Peace Science Digest

The Problem with Inclusion in Peacemaking Theory and Practice

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Hirblinger, A. T., & Landau, D. M. (2020). Daring to differ? Strategies of inclusion in peacemaking. Security Dialogue, 51(4), 305-322. doi:10.1177/0967010619893227

Talking Points

  • Three main rationales exist for inclusion in peacemaking: to build legitimacy for the peace process, to protect or empower specific groups, and to transform relationships between groups.
  • Guidance on inclusion to build legitimacy for the peace process tends to “brush over difference(s)” between parties in the peace process, failing to clarify precisely who needs to be included to achieve an end to armed conflict.
  • Guidance on inclusion to protect and empower specific groups, commonly focused on women, while “necessary to combat [their] longstanding exclusion…from peacemaking,” is difficult to operationalize as it risks essentializing those very groups.
  • To bring about “context-sensitive and transformative inclusion practices,” a relational approach bases decisions about inclusion on antagonistic relationships between actors in the peace process and is better equipped to address underlying social and political conditions that fuel conflict.

Key Insight for Informing Practice   

  • While backlash to inclusive peace processes can be overcome, the failed referendum of the 2016 Colombian peace agreement imparts important lessons for how to operationalize inclusivity in a culturally sensitive, context-specific way.


As mediation scholars and practitioners advocate for more inclusion in peacemaking, it is important to consider who to include and why. To address these questions, Andreas T. Hirblinger and Dana M. Landau critically examine the scholarship and practice of inclusion in peacemaking. They identify “the politics behind various approaches to inclusion” and how different approaches account for differences between actors in the peace process. After identifying and reviewing three approaches to inclusion, the authors argue that a relational approach is best suited to achieving the social and political transformation necessary for lasting peace. They support this argument with a content analysis of UN policy documents on mediation and peacemaking and interviews with mediation professionals.

The article identifies three rationales for inclusion in the academic literature: to build legitimacy for the peace process, to protect or empower specific groups, and to transform relationships between groups. These rationales serve as the framework for examining strategies of inclusion found in UN policy documents. The content analysis looks at policy documents from the UN Mediation Support Unit, which includes documents from the UN Secretary-General (UNSG), the UN Security Council (UNSC), and the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In these documents, the authors identified three framings that correspond to the rationales found in the literature:

  • Open references, i.e., ambiguous terms like “stakeholders” or “communities” that broaden participation in the peace process.
  • Closed references, i.e., terms like “women” or “youth” that seek to empower or protect an identifiable group through the peace process.
  • Relational references, i.e., terms that indicate social relationships like the “powerful” or the “marginalized” that “hint at structural inequalities and power imbalances as underlying causes of armed conflict.”

Further analysis of UN documents and interviews with mediation professionals reveal key assumptions and contradictions within peacemaking policy and guidance. Overall, the authors find a key tension between “efforts to empower and protect specific groups, which requires naming and defining them, and the urge to stress their sociopolitical construction, and thus malleability.” Stressing their sociopolitical construction would avoid essentializing the demands of a defined group—yet, efforts to specifically empower defined groups “may be necessary to combat the longstanding exclusion of certain actors from peacemaking and politics more broadly.” This tension is particularly pronounced in closed references to women, which predominate in UN policy documents. The authors criticize how women are discussed in peacemaking documents, noting that they are not empowered as a social group but framed exclusively as victims. In practice, this means that women are viewed as a “fixed category,” irrespective of their other cultural identifiers, and women’s struggles for political power are represented as merely a technical fix.

Additionally, there are two arguments for inclusion in the policy documents that correspond with the identified framings: (1) that specific groups can find enhanced protection or empowerment through participation in peacemaking and (2) that the inclusion of more groups can improve participation. However, it is unclear how these arguments, whether framed in closed or open terms, directly relate “to the antagonisms that fuel violence.” For instance, open references to “civil society” are most used in policy documents that believe inclusion increases the legitimacy of a peace process. However, open references also “brush over difference(s)” between parties in the peace process and fail to clarify precisely who needs to be included to achieve an end to armed conflict.

Mediation professionals interviewed for this article report that guidance from UN policy documents “stands in tension” with their limited choices and influence in the peace process. Seats at the negotiation table are still limited despite increasing demands for inclusion in peacemaking. Open references are particularly difficult for mediators to operationalize, leading them to fall back on closed references to demonstrate the inclusiveness of a peace process to an international policy audience. This is akin to “box-ticking” inclusion where mediators can add identifiable actors to a peace process, like women, irrespective of the larger conflict context and do so while presuming “an essentialized group interest.”

