A group of Liberian women fight for peace. Taken from the documentary film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell", directed by Gini Reticker

Three reasons why local feminist movements offer solutions for gender equality and peace

By Maria Butler, Director of Global Programmes, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)  1

The OECD policy paper Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Fragile and Conflict-affected Situations (October 2017) demands a “fundamental shift in perspective on gender.”  It challenges the donor community to understand gender and conflict more holistically, more deeply and more politically with a strong focus on women as agents of change. It is a must-read for all policy makers and donors alike. However, an important aspect missed in this paper is the importance of feminist movements and how to leverage local feminist movements for change. Women are working at the frontlines of peace, development, humanitarian aid and human rights. Here are three reasons why feminist movements are central to fostering more peaceful and secure societies.

 First, there is proof. One of the most compelling research findings on political violence is that societies with more equality between men and women tend to be more peaceful. Research on violence against women in 70 countries also reveals that the most important and consistent factor driving policy change is feminist activism.   Furthermore, when women are included in peace processes, the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years increases 35% (Global Study 2015).

Second, feminist movements offer solutions and alternatives to realpolitik all over the world daily. Consider how a women’s delegation promoted a “third-way” for a diplomatic peace process related to North Korea that moves away from war and increased militarisation and towards peace, reconciliation and genuine security. Local feminist movements offer evidence-based research and alternatives to failed approaches to “liberal peace.” Women in Bosnia produced a “Feminist (re)interpretation of the Dayton Peace Accords” and the “Feminist Perspective on Post-Conflict Reconstructing and Recovery” on how societies move from war to peace, and how feminist approaches can help create strong and long-lasting peace.

Third, local feminist movements help prevent violence, address violence’s root causes and promote participation. In local communities around the world, women activists coordinate in solidarity and act as an ecosystem. See, for example, the innovative models of women organising with Women Situation Room–Nigeria, or the Peace Huts in Liberia or the Tolana Mothers in Pakistan around gendered early warning systems to prevent violent extremism.

Local feminist movements offer intersectional and multi-dimensional approaches to insecurity. “Feminist at the Frontlines in Libya and Yemen” is one example where women capture the range and realities of insecurities through analysis of the root causes of conflict and violence. Women do not shy away from addressing the impact of both internationalised and localised militarism, extreme exclusion and discrimination, or the widespread presence of arms and explosive weapons in their lives and communities.

In addition to these three reasons, many more exist. It is feminist movements that have the robust political economy analysis that is needed. They have the sought-after “joined up” approach. They have throughout history worked to transform negative masculinities and the structures of patriarchy and also engage men and boys in the work for gender equality. They are committed to principles that uphold international law. In short, without local women and feminist movements, we will not transform gender inequality nor will we collectively achieve sustainable peace and development. Change, after all, starts from the bottom up.

Recognising the value of feminist work is essential, but it is not enough. It also means resourcing this work, not as projects, but as strategic processes for change. It requires overcoming obstacles and preventing attacks on women human rights defenders. It requires listening more to women who work in the shadows, but whose voices must be heard.

For donors, this means investing in gender equitable policies and programmes, but also investing in feminist movements. Donors should strengthen funding for women’s rights organisations in every sector, not just on gender equality. And they should ensure that any support that is given with one hand is not taken with another. This includes evaluating and mitigating the impact of security and counterterrorism plans on shrinking spaces and attacks on women human rights defenders.

So, calling for a fundamental shift in perspective as the OECD policy paper on gender and fragility does is critical, and we must also acknowledge the centrality of the feminist movement as a driver of change.  It is time to refocus action around the local action of feminist movements for gender equality and peace.

1. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) is the oldest women’s peace organisation in the world.