WPSN-C input into “Gender-Responsive National Reconciliation Processes”

On November 28th, 2013 Anna Lise Domanski of  Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development sent a request to the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada (WPSN-C) asking for inputs into an upcoming meeting of the United Nation’s Peacebuilding Commission. A working group on lessons learned has a discussion on gender and national reconciliation planned for December 11th. A Concept Note was produced in advance of the discussion. START was interested in input from the WPSN-C on possible points or questions Canada could raise.

The following comments were prepared by Doris Buss, Carleton University & Beth Woroniuk, Independent Analyst (both members of the WPSN-C) and sent to START on December 4, 2013:

Thank you for sending us the concept note on “Enhancing gender-responsive national reconciliation processes.” We read this document with great interest and are pleased to see some positive steps flagged towards a substantive version of gender mainstreaming. The following brief comments are offered as ways to deepen and extend this direction. Given the time and space constraints, our comments are necessarily brief, highlighting only some of the most pressing issues and focusing on the first two discussion questions in the concept note. We are happy, of course, to discuss these further with you.

Key points for the GoC to raise during the Workshop:

The GoC could contribute to the discussion by raising the following points (brief background is provided below):

• Commitments to women’s participation need to recognize the inclusion of women and men from DIVERSE social and economic locations: geographic regions, occupations, urban/rural settings, ethnic affiliation. As well, the diversity of gendered experience of conflict and violence needs to be prioritized in the design and operation of any national reconciliation process. It cannot be assumed that one or two women represent the experiences of all women.

• Women’s organizations and collective efforts at reconciliation need to be emphasized and supported. Women’s organizations are often essential to the success of reconciliation measures, and to fostering the conditions for medium-term peace and economic rebuilding. Yet these organizations are often fragile and under-supported by the international community.

• Economic issues in reconciliation processes should be given more emphasis. Women play a fundamental role in economic reconstruction. National reconciliation processes should include measures that recognize and support this role.

• Collection of sex and age disaggregated data on conflict, its aftermath and any national reconciliation initiatives must be a requirement and adequately resourced.


a. Key principles to guide developing and implementing gender-inclusive reconciliation processes include:

  • Ensuring women’s organizations and groups (rather than just numbers of individual women) are included from the outset as participants in their own right in all formal and INFORMAL reconciliation processes. Collective action is not only crucial for sustainable progress, but women’s groups often train and foster women leaders.  Women’s organizations also provide a forum for women to gather, learn skills and articulate common concerns and issues. Yet all evidence shows these organizations receive very little international support and funding.

  • Ensuring that the mandates of reconciliation processes include measures to capture the differing gendered experiences during and after conflict, including but not limited to sexual and gender-based violence.

  • Ensuring that women from multiple communities are represented as participants. Markers of diversity, such as ethnicity or tribal membership, tend to be over-emphasized by international interveners, thus missing important social divides implicated in the causes and risks of conflict, such as region, occupation, rurality, language. Promoting participation by women’s organizations can be one way to avoid this problem, but ensuring representation of women from diverse regional and social locations is key.

  • Ensuring that women and men with diverse experiences of conflict are represented. This can include young women, women combatants, widowed women, women with young children, male combatants, male survivors of sexualized violence, and widowed men. Violence and conflict often produce new citizen subjects in the post-conflict and transitioning period which governs, in turn, access to allocation of post-conflict ‘goods’.  The ability to access reconciliation is essential to ensure the most marginalized are not excluded from this allocation.

  • Multiple reconciliation mechanisms should be instituted, not just trials or truth telling. Criminal trials have been over emphasized by international donors and tend to only capture some of the gendered differences in experience of conflict and violence, usually civil and political, rather than social and economic harms. Other mechanisms that should be considered as part of a wholistic response include: lustration and vetting, and reparations.

  • Gender units and experts should be included as mandatory components of national reconciliation structures, and research on the differential experiences of conflict and violence should be central to all reconciliation activity. This means:

  1. for criminal trials, the prosecutor’s office should have an integrated gendered crimes unit;
  2. truth-seeking: time and space in the process should be reserved for marginalized voices, such as women and young women and men;
  3. lustration and vetting (an administrative process regulating state employment): gender mainstreaming should be included in the design and implementation;
  4. reparations: should ensure proportionate benefits to ‘civilians’ as ex-combantants, and reparations should reflect the full range of harms and violations (including gender-based violence).
  • Collection of sex and age disaggregated data on reconciliation processes including participation rates, access to services and programs, BUT ALSO, gendered experience of post-conflict peace and security more generally as evidenced by, for example, livelihoods, income, experiences and perceptions of security.

  • Mandatory reporting by all international and national actors on budget allocation to programs aimed at facilitating participation of marginalized groups, including women and use of an agreed ‘gender marker’ to track investments.


b. What are the main challenges to women’s full participation in reconciliation processes and how they can be addressed from the start?

The barriers faced by women in peacebuilding and national reconciliation include: time, economic, health, mobility, security and cultural constraints. Women generally perform double and triple roles in conflict-affected settings: as heads of households, primary income earners, main caregivers, and peacemakers. Research suggests women’s economic activity increases significant during and immediately after conflict. Women are also often survivors of conflict-related violence and face ongoing, serious health complications even while working to rebuild their societies.

These can be addressed by:

  • Funding for women’s organizations: core funding, initiatives to build consensus among women, training, support to attend negotiation initiatives, transportation;

  • Ensuring that participants in reconciliation processes are granted protection and anonymity where needed and that the particular security needs of women are addressed;

  • Funding for child care and other ‘care responsibilities’ for national reconciliation activities;

  • Financing for income –replacement so that women can afford to participate;

  • Financing for health care and travel for women and men participants;

  • Reserving spaces for participation by civil society organizations;

  • Ensuring international negotiators/mediators/truth commission staff are aware of and have skills relating to building inclusive processes; and

  • Quotas, as noted, can be one way to address cultural or societal barriers but need to be implemented in ways attentive to the unique circumstances in each setting.

Note:  Following the meeting, a Chair’s Summary was posted on the Peacebuilding Commission’s website.

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