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Leader of the world participated the Sharm a Sheik convention. From left: King Husein (Jordan) Peres Shimon (Israel) Clinton Bill (USA) Mubarak Husni (Egypt) Yelchin Boris (Russia) Arafat Yasir (PLO). Photo shows: Leader of the world participated the Sharm a Sheik convention. From left: King Husein (Jordan) Peres Shimon (Israel) Clinton Bill (Usa) Mubarak Husni (Egypt) Yelchin Boris (Russia) Arafat Yasir (PLO) (National Library of Israel via Wikimedia Commons)

Without Women at the Table, Peace Negotiations Will Flounder

Without the meaningful inclusion of women, peace efforts are less likely to succeed or endure.

Words: Rachel A. George
Pictures: National Library of Israel

Women’s voices have been missing from the policy table in the face of rising devastation from conflicts around the world. Famous past Middle East peace efforts — the Oslo and Abraham accords — were almost exclusively led by men, and today’s high-level negotiations are no different. Women’s voices have been similarly absent in Sudan and other settings where violence is rising.

Approaching the 25th anniversary of the Women, Peace and Security agenda at the United Nations, the international community can do better to bring the agenda into the fore of prominent peace attempts. The failure to include women is stunting the potential for peace, and the international community is partially to blame. International powers that have long promoted women’s inclusion in peace processes are failing to push warring parties to live up to their commitments and are also failing to promote women leaders within their own ranks. This worldwide crisis in the underrepresentation of women is sustaining conflict, and damaging prospects for peace.

Gaza, Sudan, Yemen, and Beyond

In today’s major conflicts — from Sudan to Yemen and beyond — analysts note the common thread that women are underrepresented in formal political decision-making. This underrepresentation is alarming: evidence indicates that when peace efforts include women, they are more likely to last. Studies of peace processes throughout history have found that the meaningful inclusion of women in negotiations increases the likelihood of agreements lasting by at least two years by 20%, and for 15 years by 35%. 

Women’s inclusion in peace processes in bloody conflicts in Colombia and Northern Ireland, for example, are seen by historians as being critical factors enhancing peace outcomes. This evidence underlines the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, laid out in its Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for greater recognition of the distinct impacts of conflict on women alongside the importance of their roles in enabling peace. 

Yet, despite the proliferation of national action plans in the region on Women, Peace and Security, 24 years later the agenda has faced poor implementation and ongoing roadblocks. Women’s voices remain heavily underrepresented in efforts to resolve today’s most devastating conflicts.

Impact of Today’s Conflicts on Women

Global conflicts are having devastating humanitarian impacts worldwide. While these conflicts impact women and men alike, they can also have specific gendered effects.

For women in in the Middle East, decades of violence have ravaged families, with rising levels of concern for the devastation women face in Gaza. Despite activism from Israeli women’s group Women Wage Peace and Palestinian women’s group Women of the Sun calling for peace at critical moments since October 7, conflict has raged on, and UN Women estimates that the conflict has displaced nearly one million women and girls. Israel’s attacks in Gaza have destroyed health facilities, with specific impacts on mothers and children. Reports of sexual violence and abuse Hamas committed against Israeli hostages alongside reports of sexual abuses Israeli forces perpetrated in Gaza have raised substantial alarm about the specific impacts of conflict on women.

In Sudan, rising conflict unfolding since the country’s initial upheaval in 2019 has seen worsening outcomes for women. Women who were once prominent as journalists and activists have been targeted by the country’s military regime. Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) is accused of weaponizing sexual violence against women, including the mass rape of more than seventy women following a sit-in in July 2019. UN Women has already reported increases in cases of sexual and gender-based violence resulting from the current escalation in violence, including rising reports of rape targeting displaced women, and threats to women’s healthcare as violence worsens.

All-Male Tables

Women leaders do not alone guarantee peace. Stereotyping women as inherently “peaceful” does not capture the diversity of women’s experiences and roles in politics. But addressing the root causes of gender inequality that inhibit women’s leadership is a strategy that in turn reduces the drivers of violence, a winning strategy for a range of outcomes for peace and stability.  

