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.” 


More Interviews

Marie-Joëlle Zahar is Pushing the Boundaries for Women in Security & Peacebuilding

Marie-Joëlle Zahar has been an ICAN Board Member since 2019. In this interview, she reflects on her early experiences during the war in Lebanon and how they shaped her journey in the world of conflict resolution, peacekeeping, post-conflict reconstruction, and gendered work. Marie-Joëlle shares stories of her time as a Senior Expert on the Standby Team of Mediation Experts at the UNDPPA, what it was like being one of the few women in international mediation spaces, and her advice for the next generation of women peacebuilders and WPS practitioners. Read more to view the full conversation.

“We are not afraid, we are resisting”: A strong message from the Director of Myanmar’s Gender Equality Network

At 8pm every evening since February 1, 2021 hundreds of thousands across Myanmar bang pots and pans to demonstrate their non-violent resistance to the military coup. This symbolic act is part of the Red Ribbon campaign, a nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement. The movement’s message is clear, explains May Sabe Phyu, Director of the Gender Equality Network (GEN) and a member of WASL: “We are not afraid; we are resisting the coup.”

“Let us go where the guns are loud”: How Esther Omam Builds Peace in Cameroon

“Women peacebuilders run to the problem when everyone else is running away,” said ICAN’s CEO and Founder, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini. This statement could not be truer of award-winning Cameroonian peacebuilder, Esther Omam. Esther’s career has seen her go from development worker to humanitarian responder to mediator and peacebuilder, in the South-West region of Cameroon.

Peace Heroes: Najlaa El Sheikh Helps Syrian Women Refugees Become Business Owners

“I often dream the jasmine returns to Syria to decorate and perfume our streets.”
As the Syrian regime rained barrel bombs on her hometown in Syria, Najlaa and her family were forced to flee to Turkey where she established the first organization led by a Syrian woman to help other women refugees with literacy, economic empowerment, and psychosocial support.
Peace Hero Najlaa El Sheikh speaks to ICAN about her journey, her work, and her dreams.

Peace Heroes: Muna Luqman and the Role of Women in War-Stricken Yemen

We spoke to Yemeni peace activist Muna Luqman, co-founder of the Women Solidarity Network and member of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL), about the war in Yemen, its devastating ramifications, and about the strength of Yemeni women in the face of this destruction.

Peace Heroes: Indonesia’s Mira Kusumarini Shows How Reintegrating Ex-extremists is Done

Mira Kusumarini talks to ICAN about C-SAVE’s efforts to alter the lives of returnees and prepare their communities to accept them.

Peace Heroes: Why Nancy Yammout Met with Extremists in Lebanese Prisons

Nancy Yammout speaks to ICAN about Rescue Me’s efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners found guilty of terrorism —and how, over nine years, they’ve engaged with some 680 prisoners, and been pivotal in blocking their re-recruitment into terror groups.

Peace Heroes: Deeyah Khan is Deconstructing Extremism with Documentary Film

Renowned documentary filmmaker Deeya Khan is recognized as a leader in the entertainment industry and on the human rights and peace-building scene. She spoke to us about her work, her vision and what she’s learned about extremism by confronting it face-to-face.

Peace Heroes: How Nigerian Psychologist Fatima Akilu Rehabilitates Extremist Societies

Dr. Fatima Akilu spoke to ICAN’s Aya Nader about how extremism affects women in her country, discussed rehabilitation and reintegration of extremists, and shared what motivates her to keep the fight for peace ignited.

Rodolfo Domínguez Márquez , Fights Femicide with Accountability in Mexico

Let’s celebrate the feminist men who fight for women, Rodolfo Domiguez Marquiz courageously fights Femicide with Accountability in Mexico

+1 202-355-8220

1126 16th Street NW Suite 250, Washington, DC 20036

Share This