WE inhabit a world where war is on the rise, violent extremists terrorise millions and refugee numbers are at an all-time high. As the modern world grapples with the challenges of the 21st century including extremism and terrorism, intellectuals and think tanks make efforts to suggest possible solutions. The advent of the 20th century saw us build fire-proof cities; in the 21st century we will probably build terrorism-proof cities.
This may sound far-fetched, however, the way this century is unfolding before us compels us to think along these lines. Every single day brings news of intolerance, violence, conflict and war from all over the globe. Some of these conflicts are resolved while others go on. Either way, damage control becomes inevitable. Areas where peace prevails after conflict need help with sustaining that peace and with restructuring their societies whereas in less fortunate, conflict-ridden areas, help is required to attain peace.
One idea that may be gaining ground, albeit slowly, is the inclusion of women in peace-building as mediators, negotiators and resolvers of conflict. The idea has, unsurprisingly, invited much scepticism and criticism since women themselves have largely been seen only as victims of violence or as passive recipients of support, apart from the deafening silence on their role in patriarchal societies. However, as the idea takes on a more concrete form, it appears to offer related scenarios where women hailing from diverse cultures can assume these positions based largely on instinctive qualities and traits.
It has been evident in many cases that women’s involvement in peace processes not only helps to gauge the undercurrents of a conflict, but also enables the community concerned to define achievable targets for peace. Women, by and large, have more ingress into communities and if provided with an opportunity, have the potential to come up with solutions involving little or no violence. As homemakers and home managers, women are generally more alive to any threats, internal or external, that can cause problems for an otherwise happy, thriving family.
Research has shown that women recognise warning signs of violence much before men. For instance, women in Afghan communities have detected Taliban threats that have been overlooked by local security forces on the basis of attempts made to recruit or radicalise their sons. Also related are the real-life examples of Liberian women who bridged ethnic and religious divides in the last decade by mobilising women in their communities.
In Syria, women took advantage of the fact that they are not seen as threats and are easily welcomed as neutral interlocutors in local level armed conflicts. Rwanda has seen women healing the scars of genocide, with their commitment to reconstructing society in all possible ways during the last two decades. Similarly, women in the Pakistani police and law-enforcement agencies have exhibited their strength to make search operations more thorough and gender-based crimes more perceptible.
Even though Pakistan’s peculiar sociocultural contours leave little room for women to be seen as inclusive members of any decision-making, the need for making them a part of peace-building is on the rise. As we bear the irredeemable loss of life to terrorism over the last many years, we think more and more about coming up with fresh, more effective strategies to counter terrorism and extremism.
Just as our instinct is to trust women educationists and doctors when it comes to our children, why should it not be possible to think of women as peace builders, mediators and negotiators? As among the most vulnerable victims of conflict and patriarchy, would they not be more sensitive to the necessity of building and sustaining peace? Indeed, would they not be crucial to such a process if governments actually decided to give peace a chance?
As our society takes baby steps towards the inclusion of more women in all walks of life, there is still a lot that needs to be done to bring those who are homemakers into the mainstream. Being the building blocks of society in general and of families in particular, women can play an effective role in communities they live in and with regard to communities they are in conflict with. Studies have shown that when women are included in negotiations, the agreement has a greater chance of being sustained for several years.
Hence, concrete efforts have to be made to enable women to make it to policymaking levels and improve their skills as leaders. It is equally important to connect women in parliament to other women in leadership roles including those who are the voiceless representatives of their communities. An all-inclusive approach towards half our population is bound to bear fruit when we involve women in peace and security.