Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 19, 2011


The Changing Nature of War and its Impact on Women

There are dozens of active conflicts today, many of them brutal civil wars. These wars often involve non-state actors and have become increasingly deadly for civilians, especially women, who face abduction, rape and dislocation on a massive scale.[i]

  • Non-combatants represented 10 percent of the casualties in World War I and 50 percent in World War II, but as high as 90 percent of contemporary conflicts in Africa.[ii]
  • Estimates of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) from conflicts in the past two decades include: 250,000-500,000 women and girls raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda;[iii] 20,000-50,000 women and girls raped during the Bosnia-Herzegovina war;[iv] 50,000-64,000 internally displaced women were sexually attacked by combatants in Sierra Leone;[v] and more than 200,000 women and children raped over a decade of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[vi]

Traditional peace-making methods are proving ineffective at ending these smaller wars.

  • Nearly half of the agreements that ended conflicts in the 1990s failed within five years of signing.[vii]
  • According to the World Bank, 90 percent of the civil wars in the 21st century occurred in countries that already had a civil war in the previous 30 years.[viii]

Women have been largely absent from peace processes.

  • In the past 20 years, hundreds of peace treaties have been signed. According to an analysis of a sample of treaties, less than 8 percent of those treaties’ negotiators were women.[ix]
  • A UNIFEM review of 585 peace agreements from 102 peace processes revealed that since 1990, only 92 peace agreements, or 16 percent, have contained at least one reference to women or gender.[x]
  • A UNIFEM analysis revealed that of approximately 300 peace agreements reviewed, only 18 mentioned SGBV.[xi]

Making Peace: Women Contribute Inside and Outside Negotiations

A growing body of evidence shows that women offer unique contributions to making and keeping peace – and that those contributions lead to better outcomes not just for women but for entire societies.

Women raise issues in peace negotiations that help societies reconcile, rebuild and achieve a just and lasting peace.

  • According to research conducted by the International Crisis Group in Sudan, Congo and Uganda, women who participate in peace talks often raise issues like human rights, security, justice, employment, education and health care that are fundamental to reconciliation and rebuilding and therefore to lasting and sustainable peace.[xii]
  • In Northern Ireland, the women negotiators advocated that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement include provisions on reconciliation, integration, and victims’ rights. These provisions also addressed key social and economic needs—such as integrated housing and education—that insured the durability and success of the agreement.[xiii]
  • Less than a year after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the wives of perpetrators from different ethnic groups and political parties began working together to rebuild the country. The Rwandan women united to create programs to assist survivors with housing, healthcare, education and employment—efforts that contributed to the prevention of further conflict.[xiv]

Women often speak on behalf of marginalized groups and organize across cultural and sectarian divides. This ensures that the voices of more people who have a stake in the future of a country will be heard, which is important for long-term stability.

  • At Afghanistan’s constitutional convention in 2004, women accounted for only 20 percent of the delegates, but they successfully advocated for equal rights for all Afghan citizens and they came together across ethnic lines to support the Uzbek minority’s efforts to gain official status for their language.[xv]
  • In South Africa, women’s groups came together before the drafting of the post-apartheid constitution, issuing a “Women’s Charter for Effective Equality.” The influence of the charter directly resulted in a constitution that not only protects the equal rights of women, but also contains rights that benefit society as a whole, such as the right to education and freedoms of religion, expression and security of person.[xvi]

In certain conflicts, women have been uniquely able to produce results because they are seen as honest brokers or facilitators in peace processes.

  • A UNIFEM report, referencing in-depth interviews with negotiators involved in Burundi, South Africa, and Northern Ireland peace processes, revealed that women’s abilities to communicate, empathize, build trust, engage all sides and settle disputes fostered negotiation and compromise.[xvii] Many also reported that men behave less aggressively in peace talks when women are present, resulting in better dialogue and communication.[xviii]

Women also mobilize pressure outside of actual negotiations to encourage progress.

