“In 2018, the women peace and security comes of age, as we mark 18 years since the Security Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 1325,” said Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and Executive Director of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), at the opening of the Women Mediators: Connecting Local and Global Peacebuilders event, held during the 2018 UN General Assembly gathering of world leaders. Co-hosted by International Peace Institute, ICAN and the UK Foreign Office and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, the event also featured senior representative from the UN, the government of Afghanistan, and leading women peacemakers from Syria and Yemen.  It was the first that such high-level governmental representatives addressed the issue of civil society women peacemakers’ direct participation in peace talks in specific and practical terms.  “Our wars are complex these days, our peace processes have to reflect that complexity,” said Anderlini. Echoing this notion Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide quoted Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee saying “Women are not observers of war, why should they be observers to peace?”

Our wars are complex these days, our peace processes have to reflect that complexity

-Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

Ms. Fatima Alasrar, member of the Women’s Solidarity Network of Yemen and affiliated with the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL), reflected on the practical ways in which women across ethnic or political divides have joined together to survive the war in Yemen.  “We help protect each other and our families,” she noted.  But the parties to war – government or armed factions – are afraid of including women, she reflected, “because we do not support this side or that. We call out abuses on all sides, and we are working towards a vision of sustainable peace for our country.”  Acknowledging the challenges that Martin Griffiths, the UN’s Envoy to Yemen faces, she nonetheless stated, the Women’s Solidarity Network should not be treated as an ‘add on’. “We are an integral part of the process. But there is a disconnect right now between the talks and the realities and needs of people on the ground.”

In response, Mr. Griffiths admitted “it’s a difficult time to get women into the peace process”; however, he expressed a desire to work on peace at the local level as well as use social media to scale for more inclusion.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, concurred with Ms. Alasrar.  The WPS agenda has helped transform the ways in which governmental departments work, he noted. As a permanent member of the Security Council, the UK will continue to champion the WPS agenda. He also recognized the ways in which the international community has failed to reach its objectives and need to connect grassroots efforts with all levels of the peace process. “Track 1, track 2 is jargon,” he reflected. “We need to design processes that are inclusive from the outset.” He concluded, “ Women are active already. It is incumbent on us to amplify their voices.”

Ms. Ana Maria Menendez, Senior Advisor of the Secretary General on Policy acknowledged that the UN has a responsibility to ensure that gender equality is a priority, mobilize networks of women mediators, and appoint women in leadership positions of the senior management group. She also voiced that the UN member states share this responsibility to use a “carrots and sticks” approach to ensure the parties include women.

Reflecting on Norway’s experiences, Foreign Minister, Ine Eriksen Soreide, noted that their experience points to key lessons. First support and funding for women’ organizations to raise issues and prepare them to take a seat at the table is essential. Second, small, gentle pushes with the parties to include women and other marginalized groups are needed from the international donors and mediators. While many different models exist, Norway has found the interest-based approach most effective. Third, it is essential to practice what you preach. “We are invited to facilitate talks,” noted the Minister. “When we agree we ensure our teams have gender balance and female envoys. We also say that Norway comes with conditions including inclusivity.”

Ms. Adela Raz, Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs, Afghanistan, discussed both the progress made with women’s leadership as well as the cultural barriers, which remain to women’s participation. While Afghan women know their rights and make their voices heard, the security and protection of women peacemakers remains a challenge.

Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York from 1996 to 2001 was also present. He held the Presidency of the UNSC when civil society leaders sought his support for a resolution in 2000. “It’s time for a resolution in the Security Council and the General Assembly to recognize the role of women mediators and ensure their necessary protection,” he noted echoing others.

Ms. Rajaa Altalli, Syria Co-Director of Center for Civil Society and Democracy (CCSD), also expressed concern for the protection of women peacemakers. “There’s no legal framework or resources or protection; in each conflict we face the same issues at local and national levels. Who is protecting peacebuilders? We need protection and resources to be there.”

“How do we move beyond apathy, adhockery and amnesia to caring, consistency and commitment for women’s inclusion?” Asked Ms. Anderlini. Speaking on behalf of the UN’s Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Ms. Theresa Whitfield, Director of Mediation and Policy, noted the importance of consistent mandates and accountability from the Security Council. She also pointed to the importance of envoys “starting early, having teams with gendered expertise, conducting gendered analysis of conflict and building relationships, so women peacemakers are known to all international actors.”

Ambassador Marriet Schuurman, heading up the Netherland’s Task Force  to the Security Council, affirmed the need to facilitate women’s participation through capacity building, and community consultations from local to national levels.  She pointed to the Council’s 2018 mandate for the UN’s mission in Afghanistan, where the mainstreaming of the WPS agenda was included, thus reflecting the political will of the Security Council, and its own need to hold envoys accountable.

There’s no legal framework or resources or protection; in each conflict we face the same issues at local and national levels. Who is protecting peacebuilders? We need protection and resources to be there.

– Rajaa Altalli

The efforts and continued pressure from the UN and governments remains critical to ensuring women’s participation and protection. Ms. Anderlini concluded the event with a summary of ten key takeaways:

  1. Women’s participation is integral, it can no longer be an ad- on.
  2. The design and process by which we ensure inclusion of women peacemakers may look different from one context to the next, but it must be done.
  3. The mandates that the Security Council issues matter. The inclusion of women peacebuilders should be integrated into all the mandates.
  4. Consistency and commitment to inclusivity are critical, even if the approach may be incremental and may vary from case to case.
  5. Gender expertise in the envoy’s team is essential and should not be parachuted in too late. From the outset situation and actor mappings should integrate gender analysis.
  6. For peace processes to be sustainable, we need political will on the part of warring parties, and inclusivity from civil society to maintain the momentum for negotiations. Inclusivity can help generate political will. We need to be creative in our approaches. Peacemaking is complex and new approaches are needed to address the reality of the wars we experience and witness.
  7. The era of quiet diplomacy is waning, We need a mix of quiet and noisy diplomacy, specifically using social media and other means to engage and inform the publics that are most affected by war, and ensure they can understand the premises of the talks, and can contribute to shaping agendas.
  8. Sustained funding for peacemakers and their organizations is essential.
  9. Men are our partners and agents of change. Through the WPS agenda, women brought the human face of war to the Security Council, addressing men’s experiences and including them. It is time for men to be equally inclusive of women.
  10. A new resolution from the Security Council and the General Assembly is needed to demonstrate commitment, respect and protection for civil society peacemakers.

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