Trading Women’s Rights in Transitions

Transition in international relations means moving from war to peace, dealing with an economic crisis, or changing from one system of government to another. One of the key means by which this occurs is the diplomatic process, of bargaining, compromising, settlement or trading. There is, however, a danger that in order to secure political objectives or preferences, negotiators or decision-­‐makers may ‘trade away’ the interests of vulnerable or emerging social forces, sometimes knowingly, more often without due appreciation of the interests at threat.

This project is about how women’s rights are traded away by negotiators directly in exchange for immediate political or other settlements, and indirectly in terms of being left off the international agenda with long-­‐term consequences.

This project examines the gender politics of transitions, focused on conflict-affected states. I examine the link between negotiation processes around the globe; and outcomes for social groups who struggle to gain access to power, focussing on the rights of women and girls. The struggle between actors in reformist groups can also trade away women’s rights before the agenda with international actors is agreed. The aim is to assess ideas and discourse about the ‘tradeability’ of a group’s rights in states experiencing a seismic transition, such as in Afghanistan or Myanmar. What does diplomacy look like ‘from below’ in these situations? This project compiles evidence from around the globe, including Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Timor Leste, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines.

This project has the potential to expand the horizons of international and domestic actors by alerting them to key groups whose concerns in peacemaking diplomacy might otherwise be overlooked. In doing so, it not only enhances the prospects that settlements in which the international community has been involved will prove sustainable, but also shows way in which the practice of modern diplomacy can be transformed.

Key questions:

Is the status of women a tradable commodity, (a silent bargaining chip) during political transitions? If so, who trades what, when and why?

What are the long-­‐term impacts for women’s rights?

How can such ‘trading’ be prevented in the future, or can women ‘trade up’?

See further a visual representation, plus a radio interview and brief video.