Reconciliation and Relapse: The Case for the Inclusion of Women


This paper investigates the effect that women’s inclusion in the public sphere has on reconciliation in post-civil conflict countries. Researchers have discovered that women are more likely to facilitate dialogue between opposition members, which aids reconciliation through dual victimization acknowledgement. Thus, their public sphere inclusion represents acceptance of women’s societal contributions which, as my theory suggests, increases individual reconciliation and lessens the risk of violent relapse, as individuals may be less inclined to engage in violence against those they see as human beings. Contrarily, due to the prevalence of sexual violence during conflict, individuals may feel less inclined to reconcile, especially if they lose social status as a result of these experiences. I find strong support for the first hypothesis, as well as that those with sexual violence experience may be more likely to reconcile. In order to avoid relapse, post-conflict societies may consider implementing policies to include women in the public sphere and to provide support to victims of sexual violence, thus increasing the propensity to reconcile. 

Table of Contents: 


    Although infrequently seen as a central component of conflict—or peace—women are central to rebuilding communities torn apart by violence. “From southern Sudan to Northern Ireland, from the Middle East to Central America, the Balkans or the Philippines, women articulate a holistic vision of peace. They link personal peace—peace of mind—to their need for a peaceful society…” (Anderlini 2007). Several authors have found that more gender equality in a country reduces the likelihood of civil conflict (DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011), which is important because intrastate violence diverts a country’s focus on development. Thus, in order to increase development in countries, the risk of civil conflict must be minimized. Because greater gender equality appears to be related to less violence, women may be more likely to encourage peace. Therefore, I argue that one factor that impacts the risk of civil war relapse is the extent to which women are able to participate in the public sphere.

    While intrastate conflict can be defined as “violence within state borders with citizens and their government as antagonists” (Caprioli 2005, 162), it can also occur between social groups within a state, especially if that state’s government has failed (Anderlini 2007). The risk of relapse following the peace processes after such intrastate conflict is high but is especially dependent upon which peace processes were used and how the violence ceased. For instance, settlements often lack the decisive factor of a military victory but settlements also allow for the interests of more groups to be taken into account.

    Many cultures have rigid gender roles which facilitate the norm that men are superior to women. Thus, historically, women have rarely been allowed roles in the post-conflict society, even though their lives have been impacted by the conflict and will also be impacted by the decisions made during the peace processes. Since women are excluded, the post-conflict peace processes are not the most beneficial to the entire country, which increases the likelihood of relapse. Therefore, if women are included in the peace processes, more of the population is included and relapse may be less likely, allowing the groups to move toward reconciliation. Similarly, since women and men’s societal roles are often markedly different, women may bring a different perspective to the peace processes (Anderlini 2007, Helms 2003, Motsemme 2004). Therefore, a major implication of this study is that countries may be able to lessen their risk of civil war relapse and, thus, could continue to build their societies. The second major implication is that improving gender equality in societies may reduce the chance of civil violence which, as mentioned above, allows countries to develop and improve.

    Generally, women are a positive public force for inclusion in post-conflict societies because more of the population has a voice in the decisions. More representative government encourages other perspectives which lead to greater empathy; this empathy assists the country because it promotes individual reconciliation. Reconciliation “means that they come to see the humanity of one another, accept each other, and see the possibility of a relationship” (Staub 2006, 868). In order to discover if women do improve the prospects for reconciliation in countries which have experienced civil conflict, I propose the following research question: Does the inclusion of women in the public sphere lead to reconciliation after a country experiences civil conflict?

    In the following paper, I first discuss relevant literature, combining the fields of civil conflict, gender, and post-peace processes, with an emphasis on reconciliation. Then, I develop a theory of individual reconciliation and formulate hypotheses. I continue with a description of the research design. Finally, I use logistical regression to test my hypotheses and discuss my findings. I conclude with a discussion of limitations of this study, possible directions for future research, and several possible policy implications of my findings.

    Review of Literature


    After peace processes, the natural progression for a country which has recently experienced civil war is movement toward the healing of individuals, as well as reconciliation between groups divided by the conflict (Helms 2003, Staub 2006, Stiehm 2001). Reconciliation, however, can be a difficult term to identify when analyzing psychological attitudes in post-conflict societies. For the purposes of this paper, I rely on the definition provided by Staub: reconciliation “means that they come to see the humanity of one another, accept each other, and see the possibility of a relationship” (2006, 868). This definition is similar to those provided by Anderlini (2007), Anderson (2000), Gobodo-Madikizela (2005), Kelman (1999), Motsemme (2004), and Rothstein (1999); the central component of each revolves around psychological dispositions and relationships between groups, especially regarding unification.


