The Impact of Women’s Involvement in Foreign Policy and Peace Agreements

FARC fighters stand in line during the opening of a ceremony before ratifying a peace deal with the government. (John Vizcaino / Reuters)

In 2011, Nicholas Kristof highlighted in a New York Times blog that, “When girls get educated, when women enter the formal labor force, when female talent can be realized, then all society benefits, men along with women. That’s because, put simply, the most effective way to fight global poverty, to reduce civil conflict, even to reduce long-term carbon emissions, is typically to invest in girls’ education and bring women into the formal labor force.”

Eleven years later and the fight for gender equality and women’s empowerment is still ongoing. Last year, the World Economic Forum revealed that it will take 136 years to close the global gender gap. Change takes time.

Feminist Foreign Policy

The Women in Public Service Project (WPSP)’s goal is to ensure that by 2050, 50% of government leadership positions are held by women. What would this future look like?

We have already seen a glimpse. In 2014, the former minister for foreign affairs of Sweden, Margot Wallström, championed the use of a “feminist foreign policy” that encompassed the three Rs she prioritized: Rights, Representation, and Resources. When Sweden became a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council in 2017, this rubric of Rs was used instead of asking, “Where are the women?” in UN resolutions and reports. Wallström asks the following questions to arrive at these parameters:

  • Rights: “Check whether women have the same legal and human rights in every country. What about child marriages? What about their rights to open a bank account or start a business or their economic rights?”
  • Representation: “Secondly, are they around the table? Do they have a seat around the table where the most important decisions are being made? What about political representation, and how can we help improve that?”
  • Resources: “What does the statistics and facts tell us? Does the country have a gender budgeting (sic)? Do we know how resources are distributed? Do they meet the needs of girls and women?”

Spain, France, Canada, Mexico, Luxembourg, and Germany have since followed in Sweden’s footsteps. But when will the U.S. explicitly follow suit? Would implementing these three Rs in American diplomacy help us to enact real, positive change around the world, instead of recreating existing power structures?

When Women Participate

Women’s positive effect on different levels of not just foreign policy, but domestic policies and monetary success, is evident.

In 2016, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) revealed that when, “10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases on average by 3%.”

That same year, public radio’s longest-running daily global news program, The World, claimed that research demonstrates that, “when women reach the highest elected office, the proportion of female legislators increases by 6 percent relative to countries that have never had a woman at the helm.” The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) created a Women’s Power Index which classifies 193 UN member states on their progress toward gender parity in political participation. The U.S. currently ranks in forty-third place. Following The World’s formula, if a woman were to get voted in the next presidential election in 2024, Americans could expect an increase from 121 female Representatives and 24 female Senators to a total of roughly 154 female members of Congress in the future.

The political outcomes that occur when more women are elected to political bodies are not just great for female constituents, but for everyone. The CFR study found that having more women in leadership positions leads to bipartisanship, more policies that champion equality and social welfare, and stability. Specifically, when the number of women elected to parliamentary positions increases by 5 percent, their state government is five times less likely to react with violence when dealing with an international crisis. When women make up 40 percent of the parliament, the probability that their nation will attack another country is almost 0 percent, regardless if the executive office is helmed by a man or woman. Additionally, human rights abuses also decrease when more women are in parliamentary or congressional positions.

In the words of The World: “When women reach a critical mass, everyone feels less pressure to act macho.”

Case Study: Women’s Role in the Peace Agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC

The fifty years of armed civil conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) led to thousands of deaths and millions of forcibly displaced people. The 2016 peace agreement between the Santos administration and the FARC brought decades of internal conflict to an end.

Women sat on both sides of the table and at all levels. In 2015, women made up 20 percent of the Colombian government negotiating team and 43 percent of FARC delegates. They successfully negotiated local cease-fires, broadened the agenda to include the rights of women  and indigenous populations, compelled the FARC to undertake confidence-building measures, and built public support for the peace talks.

Women’s participation is one of many factors involved in the potential success of the potential success of peace processes. However, in this case and 39 other cases since the end of the Cold War, the evidence shows that when women exercised a strong influence throughout the negotiation process, the likelihood that there was an agreement would be reached was much higher than when women’s groups exercised weak or no influence. When women are part of diplomatic efforts, whether via elected positions to conflict resolution solutions, the outcome is better than if it were a less inclusive process. Following this reasoning, if women comprise 50% of government leadership positions by 2050, we may then expect an international system filled with less conflict and more treaties.

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