Women at the Peace Table: The Gender Dynamics of Peace Negotiations


Author: Monica McWilliams

Where violence and conflict have become the norm, negotiating an agreement built on peace and justice can be a challenging prospect for those involved. Since 2000, with the introduction of Security Council Resolutions on women, peace, and security, the United Nations has asserted that the environment enabling peace agreements become more inclusive of women and that gender perspectives be taken into account throughout the peace building process. This chapter draws on examples from the Northern Ireland peace process to show the changes that took place when a group of women moved out of the political activism of civic society to become engaged in the more formal politics of peace negotiations. The women activists grasped the opportunities of the “constitutional moment” to frame gender specific interests within the new constitutional framework of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. They built on skills honed through years of activism to form the Women’s Coalition, a political party that was involved in the multi-party peace negotiations, and became signatories to the peace agreement. However, in the transitional space that opens up following a peace agreement, what gets resourced and implemented often falls short of what was promised. Despite its success in the negotiating process, enforcing the proposals on women’s interests in the aftermath proved to be the most difficult task. Where a democratic deficit exists, with women continuing to be excluded from political participation, those whohave struggled to build a new society will ask for whom was the reconstruction meant. For a genuinely transformative process to take place, women’s interests must not be left in the“aspirational/to do” list but instead form a central part of the “constitutional” and legislative guarantees for the new society.

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