    Women are generally considered more caring, better able to communicate, and less likely to be violent. These dispositions may be due to the biological nature of females (Boulding 2001, Duramy 2009, Gobodo-Madikizela 2005, Guhathakurta 2008, Hudson et al. 2009), or may be part of the way women are socialized using cultural gender norms (Guhathakurta 2008, Hudson et al. 2009), or both. Regardless, the debate is irrelevant for the purposes of this paper. What both sides agree upon, and what is important, is the assumption that women are more likely than men to possess these traits. Due to these temperaments, some scholars argue that countries would do well to use women as both peacekeepers and leaders to help the divided groups reconcile with each other (Anderlini 2007; Boulding 2001; DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011; Duramy 2009; Gobodo-Madikizela 2005; Guhathakurta 2008). Moreover, in cultures where gender is often the basis for societal roles and stereotypes, women are seen as more disposed to peace because of their role as mothers (Helms 2003, Hilsdon 2009). As mothers, women are considered more adept at building and fostering relationships and, therefore, should be more able to re-build relationships after a conflict (Anderson 2000; Djuric-Kuzmanovic, Drezgic, and Zarkov 2008; Duramy 2009; Gobodo-Madikizela 2005; Hilsdon 2009; McKay 1998). Unfortunately, women’s role of motherhood can also be detrimental; Caprioli argued that the role of mother is used to “maintain men’s control over women’s productive and reproductive labor” (2005, 167). Finally, in many countries where these assumptions exist and conflict occurs, women are viewed as nonviolent and so men are predominantly those engaged in the actual conflicts (Anderson 2000, Duramy 2009, Helms 2003, Hilsdon 2009, McKay 1998).

    Violence experienced during conflict. While most women do not participate in the fighting during civil wars, they are still affected in violent ways which cause them to lose some form of control over their destinies. McKay even goes so far as to say that women are “targeted in tactics of war” (1998, 382), which, in the instance of sexual violence, may be because women’s virginity status is held in such esteem in many cultures, even as women themselves are considered property (Boesten 2008; Djuric-Kuzmanovic, Drezgic, and Zarkov 2008; Duramy 2009; Guhathakurta 2008; Kandiyoti 2008). Sexual violence is one of the most prevalent crimes committed against females during civil wars. Although discussed less frequently, sexual violence is also committed against men during intrastate conflict. Besides evident physical health risks including infertility and, in the case of pregnancy, risky abortions, psychological trauma after rape is great, especially when one considers the prevalence of psychological warfare, such as forcing individuals to watch as their loved ones are violated (Duramy 2009, Gobodo-Madikizela 2005, Kandiyoti 2008). Many of the processes implemented by both the country and the international community do not focus on this trauma, which often leaves these women to live in silence or in shame (Anderlini 2007; Anderson 2000; DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011; Duramy 2009; Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007; McKay 1998; Motsemme 2004; Staub 2006). In addition to sexual violence, women are forced to support military groups in other manners, such as cooking, becoming wives or concubines, or, in some areas, fighting. Because women are viewed as less violent, however, many post-conflict agreements do not include ways to rehabilitate women who have been forced to support the groups (Abdelaal 2003; Anderlini 2007; Anderson 2000; DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011; Helms 2003).

    The physical and psychological violence women experience as part of conflict is important to consider when analyzing the chances of reconciliation for the country. Consideration of the sometimes unique violence women experience is important because the major ways in which women are affected by civil war will impact their psychological states after the violence has ended. In interviews with members of Mayan communities, researchers discovered that individuals more directly affected by violence harbored more negative psychological states (Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007). Thus, if women are strongly affected psychologically, they may be less able to harbor positive thoughts concerning the opposition after the peace processes are concluded and the country attempts to move toward reconciliation.

    The silencing and invisibility of women. As part of many cultures’ gender stereotypes, women are often silenced both in the public sphere, such as through less political representation, and in the private sphere, when men are more prone to talking over women (Duramy 2009, Meisenbach 2001, Tseelon 1991). Women are also, generally, silenced in situations involving post-conflict processes because they are less likely to be allowed roles in such processes (Anderlini 2007, Duramy 2009, Gobodo-Madikizela 2005, Guhathakurta 2008, Hilsdon 2009, McKay 1998). This lack of allowance can happen explicitly, when females simply are not allowed space in negotiation, or structurally, when labor distribution is unequally divided (Caprioli 2005, 164). For example, the percentage of female United Nations (UN) peacekeepers is lower than the percentage of female UN military or civilian personnel as compared to male UN employees (Stiehm 2001, 40). Similarly, the role of women as mediators is often ignored, despite the argument that women are more predisposed toward mediation and dialogue (Helms 2003, McKay 1998). Regardless of beliefs centered on biological predispositions, the silencing of women cannot benefit a conflict or post-conflict society because of the mass exclusion of a large portion of the population. Importantly, women are an even larger percentage of the population in a post-civil war society because most of those who are fighting are male. Therefore, more of the persons missing and killed are men, further increasing the ratio of females to males (Anderlini 2007, Anderson 2000, Guhathakurta 2008).

