Efforts to Share a More Complete Story – why Local Women’s Voices are Needed for Sustainable Conflict Transformation

Efforts to share a more complete story – why local women’s voices are needed for sustainable conflict transformation

by Susanne Alldén

women for peace in Congo

Efforts to share a more complete story – why local women’s voices are needed for sustainable conflict transformation

by Susanne Alldén

What, if anything, have we learned over 20 years trying to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security? This year in particular, as we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of this landmark resolution, we have had the pleasure of a number of rearview mirror reflections on what has worked and what has not worked. One key issue that needs to be highlighted is that although we see progress on the macro and sometimes even meso-level in regards to implementation, we are still often missing the voices from the ground. And yet, we know that women have an important role to play in conflict transformation and peacebuilding at the microlevel and they have developed strategies to push their involvement forward, locally.


A 2019 report on Women, Peace and Security issued by the UN Secretary General highlights commendable efforts to promote women’s participation in conflict transformation and efforts to sustain peace from a range of contexts. Twenty years after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 all mandates for UN peacekeeping and political missions that have been open for negotiation contain Women, Peace and Security (WPS) references. Furthermore, issues such as the need for gender-sensitive conflict analyses and the importance of considering women’s role in conflict transformation are highlighted, yet when illustrating progress only macro and meso level results are included. This means that the story shared remains incomplete. When micro-level accounts of strategies developed and obstacles faced in efforts to transform armed conflicts are not sufficiently considered by policy-makers, women’s role in peace and security efforts can never be fully understood.

Indeed, women are playing a key role in conflict transformation at the local level, in particular by their presence, by speaking up, and by developing microlevel networks based on their role in the family. As such they can tear down barriers between ethnic groups, and also take an active role in negotiating peace and disarmament with armed groups, either directly or through family members.  One female peacebuilder from South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo once explained that “working with women yields results […] we know that weapons cannot solve the conflict, only dialogue can”. 

Including women in peace processes requires a lot of detailed attention, and concrete efforts need to be taken just to get the women to be present in meetings and workshops. Yet, it is not enough to just add women in local level initiatives to tick the box of “presence”. Whereas having clear benchmarks for representation of women is important, it is not the panacea for capturing progress and developing best practices. What is behind the indicators and numbers can often tell a different story, or miss the real story of women’s involvement. Time and again there are stories of women having been included to represent women of all ages, social status, ethnic belonging or religious affiliations in local level initiatives that have later been sidelined once the negotiations move up in importance and hierarchy.  Or women managed to push for their inclusion at the peace table, but without sustainable results. In order to achieve meaningful participation of women, it is crucial to look at how they can contribute and what strategies they develop to achieve their goals. Women represented in the Congolese delegation at the Sun City peace conference in 2002 acknowledged that even though they played an important and visible role in Sun City, not only were they immediately sidelined when they came home, but also their own cohesiveness and solidarity disappeared. They had managed to be part of negotiating an end to the Second Congo War, but failed to find their own role in the everyday peace that was being built.

Women’s everyday involvement in conflict transformation is not easily measured but international actors, policymakers, politicians and donors need to start paying attention to their expertise. These are stories that merit being told because they highlight important strategic choices made by women in order to promote peace and development locally, and it also tells a story of women who refuse to be sidelined in their own communities. And it is important that the international community stops sidelining them as well.

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