What role do women play in statebuilding? How do statebuilding processes affect women’s participation? Support for statebuilding has become the dominant model for international engagement in post-conflict contexts, yet donor approaches lack substantial gender analysis and are missing opportunities to promote gender equality. This paper presents findings from a research project on the impact of post-conflict statebuilding on women’s citizenship. It argues that gender inequalities are linked to the underlying political settlement, and that donors must therefore address gender as a fundamentally political issue.
Statebuilding models place the political settlement at the heart of statebuilding. The OECD defines the political settlement as an agreement on the ‘rules of the game’, power distribution and the political processes connecting state and society. Post-conflict statebuilding involves a redistribution of power that represents an opportunity to reshape patterns of power to include women.
Women in the countries studied (Burundi, Guatemala, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Sudan) have been largely excluded from negotiations regarding the post-conflict political settlement, which were controlled by male elites. Indeed, such elites often fiercely oppose improvements in women’s rights and political participation. In addition:
- Women seem to have been quite successful in influencing political reform strategies, sometimes supported by donors. However, donors have mostly focused on the technical aspects of governance rather than power relations that exclude women from high politics.
- Serious structural barriers exist for women’s post-conflict political participation. These include personalisation and patrimonialism in politics and stigmas against women’s participation.
- Across the countries studied, political parties emerged as the main gatekeepers to women’s political participation and policy influence.
- Post-conflict constitutional reform can result in a gap between women’s constitutional rights and the reality of national laws and institutions. In many fragile contexts, personal and family issues are delegated to customary authorities, which tend to discriminate against women. Women in all countries reported that they face serious barriers in accessing formal justice institutions.
- Security sector reform processes have focused on police responses to gender-related crime and on increasing numbers of women police officers. There is less emphasis on including women in decision making about security.
- A lack of political will to prioritise gender equality means that gender equality institutions are often under-funded and unable to fulfil their mandate.
While donors often support a range of initiatives in post-conflict contexts, they are not taking full advantage of opportunities to promote gender equality in post conflict contexts. In particular, donors need to:
- Understand gender as a political issue that is linked to the underlying political settlement and patterns of power and resource allocation. It is also related to discourses around ‘tradition’ as a reason to exclude women, and to insecurity, poverty and corruption.
- Promote women’s interests with powerful actors and at the most critical moments of the statebuilding process, rather than addressing gender after political deals are done. This should include providing incentives for elites to include women in negotiations, and overcoming sensitivities around working with political parties.
- Take a holistic approach to women’s rights, recognising the ways in which women’s lack of economic and social rights constitute barriers to accessing civil and political rights.
- Aim to foster broad coalitions across civil society, politics and public institutions, including working with grassroots, ‘non-westernised’ women’s organisations. This will involve moving away from project funding to provide core funding to women’s organisations.