Are Women Peaceful? Reflections on the Role of Women in Peace-Building


This paper examines the way that women’s relationship to peace is constructed in international institutions and international law. It identifies a set of claims about women and peace that are typically made and considers these in light of women’s experience in the conflicts in Bougainville, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

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  1. 1.

    Compare the thorough analysis of biological explanations for men’s association with war and conflict by Goldstein (2001). Goldstein finds only a small correlation between male biology and propensity for conflict. He describes the way that biological tendencies are transformed into “historical imperatives” through culture. Goldstein identifies childhood sex segregation as more significant than biology (pp. 403–407).

  2. 2.

    See (accessed 15 September 2008).

  3. 3.

    It is also a staple of the women in peace-building literature, for example, de la Rey and McKay (2006). Anderlini argues that women are more amenable to “widening political discourse, seeking the middle ground” (2007, p. 129); women are transformative leaders (p. 130); and women have higher standards of ethical behaviour (p. 131).

  4. 4.

    See, for example, General Assembly Resolution 3010 (XXVII) (18 December 1972), recognising “women’s increasing contribution to the strengthening of world peace”. For an analysis, see Otto (2006). Otto also points to the ‘Spanish Resolution’ adopted by the Assembly of the League of Nations in 1931, which stated: “The Assembly, convinced of the great value of women to the work of peace and the good understanding between the nations…requests the Council to examine the possibility of women cooperating more fully in the work of the League” (Otto 2006, p. 132).

  5. 5.

    For example, the 1982 ‘Declaration on the participation of women in promoting international peace and cooperation’, General Assembly Resolution 37/63 (3 December 1982). This declaration is couched in terms of women’s right to equality.

  6. 6.

    See UN Secretary-General reports on Security Council Resolution 1325 from 2002 to 2007, available at (accessed 15 September 2008).

  7. 7.

    General Assembly Resolution 60/180 (2005) and Security Council Resolution 1645/2005.

  8. 8.

    General Assembly Resolution 60/180 (2005), para. 20.

  9. 9.

    Ibid, para. 21.

  10. 10.

    See, for example, Windhoek declaration: The Namibia plan of action on ‘mainstreaming a gender perspective in multidimensional peace support operations’ (31 May 2000), available at (accessed 15 September 2008).

  11. 11.

    Beijing Platform for Action 1995, para. 144(c), available at (accessed 15 September 2008).

  12. 12.

    The matrilineal system is found all over Bougainville except in parts of south Bougainville (Buin and Siwai), Nissan Island and a group of Polynesian islands.

  13. 13.

    Security Council Resolution 1272 (1999) on the Situation in East Timor.

  14. 14.

    Ibid, para. 15.

  15. 15.

    See the Windhoek declaration and the Namibia plan of action on ‘mainstreaming a gender perspective in multidimensional peace support operations’, supra n 10.

  16. 16.

    Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste (CAVR) (2005) provides significant evidence of sexual violence during the occupation (see in particular Chap. 7.7).

  17. 17.

    UNTAET internal memo (7 September 2000).

  18. 18.

    In his 2001 New Year’s speech to the nation, the resistance leader, then President and now Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmão, criticised what he called the “obsessive acculturation to standards that hundreds of international experts try to convey to the East Timorese, who are hungry for values”: (accessed 15 September 2008).

  19. 19.

    The Charter text appears in La’o Hamutuk Bulletin 2(5) (August 2001).

  20. 20.

    Section 63.

  21. 21.

    See letter from Rede Feto (Women’s Network) Timor Leste to Ian Martin, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Timor Leste (7 July 2006).

  22. 22.

    Others observe that associating women and peace-building can in itself devalue the exercise: see, for example, Hilhorst and van Leeuwen (2007). Otto (2006, p. 125) also points out that the identification of disarmament as a ‘women’s issue’ immediately devalues it as a goal.

  23. 23.

    See also Hilhorst and van Leewen (2007, p. 98), arguing that women as mothers get better media access, for example the Madres de Plaza de Mayo.

  24. 24.

    The lack of attention is in part because many men do not know how to describe what has happened to them and medical and humanitarian workers are not trained to detect the signs (Sivakumaran 2007, p. 256).

  25. 25.

    See, for example, Andrews v Law Society of British Columbia [1989] 1 SCR 143.


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Hilary Charlesworth is an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow in the Regulatory Institutions Network at the Australian National University. John Braithwaite and Dianne Otto made helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. Thanks to Susan Harris Rimmer and Scott Stephenson for research assistance.

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Correspondence to Hilary Charlesworth.

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Charlesworth, H. Are Women Peaceful? Reflections on the Role of Women in Peace-Building. Fem Leg Stud 16, 347–361 (2008).

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  • Bougainville
  • Democracy
  • East Timor
  • International law
  • Peace-building
  • Post-conflict reconstruction
  • Solomon Islands
  • Women