Women’s Peace Activism

BBOG 500 days Vigil, Abuja
500 Days Vigil, Abuja (c) Zoe Marks

This project is part of the DFID-funded Political Settlements Research Programme and has two parts: a theoretical component that focuses on the role of gender and institutions in post-conflict settlements; and an empirically driven comparative research project examining women’s peace activism in West Africa.


The gendered analysis of institution-building will examine why apparent gender ‘mainstreaming’ gains in formal institutions of governance, at both local and global level, so often do not deliver in practice. It will examine the trajectory of establishing and implementing new institutions in periods of post-conflict transition. The project brings a gender lens to institutionalist theory, and considers how the ‘nesting’ of new institutions in wider power structures operates to sustain or dismantle gender mainstreaming gains achieved in that institution. (Read more)

WATCH –  Political Settlements summer school lecture: “Gender, institutions, and political settlements during/after armed conflict” (July 2016, youtube link)


The second project examines women’s peace activism in practice through field research in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Through interviews with peace activists from the community level to the national level, the project investigates the internal politics of both women’s activism and peace activism where they converge. I am examining how formal and informal power operates from the grassroots to elite politics, not only to influence government and policy, but also to put pressure on violent actors in armed conflict.


I am particularly interested in the role of gender and social networks in peace activism operating along both formal and informal channels, at the grassroots and elite level. How do Nigerian women tap into grassroots knowledge and power, and how is that translated to the corridors of power in state and national governments? How are women in civil society working with Nigeria’s security sector for peace?

Key partners include state and civil society organisations, such as WILPF-Nigeria, WANEP, the Nigerian Police, and the state military, as well as international partners, including UNWOMEN and the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme.

Liberia & Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone and Liberian civil wars were closely interconnected and women peace activists played a prominent role in ending the conflict, working together across a war-torn region. However, women also perpetrated violence and held leadership positions in the armed groups creating insecurity and instability. This project provides a comparative frame to the Nigeria study, as, unlike Nigeria’s sub-state conflicts, both Liberia and Sierra Leone had formal peace processes to broker the end of their national-level civil wars.

How did women in the Mano River region go from peace marches and sit-ins, to securing their place at the table? Did they ever secure formal influence over the settlement? The research also draws on extensive qualitative research with female combatants and leaders of Sierra Leone’s rebel group, the RUF. I compare the role of women’s leadership in armed groups and in civil society to probe key assumptions about women’s supposed pacifism, common interests or agenda, and unique negotiating characteristics. Findings on the exclusion of women from formal conflict settlements dovetail with my other research project on Poverty and Conflict at both the individual and organisational levels.

LISTEN – Harvard Kennedy School Women and Public Policy Program Seminar talk: “Rebel Queens and Black Diamonds: Gender politics in African armed groups” (Oct 2015, podcast link)