While the heartbreak, pain, and suffering of war can be universalized between men and women worldwide, women’s particular experience during war is inherently different than men. To reflect this difference, women must be involved in decision-making before, during, and after conflict in order to craft sustainable peace and fully understand the ramifications war has on women. Women, because of their unique and complex experiences in war, must be equal contributors to post-conflict negotiations and rebuilding.
Women are affected by war in unique ways, namely due to their traditional roles within the home as family caretakers, but not limited to these roles alone. The Lebanese Civil war provides an excellent example of the diversified roles women take on in times of conflict. The experiences of Lebanese women ranged from providing food and first aid supplies to combatants, to taking up arms and actively fighting in the name of their country or a specific religious sect, to having violence imposed upon them (women made up the majority of the civilian death toll). However, there is no one way to categorize women’s collective role in the Civil War. Despite the active role women played in the war, there is little to no evidence that they were significantly involved in the peace process, including the negotiations and signing of the Taif Agreement; yet male representatives from all religious sects were included. History repeated itself in 2006 when women’s official involvement and political influence proved to be limited during the reconstruction phase after the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
This underrepresentation is not just a historical fact; it is a real issue today despite the government’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination Against Women (CEDAW) and public support for and claimed adherence to Resolution 1325. Lebanon clearly shows us that while women’s experiences in war are multifaceted in ways that men’s are not, they are unable to influence peace processes in any significant way, resulting in their specific needs and stories being disregarded. Lebanon is not an isolated incident: this exclusion happens in almost every conflict around the world.
Whether as victims, survivors, combatants, or activists, words shape the way we understand and perceive women’s experiences in war. Their stories can complete the picture of war and its implications, because while men are out fighting wars, women are left to deal with their destruction. No matter if a woman is fighting in the war or at home with her family, her words must be heard. Without them we only hear one perspective, and conflicts cannot be truly resolved without understanding the holistic ramifications of war. Equal participation for women in in post-war peace processes is absolutely essential for a just and peaceful society.