'War': A conflict between political groups involving hostilities of considerable duration and magnitude
For many, this traditional definition of war is the most common description of a violent dispute between one or more actors. What it doesn’t fully cover though, is the complexity of a political conflict when it is unclear who the involved actors are and what the disagreement is about. Despite this lack of clarity, there is still a need for conflict resolution strategies to diminish the brutal effects of a protracted non-declared conflict. It is extremely difficult to determine what negotiations should look like during such an undefined conflict. If top-down peace processes fail to cover this dilemma, alternative, more local, peace strategies increasingly come into play. This is the case of many modern-day conflicts. This is the case in Mexico.
A harsh reality
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, more than 29 murders occur for every 100,000 habitants per day. And, the Gender Equality Latin American Observatory claims at least 11 of these daily victims are women. Yet, there is not an officially declared armed conflict in Mexico, nor has there been in recent history. These numbers show that the absence of a formal armed conflict does not necessarily mean that people can live lives free from bitter violence. Hence, what did the Government of Mexico do in its strive for peace?
UN Security Council Resolution 1325
In 2021, the Mexican government published the National Action Plan (NAP 1325), based on a UN Security Council Resolution from 20 years earlier. It was an important step for the Women, Peace, and Security agenda in a country where an armed conflict has not been officially declared. The action plan establishes a recognition that women are capable of building lasting peace in the country. And more importantly, it highlights the urgent need for authorities and institutions to involve women in decision-making processes.
So, What is the NAP 1325?
The NAP 1325 is divided into 4 priorities: Prevention, Participation, Protection and Relief and Recovery. Prevention focuses on training to socialise women’s participation in security institutions. Protection ensures a gender perspective in all peacebuilding activities, including eradicating sexual violence perpetrated by members of a peacekeeping operation. Relief and Recovery guarantees that humanitarian aid is gender sensitive. Finally, Participation, the most relevant pillar in this article, is characterised by an ‘up-bottom/bottom-up’ approach. In Mexico, this priority is translated into involving more women in the armed forces and setting up MUCPAZ (Mujeres Constructoras de Paz/Women Peacebuilders) networks.
The National Women’s Institute in Mexico created the MUCPAZ Initiative, a grassroots women’s network that collaborates with public institutions to prevent gender violence. They have designed comprehensive strategies to identify risk factors, promote gender equality and a culture of peace. MUCPAZ-Networks consist of work, planning, and citizen participation groups in which women play a crucial role in the prevention of violence against women. This initiative represents a step forward towards recognizing women’s authority and ability to produce knowledge and achieve sustainable peace. This effort sets an example for both the Global South and the North. It emphasises the need to contextualise security strategies, rather than import them from (inter)national programs that are not sensitive to specific local contexts.
Juárez – bad reputation, positive case study
An example of a successful MUCPAZ network is one of female skateboarders in the Mexican city of Juárez. They managed to transform a dangerous public park into a safe space for female athletes. They reported the times when most crimes were committed and got men banned from entering the park at those times. The network has also been active in Urbivillas del Prado, a neighbourhood in the southern outskirts of Juárez city. Until 2020, this neighbourhood was mainly known for its grey houses, dirty streets and its lack of public spaces for neighbourly encounters.
MUCPAZ has transformed this enormously. Now, about 90 percent of the buildings have colours that illuminate the facades, painted by the community themself. The strength of the neighbourhood organisation is reflected in cleaner streets, a clutter-free park, and in the trees that have been planted there. Other activities were also involved, such as piñata workshops, mental health campaigns and initiatives for the prevention of gender violence and addiction. In this way, MUCPAZ has made an essential contribution to social cohesion and the subsequent sense of security within the neighbourhood. The city has been cleaned up, both physically and behind-the-scenes.
Challenges and Areas of Opportunity
Of course, despite the enormous peacebuilding opportunities created through MUCPAZ, the strategy is not perfect. To optimise its success, some argue that federal funding should be given to these networks to prevent local governments from conditioning the money in exchange of political support. Others, think MUCPAZ has an international potential that has not been fully exploited yet. Collaborating with other countries with similar problems and/or solutions would exponentially grow the impact of MUCPAZ. It would be useful to collect and systematize data from MUCPAZ’s activities and build a good-practices document so other countries could replicate this effort. Finally, there are still colonial conceptions of gender, race, and class that prevent racialised and marginalised women from being viewed as knowledge producers. Many believe this also needs addressing. The lack of women from minority communities sitting at high-level decision-making tables alone, shows that not all women’s voices are equally heard in the field of academics and politics.
Traditional definitions of war do not encompass peacebuilding efforts carried out in non-declared conflicts. For this reason, the NAP 1325 in Mexico, along with the MUCPAZ Initiative, represent a cutting-edge endeavour as it works with local and gender-balanced peacebuilding paradigms. After years of pressure from feminist groups, this effort carried out by the Mexican government is still widely celebrated. Fortunately, these success stories fit perfectly with the will to take steps forward towards in an even more gender-inclusive world, that is free from any form of violence.
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