    As a structural occurrence, gendered silencing happens when society works in such a way that women are unable to express their opinions, such as the difficulty female politicians face in some countries as the marginalized minority (M Caprioli 2005, Gobodo-Madikizela 2005). Regardless of the level at which it occurs, gendered silencing can also be used as a tool for women to express themselves (Gobodo-Madikizela 2005). Motsemme (2004) researched the power of silences during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa for women who were testifying; during these silences, the audience was able to better comprehend the atrocious nature of some violent acts. To turn an oppressive tool into one which empowers women is especially beneficial because it could be used to grant them greater power within their communities; for example, silencing could be used as a tool to bring about reconciliation (Gobodo-Madikizela 2005; Helms 2003; Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007; McKay 1998). A new focus on silence as a tool for reconciliation may be useful because, as Motsemme argues, it can be used to disrupt the chaos created through a variety of dialogues (2004, 922).

    Because many cultures structurally silence women, much of their work after the conflict goes unnoticed (Anderlini 2007; Boulding 2001; Djuric-Kuzmanovic, Drezgic, and Zarkov 2008; Hilsdon 2009; Kandiyoti 2008; Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007). Hilsdon (2009) conducted interviews with women in the Philippines and found that, while women are often the negotiators of feudal conflicts, they are not celebrated as such. Despite this progress, women are still denied a voice during the actual negotiations which heavily affect their lives (Hilsdon 2009). The invisibility of women’s work is prominent when the work is viewed as a component of common gender stereotypes linked to women’s roles, even when the work is significant to rebuilding the community (Anderson 2000; Djuric-Kuzmanovic, Drezgic, and Zarkov 2008; Duramy 2009; Hilsdon 2009; Kandiyoti 2008; McKay 2003; Staub 2006). For example, women are commonly considered to be good listeners. A community area established by women where members on all sides of the conflict can visit to listen to each other would be beneficial to the community because it could create empathy. Since dialogue and empathy are considered feminine by many cultures, however, this work is rarely noticed.

    Political inclusion. The period after civil war is often a time of social, economic, and political change regardless of whether the war ended via victory or settlement. This change is especially relevant when male death rates are high during conflict as women sometimes fill in crucial leadership roles out of necessity (Anderlini 2007; Anderson 2000; DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011; Duramy 2009; Guhathakurta 2008). In a study conducted by Amu and Anthony (cited in Abdelaal 2003), surveys were collected from Sudanese people living in camps in order to learn about the role of women in the peace and resolution processes. They found that the four main reasons women struggled to gain roles in the peace processes and the post-conflict development included “male domination, lack of women empowerment, lack of active participation, and lack of education and the culture-based traditions against women” (Abdelaal 2003). Similarly, Anderlini (2007) and DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols (2011) found that societies that had more leadership roles for women during the conflict may return to fewer women in such roles post-conflict due to some of the psychological aspects of war, including stress, fatigue, and nostalgia. After violent conflict, individuals may long for the past before there was violence. This past is, in many countries, a time when women were minimal or nonexistent in the public sphere. On the contrary, greater female participation reduces the risk of relapse and so, while nostalgia may exist, it is important for societies to continue to allow women places in the public sector (Anderlini, 2007; DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols, 2011).

    While organizations led by women are likely to be created in the aftermath of civil war, these organizations are less likely to focus on women’s empowerment or women in general and more likely to exist for other reasons. For instance, women are often seen as outside of the sphere of conflict and, thus, are able to work more towards the good of a community (Hilsdon 2009, Kandiyoti 2008, McKay 1998). The Liberian Women’s Initiative was created in 1994 to mobilize women in order to bring about peace, with the rationale that, while men brought about the war, women could work to end the violence (Duramy 2009). Anderson (2000) also noted that the organizations that are dedicated to improving gender equality or empowering women often lack resources or support, and, as a result, they either flounder or have less presence and clout than other organizations created. Similarly, the Sierra Leone Women’s Movement for Peace lobbied leaders for rights such as those involving health care and inheritance, only to have their demands interrupted by another outbreak of violence (Duramy 2009). Therefore, even when symptoms of a fractured country make the empowerment of women a possibility, it is less likely to become reality due to lack of support, the stronger desire for national solidarity, or more pressing concerns (Caprioli 2005, Gobodo-Madikizela 2005, Kelman 1999).

