Book by Creston-raised author examines role of women in peace talks

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  • Jul. 21, 2016 5:00 p.m.
The cover of Miriam Anderson's new book.

The cover of Miriam Anderson's new book.

Miriam Anderson has expanded on her PhD dissertation to create a book, Windows of Opportunity: How Women Seize Peace Negotiations for Political Change.

Anderson, born and raised in Creston is a Prince Charles Secondary School graduate. She is one of three daughters (along with Amanda and Sarah) of Monte and Carol Anderson.

Now an assistant professor in the department of politics and public administration at Ryerson University in Toronto, she became interested in the subject while working in Croatia.

“After spending three years working for an international organization in post-conflict Croatia from 1999-2002, I became interested in peace processes and how political agreements made during peace negotiations change national institutions,” she said from Toronto.

She wrote her doctoral dissertation at the University of Cambridge in Great Britain from 2004-2009, and then went on to work as an assistant professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L.

“I wondered about what was prompting the inclusion of women’s rights in the agreements and why those particular clauses were being framed in human rights language rather than in terms reflective of understandings of women’s rights/roles in the countries where the respective peace agreements where produced,” she said.

Research included background reading, the selection of case studies and conducting interviews and archival work in Burundi, Macedonia and Northern Ireland.

“I also spent almost two years as a visiting student at Columbia University in New York and conducted some interviews with former [United Nations] personnel there.”

Having her book published by Oxford University Press was no easy matter. The manuscript was reviewed by three anonymous reviewers and she then modified her work to respond to their and editors’ suggestions. The procedure took several years.

The process of writing the book was filled with surprises.

“I was surprised to learn just how difficult it was for women to be included in peace negotiations in any capacity,” Anderson said. “In my three case studies, I found that women were initially excluded from participation in any of the peace negotiations and as a result worked strategically to gain access to the negotiations — in both Burundi and Northern Ireland they were successful and in Macedonia they were not.

“I was also quite surprised to learn that the women seeking access to peace negotiations knew some of the women in other countries who had participated in their own country’s peace negotiations. For example, the Northern Irish women knew some of those women in Guatemala. The women in Northern Ireland and in Burundi met with women from South Africa who had been involved in the drafting of the post-apartheid constitution there. Those linkages turned out to be a major reason why the women’s rights clauses throughout the 195 peace agreements I examined were framed in the same human rights language.

“I also found that the longer the conflict, the more likely it was that women’s rights would be included in the peace agreement. I think that this is because a longer conflict allows more time for women to mobilize, organize, and gain traction with decision makers.”

By converting her dissertation into a book, Anderson hopes to attract a wider audience to the subject.

“It is a much different manuscript now than when I completed the first draft in 2009,” Anderson said. “It’s been updated and I’ve added content to make it much more colourful and relatable. The book should be of interest to anyone interested in contemporary armed conflict, peace negotiations, and women’s activism and rights.”

After five years in St. John’s, she was attracted to Ryerson, which is larger and more connected to other universities in Toronto and throughout North America. It also takes her closer to friends and family in Western Canada.

She is currently co-editing a book called Transnational Actors in War and Peace, and working on a sequel to Windows of Opportunity, Sustaining Women’s Gains Made During Peace Negotiations, which continues where Windows of Opportunity left off.

“It looks at whether the women involved in peace negotiations continued to participate in formal politics after the peace agreement was signed,” she said.

Windows of Opportunity: How Women Seize Peace Negotiations for Political Change can be purchased online at www.amazon.ca or through Oxford University Press.