibit gender-based violence (GBV) in the early stages of the peace process to prevent repetition of the crime, to shape the strategies for monitoring of ceasefire implementation, and provide for the inclusion of specialised workers trained in the gathering of forensic evidence and testimonies.
The fact that ceasefire agreements and provisions in 2021 continue following the recent trend of ceasefires without gender perspectives suggests that more work is needed to identify why this is happening, and what opportunities might exist for gender-related interventions during ceasefire negotiations.
In 2021, there was an interesting distinction between gender language in international and local agreements.
While ceasefire agreements in 2021 did not fulfil their potential in including gender provisions, other agreements saw positive practices in this regard. Gender provisions in international agreements in 2021 were progressive, but mostly limited to conference outcome documents which some of the main conflict protagonists did not commit to implement, whilst some local agreement provisions last year were highly contextual, detailed, and rooted in processes where local women had participated.
Some of the most progressive language in line with the women, peace and security agenda in 2021 occurs in interstate agreements relating to intra-state conflict – that is, agreements where the parties are states or international actors who have come together usually in a conference format to support the implementation of a peace process within a particular state. The Declaration of the Paris International Conference for Libya includes several gender provisions3: as an international, multiparty agreement it condemns violations of human right law and international humanitarian law and calls for “access to justice for all, particularly women and girls”. It highlights the importance of security reforms and of gendered perspective during Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR). Additionally, it refers to not only conflict-related sexual violence and GBV but also other gender-related issues, notably migrant smuggling and human trafficking on which the international community has focussed in Libya in recent years. The Troika Statement Witnessing the Juba Peace Agreement signed by the UK, Norway and the USA also references access to justice and accountability for crimes committed against civilians, especially women and children. While these are essential gender provisions, given the aspirational nature of the agreements as setting an agenda, it is unclear how strongly conflict parties would adopt these norms and suggestions. This is because these agreements are third-party agenda setting statements. As such, they have limited buy-in from all conflict parties and consequently lack detailed provisions
The language and scope of these provisions contrast with clauses in the 2021 Lou Nuer-Dinka Bor-Murle Action for Peace, a local agreement4 signed in South Sudan in which the gender approach seems to be more contextually rooted in the community mediation process that produced it. The agreement explicitly mentions women’s involvement in the peace process and their demands – voicing their requests “for micro-finance schemes for youth” and for “equitable provision of tailoring machines, soap making and other activities for women”, taking a more holistic, socio-political and economic approach to conflict resolution. The parties agree for women to work across tribal lines to implement the provisions and that “They should be provided with communication tools, as well as the men. Women have requested radio talk shows to publicise the message of peace among the three tribes.” They also propose forming a Women’s Peace Committee, arguing that cross-community work might deter violence in stating that “If the women are together in a location, youth may also fear to attack.” Interestingly, the agreement also includes women’s role in traditional forms of agreement implementation. Parties agree that “Women will encourage inter-marriages between the three tribes; they are the guardians of the daughters,” and that:
The women have underlined the importance of peace and reconciliation, love and forgiveness, and praying to God together for mercy and grace. Women will return and commit to warning their sons to stop raiding other communities. If a problem persists, they have warned they will milk out the milk from their breasts to the floor as a curse to the young men who have violated the peace.
Importantly, this is not an agreement solely between women’s representatives: the process included “18 delegates from each of the three communities – comprised of women, youth leaders and traditional leaders”. As the conflict in Jonglei relates to armed violence between youth across the three tribes, this process means that the gender provisions and women’s involvement in implementation are agreed by core parties and local power brokers (although they could still not be implemented, as implementation is a contested, fluid, and non-linear phase of peace processes). And as UN Women recently explored in their new 2022 report focusing on Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, this process in South Sudan raises yet another example of women playing key roles in local mediation processes, and demonstrates the way in which they may use traditional or social norms or their position as trusted community insiders to influence peace agreements. As international processes continue to struggle with women’s meaningful participation, learning more about gender perspectives in local agreements, and how local women leverage their inclusion, might identify ways that local approaches could be adapted for international processes (rather than the other way around).
One example of a 2021 peace agreement with comprehensive gender provisions on enforced disappearances of women and girls raises questions about how peace agreements deal with this issue.
An additional aspect worth noting in the 2021 Lou Nuer-Dinka Bor-Murle Action for Peace is its commitment to address the disappearances of women and children as a result of the conflict. On the African continent, disappearances in general, and disappearances of women specifically, are not an issue unique to South Sudan. Yet, they have been addressed almost exclusively in this context, with rare exceptions (such as the TRC report in South Africa which addressed a case of a disappeared woman). From 1999 to 2021, conflict parties in South Sudan signed eight different agreements that mentioned missing and/or abducted persons – with seven referencing the systemic abduction of women and children, six of which were local agreements4. This further highlights the potential of local agreements in addressing the issue of disappearances during armed conflict, an issue that may face difficulties with gaining traction as an agenda item during international peace negotiations, despite gender equality advocates’ best efforts.
