This article examines women’s political and economic empowerment and women and girls’ access to quality services in conflict-affected and fragile states. It finds that there has been some success in relation to women’s participation in elections and formal politics and engagement in small-scale economic enterprise. It argues, however, that inequitable gender power relations have not been considered or understood and so opportunities have been lost.
State-building in conflict-affected and fragile contexts has been widely regarded as an opportunity for securing greater gender equity and equality. However, the opportunities opened up in peacebuilding and statebuilding for securing gender equality and equity have been missed. These include the negotiations around the peace agreement, the political settlement and building gender-responsive service provision.
Donor and national partners’ stated commitments to international human rights standards and norms have often been sidelined in the rush to achieve a political settlement, elections and an end to conflict. Further:
- There are no country programmes or large-scale sectoral programmes where gender analysis had been fully integrated throughout the programme cycle.
- Gender analysis in interventions is not fully understood as an analytical framework that enables effective interrogation of and changes to gender power relations.
- Gender mainstreaming by the donor community tends to be regarded as placing gender components within mainstream programmes.
- External actors’ policy commitment to gender equality, women’s human rights and gender mainstreaming are not explicitly articulated in political dialogue.
- There is little systematic attention to and evaluation of the roles and impact of local and national women’s organisations in evaluations of humanitarian aid and development co-operation, despite the dependence of international agencies on these organisations.
- Women’s organisations are regarded primarily as implementers rather than change agents.
In responding to the specificities of each situation, progress towards gender equity can be made through systematic action in a number of areas and at several levels:
- Constitutional and legal frameworks that enshrine gender equality and equity are important, as are inclusive and equitable political institutions and gender-responsive economic and social policymaking.
- Progress on women’s political empowerment, on economic empowerment and on access to quality services is mutually reinforcing.
- Vibrant women’s organisations, and a gender-aware media, have crucial roles to play.
- Working in partnership with women’s organisations will increase understanding of how to transform gender relations in specific contexts.
- Donors and national partners need to set ambitious, explicit and unambiguous gender equity objectives, and to resource their achievement.
Fulfilling women and girls’ human rights is an intensely political, controversial and long-term project, and one that, ultimately, has to be locally driven. However, with ambition and the appropriate approaches external actors can assist in many ways.
NB: See also the study on which this article is based.