One reason why the Women, Peace and Security agenda is stagnating is because international powers promoting the agenda are failing to practice what they preach on women’s inclusion. Studies show that the presence of women leaders can have a domino effect, helping motivate parties to in turn elect women or motivating women in new political arenas to gain respect and become involved.

The United Nations itself, the primary advocate for its Resolution 1325, is yet to have a female as secretary-general, a trend a growing number of analysts and international leaders argue must soon reverse. In the United States, analysts criticize the government for paying lip service to the agenda without meaningful implementation. For example, the US sent primarily male negotiators to the Oslo Accord and the Abraham Accords, and hosted a nearly all-male US-Africa leaders’ summit in the spring of 2022. The optics of primarily male US leaders at the helm of these dialogues undermine the nation’s efforts to promote women’s rights and inclusion as a policy priority. 

Keeping Up Momentum: Drawing from Existing Women’s Groups

Increasing women’s voices in peace efforts in conflict settings is not beyond reach. Women have played prominent positions in Israeli and Palestinian politics throughout history. Israel was once home to prominent female leader Golda Meir, and Tzipi Livni, Israeli politician and Israel’s chief negotiator between 2007 and 2014, and Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Liberation Organization chief negotiator in the 1990s, played important roles as female leaders in past peace efforts.  But today, women’s presence is dwindling. Hamas’s only female representative, Jamila al-Shanti, was killed early on in the recent conflict. And in Israel, women’s representation declined under the Netanyahu government to less than 30% of the Knesset and relatively low numbers of female ministers. 

Increasing women’s voices in peace efforts in conflict settings is not beyond reach.

There is potential to reverse this tide. Drawing on past momentum and a growing minority of women leaders, support for women leaders in the Middle East has been rising. Even though the region hosts the lowest numbers on average of women leaders, according to Arab Barometer attitudinal surveys, support for women’s leadership in the Arab region has increased significantly in the past few years. This new potential for women leaders in the region is visible in a recent rise of women leaders in the region in traditionally male-held roles, such as Tunisia’s first female Prime Minister Najla Bouden, and the UAE’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh.

One way to promote more inclusive peacemaking is for negotiators to actively include existing women’s groups in the areas affected by conflict. Peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, for example, drew on the organizational capacity of the existing Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, who lobbied for victims’ rights and reconciliation in the nation’s Belfast Agreement. 

Meaningful Inclusion

Another lesson is for peace efforts to work to include women at various levels of negotiations and with attention to parity across parties to a conflict.

In Colombia, the expansion of women’s inclusion at multiple levels of peace negotiations with attention to meaningful inclusion of women on both sides of the conflict (including within the warring FARC parties’ representation) in 2015 helped enhance the success of negotiations. Studies also suggest that international partners can define parameters for women’s participation as a precondition for their support.

The US, the UN, and others in the international community can play a critical role in stepping up the 1325 Agenda also by promoting long-term changes in their own systems through multi-level efforts to support women political leaders, and also through active, purposeful and consistent inclusion of qualified women in their own ranks. 

Time is Ripe

The US and other international donors can also do more to support women’s leadership in conflict settings through its USAID programs and investments in women leaders worldwide. Although international donors promote women’s inclusion in their programs,  less than 1%  of global gender-related funding currently reaches grassroots women’s organizations. 

What’s more, aid funding for gender equality worldwide waned in 2023. For example, France, the world’s fourth largest funder for gender equality and women’s rights, recently cut its aid budget by 12.5%, a cut that is curtailing available funds for global women’s organizing. Focusing on ramping up investments in women worldwide as a renewed US and global policy priority could pay dividends for peace.

The time is ripe to ensure that advocacy to promote women’s voices worldwide provides meaningful direction rather than empty promises among efforts to promote peace in the region. The makeup of the policy table must change to realize breakthroughs in the conflicts where changes are needed most. Failure to do so will have devastating impacts for populations around the world who are suffering grave harms from intractable conflict. 

Rachel A. George

Rachel A. George is a Lecturing Fellow at Duke University in the Center for International Development, and a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Global Affairs. She is Director for Education Content at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her work focuses on peace and humanitarian issues worldwide and in the Middle East. Her work has been published in Foreign Policy, The Washington Quarterly, World Politics Review,, and other outlets. Personal website:

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