For UN and other peacemakers, the benefits of inclusiveness in peace processes is a given. But how to introduce and manage “inclusion” often poses complex challenges. The peacebuilding non-governmental organization Conciliation Resources recently presented to UN staff the findings of a four-year practice-research project on navigating inclusion in peace processes, part of a broader “Political Settlements Research Project” (http://www.politicalsettlements.org), exploring how inclusion is negotiated in war-to-peace transitions. The study also looks at common barriers to and trade-offs between inclusion and stability; and, the types of external and internal support that are possible and effective. We spoke to Dr. Sophia Close, Senior Advisor, Gender and Peacebuilding at Conciliation Resources, about the findings and how they might be applied.
What are the dangers of trading long-term inclusion for short-term stability? How has that been navigated in the countries you studied?
Dr. Sophia Close: Our research highlights that war-to-peace transitions often last many years. And international organisations are understandably wary of pushing inclusion too early for fear of undermining short-term stability and attracting push-back from power holders. For example, in Nepal, politicians and other elites pushed back against donor programmes supporting the political participation of excluded social groups, claiming they had overstepped their role. But there is also a risk that in prioritizing stability ahead of inclusion, the opportunities for the latter decrease as the transition progresses – power holders often consolidate their position and the pace of change starts to slow. Push-back can also be a response to endogenous processes. The risks are therefore a reason for donors to take care, but not shy away from promoting inclusion.
Instead, a long-term view of impact that monitors and differentiates between inclusion in process and outcome allows for realistic goal setting and assessment of change. For example, many Colombians see the implementation of the peace agreement as a crucial opportunity to bring about broader societal change. On the other hand, avenues previously closed to promoting inclusion may later open up, for example in Bougainville the legislature recently passed a new Community Government Act mandating gender parity in local government seats.
If war-to-peace transition is “formalized political unsettlement”, as you term it, how can inclusion keep up with the sometimes rapidly changing context?
That term was first coined by our colleagues Christine Bell and Jan Pospisil. They asserted that peace processes are rarely able to fully address and settle the root causes of conflict. Instead, these processes tend to formalize unsettlement – translating the disagreement at the heart of the conflict into a set of political and legal institutions that ‘contain’ conflict rather than establish shared values. These institutions allow for continued bargaining – which also allows room for negotiating forms of inclusion. Yet, our research also emphasized that this ‘unsettlement’ is also gendered, meaning that gender inequalities are rarely addressed in any peace process, often perpetuating gender exclusion.
In response, a sequenced, incremental approach is both practical and desirable, helping to avoid push-back and disruption when working toward inclusion during transition. It allows organisations to respond when opportunities turn out to be less favorable to inclusion, or if an initial opening is later reversed as prior elites reassert themselves.
The choice of analytical frameworks used by international organizations can also impact their ability to identify inclusion opportunities. Frameworks that fail to disaggregate different marginalized groups, or which oversimplify context dynamics, can lead to options and entry-points being overlooked. In the Plateau state of Nigeria, recent farmer-herder tensions have been obscured by analysis focused on Boko Haram and inter-communal conflicts. This has led to the adoption of, for example, counterextremism frameworks and subsequent approaches that overlook opportunities to introduce local and inclusive land allocation mechanisms and which could readily reduce conflict between herders and farmers.
What are some of the inclusion mechanisms used in different settings? What has been successful, what didn’t work?
Common inclusion mechanisms such as constituent assemblies, constitutional reform, national dialogues, consultation forums, as well as direct representation in peace talks, are important for supporting formal participation. In Nepal, a context with a number of marginalized yet politically mobilized groups, quotas for women have been a key way to support inclusion. The main development agenda (Gender Equality and Social Inclusion – GESI) has also been seen an unspoken ‘rebranding’ of the ‘inclusion lens’ towards gender equality as a way to navigate resistance to more politicized aspects. Whilst this has reduced any explicit focus on some forms of exclusion such as caste, ethnicity or regional identity, and emphasized gender as the basis for enhancing social mobility, it has helped make social inclusion more acceptable and broadly impactful.
Yet it’s also important to remember that less visible barriers to inclusion exist within sub-national, informal, and customary structures and authority that often determine access to political and economic resources. For many communities, the local and the informal may be more relevant in determining their ability to effect change or voice their perspectives. In Colombia some indigenous women participants highlighted that their struggle to achieve both women’s rights and the collective rights of indigenous peoples led to tensions within their communities and accusations that they were undermining and dividing the wider movement for indigenous recognition; there were assumptions as to who should and can hold specific political roles and influence decision-making, as well as resistance to changing these gender norms. Despite these challenges, the acknowledgment of the rights of women and indigenous peoples in the Colombian 2016 Final Peace Agreement is now a hook for emerging initiatives by these indigenous women.
There is usually some push-back against inclusion agendas in transition processes, because some groups feel threatened by the change. What are some of the successful strategies to counter such push-back?
Initiatives to expand inclusion have been prone to criticism by incumbent elites as externally driven, which can undermine their legitimacy and validate resistance. Effective external support requires astute political analysis, understanding and recognition of different groups’ agendas, and partnering with different types of local constituency. Efforts to support dialogue or accommodation of different interests – particularly with those who may be resistant – might be a useful entry point.
Formal legal instruments are also useful for embedding and protecting inclusion and holding elites to account. Explicit provisions can provide protection and enforcement measures and can also be of strategic use, for example, enabling groups in Nigeria, Nepal and Colombia to ground claims for their inclusion in emerging conflict prevention and peace processes. International standards and policies on inclusion, in particular women’s rights and participation, have been used as hooks to make demands of states. However, such international standards need to be contextualized to help ground them in local values, norms and politics. We have found that gendered inclusion in peace practice is particularly challenging. Across the contexts we work in, gender language, terminology and framing of women’s human rights and gender equality can be seen as exclusionary and disrespectful of cultural gender norms. International and local concepts of gender can differ widely, and this lack of shared clarity often creates misunderstandings which affect perceptions and support for gendered inclusion.
For example, often men are only engaged in a limited, simplistic and often tokenistic way in gender work, which focuses primarily on women. Our participants in Bougainville explained that this contributes to negative male attitudes and push-back towards gender and inclusion work. This challenge can be remedied by working with local actors to develop locally appropriate terminology and approaches. For example, focusing on tangible outcomes to advocate for reducing gender imbalance. We highlight the importance of working with diverse groups of local women – but also actively including men and boys – to strengthen co-learning and solidarity. A better understanding of the customary and religious systems that shape gender roles and perspectives could also make interventions more effective.
Title picture: Participants of a gender workshop in Cachipay, Colombia. ©CIASE
 Yousuf, Zahbia. Beyond elite bargains: political settlements from the ground up (London: Conciliation Resources, 2018); Close, Sophia. Gendered Political Settlements: examining peace transitions in Bougainville, Nepal and Colombia. (London: Conciliation Resources, 2018)
 Bell, Christine & Jan Pospisil. ‘Navigating Inclusion in Transitions from Conflict: The Formalised Political Unsettlement’, Journal of International Development, Vol. 29 No. 5: (2017): 576–593
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent positions of the Department of Political Affairs.