On 5-7 March 2018, the World Bank held the 2018 Fragility Forum in Washington, DC, which brought together 1,300 representatives of Member States and international organisations, along with development, humanitarian, and civil society actors to search for new and innovative ways to foster peace and stability.
As part of WILPF’s work to #MoveTheMoney from war to gender equality and peace, WILPF participated in this event to identify opportunities for strengthening multilateral action to address root causes of violence and move from political economies of war to economies of peace and gender justice.
Context: UN-World Bank Study on Conflict Prevention
The 2018 Fragility Forum discussions built on the 2017 launch of a joint World Bank-UN Pathways for Peace Report, which affirms that “the best way to prevent societies from descending into crisis, including but not limited to conflict, is to ensure that they are resilient through investment in inclusive and sustainable development.”
WILPF has long called for a gendered approach to conflict prevention that supports and amplifies local women’s voices and root cause analysis for peace. Although gender is not strongly integrated in the report, the Pathways for Peace does recognise local women civil society as key peace leaders and intimate partner violence as an important indicator of conflict.
WILPF Reflection on the Fragility Forum: A Focus on Prevention
The Fragility Forum provided a space for participants to identify and address key drivers of conflict. Participants agreed that sustained prevention requires actions to mitigate shocks and triggers that may influence violence in the short-term, while making sustained investments to address deep structural and institutional risks over the longer term.
Reflecting on the current progress made at the international level to recognise the indispensable values of conflict prevention, context-specific analysis, and meaningful inclusion for sustainable peace, the focus of the Forum was on operationalising prevention, with the need to address grievances around exclusion from access to power, opportunity and security as central to such efforts.
Some of the key risks discussed included poverty, exclusion, discrimination, and lack of education. Gender inequality and exclusion were also recognised as fueling violence and conflict, as affirmed in the 2015 Global Study on UNSCR1325. The abuse of natural resources was another global issue that was recognised as potentially leading to human rights abuses and conflict, since resource exploitation has been linked to government corruption, financing of armed groups, and land grabbing.
Participants agreed that prevention and mitigation of risks requires coordinated efforts between all actors across development, political, security and humanitarian sectors, including grassroots groups and civil society, to capitalise on their comparative advantages. In fact, the importance of bottom-up approaches to managing and preventing risks were identified by many. The participants therefore noted that mapping of actors, the first step of developing effective, inclusive and accountable policies, should include local actors, as they possess knowledge and presence on the ground necessary to create concrete change.
To address crisis situations, the forum recognised that all actors should work within the Humanitarian-Development Nexus, which entails that the response should not only address the humanitarian needs of people but also address the improvement of resilience with a view to better manage different types of risks. For example, the issue of forced displacement has historically been considered as a humanitarian issue, but displacement is often a protracted situation and short-term assistance is not sufficient in addressing medium and long-term socioeconomic challenges. Providing development support on concessional terms to host countries and doubling resources through trade and investment were some of the widely spotlighted options to support the economic inclusion of displaced persons and strengthen the resilience of host communities, such as in Jordan and Lebanon.
Responding to challenges requires new financing and operational mechanisms. Some of the strategies discussed included fragility assessment, creating incentives for host economies, pre-arranged public and private financing, political risk insurance, development and social impact bonds, and using cash transfers. Re-envisioning Security Sector Reform and DDR programming that responds to grievances and context-specific challenges for conflict prevention were seen as another way of building the foundation for development. The participants also recognised that many good practices, including those developed by civil society, are not yet taken into account by actors involved in relevant work. The participants suggested opening new avenues for collecting good practices to drive this change.
A general consensus was reached that any initiative deployed in response to fragility and conflict should have an accountability mechanism for delivery of programme results. Proposed accountability measures ranged from civilian oversight and grassroots accountability mechanisms to Mutual Accountability Frameworks and Public Expenditure Reviews driven by national governments.
Women’s Role on the Frontline of Development
Participants agreed that addressing gender inequalities and discrimination in fragile and conflict-affected settings promotes peace and security. They recognised how women, when provided with opportunities and tools, have played instrumental roles as agents of change and leaders in violence prevention. Communities in Libya, Nigeria, and Colombia provide strong examples of this issue. Investing in gendered conflict analysis and women’s participation constitute investing in peace and development.
