Laura Wise and Fiona Knäussel examine the slow progress in women’s participation in peace processes. Despite two decades of efforts, the inclusion of gender perspectives in peace agreements remains limited, as demonstrated by the PA-X Peace Agreements Database.
This blog digs into the data and highlights the need for renewed focus on achieving gender equality in peace processes.
On International Women’s Day in 2023, Ms Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, called for “a radical change of direction” in the trajectory of the women, peace and security agenda. She told the United Nations Security Council that “we have neither significantly changed the composition of peace tables, nor the impunity enjoyed by those who commit atrocities against women and girls”.
This public statement echoed private frustrations shared in recent years between women, peace and security (WPS) scholars, practitioners, and activists, who have grappled with the slow pace of improvement in women’s equal and meaningful participation in peace processes. As WPS researchers, one way that we have explored this limited progress is through assessing peace agreements over time for their ‘gender perspective’, and the presence of any signatories representing women in the peace process.
In March 2023, PeaceRep released Version 7 of the PA-X Peace Agreements Database, which now includes all global publicly available peace agreements from 1990 to early 2023. This enables us to review the inclusion of gender provisions and women’s representatives as peace agreement signatories in all peace agreements (that match the PA-X Inclusion Criteria) for the year 2022. These peace agreements show that despite over two decades of WPS activities and interventions, peace processes are still highly unequal, and mostly limited in their inclusion of gendered perspectives.
The proportion of peace agreements referencing women, girls and gender in 2022 was similar to recent years, and was still a minority of agreements.
The PA-X Peace Agreements Database Version 7 (plus the Sudan Political Framework Agreement) now records 18 peace agreements as being reached in 2022, across or between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (6 July, 5 November, 23 November and 6 December), Ethiopia (Tigray) (2 November and 12 November), Mali (Azawad), Philippines (Mindanao) (30 April and 3 June), Russia, Rwanda (6 July and 5 November), Ukraine, South Sudan (16 January (1), 16 January (2) and 14 November (3)), Sudan, and Yemen. Of these 18 agreements, only six include references to women, girls, and/or gender (33%).
This 33% is consistent with previous years, as can be seen in Graph 1. For example, in 2021, 29% of global peace agreements contained references to women, girls, and gender. Our updated data suggests that although there is a slight upward trend from 2017, the number of peace agreements that include gender references is potentially plateauing between 20% and 35% each year. This is still not close to realising UNSCR 1325’s ambition of ‘all actors involved, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt a gender perspective’. Ranging between three and 24 agreements per year, the number of global peace agreements containing references to women, girls, and gender is still too small to make firm conclusions as to trend trajectories on an annual basis. However, it does show that a majority of peace agreements in 2022 did not include any consideration of the gendered consequences of conflict.
Graph 1: Percentage of peace agreements with provisions referencing women, girls, and gender (1990-2022), excludes IntraLocal agreements. Source: PA-X Peace Agreement Database, Version 7 (plus AgtID 2467), 2023.
Gender references in peace agreements in 2022 were mixed, both in terms of subject and levels of detail. The most substantive references to women’s participation were agreed in the Sudan Political Framework, which has subsequently collapsed.
In terms of substance, PA-X Gender analyses peace agreements for their gender perspectives, based on 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. The six peace agreements with gender provisions in 2022 cover a range of these issues, but most refer to just one or two gender categories (such as sexual violence, or international law).
Gender provisions in agreements from Ethiopia/Tigray (2 November and 12 November), focus on protection of civilians (PoV), conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), and humanitarian aid for women. However, there are no explicit references to women’s participation or representation in any of the transitional measures or ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanisms formed by the agreements (although action on PoV and CRSV could potentially support a security environment in which women’s participation is less risky during the transition). New research shows that despite these provisions, conflict-related sexual violence continues to be perpetrated against civilians in Tigray, and that ‘the scale and nature of these violations has not materially changed since the peace agreement was signed’.
An agreement from Mali/Azawad includes provisions for women’s role in implementing the Algiers Agreement (2015): ‘a consulting body of traditional authorities, women and the young is established within the Coalition to help form its orientation and principles’. This provision does not provide any detail of the body, and it is not clear to what extent this consultative mechanism can exert influence within the Coalition. Language elsewhere in the agreement does talk about opening the Algiers Agreement ‘to other entities (traditional authorities, women and the young) who share the same values, ideas and objectives’ which is promising, although this would need to be evidenced in practice.
The reference to women in the 2022 Yemen ceasefire, mentions enabling the mobility of ‘men, women, and children’, by reopening roads. Although this act would benefit women, this reference does not make any special provision for them – in a sense, it refers to men and women as civilians, and not the gendered elements of mobility.
Of all the peace agreements signed in 2022, only one agreement includes explicit references to women’s equal and meaningful participation: the Sudan Political Framework agreement. The agreement stipulates that the selection criteria and composition of the National Transitional Legislative Council must be defined ‘in a manner that guarantees the participation of women by 40%’. It also includes a ‘Commitment of the forces, signatories to the Political Declaration and the Transitional Constitution to the representation of women in a fair proportion in the Legislative Council, the Council of Ministers, and the regions or states, and to equitable participation in the rest of the institutions of the transitional authority in compliance with Resolution 1325.’ Finally, the agreement also contains equality and human rights provisions that could support women’s meaningful participation, such as non-discrimination on the basis of gender, and freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.
