Stories of women peacebuilders don’t often make it to the headlines. However, they are part of the longest-standing, socially-rooted transnational groups mobilizing for peace, women’s rights and security, and providing an alternative vision for the future.
Women who work on peacebuilding on the ground and lead grassroots local organizations question social dynamics and engage with different parties in order to create social change at all levels. This puts them in particularly risky situations.
Last month, during the workshops ICAN held at the Caux Forum in Switzerland, we had the opportunity to listen to the stories of some of the members from the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership – WASL, which means “to connect” in Arabic, Persian and Urdu. Having faced tangible risks themselves, their experience resembles that of many women from local grassroot organizations worldwide working to promote a culture of peace in their communities.
Women’s rights activists are the longest-standing, socially-rooted transnational groups mobilizing for peace, women’s rights and security.
– Sanam Naraghi Anderlini
As a feminist peacebuilder in Colombia, Juliana Suescún from Corporation of Social and Economic Investigation and Action (CIASE), works with women from ten different regions in the country building notions of security from their everyday experiences. They establish dialogues with police and military groups to incorporate gendered perspectives and promote an intersectional approach to identifying and strategizing for risks related to their work.
The have identified different dimensions of risks: physical, emotional, economic, political, spiritual, and digital. According to Juliana, these are determined by their “situated knowledge”, which refers to their everyday experiences and the context in which they live. For instance, she explains: “If you’re LGBT or Afro-Colombian, the risks that you and your community face are very specific.”
For Guissou Jahangari, Executive Director of the Armanshahr Foundation /OPEN ASIA, risks are hard to anticipate when working within countries that are constantly in war or conflict, such as Afghanistan. “Our work is risky because war is ongoing in Afghanistan; suicide attacks taking place always and it’s extremely difficult to bring people together without risks. We have organized 180 public debates and every time we worry about disruption.”
Our work is risky because war is ongoing in Afghanistan; suicide attacks taking place always and it’s extremely difficult to bring people together without risks.
– Guissou Jahangiri
In the case of women peacebuilders in Libya, the main common risk they experience according to Shahrazad Magrabi, Director of the Libyan Women Forum, is the fragmented political situation, “there is more than one government in the country (but only one recognized by the UN in Tripoli). This makes it risky for project design and implementation. For example, in some areas you can’t use certain language. You can’t show certain logos of organizations. You can’t use the word “peace” in one area because of the extent of the struggle/conflict.”
Guissou Jahangiri at the Caux Forum
For a Syrian activist, whose country has also been suffering from ongoing conflict for many years: “there are a lot of risks all the time for women peacebuilders, especially during conflict. People want to see you as ‘with us or against us’, not as impartial. People put us into boxes and so do international organizations. Most of the times we are just a checklist item and our security is not guaranteed.”
- ICAN & WASL Exchange Experience on the Protection of Peacebuilders at the Caux Forum
- Marie-Joëlle Zahar is Pushing the Boundaries for Women in Security & Peacebuilding
- Arabic Release of “Uncomfortable Truths, Unconventional Wisdoms: Women’s Perspectives on Violent Extremism and Security Interventions”
- “Let us go where the guns are loud”: How Esther Omam Builds Peace in Cameroon
- Uncomfortable Truths, Unconventional Wisdoms – WASL Security Brief