The nature of Women, Peace and Security: Towards a more inclusive peace

Keina Yoshida and Lina Céspedes-Báez

International Affairs
International Affairs Blog

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Girls run past a fruit stand in the town of Altaquer, 7 November 2018. During the conflict, many of the Awa indigenous people fled their land because of the fighting and moved into the town of Altaquer. Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and environmental peacebuilding literature’s shared failure to engage more effectively with each other has directly undermined their attempts to foster sustainable peace. In our recent article in International Affairs we focus on the situation in Colombia to argue that the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) framework must take into account the lessons presented in the environmental peacebuilding literature. To do so, we made a concerted effort not only to draw on literatures in English language published in journals in the Global North but also to reference the rich literature published in Colombian publications as a commitment to decolonial citation practices. In this blogpost, we focus on the need to acknowledge the environment within the WPS agenda, arguing that definitions of relief, recovery and restitution need to be updated to engage with the environmental and spiritual dimensions of conflict.

WPS and the environment

The field of environmental peacebuilding has evolved in parallel with, but separately from, the WPS agenda. While the agenda is the result of sustained advocacy by civil society organizations, with 10 security council resolutions at time of writing (most famously 1325), it has since been criticized for its myopic focus on conflict-related sexual violence. Some have argued that this facilitates a militarized and securitized response to conflict and post-conflict situations that makes women visible only in so far as they are a vulnerable category in need of protection. Scholars have argued that under the four pillars of the WPS agenda (conflict prevention, women’s participation, protection, and relief and recovery), it is the latter which is the most under-developed. Again, it has been commented that relief and recovery is often confined to recovery from sexual violence, with wider considerations including women’s livelihoods, environments and spiritual relationships to land or territories left overlooked.

At the same time, policy and literature on environmental peacebuilding, which focus on the relationships between the environment, peace and cooperation, often lack a gender perspective. We found that in two recent reviews of the literature on environmental peacebuilding, the terms ‘gender’ and ‘women’ do not appear at all. On a policy level, the UN has also confirmed that ‘gender dynamics are still relatively poorly understood at the international level’. When gender is considered, it is often included as an afterthought or in ways void of content. The word ‘gender’ might appear in policies or legislation but there is often no roadmap, funding or knowledge to ensure that a gender perspective is applied effectively. This leads to significant problems with some pointing out that climate mitigation policies can have the unintended effect of negatively affecting gender equality.

As such, we argue not that the environment is entirely absent from the WPS agenda, (see the work by Maria Tanyag, Jacqui True, Annica Kronsell, Nicole George and others, on the intersection of the agenda with climate insecurity) but rather that there are multiple ways in which the WPS agenda can integrate lessons from environmental peacebuilding to ensure a more inclusive and sustainable peace. The environment should be included in the WPS agenda across its four pillars in a holistic way. For example, under protection — the agenda should be expanded to ensure that environmental rights defenders and concerns of rural stakeholders are included within its ambit alongside women peacebuilders. Further, as courts and legislators globally are beginning to recognise, it is important to protect the rights of nature for its own sake. In other words, the WPS agenda must move beyond the participation of women in natural resource management and embrace wider normative developments in environmental peacebuilding as a condition for sustainable peace.

Relief, recovery and reparations

One area in particular need of urgent attention is the relief and recovery pillar of the WPS agenda. We argue that as currently conceived, the individualized focus of reparations on sexual violence survivors dislocates women from their environments and relationships to the ecosystems they inhabit. Women are disconnected from their surroundings and means of living. We therefore call for an enriched understanding of the implications of conflict on women’s lives, on communities and on ecosystems. Since armed conflict typically accentuates inequalities for populations that have historically suffered discrimination, the intersections between historic discrimination and the current environment must be established to effectively produce the measures needed to guarantee successful transition to peacebuilding. Relief and reparation programmes must include an intersectional gender perspective to fully conceptualize the harms that have been suffered during the conflict. The harms suffered may not only be corporeal but may also be spiritual and ecological. Thus, it is important to ask how best to design relief and recovery programmes in ways that take these various harms into account.

This is not a hypothetical question. The Colombian example we draw upon demonstrates that these are live questions currently before the courts. In the context of the implementation of the transitional justice mechanisms of the Peace Agreement with the FARC in Colombia, the Awá indigenous community petitioned the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) for its people to be considered a collective victim of the conflict; and also for its territory to be considered a victim of the conflict. In November 2019, the JEP issued a decision affirming this status and arguing that for certain indigenous groups the impact of conflict is not limited to the individuals, but it also implies the community, the territory, and its ecosystem. It also recognized the specific and differential harms indigenous women experience in this situation.

We consider JEP’s November 2019 decision a milestone. It is a pivotal contribution to widening our notions of harm and victimhood in conflict, since it outlines the links between individuals, communities, and their ecosystems alongside the gendered dimensions of this interplay. Additionally, it highlights the current shortcomings of the WPS agenda, where there remains a considerable absence of programmes which consider the impacts of spiritual, ecological and environmental violence and how this intersects with women’s livelihoods and their security.

Conclusion

Analysing the WPS agenda through the lens of the JEP’s decision shows the urgency of taking into account that our lives take place and depend on the ecosystems we inhabit when designing relief and recovery policy. Similarly, this analysis underscores the importance of including gender as an essential analytical category to fully grasp the differential impacts of conflict on individuals, communities, and the environment. Even though the JEP case has not reached a final decision, it has already paved the way to determining the multidimensional harms caused by the Colombian armed conflict and powerfully informs discussions on the advantages and shortcomings of the WPS agenda.

Keina Yoshida is a research officer at the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics. She is also a practising barrister at Doughty Street chambers and has particular expertise in international human rights and equality law.

Lina M. Céspedes-Báez is a Colombian lawyer and scholar whose academic work has been focused on armed conflict, gender and property. She is a full-time professor at Universidad del Rosario’s Law School (Colombia).

Their article ‘The nature of Women Peace and Security: a Colombian perspective’ was published in the the January 2021 special issue of International Affairs on environmental peacebuilding.

Read the article here.

This research was made possible by funding from the British Academy Small Grant and the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security.

All views expressed are individual not institutional.

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