Women, Constitution-Making and Peace Processes


Suteu, Silvia, and Christine Bell. 2018. Women, Constitution-Making and Peace Processes. New York: UN Women. 

Authors: Silvia Suteu, Christine Bell


"Constitutions form the fundamental legal document in states where they exist, and will usually have priority over ordinary legislation. They provide an interpretive lens through which legislation will be applied, and set the tone for law-making generally. Women and minorities can anchor rights claims and legal claims against discrimination in constitutional language.

Constitutions tend to be more difficult to amend than ordinary legislation, requiring special majorities in parliament and sometimes additional validation steps (such as popular referendums or court certification) for amendments to come into effect. It is important, therefore, for women’s rights to be enshrined in the constitution from the beginning. The difficulty of changing constitutions once they are adopted means that inclusion of rights may be of enduring importance, and omission of rights may be very difficult to correct.

In post-conflict settings, constitutions are deeply intertwined with peacebuilding, good governance and the rule of law. Enshrining women’s rights in societies emerging from conflict is, however, not easy: gender equality is often considered of low priority during constitutional negotiations as compared with issues such as the division of state power and resources, and the way that this should be translated into institutional design. Sometimes gender equality will be relegated to law-making after constitutional drafting. The fact that there are still constitutions in the world today which make no mention of equality generally, or gender equality specifically, is proof that insisting on engendering the constitution is important.

Constitutions also play a deeply symbolic role. They embody a new social contract, whose terms will signal the inclusion or exclusion of particular segments of society. The numerous references to “founding fathers”, “Father of the Nation”, “brotherhood”, or “sons” in constitutions signal the male-dominated understanding of the political community and women’s exclusion from it. Conversely, an explicit reference to “men and women” as part of “we, the people” – as the Tunisian constitution’s preamble includes – can serve to clarify that the state takes women’s contributions seriously and recognizes women as full members of society" (Suteu and Bell 2018, 1).

Topics: Conflict, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Constitutions, Post-Conflict, Peacebuilding, Peace Processes, Rights, Women's Rights

Year: 2018

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