Negotiating the Transition to Democracy and Reforming the Security Sector: The Vital Contributions of South African Women
The participation of South African women was a key component in the country’s transition from conflict to democracy and security sector reform. This paper by Sanam Naraghi Anderlini documents the strategies women used to gain full participation in the transition, their influence in shaping security sector policies and institutions, and the impact it had particularly in terms of building legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the public. South Africa’s inclusion of women in its transition process is a model for countries seeking fundamental changes in society’s views of and approaches to conflict, peace and security.
During its racial and political reformation ten years ago, South Africa revisited fundamental ideas of state security through a participatory approach that included civil society. It recognised that underdevelopment, poverty, lack of democratic participation and human rights abuses are grave threats to human security.
In that process, South African women were vital in articulating an innovative vision of security and influencing the peace and security debate via cross-party alliances. The strategies of South African women to gain a place at the table in the country’s transition process included:
- Gaining equal representation in peace negotiations;
- Influencing defence and security policies by encouraging the participation of large constituencies in the security discourse - effectively 'democratising the security debate' in grassroots processes that helped convey the “spirit” of human security;
- Shaping a new security sector that included participation of women supporting military reform, disarmament and a holistic approach to all issues of peace and security; and
- Promoting appointment of women to senior defence positions, providing gender training at the defence ministry, changing personnel policies affecting women and organising annual “Women at the Peace Table” gatherings.
This paper does not assume that women are more peaceful by nature than men or that their participation guarantees democratic governance. It argues that because of their increased responsibilities and vulnerability during conflict, women express views from the personal, human dimension that enhance transitional processes and improve the quality of ensuing peace.
Key findings of the role of South African women in the country’s transition process are:
- By consulting the public about security, South Africa went beyond reform to transform the security sector.
- Women of all races shaped the process by which human security became a priority for the state.
- Women mobilised to attain 50% representation in negotiations leading up to the 1994 elections, and 28% of parliament afterwards.
- Within the security establishment, it is increasingly acknowledged that women bring a critical perspective to security planning and implementation and have a positive influence as members of security forces.
- Security sector transformation will remain incomplete if the institutional culture is not changed. Overcoming gender-based discrimination is a key indicator of transformation.
In promoting security sector reform, the international community should:
- Encourage countries to ensure that public opinion on security is sought and addressed and that the security sector gains credibility and legitimacy with the public;
- Undertake capacity building programmes to enable women’s participation in security sector discussions; and
- Encourage defence ministries to promote full inclusion of women and gender perspectives in the articulation of peace and security issues.
The South African government should:
- Increase gender-based training for all peace keeping personnel and create mechanisms to hold accountable personnel who violate international codes of conduct;
- Renew its policies of engagement with civil society on security and defence issues; and
- Ensure adequate funding for programmes promoting gender equity and awareness.
Author: Sanam Naraghi Anderlini
Source: Naranghi Anderlini, S. 2004, âNegotiating the Transition to Democracy and Reforming the Security Sector: The Vital Contributions of South African Womenâ, Hunt Alternatives Fund, Washington DC. USA