Although the Sudan Framework Agreement was followed by further meetings and workshops early in 2023, in April 2023 widespread violence broke out between the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). This agreement was therefore not implemented, and the parties are currently agreeing to limited humanitarian ceasefires and PoC agreements, rather than anything that resembles the initial peace deal or substantive transition arrangements. Moreover, since the resurgence of conflict, the Combating Violence Against Women Unit has reported that armed actors across Sudan are targeting women and girls with conflict-related sexual violence.
In 2022, only one peace agreement out of the 18 agreements included on PA-X was signed by a representative of a women’s group or organisation.
In relation to South Sudan, Mrs Victoria Arop Odhong witnessed and signed the 2022 ‘Khartoum Peace Agreement (KPA) Between the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-In Government and the Agwelek Forces’ as ‘Women Representative’. She was the only peace agreement signatory who explicitly did so on behalf of women or as a representative of a women’s group or organisation, which is how PA-X tracks women’s signatories [WggImplSign]. As is clearly shown by Graph 2 (below), that only one peace agreement in 2022 was signed by a women’s representative is entirely consistent with agreement signatory practice since 1990.
Graph 2: Number of peace agreements signed by a women’s representative (1990-2022), category WggImplSign. Excludes IntraLocal agreements. Source: PA-X Peace Agreement Database, Version 7 (plus AgtID 2467), 2023.
Counting peace agreement signatories of women’s representatives is only one way of measuring the roles of women in peace processes and needs to be complemented with other quantitative and qualitative data in order to make a more holistic assessment. However, what this metric does show is that women’s groups and representatives clearly and consistently make up a minority of signatories to peace agreements. This, in turn, tells us something about the format and structure of peace processes. It suggests that even if women’s groups are present and contribute to a peace process, they are not commonly considered to be a key stakeholder required to sign an agreement text, even for those agreements that list a large number of stakeholder groups and communities as signatories.
Although the importance of being a signatory as a practice may vary across contexts (for example, in some cultures, verbal agreements are considered to have greater customary legal standing than written agreements), the fact that women’s representatives are such infrequent peace agreement signatories requires greater scrutiny after 23 years of WPS activities.
Women, peace and security at a crossroads?
The apparent stagnation of gender perspectives in peace agreements and women’s representatives as signatories, comes at a moment of critical reflection in the WPS movement. Recent or escalating conflicts in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Manipur, Sudan, and Ukraine have highlighted the fragility of WPS gains in prior peace processes, and the ever-present risk of conflict escalation (with the threats that this entails for women, gender equality, and sexual minorities). Peace process ecosystems are increasingly fragmented and complex, involving a crowded field of multiple mediators and initiatives, with a diverse range of actors who have their own approaches to women’s inclusion and gender perspectives.
At the same time, WPS advocates and observers are looking towards the 25th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 in the year 2025, and are revisiting over two decades of WPS initiatives, investment, and actions. Quite rightly, we are asking ourselves whether work to date has been targeted at the right places. With an overwhelming focus on ‘training’ and ‘capacity-building’ for women peacebuilders from the Global South, have we overlooked the prevailing lack of political will to include women, and the entrenchment of gender-based norms that still understand conflict as, in the words of peacemaker Doris Mpoumou, “exclusively the business of men”?
Amidst what has been widely understood as a global retrenchment of women’s rights, however, there are signs of progress emerging from some global players. In 2022, the UN Secretary General acknowledged that there is a WPS data gap, and there seem to be genuine attempts across various institutions to address this, to better understand what is really happening with women’s participation in peace and transition processes. The ‘New Agenda for Peace’ published in 2023 highlights the role of ‘the patriarchy and oppressive power structures which stand in the way of progress on gender equality or women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in political and public life’, thus centring the problem around the ‘gender norms, value systems and institutional structures that perpetuate exclusion’, rather than focusing on women’s lack of professionalisation. In addition, both the UN and UK’s WPS reporting practices now expect their own institutional structures to operate on an equal basis, rather than simply requiring this of others.
Whilst these commitments are welcome, in some ways, they only constitute the “easy” part – effectively resourcing them is another matter entirely. As we approach the 2023 Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, it will be interesting to see some of these reporting mechanisms in practice, and to what extent the institutions that have pledged them are really supporting these commitments.
 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). The analysis in this blog excludes local agreements.
 An additional peace agreement for 2022 was not published as part of PA-X Version 7, but will be included for publication for Version 8. The Political Framework Agreement for Sudan (Agreement ID: 2467) was signed on 5th December 2022.
 PA-X Peace Agreement Database, Version 7 (plus AgtID 2467), 2023.
 This ceasefire was extended twice in 2022, however this was not done through formal, publically available texts that reached the PA-X inclusion criteria, and therefore these extensions are not included in PA-X Version 7.
 PA-X codes for ‘Signing or Witnessing agreement [WggImplSign]: The situation of signing or witnessing of agreement ‘as women’ – but NOT including any signature by a woman or women – rather just women signing as part of a specific women’s group, or women’s delegation is accounted for in this variable.’ https://www.peaceagreements.org/files/WGG_codebook_June2020.pdf
Laura Wise is a PeaceRep Research Fellow and Programme Coordinator at the University of Edinburgh.
Fiona Knäussel is a PeaceRep Associate Researcher based at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.