    Post-Conflict Characteristics

    During conflict, a group’s leadership encourages the general population to develop strong negative psychological attitudes toward each other so that the masses will be pushed to violence. Even if individual members’ actions do not become violent, their role as bystanders leads to negative feelings toward the other group(s) so that they become complacent and do not try to end the violence (Boesten 2008, Gobodo-Madikizela 2005, Motsemme 2004, Rothstein 1999, Staub 2006). If a society is to function properly after the peace processes conclude, however, psychological attitudes must change or the society will remain fractured and the risk of relapse into civil war is more likely (DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011; Gobodo-Madikizela 2005; Staub 2006). The international community and local and national post-conflict communities must continue their work after civil war toward proper political representation and reparations for those affected by the conflict. These communities must also address the psychological attitudes of the groups in order to create societies in which the groups see the other side’s humanity (Rothstein 1999). One important attitude which must be minimized in a post-conflict society is fear (Rothstein 1999); in interviews with members of Mayan communities, ongoing fear was one of the most prevalent thoughts for those who directly and indirectly experienced violence (Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007). When this recognition of common humanity is realized, however, the groups are much less likely to disintegrate back into violent conflict or to continue to fear the other group.

    One important way to create this sense of humanity in the opposition is through dialogue (Anderlini 2007; Anderson 2000; Boulding 2001; Gobodo-Madikizela 2005; Hilsdon 2009; Kelman 1999; Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007; Staub 2006). Through dialogue, individuals can learn more about the root causes for the war and also about members of the opposing side. Dialogue also serves to protect the future because it is more difficult to encourage fighting when members of both sides acknowledge dual victimization (Gobodo-Madikizela 2005; Kelman 1999; Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007; Staub 2006). Anderson (2000) notes the role that women often play in post-conflict societies, researching such instances as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Liberia, Sudan, and Kenya. She argues that, in many instances, women are the first to take risks to promote dialogue between the parties, increasing the potential for reconciliation (Anderlini 2007; Anderson 2000; Staub 2006). Staub’s (2006) research concerned focus groups in Rwanda, some of which were integrated with both Tutsi and Hutu and some of which were not. The research demonstrated that groups which contained members of both parties were more likely to be empathetic and to have reconciliatory feelings compared to groups consisting of people from only one side of the conflict. Unfortunately, while this work can reunite a violently divided country, it can also go predominantly unnoticed, especially when it is attached to the women’s sphere, revolving around dialogue and relationships (Boulding 2001; Gobodo-Madikizela 2005; Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007; McKay 2003). The decreased chances of work attached to women’s spheres being noticed means that, even if women are more likely to be included in the public sphere, their work may not improve gender equality in the country as much as one might expect. Unfortunately, societal attitudes concerning gender must be fundamentally altered if this work is to be considered valid and crucial for reconciliation.

    While women’s political representation and involvement in peace processes in post-civil war countries has been addressed in previous research, studies directly focused on the impact of women on reconciliation are limited. This impact could be beneficial to countries which, following peace agreements, are still psychologically divided and, thus, risk relapse.


    When a majority of individuals on all sides of an intrastate conflict are able to experience reconciliation, the country is much less likely to relapse into violence. I remind the reader that reconciliation is defined as former enemies coming “to see the humanity of one another, accept each other, and see the possibility of a relationship” (Staub 2006). The country is less likely to relapse because it is difficult for leaders to instill negative psychological attitudes towards the opposition in their followers, since the former opponents are viewed as human beings and the possibility of a relationship has been considered. Since instilling negative attitudes toward the opposition is a critical component of civil conflict, reconciliation is crucial to avoid relapse. In current literature regarding women’s inclusion in the public sphere in a post-conflict society, two opposing arguments exist. In the first, women’s inclusion increases the chances of reconciliation because they are more likely to engage in dialogue with people who were part of the opposition. In the second, the explicit and implicit violence women experience lessens the likelihood that individuals will experience reconciliation because women’s social status has been so far reduced. While social status can be reduced as a result of the violence, intrastate conflict also can create opportunities for women’s social status to improve. Therefore, women may gain status and, thus, reconciliation will be more likely. Because the literature regarding women’s inclusion and reconciliation is qualitative, I test the three hypotheses in order to determine which argument is quantitatively supported.

