Vision: A Seat at the Table

Illustration by Harut Tumaghyan. 

A 2015 study entitled “Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes” found that between 1992 and 2011, only 2 percent of chief mediators and 9 percent of negotiators in peace processes globally were women. While everyone in society suffers the consequences of conflicts and crises, not everyone has a seat at the negotiating table. 

While there has been concerted effort to increase women’s status and role in political, social and economic spheres both globally and at the national level, women continue to be excluded or severely underrepresented in conflict resolution processes and security matters. While it may be difficult to measure the real impact women’s participation could potentially have on outcomes, there is growing empirical evidence suggesting that when women’s inclusion is prioritized—especially when women are able to influence decision-making—the chances for peace are more likely. 

Can inclusion help prevent conflict and sustain security post-war? A large body of research attests that it can.

Conflicts and wars are not always isolated events and many countries face cycles of repeated violence. Evidence spanning eight decades demonstrates that while peacemaking efforts can lead to success in the short-term, most fail in achieving long-term peace. Clearly, the current model of conflict resolution processes has not yielded promising results.

Women in Armenia have been equal partners when it comes to suffering through the conflicts and wars inflicted upon them. While they do not serve in active combat in the Armed Forces, their herculean wartime efforts, steadfastness and crippling sacrifices have served to sustain the country.

But this isn’t only about waiting to be given a seat at the table. It’s about flipping the narrative and understanding that power is never given, it is always taken. We need to stop portraying women as victims but as agents of change, progress and prosperity and yes, equal partners in any conflict resolution process.

While carrying the burdens of civilization, women promote dialogue and build bridges, their unique skills and perspectives and their inclusive approach can impact what peace and security mean.

In Armenia, we live in a perpetual state of no peace. Since independence, we have endured three wars, constant tensions on our borders and especially after the 2020 war, an existential threat that follows us like a dark shadow. 

On March 29, Armenia’s Security Council held an emergency meeting, issuing a statement that the security situation in Nagorno-Karabakh was extremely tense. The people gathered around the large table said that an analysis of the situation showed that Azerbaijan was preparing the groundwork for new provocations and an attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Not a single woman was at that table. And just as importantly, not a single qualified security expert was at the table.

This brings us to a very important issue, an underlying theme within Armenian culture, that has not been addressed properly. In matters of security and conflict resolution, qualification appears to be defined by the masculine. It is the sphere that only men engage in, and whether their expertise is sufficient or not, and whether more qualified women may do a better job or not, remains an afterthought. Why is this a problem? We limit ourselves from solving important problems by refusing, either intentionally or by habit, to ensure women are at the table.

In Armenia’s security institutions, women have not only been excluded from holding high-ranking positions, they have also been sidelined from serving as strategists, theorists and policy analysts. This exclusion has had important repercussions: tunnel vision, lack of creative problem solving, and an inability to avert quagmires. This ultramasculine culture has produced a false sense of dominance and has not translated into more security or conflict resolution. The result, in fact, has been the opposite. 

The voice, intellect, experience and vision of the Armenian woman, as thinker, as scholar, strategist, politician, diplomat, activist, mother, nurturer, and protector, are fundamental qualities that men, particularly in positions of power, can learn from. If we are going to be honest about the human condition, then we must accept a basic truth: while the masculine does his best to protect, his protection is performative – he believes by destroying he is protecting. This is where the voice of the feminine can be instructive – security is not about destroying, but rather, it is about preserving. And it takes much more strength to preserve than to destroy. This strength, as history has taught us, is innate in the Armenian woman; it is this will to preserve that has allowed her to nurture and safeguard the continuity of a civilization. 

If Armenia is to overcome its current security nightmare, it cannot do so as it has done in the last three decades: it must, unequivocally, walk into that room and not only hope, but ensure that women are sitting at the table.  

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