The Lou Nuer-Dinka Bor-Murle Action for Peace agreement includes a commitment from local actors to establish transitional justice mechanisms addressing the crime of enforced disappearances, namely through a traditional Court set up to address, among other things, ‘disputes over abducted children and women’. This approach is akin to that of hybrid traditional and transitional justice mechanisms (such as those implemented in Rwanda and Liberia) and could be a way of redressing the crime. As with other forms of transitional justice, however, it could have its limits, including possible shortcomings in providing accessible victim support.
However, the Jonglei agreement also explicitly recognises the role of women as active agents in conflict resolution and particularly in addressing disappearances. Not only does the agreement mention women’s commitment to identify the missing children, but also their commitment to engage in recovery efforts. This recognises the role of women in contributing to communities affected by conflict at the local level, with the potential to provide support as part of traditional, transitional justice systems. Such an acknowledgment is essential to shift gender perspectives in peace agreements from an understanding of women as merely victims of conflict, to a powerful image of women as agents for justice and truth, playing an essential role in the reconstruction of the social tissue in post-conflict settings.
What next for gender perspectives in peace agreements?
Although in 2021 the proportion of peace agreements with gender provisions increased slightly from 2020, it seems that there is a threshold for peace processes to take a gender perspective through their texts, and that threshold is below 50%. Despite interesting and progressive gender provisions in some of the 2021 agreements – which we do not discount the importance of, as these reflect hard won gains of gender equality advocates – our latest data suggests that the women, peace and security agenda needs some course correction. We need to ask tough questions as to why current engagement with particular processes or process stages is still producing gender blind agreements (specifically at pre-negotiation, ceasefire and implementation stages), despite women’s activists and gender equality advocates being involved in the respective peace processes. After 20 years of WPS activities, why are these efforts not making it into peace agreements on a more consistent and widespread scale, and how can gender equality advocates in the conflict mediation realm translate promising statements into substantive, multiparty-agreed texts?
Finally, as conflicts shift to more fragmented constellations of diverse actors and competing third parties, recent UN reports on WPS have acknowledged the need for “a multitrack approach (across) local, informal conflict resolution to formal peace negotiations” (UN. Secretary-General, 2020, II.8 & II.A.20) and that tangible support for women peacebuilders working on local mediation processes is important (UN. Secretary-General, 2019, II.B.22). However, in practice, a WPS agenda that is predominantly modelled on a more traditional, hegemonic track I process – between two states, or a state and one or two non-state armed actors – risks becoming outdated if it does not quickly adapt to the changing nature of conflict.
- Updated with Version 6 (2022) – note that as Version 6 has identified and included some additional agreements from previous years, some earlier statistics provided on the proportion of peace agreements with gender provisions may now have changed.
- Updated with Version 6 (2022).
- While this declaration mostly reacts to the peace process and actions of the direct conflict sides, there are only a few issues that the third parties commit to: not interfering in elections, releasing funds etc. The WGG coding therefore only includes those parts of agreements where such matters are agreed to, not the parts which react (urge, commend, etc.).
- PA-X now includes agreements from a wider variety of negotiation practices – including some local agreements that are not associated with conflicts in which there have been more than 25 battle-related deaths (UCDP conflict threshold). These types of local agreements can be excluded from the search if all Agreement/Conflict levels are selected, except for Intrastate/local (other).
- We found 8 agreements through 2 different PA-X searches. In the first search, we queried “Africa (excl MENA)” under “Region” and searched “missing” through “free text search”. This returned 18 agreements, 3 of which addressed enforced disappearances (rather than ‘missing in action’) in South Sudan. In the second search, we queried “Africa (excl MENA)” under “Region” and searched “abducted” through “free text search”. This gave us 10 agreements, 5 of which addressed enforced disappearances in South Sudan. Therefore, of the 8 peace agreements that addressed enforced disappearances in South Sudan, 7 mentioned missing women and girls, the majority of which (6) were local agreements.
Laura Wise is a Research Fellow and Programme Coordinator with the Peace and Conflict Resolution Evidence Platform (PeaceRep) at the University of Edinburgh. Laura’s research explores the margins of peace processes and their intersections with the politics of inclusion. She is part of the team behind the PA-X Peace Agreements Database and a co-creator of PeaceFem, a mobile phone app that illustrates women’s inclusion in peace processes around the world. She holds an MA in Comparative Ethnic Conflict from Queen’s University Belfast.
Anna Asproni is a Research Intern with the Peace and Conflict Resolution Evidence Platform (PeaceRep). Anna’s research is primarily focused on human rights law, international humanitarian law and conflict resolution, particularly concerning the Middle East and North Africa. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Human Rights Law at the University of Edinburgh, and She holds a BA in French and International Relations from the University of Westminster.