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How Does Gender Inequality Affect Sustainable Peace and Development?


In September 2015, the United Nations established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to focus the organization’s work on specific issues such as poverty, hunger, and health. It is known to be difficult to encourage development in places that have been victims of violent conflicts, where human rights’ violations, injustice, and inequality has become way of life for many. For example, Colombia’s economy has been affected by internal conflict. From 1991 to 1996, it spent yearly about 18.5 percent of its GDP in costs associated with the armed conflict and urban violence, and it also suffered from significant infrastructure damage, such as the destruction of 700 petroleum installations by guerilla groups which incremented conflict’s harmful effect on the state’s economic [1].

On January 24, 2017, the General Assembly organized a high-level dialogue entitled “Building Sustainable Peace for All: Synergies between the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustaining Peace Agenda” where states’ representatives and other experts discussed how to promote sustainable peace and development and the interrelation between them.

During the event, states’ representatives and panelists commented on what their state has done to achieve peace and development, with many emphasizing that gender equality is connected to development and peace. But how does gender inequality affects sustainable peace and development?

Gender equality has great impact in keeping peace in post-conflict areas. During wars, minorities groups are affected in ways the majority do not understand. Men, for example, do not experience the physical and psychological traumas that women face during conflicts like sexual exploitation, human trafficking, lack of security, poverty and marginalization. Because women usually do not have a voice in the men-dominated peacebuilding process, peace discussions revolve around military action, power, and territory instead on dealing with social and humanitarian issues, which women often are victims to [2]. Therefore, when women become involved in peace processes, there is a 20 percent increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 2 years, per the UN Women webpage [3]. Even though the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) has recognized the necessity of women becoming actors in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, they are usually pushed aside during these negotiations. It has further been reported that out of the 504 agreements signed since the adoption of UNSCR 1325 in 2000, only 138 agreements include references to women [4].

States’ ability to maintain peace is also affected by its promotion of female in leadership positions, especially in government and activism. It is found that when women are represented in government and are part of the legislative power, the risk of civil war reduces. Studies, with access to data on international crises, revealed that by increasing women in parliament by just five percent, countries are five times less likely to use violence in crisis and that in post-conflict states, a relapse into a state of conflict is near zero percent when women made up thirty-five percent of the parliament [5]. Moreover, female activists can help fight oncoming violence, such as fundamentalism. They, unlike men, are willing to deal with the root causes, focusing on education, trust and cooperation to prevent violent conflicts. During interviews with women from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, researchers noticed that before fundamentalism becomes an open armed conflict, women are its first target, thus, they are the usually the first to notice warning signs of coming violence and therefore are more prepared to stand up against it [6].

Gender inequality has a negative effect not only on peace but also on states’ economic development. In many areas, women face cultural and traditional prejudices, discriminatory policies and domestic responsibilities that promote unequal access to goods, services, and jobs. For example, women do not have the same rights to land ownership as men and employers frequently ignore laws promoting equality where enforcement mechanisms are weak [7]. Therefore, many women are forced to submit themselves to activities such prostitution or selling contraband to support themselves and their families. Economic equality of women can, therefore, bring stability and peace to communities by encouraging women’s independence and leadership.

Gender equality, peace and development are interconnected. Having women present in peace agreements that would emphasize issues affecting communities, increasing the number of women in high-level government positions and by empowering women economically to grant independence and access to opportunities are just some ways states can promote peace and development. It is important to remember that: "gender injustice perpetuates inequality, violates fundamental human rights … and prevents societies from developing their full potential"[8]. It is not surprising that, during the High-Level Dialogue, Senior Professor of Peace and Conflict Research of Uppsala University Mr. Peter Wallensteen, as many states representatives, emphasized the need to invest in women: provide them with security and hope since societies that encourage gender equality, have fewer wars and human rights violations.

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[1] World Bank Country Studies, “Violence in Colombia: building sustainable peace and social capital”, World Bank (1999): 13-15. Accessed February 7, 2017. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/474691468744069622/pdf/multi-page.pdf

[2] Marie O’Reilly, “Why Women? Inclusive Security and Peaceful Societies”, Inclusive Security (2015): 7. Accessed February 1, 2017. https://www.inclusivesecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Why-Women-Inclusive-Security-and-Peaceful-Societies.pdf

[3] “Facts and Figures: Peace and Security” UN Women, accessed February 1, 2017. http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/peace-and-security/facts-and-figures#notes

[4] Id.

[5] Supra at n.2 at page 3, 9.

[6] Supra at n.2 at page 3-4.

[7] “Empowerment: Women & Gender Issues: Women, Gender & Peacebuilding Processes,” Peacebuilding Initiative, accessed February 1, 2017. http://www.peacebuildinginitiative.org/index9aa5.html?pageId=1959

[8] Id.

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