Women and Peace in the Case of Liberia
By Royon Meerzadah
May 22, 2019
Despite their historic success in conflict prevention, women are rarely included in peace processes. Statistics show that women have comprised only 2% of mediators in major peace processes, 5% of witnesses and signatories, 8% of negotiators. The majority of peace agreements signed from 1990 until today included zero female signatories. However, data shows that when women are involved in formal processes the percentage of lasting negotiations and conditions for peace increase significantly. As seen in the case of Liberia, engagement of civil society groups, including women’s organizations, make peace agreements 64% more likely to succeed and 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.
When women are engaged in peace processes, they tend to take a more collaborative approach to peacebuilding due to the different communal roles and responsibilities that they have. In Liberia, for example, women play the roles of mother, peacemakers, mentors, and many more. These roles allow women to have unique forms of access to community organizations that can be incredibly useful in negotiation processes. In addition, the collaborative approach allows women to organize across cultural and sectarian divides that incorporate the concerns of various groups affected by conflict. According to Apolitical, women also are more likely to prioritize topics such as political and legal reform, economic recovery, and transitional justice. These issues increase the longevity of stability, but are often left out when women are not included in the conversation. Further, women are often seen as honest brokers in peace because they have been excluded historically. They are viewed as politically impartial mediators compared to men because they operate outside of the power structure and hold no authority over armed forces.
In Liberia, Women’s groups were immensely involved in the peace process. Their main roles in the negotiations were to encourage an end to violence and armed conflict. The women’s group also brought attention to the consistent gender inequality in the country. The involvement of women’s groups led to the peace agreement of 2003 with no ensuing outbreak of major violence. Liberian women, led by Leymah Gbowee, organized Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. The nonviolent movement brought together Muslim and Christian women from different ethnic and social backgrounds to demand an end to the civil war. The women led marches and arranged weekly rallies that drew in thousands of women. Women held the negotiating parties accountable during the peace process. They organized the earlier meetings between the parties. When a standoff between the two parties threatened the advancement of the process, the women’s group met with the leaders and successfully pressured them into moving forward with the negotiations in Accra, Ghana. In Accra, women arranged a sit-in and did not permit any of the parties to leave which resulted in the signing of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Once the ending of open hostility, women led an education campaign to reestablish trust between the public and the political process. The campaign led to the induction of a democratically elected government in 2006.
The case of Liberia is an example of why the participation of women is necessary for peacebuilding. The country continues to advance in its recovery process from the war by rebuilding its institutions and economy. The government of Liberia recognizes that the equal political and economic engagement of women as being crucial to its continued efforts towards peace. Liberia should not be a unique case. When working towards peace, institutions should include the participation of women to allow for more sustainable solutions due to their ability to move through different social circles.
The views, thoughts, and opinions in this blog belong solely to the author and are not representative of an official position or endorsement by the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD).