Women can be the best agents of peace — if we let them | Roma Bhattacharjea

20 Sep 2013

 A woman who manages a milk-chilling centre in India. A greater role for women in business helps promote long-term peace and stability. (Photo: Graham Crouch/UNDP)

It is 21 September 2013 and the buzzword is peace. But when we talk about peace, we often think of men laying down weapons, signing treaties and rebuilding countries.

On this International Day of Peace, however, we need to remember the fundamental role of women in countries affected by conflict. Remember women not as hapless victims, but as agents of change who invest in their families and communities and who have the potential to build peaceful and prosperous societies.

The international community can do more to support women in accessing employment, property, markets and new skills. Supporting their financial independence may go a long way towards giving women a voice and the power to negotiate when it comes to making decisions within families and communities in even the most remote, war-torn corners of the Earth.

Improving women's access to education, capital, jobs and markets promotes balanced and inclusive growth. The Asia-Pacific region loses $42 billion to $47 billion per year because of restrictions on women’s access to employment opportunities. This hurts social cohesion, stability and trust in institutions, which are fundamental for long-term peace.

Women with jobs are also far more likely than men to invest their income in food, education and health care for their families. With healthier and better educated children, societies can begin to end cycles of poverty and violence.

These goals are not unattainable. UNDP has long been focusing on empowering women to actively help prevent conflicts and equally participate in the process of recovering from crisis situations. In Burundi, after decades of civil war, UNDP helped more than 7,000 people of whom 47 percent were women invest their savings in small businesses in 2012. The project not only increased household incomes but gave these women an economic stake in long-term peace.

Across the world, women already play a fundamental role in advocating change. They just need to be supported and acknowledged.

Talk to us: How do you think the international community can empower women in conflict situations?

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