Waging War for Women in Peace
01 Aug 2016 by Rachel E. Macauley
I am no stranger to war. Many times, I consider myself a product of it. I was born in Liberia, a country where 14 years of violent civil war pushed my family to relocate to the United States. I later moved to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, where violent conflict took a different but equally devastating form – one where tensions were grounded in a dearth of essential services and restrictions on political and economic freedoms. I currently live in New York City, where being Black and African is often a reminder of a violent history of enslavement and repression; a history that finds necessary expression in protests for social and economic justice.
Violence has been an underlying theme in many of the environments in which I have lived. I’ve experienced irreversible loss, I’ve grieved, and I’ve fought hard to overcome the personal and structural obstacles that come as a result of being a product of war. Deeply embedded within each of my experiences – from Monrovia to New York City, and everywhere in between – I have drawn deep inspiration from the role of women in peacebuilding and their extraordinary stories of strength and resilience, ones that too often go unrecognized. These are the stories of women like my mother, supported by men like my father, who put family and community above all else during a crisis cloaked with high-stake uncertainty and compounded by the effects of 14 years of war. Stories of women like my dear friend Stephanie, who devotes her communications talents to shifting the narrative of women as victims of war to positive contributors to peace and development. The stories of mothers who have lost children because of the color of their skin, religion or sexual orientation, and to whom mourning is either a perpetual illusion or daunting reality.
War is fueled by our most primeval instincts. But, within the fabric of war and conflict are women and men who stand for peace, who inspire within us a belief that we can rise above our base selves to serve others; to be greater than the sum of our parts.
This conviction drives me in the work that I do. Women are widely recognized to play critical roles in preventing and mitigating conflict at the community level, but are virtually non-existent in formal peace processes and negotiations. Why is this? And why is it taking us so long to address such an obvious gap? These are the questions at the heart of the work I’m doing with N-Peace – an initiative that perfectly reflects my interest and curiosity in war, women, and peacebuilding.
Through my work, I recently met and interviewed an inspiring peacebuilder who had a powerful anecdote. As I sat with Irene Santiago in the empty corner of a hotel dining hall, she spoke of her journey negotiating a ceasefire at the height of a secessionist rebellion against the Philippines government. I listened intently – partly in awe, and partly trying to unpack the subtle and deliberate nuances in her words. Irene’s words were bold: “The common (mis)conception is that peace negotiations are about ending war. So, who is going to sit at the negotiation table? The war actors. Women are not typically actors of war; therefore, they do not sit around that table.”
Irene has dedicated most of her career to challenging this narrative and advocating for women’s inclusion in peace processes. She aptly describes this work as “relentless,” and I couldn’t agree more. The fight to embed meaningful inclusion within governance structures, institutions, and decision-making bodies has been an uphill battle, and one that I’ve witnessed first-hand from Liberia to New York. Being inclusive in the way we define peace is a fundamental tenet of a peace process that goes beyond the end of war.
That is the war worth waging, and one that I stand proudly on the frontlines for.
(A version of this blog also appears on Columbia University's Earth Institute site and can be accessed here.)