  • In Colombia, the work of women’s groups was instrumental in advocating for peace talks between the government and FARC guerillas in 1999. After the peace talks dissolved in 2002, Colombian women organized a mass movement that advocated for continued peace, raising awareness nationwide.[xix]
  • In Somalia in 2000, women united across long-standing clan-based allegiances to protect the human rights of women, children, and members of minority groups and pushed for full participation in the peace process.[xx] Presenting themselves as the Sixth Clan Coalition, the women helped to create a National Charter that included a 25-seat quota for women in the 245-member Transitional National Assembly.[xxi]
  • In 2000, women in Burundi organized a peace conference prior to the signing of the government’s peace agreement in which they agreed to a declaration urging peace negotiators to integrate gender perspectives into their discussions. Most of the women’s recommendations were incorporated into the peace agreement. Later, in 2005, women’s continued efforts resulted in the new constitution to include a quota requiring 30 percent female representation in the government.[xxii]

As societies put conflict behind them, women’s economic and political participation has ripple effects that benefit everyone.

  • The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report shows that where the gender gap is closest to being closed in a range of areas—including access to education, health, economic participation, and political participation—countries and economies are more competitive and prosperous.[xxiii]
  • In India, a study demonstrated that women-led villages had greater investment in drinking water and infrastructure, increased rates of childhood immunizations, lower gender gaps in school attendance, lower levels of corruption, and greater levels of political participation by women.[xxiv]
  • The equality and security of women are associated with state-level security and propensity for violence.

o Studies suggest not only that higher levels of gender equality and women’s physical security are linked to the security and peacefulness of a state, but also that reduction in inequality and improvements to women’s security can be important foundations for stability.[xxv]

o Research shows that the domestic levels of social, political, economic and gender equality are associated with the extent of a state’s level of reliance on military force during conflicts and crises.[xxvi] Data from 1954 to 1994 illustrates that states with higher levels of gender equality use less violence to manage crises than states with lower levels of gender equality.[xxvii]



[i] United Nations. (2002). “Women, peace and security.” http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/eWPS.pdf. See also UNICEF. 2005. “The impact of conflict on women and girls in west and central Africa and the UNICEF response.” http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Impact_final.pdf

[ii] Cahill, Kevin M. (ed.). (2003). Emergency Relief Operations. New York: Fordham University Press. p. 227.

[iii] UN Women. 2011. “Facts & figures on peace & security”. http://www.unifem.org/gender_issues/women_war_peace/facts_figures.php#2. See also UN Special Rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights. (1996). “Report on the situation of human rights in Rwanda.” E/CN.4/1996/68.

[iv] Ibid. See also Ward, Jeanne. (2002). “Bosnia and Herzegovina, if not now, when? Addressing gender-based violence in refugee, internally displaced, and post-conflict settings.” The Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium. http://www.rhrc.org/resources/ifnotnow.pdf. p. 81.

[v] Ibid. See also Physicians for Human Rights. (2002). “War-related sexual violence in Sierra Leone: a population-based assessment.” https://s3.amazonaws.com/PHR_Reports/sierra-leone-sexual-violence-2002.pdf

[vi] Ibid. See also Rodriguez, Claudia. (2007). “Sexual violence in South Kivu.” Forced Migration Review. Oxford: Refugee Studies Centre of the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford.

[vii] Human Security Report 2009/2010. (2010). “The causes of peace and the shrinking costs of war.” http://www.hsrgroup.org/docs/Publications/HSR20092010/20092010HumanSecurityReport-Part3-TrendsInHumanInsecurity.pdf

[viii] World Bank. (2011). “2011 World Development Report: facts and figures.” http://wdr2011.worldbank.org/early-findings

[ix] Diaz, Pablo Castillo et al. (2010). “Women’s participation in peace negotiations.” UNIFEM. http://www.unifem.org/attachments/products/0302_WomensParticipationInPeaceNegotiations_en.pdf

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Africa Report. (2006). “Beyond victimhood: women’s peacebuilding in Sudan, Congo and Uganda.” International Crisis Group, 112(28). http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/horn-of-africa/Beyond%20Victimhood%20Womens%20Peacebuilding%20in%20Sudan%20Congo%20and%20Uganda.pdf

[xiii] Institute for Inclusive Security (uploaded 2010). Video interview with Monica McWilliams: “A voice of confidence we took to the table.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQd2ZQptsnE

[xiv] United Nations. (2002). “Women, peace and security.” http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/eWPS.pdf. p. 120.

