More than ever before, civilians are increasingly at the center of contemporary conflict zones. In many cases, women and children are disproportionately affected by the violence and their stories are too often ignored.
There is an important backline discussion concerning how to assure accountability for those who perpetrate violence, how to reconstruct society after conflict, and how to achieve sustainable peace. These questions must be addressed and women must be a party to these discussions.
Justice in Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia
The cases of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia are prime examples of the important role that women play in working towards the achievement of justice and peace in their communities. Both of these conflicts helped to bring attention to the use of rape as a weapon of war, setting the stage for the incorporation of crimes related to sexual violence into international law. International criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) were created to prosecute the violent acts committed during the conflicts. Hundreds of women joined together and played an instrumental role as witnesses, prosecutors, and justices in pushing for and handing down the convictions.
Peace in Liberia
Women were also responsible for bringing an end to Liberia’s second civil war in 2003. Thousands of Liberian women, weary from a fourteen year long war, mobilized their efforts and created a non-violent protest movement to end the war. After barricading negotiators inside the Presidential Palace until they reached a resolution, an agreement was finally reached ending civil war. In 2005, three years after the peace, Liberia elected its first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and has since experienced the longest period of sustained peace and economic growth in memory.
The potential of women in achieving peace and justice after conflict is enormous. Yet, it is so infrequently considered. In October 2000, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325 assuring that women must be taken into account in all phases of peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. Today, 75% of those affected by armed conflict are women and children, yet women represent less than 10% of those involved in peace negotiations.
It will be impossible to keep women out of critical decisions regarding peace and justice because they are such a large adversely affected group. The success of peace negotiations in current crisis situations especially in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will hinge on the ability of the international community to incorporate women in the proceedings. To achieve true peace and justice after conflict, we must never forget the power of women and absolute necessity of their inclusion.