    Women in post-conflict societies are more likely to engage in discussion with members of the opposition, which improves the reconciliation process (Anderson 2000; Boulding 2001; Gobodo-Madikizela 2005; Hilsdon 2009; Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan 2007; Staub 2006). Therefore, their political inclusion will lessen the likelihood of conflict relapse because individuals on all sides of the conflict gain a greater understanding of the historical context. This will result in a better understanding of the conflict as a whole and, thus, the country will have a more inclusive view of history. When history includes many groups, not just the victors, in its history, the country will be more unified—there will be less dissent, since more groups will feel better represented and less marginalized. With less dissent, the country can move away from violence and toward equality. Dialogue is a key aspect of reconciliation; it works because it increases understanding between individuals and groups who were on opposite sides of the conflict. The citizenry can then focus on improving their individual lives, which then improves the overall state of the country, thus preventing the recurrence of violence. For example, Anderson (2000) describes a café that women established in a town in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has become the sole place where members of all ethnic groups can come together to learn about the other side’s humanity through dialogue and contact. The café serves as a place of employment, while also uniting families and neighbors as the women work to aid returning community members (Anderson 2000, p. 34).

    Countries are more likely to erupt into civil conflict when a significant proportion of the population is not represented politically, although this underrepresentation predominantly concerns ethnic minorities rather than gendered minorities (Staub 2006). During the violence itself women often hold important positions in the public sphere. This increased representation is a result of men’s attention being focused on the escalated violence, which leaves them unable to focus on their jobs or politics. Women fill these roles, usually only to leave them upon the conflict’s resolution (Anderson 2000; DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011). The emptying of the public sphere by women after the conflict’s resolution means that a large portion of the community is, again, not represented. When a large portion of the community is not represented, the country is more likely to resort to conflict. When people are unable to discuss their grievances they will use more dramatic measures, such as violence. By including women in the public sphere, their opinions are more likely to be represented and they are better able to continue the ongoing dialogue publicly. When open public dialogue exists, people are less likely to resort to violence because their opinions are considered and debated. By taking into account all of the above considerations, the following hypothesis is presented:

    Hypothesis 1: The inclusion of women in the public sphere will increase the likelihood of reconciliation after a country experiences civil conflict.

    The argument that the inclusion of women in the public sphere will promote reconciliation through dialogue assumes that women have not been too psychologically affected as a result of the violence they experienced during the conflict, which may undermine their ability to engage in dialogue with members of the opposition.

    If women are particularly affected by the violence, they may be less likely to engage in dialogue and so reconciliation is less likely to occur after the country experienced intrastate conflict. In some countries, a woman’s social status is completely dependent on her husband or father or the number of sons she is able to raise. If a woman had lost all of the men she depended on socially, she would be greatly diminished in society and, therefore, less likely to engage in dialogue with members of the opposition (Anderlini 2007, Kandiyoti 2008, Staub 2006). Similarly, sexual violence is an unfortunate, but common, aspect of conflict, especially due to many culture’s expectations for women (i.e. purity, obedience, quietness). Because women’s sexual purity is held in high esteem, the desecration of this norm particularly affects morale. If a woman was raped during the war, she may be considered no longer valuable and may be shunned by her family, especially if she became pregnant as a result of the rape. For instance, during interviews with Mayan women, Lykes, Beristain, and Perez-Arminan (2007) found that individuals more directly affected by the violence were also more negatively affected psychologically. Due to their diminished social status (from an already culturally inferior status) as a result of sexual violence or the loss of male family members, women may be less likely to engage in dialogue and, thus, experience reconciliation. Therefore, the inclusion of women in the public sphere may not assist a country in reducing the possibility of relapse through individual reconciliation because women in the public sphere are more likely to create forums for discussion but, if they are too psychologically affected, this facilitation may not occur.

    Hypothesis 2: If individuals lose social status as a result of sexual violence experienced during intrastate conflict, the propensity for reconciliation will decrease.

    Alternatively, one could also argue that the opposite of this hypothesis is true, that the unique circumstances present during civil conflict increase women’s social status. For instance, because men do the majority of fighting, women often join the workforce and become politically active, since the positions need to be filled (Anderlini 2007; Motsemme 2004). Therefore, women would gain social status as they actively work in the public sphere, especially in terms of public leadership.

    Research Design

    To test my hypotheses, I will use the People on War Report, a survey conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The 1999 study surveyed 14,000 people although only 8,858 were retained in the logistic regression analysis due to collinearity. Those surveyed included in my analysis were from the following areas, all of which have experienced some form of civil conflict: Palestine-Israel, Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia, El Salvador, Georgia-Abkhazia, Lebanon, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia, and South Africa. During the survey, individuals were asked about their experiences during the war, as well as their awareness of international organizations and laws and their opinions regarding norms during warfare. This survey data is important because it asked respondents their opinions on many aspects of intrastate violence, while also asking about the role they played in the conflict.