However, participants also recognised that gender equality is often treated as an ad-hoc project while managing risks for peace and stability. Again building on evidence from the UNSCR 1325 Global Study, participants noted that despite the benefits of investing in women, the failure to allocate sufficient resources and funds has been perhaps the most serious and persistent obstacle to women’s participation over the past 15 years. Only two percent of aid to peace and security for fragile states in 2012-2013 targeted gender equality; and Member States have only begun to integrate gender equality into national budgets, with significant cuts in public health and social services-related expenditures.
One good practice for fostering the role of women in managing risks for peace and security was the inclusion of a Women, Peace and Security angle in national development plans. Another good practice raised was gender-sensitive budgeting on all aspects of national and international foreign policy. Including gender impact assessments and by including women in project design, implementation and follow-up is a critical component.
Challenges and the Way Forward
The majority of statements made at the forum reflect the need to prioritise bottom-up approaches to managing risks, strengthening conflict analysis and fragility assessments prior to developing strategies and investing in inclusive and participatory practices. However, clear gaps remained.
First of all, the Pathways for Peace Report focuses on governments as the primary actor preventing conflict. However, women in Yemen, Syria and in other countries have brought attention to how conflict situations are often defined by the absence of a functioning state, especially in rural areas. Women leaders have also brought attention to how grassroots women’s networks and women led organisations often are filling the gap left by the state to address community needs, often through unpaid or devalued community work for care and justice. This distribution of labor raises questions about the very idea of the social contract—the assumed exchange of consent by a political community to state authority for an adequate provision of public goods and services. Ensuring strong, core, ongoing support for women-led civil society organisations, and supporting political economic frameworks that ensure the burden of care is upheld by the state rather than shifted to women should therefore be of central importance, rather than a secondary priority.
In addition, limited attention was focused on understanding or analysing social norms or gendered power structures. WILPF has long brought attention to how gendered social expectations that define masculine characteristics as different from and more valuable than feminine characteristics are part of a system of power that supports inequality, militarism, and violence. Understanding how power is reproduced and legitimised through gendered social assumptions offers a more accurate understanding of why conflict occurs and how it impacts communities and their resilience. It also is critical to shedding light on how to prevent conflict from reoccurring. Ensuring gendered conflict analysis which addresses systems of power is critical to moving from “ticking the box” to political action that supports transformative change.
Another critical point is the limited scope of root cause analysis on conflict and violence. WILPF has long affirmed that political economies of war exacerbate sexual violence in conflict and undermine opportunities for peace and stability. The World Bank has done some analysis of the link between masculinities and violence. However, root cause discussions at the forum remained largely blind to issues of militarism. Participants did not introduce any strategies to reallocate billions from military spending to human security based on women’s lives and experiences; and strengthening gender equality in development and humanitarian aid remained a clear gap.
In addition to not addressing political economies of war, the discussion also did not holistically address political economies of gender justice and peace. WILPF has brought attention to the need for post-conflict transition processes to invest in social protection that ensures women’s social economic and cultural rights, and also invest gendered reparations for harms of militarism. This requires assessing the impact of reforms and policies on women. In particular, IFI austerity measures can contribute to the feminisation of poverty, the deepening of gender inequalities, and the restriction of women’s political participation due to increased burdens of care. Undertaking a gendered and human rights-based analysis of the impacts of macro-economic reforms and developing gender-sensitive budgeting, in partnership with and amplifying local women’s voices and root cause analysis, is essential to ensure holistic conflict analysis that enables effective action for conflict prevention, gender equality, and peace.
What is Next?
To prevent and manage risks to peace and stability, it is essential to address root causes of conflict and violence and promote women’s human rights and political economies of justice and peace. This requires reorienting work around local women’s voices for nonviolence and justice, and working with feminist movements to:
1) enable space for women’s organising for non-violence and community resilience;
2) strengthen accountability on defense and military budgeting that empower civilians to become involved in political decisions and programmatic work;
3) guarantee strong institutions that ensure the realisation of women’s economic, social and cultural rights;
4) develop mechanisms for human rights and gender impact assessments before approving any strategy or reform program supported by international development and humanitarian actors.
As the Pathways for Peace report began to recognise, local women civil society important peace leaders, and conflict prevention requires addressing a spectrum of gendered violence from the personal to the political and international. However, more is needed if we are to go beyond technical fixes and towards political action for systemic change.