To bring about “context-sensitive and transformative inclusion practices,” the authors recommend a relational approach to inclusion. Rarely mentioned in UN policy documents, a relational approach frames inclusion in the context of social and political relationships that hint at structural inequalities as the driver of conflict. In practice, mediators focus on “what antagonistic relationships need to be transformed” to achieve peace, rather than on the parties that should be included based on international policy priorities. This requires naming either “binary pairs” in the conflict (e.g., the powerful and the marginalized) or the relationship(s) between included actors characterized by their differences (like, those in favor of a particular outcome versus those opposed). As such, a relational approach is less concerned about the identity of actors in the peace process and more concerned about transforming relationships as a means to facilitate social and/or political change. The authors stress a relational framing to avoid making inclusion “an empty buzzword” and, instead, make it a meaningful practice that contributes to peaceful political settlement.  

Informing Practice

In theory, an inclusive peace process seems like a common-sense approach. War tears societies apart and affects every member of that society, not just the groups that participated in violence. Yet, this article reminds those of us of who study peace and security, whether as scholars, policymakers, or practitioners, to question our assumptions about what feels right in peacemaking. The failed referendum in 2016 on the Colombian peace agreement is a fitting example of the harsh reality that mediators face when trying to balance the demands for an inclusive peace process with a culturally sensitive, context-specific approach. While backlash to a peace process can be overcome, there are important lessons from the public backlash to the peace agreement in Colombia that can deepen our collective understanding of inclusive peace.

Ending a decades-long civil war in Colombia, the peace accord was signed by the Colombian government and the FARC. The completed agreement totaled nearly 300 pages and included specific passages on the inclusion of women, sexual minorities, social movements, civil society, and victims. In her article “Controversies of Inclusion in the Colombian Peace Process” for PRIO, Isabel Bramsen notes that the Colombian peace agreement “is one of the most inclusive, progressive and comprehensive in history, not least when it comes to gender inclusivity,” thanks to the advocacy of women’s and humans rights groups in Colombia and Norwegian diplomats who worked as part of the mediation team. The peace process itself made significant efforts for inclusivity by establishing a subcommittee on gender, inviting victims of the conflict to share their personal experiences, and establishing an online platform for citizens to provide input and new ideas. The final peace agreement was put to a public vote to further increase the legitimacy of the peace agreement by including the whole population in the decision-making process. A small majority (50.22%) rejected the peace agreement, demonstrating, according to Bramsen, the “dilemma between peace and inclusion.”

She draws two main lessons from the failed referendum. First, including progressive gender-equality provisions within a peace agreement should be measured against the risk of losing public support. Second, peace agreements are political, and putting a peace agreement to a public vote could polarize the public’s response to the agreement, rather than strengthen its legitimacy. In Colombia, the “no” campaign was comprised of political rivals to the party in power. They also ran an aggressive campaign against the peace agreement, which included framing the gender provisions as a threat to traditional family values.

Inclusion without contending with the reality of national and local politics or more conservative beliefs on gender roles can result in backlash or rejection, further complicating the calls for inclusive peacemaking. Yet, there is also no clear answer on whether a different peace process would have generated a different outcome if it had accounted for relations between various groups within Colombian society rather than focusing on inclusion as a means to build legitimacy or protect specific groups. For instance, a relational approach may have called on the government’s political rivals to have representation at the peace talks, knowing that they held stronger antagonistic views about making peace with the FARC. In Colombia, the peace agreement was amended after the failed referendum and, rather than subject that amended version to a second public vote, it was later approved by the legislature. While the peace agreement is still in effect today, it nonetheless serves as a case study to understand the tensions between inclusion and peace—and call into question claims that uncritically associate the two together. [KC]

Questions Raised

  • Under what conditions can inclusion and peace be successfully intertwined in the context of a peace agreement?

Continued Reading

Yousuf, N. (May 2018). Navigating inclusion in peace transitions: Beyond elite bargaining. Conciliation Resources. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from

Bramsen, I. (2022, April 1). Controversies of inclusion in the Colombian peace process: The balance act of introducing new norms and gaining popular support. PRIO. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from

Landau, D., & Hirblinger, A. (2020, February 5). Strategies of inclusion in peacemaking: Beyond box-ticking and photo opportunities? Security Dialogue. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from

Peace Science Digest. (2019, November 1). Barriers to peace for women in Nepal and Bosnia. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from

Peace Science Digest. (2019, June 5). Consequences of excluding armed actors from peace negotiations. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from

Peace Science Digest. (2019, November 1). Beyond armed conflict: Exploring broader understandings of reconciliation in Colombia. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from


Conciliation Resources:

Keywords: peacemaking, inclusion, inclusivity, mediation, United Nations, peace process

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