    Dependent variable. The dependent variable in this study is reconciliation, which is the ability for individuals to see the humanity in members of the opposition in such a way that they consider a relationship with them. Because reconciliation as a psychological concept can be difficult to measure, the survey question which was to be used was the forty-ninth question: “Do you think the peace will last or do you think there will be more war in the future?” The possible answers for this question are: “peace will last,” “more war in future,” “both,” and “don’t know or refused.” For my variable, peace was coded as “1” and more war was coded as “0,” while the other two answers were treated as missing data. The answers to this question demonstrate the extent to which respondents have achieved reconciliation because, if they have not, they will view war as more likely as they have not considered the possibility of a relationship with members of the opposition. Continuing this argument, respondents who believe there will be more war would be more willing to engage in violence against others again, while those who have experienced reconciliation would be much less likely to consider violent actions against the former opposition. The drawback to using this survey question as my dependent variable is that it is not forthright in asking the respondents their views of their former opponents. Thus, the conflict could have ended so decisively that the respondents do not foresee more violence in the future, yet they have not yet achieved reconciliation. Despite these limitations, this measure still addresses some aspect of reconciliation because individuals who have reconciled with their former enemies will be much less likely to believe that there will be more war in the future.

    Independent variables. For the first hypothesis, the inclusion of women in the public sphere was the independent variable. To measure this variable, I used data from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators. In order to remain consistent with the Red Cross Survey, women as a percentage of the adult labor force in 1999, was used as the measurement of women in the public sphere. Caprioli (2000) and DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols (2011) argue that social, economic, and political representation are interlinked because they are “related and reinforcing” (DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011, 13); therefore, the use of women in the workforce is likely to reflect public sphere inclusion. The use of women in the workforce as an independent variable, however, could skew the results of this study because some scholars argue that working women increase the chance of relapse. Working women fill jobs that men could have and, when men are unemployed, there is a greater chance for the country to resort back to violence (DeMeritt, Kelly, & Nichols 2011, 20). However, Caprioli (2000, 65) argues that women’s participation in the labor force leads to other types of public sphere participation, including political, and thus women as a percentage of the labor force will provide a measure for inclusion.

    For the second hypothesis, the loss of social status experienced as a result of the conflict was the independent variable. The loss of social status can be linked both to the loss of a husband or a father (for women) and to the extent of the psychological damage suffered as a result of sexual violence (for men and women). One survey question asked respondents, “What is your current family situation?” One response for this question was the “spouse of missing person;” however, only .37% of respondents chose this answer and so this question would not accurately reflect a broad loss of social status for many respondents and thus was dropped. The other survey question used to conceptualize the loss of social status was the thirtieth question: “Now I’m going to ask you about your actual experiences during the war. Please tell me whether any of the following things happened to you personally or did not happen as a consequence of the (war/armed conflict) in [country name].” The respondents were asked if they had been: “forced to leave your home and live elsewhere,” “imprisoned,” “kidnapped or taken hostage,” “tortured,” “felt humiliated,” “lost contact with a close relative,” “a member of your immediate family killed during the armed conflict,” “serious damage to your property,” “wounded by the fighting,” “combatants took food away,” “had your house looted,” “somebody you knew well was sexually assaulted by combatants,” and “somebody you knew well was raped by combatants.” To each of these scenarios, respondents could reply that it had happened, it had not happened, or they did not know or refused to answer. The last two options to this question (concerning sexual assault and rape), will be used as a proxy variable for social status lost during civil conflict due to the stigma associated with victims of sexual violence in many cultures; when respondents replied affirmatively to either of these, it is coded as “1” while a negative reply is coded as “0.”

    Control variables. While my hypotheses center around women’s inclusion in the public sphere and social status lost due to violence, these are not the only factors which can impact the likelihood that individuals will experience reconciliation. The education level of the component will have to be controlled for because those who have more education may be more or less willing to reconcile. For example, countries that have experienced many civil conflicts have begun to implement peace training in their schools and so these individuals may be more likely to reconcile (Boulding 2001, Hilsdon 2009) or may have more knowledge about the conflict. The respondents had responses ranging from 0 to 20 years of education, with the majority of respondents reporting 12 years of education (18.97 percent).

    I will have to control for gender, due to the argument that women are more likely to reconcile than men (Boulding 2001; DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011; Duramy 2009; Gobodo-Madikizela 2005). A dummy variable is created for gender, where individuals who identified as female are coded as “1” and those who identified as male are coded as “0;” 47.74 percent of respondents were female. Not all individuals fit into the societal gender binary and many individuals identify at different parts on the gender continuum. In this survey, however, only .02 percent of respondents refused to answer the question or replied that they don’t know.

