The United Nations is formally committed to facilitating the participation of women in all stages of peacemaking and peacebuilding. Throughout October this year, the UN and many in the international community marked the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325, which enshrined the imperative of the full inclusion of women in peace efforts, from negotiations to the implementation of agreements. As part of the commemoration of this historic Council text, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and its partners convened a series of events to review the state of the so-called “women, peace and security agenda”. Here we take a closer look at one of these discussions, which centered on what we can learn from the experiences of both seasoned and young women leaders in peacemaking.
Twenty years after the adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, the number of women taking part in peace processes around the world has decidedly increased. For example, in Colombia, women’s participation grew from one woman amongst 20 negotiators at the start of the process in 2012 to women representing nearly one-third of delegates later on.
But for Hanna Tetteh, Head of the UN Office to the African Union (UNOAU), on its own, a more diverse headcount among peacemakers is not enough.
“We don’t just want to have women as numbers”, she told a recent 1325 commemorative event. “You want to have other groups included as people who have something to contribute to the process”.
Tetteh, a co-facilitator of the High-Level Revitalization Forum to facilitate the peace process in South Sudan, stressed the need to focus on the pre-consultation phase in a peace process. “At this stage, there is the opportunity to be able to identify key stakeholders, whose voices should be part of a mediation process” she said. “One of the key lessons to learn for the preparation phase of a peace agreement is to avoid tokenism, through deliberate efforts to create space for all voices. I think that’s the most important thing”.
Tetteh was speaking at a discussion hosted by the UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) and Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) on 15 October and titled, “Imagining Inclusive Mediation: Learning from pioneering and young women leaders”. In addition to Tetteh, participants included three other women involved in peace efforts around the world: Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, former lead negotiator for Philippines talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and now a member of the UN Standby Team of Senior Mediation Advisers, Libyan human rights advocate and co-founder of “Together We Build It” Hajer Sharief, and South Sudanese youth representative and activist Emmily Koiti.
Panelists assessed progress made in making resolution 1325 a reality as well as the considerable obstacles still in the way of women’s full participation. Indeed, despite increasing global awareness of the importance of women’s inclusion, many of the challenges that pioneering women peacemakers have faced over the years remain, while new difficulties have emerged.
Inclusive peacemaking in the modern era is made more complex by a confluence of global factors, including rising authoritarianism in different parts of the world, asymmetric warfare, the proliferation of extremist groups, lack of equal access to digital technologies, and of course, the challenges posed by COVID-19. But 20 years of experience in advancing the full and meaningful participation of women in peace processes means there is a wealth of knowledge to be tapped into that can help in overcoming enduring and new difficulties.
Pointing to one important lesson learned from previous efforts, Hajer Sharief said facilitators and mediators need to understand the power dynamics across different levels and groups of participants in the peace process. “It’s essential, if not fundamental, to first ensure that women and young people are part of the process and decision-making that is going to produce the agreement.”
But just having a young woman in the room is not enough, she said. “Just by being inside, or by having permission to have a voice and a decision and a vote, does not really mean that you will have it,” Ms. Sharief added, saying she was speaking from experience.
According to Emmily Koiti, “mediation teams have to have an understanding of women’s issues; from preparation through mediation and implementation, women’s issues must be considered and prioritized.”
This inclusion needs to start at the very beginning, said Tetteh. Care must be taken to already involve women at the pre-consultation phase of the negotiations. But, “more often than not, what has happened is that women have not been included, mainly because their work is perceived to be at the community level, it’s perceived to be not as significant,” she added.
On that point, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer stressed that “every space is important to capture for the project of peace”, because without women doing work at the subnational level, it would be very hard to achieve anything by way of a national consensus at the national level. These different levels build on each other and work synergistically to support each other.
Ms. Coronel-Ferrer also noted that in her experience, it is important to shift security concepts toward human security and democratize the process: “for a game change, [we] need an overall democratization within a society.”
Hajer Sharief asked, “whose peace are we talking about?”, saying there was a difference between a power-sharing agreement and a peace agreement that belongs to the people and that matters to the people. Therefore, inclusive peace processes should include representatives of everyone that is affected by the outcome, Ms. Koiti added.
To ensure implementation of peace agreements, including on gender issues, Ms. Koiti stressed that gender or women specific issues should be seen with the same weight as any other issue in the peace agreement. When allotting punitive measures for failure of implementation, punitive measures should come through on issues that are related to women, so that it is not seen as if women’s issues are lesser than other issues in the peace agreement.
Ms. Sharief called for “gender due diligence” by donors and other stakeholders to ensure gendered power dynamics are addressed in peace processes, because “the fact that women and young people have an added value to peace processes is sometimes not enough incentive to mediators and facilitators” for their inclusion, she added.
Funds, a legal framework, networking and sisterhood were the four requirements Ms. Coronel-Ferrer listed to reach more inclusive and more gender-sensitive peace processes going forward. “Women need support, and yes, we can get that from fellow women who are with us, who share the advocacy and are willing to do this kind of pushing forward for the long haul.”
“It will require a deliberate effort to construct inclusive mediation processes, especially for those who provide the financial support to those processes, who provide the technical support to those processes”, Tetteh added. “There must be a constant deliberate effort to make sure that is as inclusive as possible”.
“Avoid tokenism, have the right kind of technical expertise, have enough time to prepare and make sure that that preparation is fairer, so that there can be a space for all the voices that we need to have at the table”, she concluded.
Watch the event here: https://vimeo.com/470483322
Title picture: More than sixty participants including political, traditional and religious leaders alongside civil society, representatives of displaced communities, women and youth attended a peace forum in Juba aimed at ensuring inclusive and active participation of South Sudanese communities in peacebuilding. The forum was supported by the UN Mission in South Sudan in collaboration with other partners. October 2019. UN Photo: Isaac Billy