Representatives of Afro-Colombian organizations in Colombia.

Civil society must be involved in the peace process in order to achieve lasting peace. Here, Afro-Colombian organizations participate in the peace process in Colombia. Photo: US Institute of Peace


Participation and inclusion lay the foundation for a lasting peace

To create a lasting peace, it is important to engage people in civil society. Together, we must then create channels so that participation takes root in national politics. This is how sustainable peace is built, by listening to those affected, write Annika Schabbauer and Lovisa Dahlström from the organization Operation 1325.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, the UN Security Council will hold its open debate on women, peace and security. Prior to the debate, a global study was conducted with a focus on civil society's perspective of what sustainable peace means. The study will be presented at the UN in connection with the meeting and directly affect the members of the Security Council. Operation 1325, as the only civil society organization in northern Europe, has been commissioned to collect information from Swedish civil society about what is considered to be a lasting peace. We present here the important results from the study.

The freedom to speak, the freedom to meet, freedom from discrimination, freedom of association, equality and democracy are recurring in the answers to what sustainable peace consists of. The study, coordinated by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), includes responses from men and women from a total of 15 countries. People involved in civil society from countries such as Colombia, Ukraine, Burundi and Bangladesh have shared their perspectives. From the result, three main focuses emerge.

The peace work must include more women

The adoption of Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions highlights the importance of women's inclusion and participation in peace processes. Research has shown that the inclusion of women can lead to stronger and more sustainable peace processes. A quantitative study from 2014 of 156 peace agreements shows that peace becomes more sustainable and long-lasting when women are included as mediators and participate in negotiations at an early stage of the peace process.

Women include more groups and have an intersectional perspective. This does not mean that every woman has a feminist or intersectional perspective, but the women's movement as such is more inclusive. Societies with a strong women's movement are more resilient to armed conflict. Equal societies are often more stable with fewer conflicts and more rights for the individual.

As a civil society organization, Operation 1325 supports women's organizations and women's institutes in Yemen for training in political participation and mediation. The women have therefore been able to take an active part in conversations about resolving the conflict. When the women themselves are involved, the sustainability of the peace process and peacebuilding will increase. Yemen is worthy of peace and development. For it is necessary for women to participate in decisions on everything from the provision of humanitarian aid to prisoner exchanges, sanctions and a new constitution.

Peacebuilding must be based on human rights

The right to express oneself freely and to participate in politics is a basic precondition for peace. All our respondents think so. Under no circumstances may a peace effort compromise the defense of human rights. Transparency and inclusion of the civilian population contribute to this. The civilian population is central in reviewing and monitoring how the peace effort is implemented, how the plans are followed up and results achieved. Therefore, civil society needs to be strengthened and educated so that their ability to hold authorities accountable increases.

Even in peaceful countries, civil society needs support right now. The room for maneuver for civil society is shrinking in many parts of the world, including Sweden. Right-wing extremist forces restrict the exercise of human rights, the right to express oneself freely and to organize meetings. In order to maintain and continue to contribute to lasting peace, civil society needs to be defended. A root cause of conflict is that people have not been able to participate and be heard in the political conversation. Civil society is the actor that stands up for the rights of the least visible groups, those who experience the most marginalization and exclusion.

The peace work must be democratic

We all know that lack of resources leads to conflict. The right to food and water is fundamental to a peaceful society. The number of climate conflicts will increase. That is why there are the global goals for sustainable development, which are holistic and link development and peace. Peace becomes sustainable when efforts that strengthen peace are part of each state's planning, when societies are strengthened before conflict breaks out and when preventive measures are given increased resources. Prevention and long-term planning are also more cost-effective than crisis management. Sustainable peace is built on continuity in both prevention and reconstruction, when civilian populations participate in planning and implementation.

Afghanistan is for many Swedes a country that has received support and attention, from Operation Dagsverke in the eighties to the important but difficult work for the Swedish Afghanistan Committee. For initiatives to lead to sustainable peace, they need to be long-term and developed in consultation with the local communities, ie adapted to their context. Trust is built over a long period of time. Long-term political reforms that promote human security are necessary so that corruption does not risk crushing the civilian population's trust in peace work.

Challenges to work towards together

The UN faces major challenges today with geopolitical disputes based on rivalry between global actors. Armed conflict is defended as a way to counter terrorism. This creates distrust of interventions in war-torn countries. More people are on the run today than ever before. To deal with these problems, long-term peace-building is needed, but peace-building suffers from poor governance and a lack of democratic principles.

The peace-building work needs to be more inclusive, just as Operation 1325 and GNWP's study show. It is important to engage people in civil society and then together create channels so that participation is noticed and takes root in national politics. The study shows that 40 percent of women in civil society believe that strong laws and inclusive institutions are the way forward to change society and counteract the root causes of conflict. This is how sustainable peace is built, by listening to those affected. Operation 1325 hopes that the UN will live up to its own commitment and listen.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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