Inclusive societies are more resilient and less prone to violent conflict, and achieving greater inclusion is a widely accepted peacebuilding goal. What’s less obvious however, is the journey people in less equal and inclusive societies need to take to get there.
There’s no tried and trusted formula for this. Indeed, greater participation can sometimes be the rather surprising result of seemingly non-inclusive processes, for example when predominantly male decision-makers in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, recently agreed a new system for local government, mandating 50:50 male and female representation. In the same way, seemingly inclusive processes don’t always yield the outcomes people expect, as when Nepal’s political leaders pushed through a new constitution in 2016, which rolled back the more ambitious and inclusive proposals that the previous Constituent Assembly had earlier agreed.
Such uncertainty has contributed to debate among international agencies supporting peace and post-conflict processes. While some argue for the participation of all groups in society, particularly those who have been marginalised, as early as possible in any transition process, others see stability as the initial priority, and therefore also an agreement between leaders of powerful groups. For the latter marginal groups are a distraction. For the former, any elite bargain risks becoming the new status quo, and any groups excluded from these will be locked out, creating a new build-up of tension, grievances and instability.
Conciliation Resource’s recent practice-based research on inclusion in peace transitions in Nepal; the Somali Region of Ethiopia (Ogaden); Colombia; Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea; and Nigeria supports the argument for a pragmatic, middle way. Recognising the risks of destabilisation in trying to push for wider participation too hard or too soon, it argues that international agencies supporting peace and transition processes should seek to identify inclusion opportunities right from the start. Helpfully, it also points out that opportunities for improved participation are not only found in formal, national processes, but also in less formal processes, or processes happening on a smaller, regional or local scale.
This is useful advice to those seeking a middle way, especially as local or less formal processes can often be more open to transformation. Examples from the research include:
- ‘Hooks’ built into agreements or implementation processes: for example, mandatory consultations and participatory and transparent monitoring processes that give excluded groups leverage vis a vis formal actors in the transition process. Commitments incorporated into legal documents and instruments, or that become engrained in political discourse are difficult to substantially reverse.
- The use of International legal standards by local activists to push for inclusion. In Colombia, CIASE (Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica) and CONAMIC (Coordinación Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas de Colombia) have collaborated to ‘localise’ the UNSCR 1325 framework to reflect the daily lives of indigenous women. Examples of indicators include: how many women participate in autonomous governance structures in indigenous reserves? And how many indigenous women are visible in the national media? By ‘domesticating’ these they have created a practical framework for highly relevant local action.
These kinds of opportunities are hard to predict in advance, so international agencies need to adopt a ‘smart inclusion’ approach. This means developing a thorough understanding through research, of different excluded groups, and the likely opportunities for and obstacles to their inclusion. It also means adopting a flexible approach from the start, cultivating a diverse set of relationships with various partners, and a rapid decision-making mechanism so that important opportunities can be seized.