    Age is another factor that may impact the likelihood of reconciliation as the young may be less tied to the violence, especially if a conflict occurred decades ago; alternatively, resentment can be passed down through generations and so young adults may be as unlikely to reconcile as are older adults. The age variable ranges from 15 to 97 years old, with the mean age of respondents being 39.5 years.

    Methodology. To test my hypotheses, I use logistical (logit) regression because the dependent variable is binary in that respondents think either that there will be more war or that peace will last. The logit regression models the probability that the percentage of women in the labor force affects individual reconciliation in the twelve regions, while controlling for lost social status (sexual violence), age, gender, education level, and combatant status. A hypothesis is confirmed when the probability of the observed relationship occurring by chance, if the null hypothesis were true, is less than or equal to .05. The relationship is considered very significant when the probability is .000 or less (Walter 2012).


    The first hypothesis was supported using logistical regression. The first hypothesis analyzed the impact that women in the public sphere, operationalized as a percentage of the labor force, had on individual’s propensity to reconcile. The “WILF Restricted Model” column in Table 1 lists the coefficients and the standard errors for each variable in relation to the first hypothesis. The relationship between the percentage of women in the workforce and individual reconciliation is very significant, so that the more women are in the workforce, the more likely individuals in those countries are to reconcile. This statement is true regardless of the respondents’ gender, age, or education level, which may imply that even older individuals, who are generally more likely to adhere to typical gender norms, will benefit from an increase of women in the public sphere. Using predicted probabilities for this model, individuals in the area where women are the least represented in the public sphere have a 52 percent propensity to reconcile, while those living where women are the most represented have 80 percent likelihood. Therefore, increasing the percentage of women in the public sphere in post-conflict societies is beneficial, especially at the individual level.

    Although the logistical regression on the second hypothesis was very significant, it was contradictory to my hypothesis, which stated that experiencing sexual violence, which leads to a loss of social status, would lessen the propensity for reconciliation. The results of this regression can be found in Table 1, in the column entitled “Sexual Violence Restricted Model.” The regression revealed that an individual’s experience with either implicit or explicit sexual violence increased the likelihood that the individual would reconcile. While this contradicts the hypothesis, there is a possible explanation. Individuals who have suffered through mass atrocities may be so focused on the future that they do not want to consider the violence they experienced and, instead, want to heal so as to better their lives and those of their families. In this way, the past becomes much less important than the future and reconciliation is one way that the future can be vastly improved because the country is unified. Using predicted probabilities on this model, an individual with sexual violence experience will reconcile 74 percent of the time, while an individual without such experience will reconcile 69 percent of the time. While this relationship is very significant, the difference in the percentages is noticeably smaller than that of the impact of women in the public sphere. This disparity may be due to the idea that sexual violence often occurs during conflict and so it is expected, whereas allowing women in the public sphere represents more liberal belief systems.

    The fourth model in Table 1 (Fully Specified Model with Countries) shows the results of the final logistical regression. Afghanistan, Colombia, Lebanon, and the Philippines were all dropped from the analysis because of collinearity. For most countries, the propensity for reconciliation was very significant, with the exception of Cambodia, which was not significant, and Georgia, which was, however, still significant. The most recent major civil conflict in Cambodia was between the Khmer Rouge government and civilians who opposed the government; while a 1991 UN peace agreement created elections in the country, the last political leaders of the Khmer Rouge did not fully give up power until late 1998 (“Uppsala Conflict Data Program” 2011) so that many of the respondents in Cambodia in 1999 may not have felt as if peace would continue, given the relatively recent atrocity and, also, how recently the government gave up power. The other notable aspect of this model is that the sexual violence variable is not significant. One reason for this finding is that the data have a potential bias since they are country dummy variables and so are the same for approximately 1,000 observations each. Thus, country level effects, especially related to gender norms regarding victims of sexual violence, may affect the results and can make the relationship insignificant.

    In almost every model in Table 1, age and education have an inverse relationship with reconciliation. Older individuals are more likely to remember the conflict and to have been strongly affected by it, if it occurred less recently, and so may be less able to see the humanity in members of the opposition. Similarly, if younger respondents still experienced the conflict, they may be more concerned with the future and, thus, may be more willing to reconcile, so that the country can improve. The inverse relationship found with education is particularly interesting, however, because it implies that individuals with more education are less likely to reconcile. One explanation for this relationship may be that those who are more educated know more about the root causes of the conflict and, thus, harbor more negative feelings toward members of the opposition. Contrarily, those with more education may be more knowledgeable about civil conflict in general and thus may fear relapse. By knowing that the likelihood of relapse is high, these individuals may not want to reconcile with members of the opposition, fearing that they will be engaged in violence again.


