Women and peacebuilding have an inherent connection. Women are nurturers; peace has to be nurtured and mothered too. Peace and the peacebuilding process are two integrated mechanisms to bring sustainable harmony in the conflict zones. They are a combination of political and institutional reforms, economic packages, humanitarian relief efforts, rehabilitation and reconciliatory measures and uninterrupted dialogue or negotiation at various levels. The purpose of this analysis is not to genderise peacebuilding, but to bring in a rather helpful perspective to speed up the process through a systematic approach and creating a space for women in hardcore political and peace processes around the world.

Women constitute 50 percent of the total human population. We have two categories of women; one is the victim and survivor of the conflict and another is the powerhouse to play her role in law-making, political/economic and peacebuilding processes in a war-torn country. Let’s have a look at the first category. They are known as the worst victim of armed conflicts and violence of various kinds. In active conflict zones, women are the first casualty in terms of sexual abuse, physical violence, slavery, tortures and even murders. In refugee camps or internally displaced populations (IDPs), women are the most insecure gender and require contextualised security arrangements in terms of their physical/biological needs and spiritual needs such as dignity. A woman changes life patterns in a family. One has to make adjustments ranging from catering her monthly cycle where she needs a more private and acceptable space to be comfortable; to her various family roles such as motherhood or even if she is living a single life in a household. These are her everyday requirements, roles and responsibilities. Imagine all these aspects of women living in violent conflict zones, be it natural disasters or man-made. For a woman, the first security threat while living in an IDP camp is not a bomb but a potential predator/harasser sharing the same camp. There have been many stories of international peacebuilders/peacemakers who molested and raped women living in conflict zones in Africa. The primary need for a woman survivor of the conflict was a piece of cloth or basic needs of food, water or security from violent groups in those cases and they were brought to a scarier scenario of sexual abuse. This could be a nightmare for anyone living with such non-traditional security threats in the garb of other men and even security personnel who are posted to provide them safety in testing times.

The latter category of women is more of a powerhouse because they are considered as “privileged” to be part of the peacebuilding process in their country or other conflict-ridden areas. Involving women as part of the peace process should not be referred to as a privilege, it should rather be a norm—an essential part of conflict resolution and peacebuilding mechanism without whom it should not be completed. Why is she needed? She is an equal stakeholder for peace. For the reason that she is the worst hit in conflict-ridden areas, the worst sufferer of a conflict and the most vulnerable survivor as a refugee or at an IDP camp. The one who is the major recipient of the debris of conflict should be an active participant and a beneficiary of the process to bring peace.

How do women humanise the entire peace process? Women are considered fairer members of the society. They carry instinctual motherhood and tend to nurture. Compassion, kindness and softness are the features we associate with women mostly. When these qualities are combined with opportunity, intellect and leadership, she works wonders. Betty Bigombe of Northern Uganda brought Joseph Kony of the insurgent Lord Resistance Army (LRA) to the negotiating table in 1993 and afterwards. Kony was a staunch guerrilla rebel, responsible for several bloodbaths and massacres in Uganda. Both the government and army had failed to eliminate LRA and therefore, invited Bigombe to convince him to negotiate with the government. In the first communication with Kony, Bigombe called him “my son” and Kony agreed to have a dialogue with the government. It later collapsed though, but Bigombe’s effort contributed in stopping violence for some time and she was named as “Uganda’s Woman of the year” in 1993.

Jacinda Ardern is praised for her compassionate and effective leadership in managing 2019’s Christchurch Mosque shooting. Had she not been able to reach out to victims and survivors’ family to console them; banned the semi and automatic weapons; declared the shooter a ‘terrorist’ and termed him ‘nameless’ for the heinous crime he committed; the situation would have been much different today. There could have been persistent negativity against the Muslim minority living in New Zealand. Perhaps there would be chances for more xenophobic incidents also. A sincere effort, a compassionate gesture to share the tears of the grieving families transformed everything for New Zealand and Ardern.

From South Sudan, Uganda, to Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iraq, women need to be included in the peace process to give a different side of the story. It is both her head and heart that change the dynamics at the negotiating table. Men, in any part of the world, don’t tend to call their opponent a “son”, nor do they go and hug aggrieved families. They are raised in the culturally, socially, religiously defined roles of being men. Compassion is a human quality, not exclusive to women, yet when women are included in the peacebuilding process, they may add an element of kindness and thus humanise the entire dialogue. Peace doesn’t need to be built; it has to be nurtured and when women nurture it, it sustains better and longer because she is also responsible to raise and prepare the next generation of peacebuilders in their respective countries.