Women are the worst sufferers of conflict. Study after study has shown this. All over the world, women constitute the majority among people fleeing conflict; they often find themselves pitchforked into the role of the sole breadwinner of the family in an environment that is hardly conducive for economic activity; they are vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation by combatants and non-combatants alike; for this reason, they are also the most susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases. As there is much at stake for women in preventing conflict, it follows that women would be most effective in peace-building and mediatory roles. But this has not been widely acknowledged or even accepted. That the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in 2000 (No.1325) urging member states to “ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict” says much about the lack of women's involvement in these roles. Eleven years later, the situation is not much improved. Last week, the Security Council held deliberations on how to better implement Resolution 1325, at which Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the head of UN-Women, Michelle Bachelet, noted that female participation in preventing and resolving conflict was still low and much more needed to be done in this direction.
The problem is that peace building and conflict resolution cannot take place in a vacuum; they are a part of the political process and of policy-making. Women are not adequately represented in either. Their empowerment is inadequate everywhere, not just in conflict regions. In India, political parties have dragged their feet for 15 years on a Bill to reserve 33 per cent of the seats in Parliament for women; after the Bill made it through the Rajya Sabha in 2010, the government developed cold feet and failed to present it in the Lok Sabha. Unless countries resolutely address the gender gap in decision-making, the potential of women will remain unfulfilled. The U.N. also needs to introspect. While it is all very well to talk about women and conflict prevention, it must be remembered that the longest and still ongoing conflict of the new millennium, the ‘war on terror' in Afghanistan, is being waged on the back of Security Council resolutions. More recently, the Council authorised the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, ostensibly to ‘protect' civilians, but it ended up killing hundreds of them. It is hypocritical to encourage conflict, on the one hand, and make pious declarations about how women are better at cleaning up the mess, on the other.