    Many structures have a large impact on the tendency for post-civil conflict countries to relapse, including the type of government, the strength of the economy, the ease in which those involved in the conflict are able to find jobs, and how the violence ended; however, individual psychological attitudes may be one of the most significant, given that people must fight during civil conflict. Since many countries do relapse, this study explores what might impact individual reconciliation which, in turn, may lessen relapse. Because women are more likely to engage in dialogue, the impact of their role in the public sphere on reconciliation may be significant. Similarly, since sexual violence is such a prevalent occurrence during intrastate violence, explicit or implicit sexual violence may have an impact on the propensity of individuals to reconcile. Learning ways in which to improve reconciliation is important to the international community because civil conflict can wreck havoc, not only on individual countries, but also on an international scale. For instance, when an oil-rich country experiences violence, the price of fuel rises, thus affecting many other countries, and people. Therefore, analyzing ways to reduce violence can be very beneficial. Logistical regression on 1999 survey data from the Red Cross supports the impact women’s inclusion and sexual violence have on individual reconciliation.

    Implications. This study has the potential to expand the knowledge concerning individuals living in post-civil conflict societies. While much of the current literature analyzes the government or the commissions or trials held after intrastate violence, this study considers post-conflict countries from a more fundamental level, that of the individuals. The study advances the literature which discusses how to move these countries forward, toward development and unification. This advancement is important, given the propensity for countries to relapse.

    Limitations. While logistical regression showed support for my first hypothesis and was very significant, albeit in the opposite direction, for my second hypothesis, this study does have some limitations. Complications arising from the dataset are the most evident. First, the data is from 1999 and, also, did not ask respondents questions that would directly correlate to my theory. Given the limited data from which to draw, the survey did contain questions that could be used as proxy variables; however, this limitation may have affected my results. Most notably, the data was difficult to use in relation to sexual violence experience since the survey only asked if the respondents knew someone who had been sexually assaulted. While use of this variable limits the study because it does not ask about individual experience, in many cultures the victim of sexual violence is considered at fault and so this victimization becomes a stigma. Therefore, individuals, when asked about their sexual violence experience, may falsely answer the question and so this study may have benefitted from the indirect question. Similarly, regardless of the data limitations, the study did benefit from individual-level data, so that I could better understand how individuals affect countries as a whole.

    One other limitation of this study concerned the results of the logistical regression on the first hypothesis, which analyzed the role of women in the public sphere. Although the hypothesis was supported, implying that the presence of women in the public sphere may increase individual reconciliation, other research notes the importance of former combatants’ ability to find a job (Anderlini 2007; DeMeritt, Kelly, and Nichols 2011). This study does not take into account if combatants were able to find a job after the violence ceased and, therefore, the support for the first hypothesis may also require that more jobs are created after conflict, so that men and women can be represented.

    Directions for future research. There are many ways in which this research could be expanded. Most importantly, survey data directly addressing reconciliation would be beneficial, so that other factors (i.e., the current political climate of the respondent’s country) may not have as much potential to affect respondents’ answers. Similarly, there may be a difference in the propensity for reconciliation if individuals were sexually assaulted themselves or only knew relatives who were. This is especially important because of the contradictory findings related to my second hypothesis. More recent and representative data that includes respondents from the Arab Spring countries could also yield interesting, and timely, results. They have the potential to be particularly beneficial so that the precarious state of many of these countries could be analyzed and possibly reduced. Data over time, comparing differences in socioeconomic classes, and analyzing differences in cultural gender norms are three further avenues for future research.

    Gender is one distinction made across cultures; gender roles do not change easily and, in almost all cases, women are disadvantaged as a result of these roles. Although many societies are slowly becoming more equal, many structural changes must be made. Women are affected in many ways, both positive and negative, by civil conflict. Their roles in the aftermath, however, help move the countries forward and prevent relapse by increasing the propensity of individuals for reconciliation. While countries should make an effort to improve gender equality as a purely social concern, this effort will also advance the countries by reducing the risk of relapse, by improving the ability of individuals to live together as a result of increasing reconciliation, and by becoming more representative of the general population, of which women constitute a significant portion.


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    Table 1: Logistical Regression of Peace


    WILF Restricted Model
    Coef.(Std. Err.)

    Sexual Violence Restricted Model
    Coef.(Std. Err.)

    Fully Specified Model
    Coef.(Std. Err.)

    Fully Specified Model with Countries
    Coef.(Std. Err.)

    Women in Labor Force




















    Sexual Violence














    El Salvador









    South Africa






    *Significance at p>.000 and p<.051, ** Significance at p=.000; n= 8,858