[xv] UNIFEM. (2005). “Securing the peace: guiding the international community towards women’s effective participation throughout peace processes.” http://www.unifem.org/attachments/products/Securing_the_Peace.pdf. See also Sultan, Masuda with C. Levine & E. Powley. (2005). “From Rhetoric to Reality: Afghan Women on the Agenda for Peace.” Hunt Alternatives Fund. http://www.huntalternatives.org/download/18_from_rhetoric_to_reality_afghan_women_on_the_agenda_for_peace.pdf. p. 23

[xvi] United Nations. (2002). “Women, peace and security.” http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/eWPS.pdf. p. 62.

[xvii] Anderlini, Sanam Naraghi. (2000). “Women at the peace table: making a difference.” UNIFEM. http://www.unifem.org/attachments/products/WomenAtPeaceTable.pdf. See also Anderlini, Sanam Naraghi. (2007). Women Building Peace: What They Do, Why It Matters. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. Anderlini, Sanam Naraghi. (2010). “WDR gender background paper.” World Development Report 2011. http://wdr2011.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/WDR%20Background%20Paper_Anderlini.pdf.

[xviii] Anderlini, Sanam Naraghi. (2007). Women Building Peace: What They Do, Why It Matters. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. See also Anderlini, Sanam Naraghi. (2010). “WDR gender background paper.” World Development Report 2011. http://wdr2011.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/WDR%20Background%20Paper_Anderlini.pdf. Anderlini, Sanam Naraghi. (2000). “Women at the peace table: making a difference.” UNIFEM. http://www.unifem.org/attachments/products/WomenAtPeaceTable.pdf.

[xix] USAID. (2007). “Women & conflict.” http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADJ133.pdf Pg. 14-15. See also Rojas, Cataline et al. (2004). “In the midst of war: women’s contributions to peace in Colombia.” Hunt Alternatives Fund. http://www.huntalternatives.org/download/16_in_the_midst_of_war_women_s_contributions_to_peace_in_colombia.pdf.

[xx] Timmons, Debra M. (2004). “The Sixth Clan – women organize for peace in Somalia: a review of published literature.” University for Peace, Africa Program. http://www.upeace.org/library/documents/somalia_the_sixth_clan.pdf. p. 18

[xxi] Rehn, Elisabeth and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (2002). Women, War, Peace: the Independent Experts’ Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women’s Role in Peace-Building. New York: UNIFEM.

[xxii] Falch, Ashild. (2010). “Women’s political participation and influence in post-conflict Burundi and Nepal.” Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). http://www.peacewomen.org/assets/file/Resources/Academic/partpol_postconburundinepal_falch_2010.pdf.

[xxiii] Hausmann, Ricardo, L. Tyson & S. Zahidi. (2010). “Global gender gap report 2010.” Geneva: World Economic Forum. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2010.pdf.

[xxiv] Chattopadhyay, Raghabendra & Esther Duflo. (2004). “Women as policy makers: Evidence from a randomized policy experiment in India.” Econometrica, 72:5, 1409-1443. See also Beaman, Lori et al. (2006). “Women politicians, gender bias, and policy-making in Rural India.” Background Paper for UNICEF. The State of the World’s Children 2007 Report. http://www.unicef.org/sowc07/docs/beaman_duflo_pande_topalova.pdf

[xxv] Hudson, Valerie M., M. Caprioli, B. Ballif-Spanvill, R. McDermott, & C. Emmett. (2008/9). “The heart of matter: the security of women and the security of states.” International Security, 33(3), pp 7-45.

[xxvi] Caprioli, Mary. (2000). “Gendered conflict.” Journal of Peace Research, 37:1, 53-68. See also Caprioli, Mary. (2003). “Gender and civil wars.” CPR Working Papers, Paper No. 8. World Bank. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTCPR/214578-1111996036679/20482367/WP8trxtsep3.pdf. Caprioli, Mary & M. Boyer. (2001). “Gender, violence and international crisis.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 45:4, 503-518. Caprioli, Mary. (2003). “Gender and civil wars.” CPR Working Papers, Paper No. 8. World Bank. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTCPR/214578-1111996036679/20482367/WP8trxtsep3.pdf.

[xxvii] Ibid.



PRN: 2011/2169

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