Wednesday

14th Apr 2021

Opinion

Let's put women in charge of peace talks

  • Federica Mogherini helped negotiate one of the EU's most successful and important deals of recent time - the Iran nuclear deal. But her gender is a rarity around the table when it comes to negotiating peace - or trade. (Photo: European Commission)

March 8, International Women's Day – or "Women's Combat Day", as many feminists call it in Germany - has just been declared a public holiday in Berlin.

Awareness for discrimination and sexualised violence is rising and a (slowly) increasing number of men start taking responsibility for uplifting the rights of women – at home as well as in work places.

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At the same time, from Bilbao to Brussels to Berlin and Bucharest, women and their concerns remain grossly marginalised in politics and stark inequalities persist – across Europe as well as within European institutions.

The EU urgently needs to get its equality homework done – in domestic just like in foreign affairs.

A quick glance at the numbers: women represent only 36.1 percent of the MEPs, 32.1 percent of the commissioners and a meagre 10.7 percent of the heads of member states.

In all EU countries, except Cyprus, central banks are led by men.

The gender pay gap across Europe has increased in the past five years to 16.5 percent.

However, the European Commission has only presented one proposal aiming to advance gender equality in the last five years, the work life balance directive.

Important pieces of EU legislation to fight gender inequalities, such as the directive women on board or the anti-discrimination directive have remained blocked for more than seven years by the member states.

The situation is equally disappointing when we look at the EU's foreign policy institutions.

At the European External Action Service (EEAS), leadership positions remain a male domain. At the end of 2017, men accounted for 80 percent of the workforce in senior levels (AD14-AD16); an imbalance reproduced in its external action, with only 22 percent of EU delegations led by women.

It would be unfair to hold the European External Affairs Service (EEAS) or its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions accountable for the global backlash on women's rights – yet, what signal does it send to the world in terms of women's representation and power, if we fail so miserably at home?

And this is not just about symbolic representation. It is also about success in core policy areas, such as security and climate change.

Let's talk about conflicts. Research shows that if women play a central role in peace negotiations, the chance for those deals to last two or more years increases by 20 percent.

Only men at the table?

However, the ancient paradigm persists until today: those who control the weapons and cause most destruction, later also sit at the negotiation tables - and in practice these are mostly men.

And we as Europeans accept this - and send mostly male delegations ourselves.

This is neither just nor smart and unsurprisingly, it doesn't create much of an incentive to overcome the patriarchal and military patterns, which greatly contributed to crisis in the first place.

So, why not aim for a 50 percent female representation at all negotiation tables where the EU provides financial support, instead?

The most successful EU deal in the last years, the Iran deal, was brokered by women – Frederica Mogherini and Helga Schmid. So don't tell me we won't find any.

Climate change

Undoubtedly, its effects have a greater impact on those who are most reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods – and globally those are women.

But who is currently deciding on where the climate funding is going? Mostly men.

And who gets the funds? Not the women.

Only 0.01 percent of funding worldwide supports projects that address both, climate change and women's rights; says the United Nations Development Programme.

That is basically nothing.

To make sure that climate policy does not further intensify gender-related disadvantages, we urgently need to increase the participation of women in negotiations (by the way, also on the EU side) and a comprehensive gender-equitable approach in all domains.

This holds true if the EU negotiates development aid or trade deals, just as much.

Let's not underestimate European power to break these patterns.

As a main broker in peace negotiations and a major donor in peace processes, development aid and climate adaptation, the EU can set an example.

Even more so if all its member states join the agenda.

The current discussion on the set-up and funding of the EU`s external instruments provides an opportunity to introduce more effective measures for women participation.

Why not secure that 10 percent of this instrument are spent exclusively to strengthen the representation of women worldwide.

Why not enshrine a quota of female representation for any negotiation table that is financed by the EU and negotiates over the spending of EU money?

And this can only be the beginning.

European citizens are waiting for the EU to take this issue up and we cannot let them wait any longer.

According to the 2017 Eurobarometer, a large majority of Europeans think that promoting gender equality is important for a fair and democratic society (91 percent), for the economy (87 percent) and for them personally (84 percent).

And there number is growing. A comparison between 2016 and 2018 shows that the share of EU citizens who would like the EU to intervene more in this policy area has risen from 55 percent to 65 percent.

Sure, not every woman fights for gender equality.

But it is more than awkward to see that gender-sensitive policies are currently discussed in policy processes that are strongly dominated by one gender – the male.

To deliver on the EU's promises of peace and prosperity we need a more meaningful representation of women in EU institutions and on EU's negotiation tables abroad. It's time to take big steps.

Author bio

Hannah Neumann is a candidate for the German Green party in Berlin for the European elections, and a former researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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