There has been a dramatic shift in how women are seen in the field of peace and security in the last 20 years. Torunn L. Tryggestad, director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo’s Gender, Peace, and Security Centre has been an important player in pushing women’s rights in conflict zones.
The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) is a well-known institution both within Norway and globally for it’s important work in studying the conditions around peaceful relations. In 2015, PRIO launched its Gender, Peace, and Security (GPS) Centre, with Torunn L. Tryggestad at the helm.
Torunn’s role includes everything from conducting research and helping coordinate projects that look at women’s rights in conflict zones, to running workshops between policy makers and women’s right activists who are in the middle of some of the deadliest conflicts in our world.
Where are all the women?
As a political science student at the University of Oslo in the 90s, Torunn noticed that women weren’t exactly prioritized in her course materials or syllabus. “You know all my lecturers were men, most of the literature were written by men, articles that had anything to do with women or gender weren’t prioritized—or maybe were briefly covered at one of the last lectures.”
These observations from her studies would have an important impact on her, providing a sense of provocation that would be important in the work she would later do to make sure that women and women’s rights were represented in conflict settings and zones.
Women and Apartheid
After finishing her MA program, Torunn was hired at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), where her first project and assignment was on a project called Training for Peace in Southern Africa. This was a dynamic and exciting time, where the first elections had just been held in South Africa marking the end of the apartheid era, and provided a unique first job experience out of university.
“We were organizing workshops on UN peace operations and how to prepare for participation in such operations. It was basically workshops with only men attending, and I knew that women had played such an important role in the anti-apartheid movement. And also carrying arms in the movement, and I was thinking, Why don’t we apply a gender perspective here? Why don’t we have more women here? That is where it really got started.”
She would make it her goal to bring this gender perspective to this work herself, even if it meant she wasn’t always strongly supported.
“Being told to keep this to the side only inspired me to want to do this even more, because I was strongly convinced, this is the future.” She continues:
“We cannot talk about peace and security without also looking at women, their roles, and their contributions.”
Torunn believed that this perspective was the future of working towards peace, and she would be right.
From the Sidelines to a Seat at the Table
The world was changing, and the recognition of women’s issues being their own unique dimension in peace and security was becoming further recognized. In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325, which explicitly outlined the inclusion of women and women’s rights in conflict settings and peace negotiations. There was growing momentum and support for this agenda, and Torunn found herself in the midst of it.
In 2006, Torunn was hired at PRIO to work on a project full time devoted to women, peace, and security, working alongside two other prominent women researchers in this field, Inger Skjelsbæk, and Helga Hernes.
“It started as a competence and awareness building project. How could we get researchers to pay attention to the gendered dimensions of peace and conflict? This would help get a more full and clear picture of how conflict impacts men and women differently, and this would be helpful and relevant for policy makers when working with peace and conflict work.”
Strong Forces Get Involved
One of the main tasks that Torunn was given in 2006 was to write up Norway’s National Action Plan for Implementing Resolution 1325 alongside Helga Hernes. Established and well-known figures within the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs collaborated on this, and one of their staff members was also a contributor in creating the Nation Action Plan.
Senior diplomat, Steffen Kongstad, who had a background from working on ‘hard security issues’, such as nuclear disarmament, had overarching responsibility for this process. “He called meetings, and a lot of men would come to the meetings because they had a lot of respect for him, and I am quite convinced that if this was led by a woman, not as many would have shown up, because then it would have been seen as a woman’s project, led by women. So that signaled a real change.”
In 2015, PRIO would launch its Gender, Peace, and Security Centre with Torunn in charge, further cementing the importance and prioritization of women’s involvement in peace and conflict.
This Work is Personal and Powerful
In her current role as director of the GPS Centre at PRIO, Torunn finds herself involved in many different projects and tasks. This includes the High-Level Seminars on Gender and Inclusive Mediation Processes, which began in 2013. These seminars focus on providing tools and practices to mediators for how to bring more women to the table or have women’s rights be more included in peace negotiations. This has included mediators from Columbia, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world.
Torunn’s teaching and workshops have brought her in contact with many activists and women from around the world who risk their lives daily to advocate for women’s rights. There have been moments during these workshops where women have broken down in tears because of the echoes of the trauma they’ve endured. In these moments, focus of the workshop shifts away from the material and instead to the experiences of the women in the room and providing comfort and support for each other.
“I think this is part of why it has been out of question for me not to continue working on these topics. For me personally working on women, peace, and security, it is difficult to not be engaged. Of course, you can be a professional and try to be objective as you can, but it is very difficult to not be personally very engaged and full of emotions. I feel a strong urge and responsibility.”
“As someone who has access to resources and can do this type of research and help these women, I should continue to do it.”
It Is About Building Inclusive Societies
There is a growing number of studies that show the many positive outcomes of having women at the table during peace negotiations. It is more likely that the negotiations will end successfully and more likely that there will be a longer term and more sustainable peace after the negotiations if women are there.
“For me, it is a question of common sense. You cannot build stable and peaceful societies and economies unless you include everyone in a society. You cannot continue to marginalize women like you see in so many parts of the world. For me, this has been common sense for so many years, but more and more we see research backing this up.”
Including women doesn’t make it more peaceful simply because women are inherently more peaceful, but rather because including women means peace deals will focus more on building inclusive societies. When women are included, they don’t only speak up for women, they speak up for all those marginalized and disenfranchised. •