Updated: Apr 7, 2020
by Anne Armstrong
Research tells us that when women are politically and socially engaged, societies are more peaceful and prosperous. We know that having women involved at every level of decision-making is strategic — and yet women are rarely included at the table where political, national, and international security decisions are made. Women made up only 8% of negotiators in peace processes between 1990 and 2017. These numbers don’t only apply to war zones, though: the only woman at the table at the recent summit between President Trump and Kim Jong un was the interpreter. There are many reasons why women should be at the tables of power, but to keep things short we’ve outlined five of the most important ones below.
1. Women’s participation results in more peaceful, just, and prosperous societies.
That’s right — the active involvement of women in peace and security decisions results in less war, fairer societies, and more profitable economies. Research shows that women broaden security agendas, including prioritizing key elements like education, healthcare, and access to basic necessities that might otherwise be overlooked. Women’s social and political participation also reduces the risk of conflict: one study found that higher female political participation can reduce the risk of war breaking out as well as government-initiated political violence. As if that wasn’t enough to get more women involved in security decision making, research shows that communities are better off financially when women have more active roles in society.
2. Women’s voices and experiences are distinct.
While this point may seem obvious, the consistent lack of female representation across government agencies, negotiating tables, and panels of experts suggests that women’s participation is still undervalued. In reality, security and female participation are intertwined. In the world’s conflict zones, for example, women experience the indirect effects of war differently than men: poverty, disease, and the breakdown of law and order disproportionately impact women. Research shows that women have access to different information and community networks than men do, giving them a unique perspective on a society’s problems and needs. But in spite of these realities, fewer than 20% of peace agreements from the last two decades referenced women at all!
3. The table should reflect the society it represents.
Decisions that determine the future course of a community, region, or country should be made by the people it will effect. Guess what? That includes women. Women make up 49.6% of the world population; they are involved at every level of society, and yet are rarely included at the tables where decisions are made. For example, women made up only 2% of mediators in peace agreements over the past 18 years. Research shows that groups that mirror the communities they represent are more productive and successful. Without the representation and active participation of women, security decisions will not be truly comprehensive and are less likely to last.
4. Diversity advances change and innovation.
Women — all women, especially women from diverse and marginalized communities — bring unique perspectives to the table that help make security decisions that are more informed and nuanced. Strong national security comes from anticipating a variety of threats, and a team that is inclusive and diverse is better positioned to identify a broad range of scenarios. Research shows that diverse organizations achieve greater innovation and group performance — in fact, diverse groups often outperform experts! Another study demonstrates that high gender and racial diversity improves decision making and fosters creativity. Diverse groups are better able to respond to challenges and change. When it comes to national security, diversity must be a priority. Shifting away from national security decision makers who are homogeneous in appearance and opinion will help develop strong, collective security policy.
5. Women have deep history and expertise in peace and security issues (and are leading the way now!).
Women’s peace activism has a long history, but one of the first international efforts took place over 100 years ago in 1915 when more than 1,200 women from around the world gathered at The Hague. The International Congress of Women gathered to talk about how they could advocate for peace and end World War I. Since then, women’s groups like Women Strike for Peace and Women’s Action for New Directions have organized and educated women from all over the world to advocate for a more just and peaceful world. Women have led the charge toward peace over the past several decades, creating cultural and policy change in multiple areas; from increasing women’s participation in peace processes to reducing the risk of nuclear war.
The evidence is abundant: empowered and engaged women are key to creating a productive and peaceful society. Reflecting on the facts makes women’s leadership and participation an obvious priority. Though we only covered five important reasons why women should be at the table where decisions are made, there are clearly many more. When it comes to peace and security, leveraging the skills and perspectives of women is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. What will you do to put women at the tables of power?
Check out www.disarmthepatriarchy.org and join the next wave of women working to make history.