To mark International Peace Day on 21 September, Womankind Worldwide and ActionAid launched a new report on the vital but overlooked roles of women peacebuilders.

From the ground up (summary, full report) is based on focus groups and interviews with over 550 women and men across Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sierra Leone. It shows that despite geographical, cultural and social differences across the five countries, women are often at the forefront of solving conflicts at local level.  Women and women's rights organisations provide vital services to survivors of conflict, mediate between parties, and promote nonviolence within their families and communities.

Strikingly, across all countries and communities researched, women are more likely than men to work collectively, rather than individually, in pursuit of peace.  Working together gives women a degree of protection, and also amplifies their voice.  Bandana Rana from Saathi, a women's rights organisation in Nepal, says:

in a patriarchal society, it is extremely important that women come together. Unless they act together, no one is going to hear them. They find security and strength in each others’ experiences.

The report also shows that women are building peace on a shoe string.  They take great risks to speak out, yet their efforts are hampered by a lack of support.  Women’s rights organisations at local level have no money for the basics, women are stopped from participating in peacebuilding by family members or societal expectations of what women are ‘supposed to do’.  Barriers such as lack of basic infrastructure, threats or acts of violence, and responsibilities in the home all contribute to women's lack of participation in formal peacebuilding.

The research contributes to filling a gap in evidence on the roles of women in local peacebuilding, and makes important recommendations to the international community. First, a minimum of 30% representation must be reserved for women and women's rights organisations in peace processes at all levels. Second, as recommended by the UN Secretary General, 15% of all peacebuilding funds should be dedicated to advancing women's rights and participation. Thirdly, violence against women should be recognised as a key barrier to peace, and targeted action should be taken to tackle it.

Whilst the report highlights the barriers to participation, it also brings a beacon of hope. As despite the many forces acting against them, women are mobilising and organising at local level, to rebuild communities from the ground up.