Since early April 2020, ICAN has been hosting a weekly virtual gathering of its partners in the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL). For 90 minutes women peacebuilders (and a few men), many of whom are first responders to the Corona pandemic, speak of the situation in their countries, emerging threats, positive developments and always their own extraordinary response. 

This is the news, and these are the views that are not on the news.

Hope versus Extremism: How Women are Using Peacebuilding in the Covid-19 Crisis

While violent extremist groups take advantage of the vulnerable and national governments continue to fail their citizens, women peacebuilders embrace hope, foster interconnectedness, and uphold values of peace and justice. Canadian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Rob Oliphant observed the hope that the WASL partners put forth during the weekly WASL community check-in on 3 September, recognizing that “hope and extremism are on a teeter-totter. You can’t fight extremism with military or violence; you can only fight extremism with hope.”.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

You can’t fight extremism with military or violence; you can only fight extremism with hope.

A Date to Remember:
The UN Security Council in Conversation with WASL, the United Nations of Women Peacebuilders

The Coronavirus pandemic may have shut the door on shuttle diplomacy and air travel, but it opened a window to virtual diplomacy of a more creative and inclusive variety. On July 30th, 2020, eighteen current and future members of the UN’s Security Council experienced just that.

They joined ICAN’s weekly community check-in call with 33 of our partners from 25 countries across the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL).

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

“We want to have a genuine exchange, between the UN’s Security Council and our partners in WASL, who are a united nations of women peacebuilders. We each have questions and answers for each other. I hope we can challenge ourselves about what we can do differently together to ensure sustainable peace now and for the future”

The Impact of Recognition and Security on Women Peacebuilders and their Work

During our weekly community check-in calls, WASL partners have been discussing the dynamics of recognition and protection of peacebuilding work, as well as the effect that international policies have on the lived experiences of peacebuilders on the ground.

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Recognition is important. With recognition comes protection.

The Ever-Present Cycle of Conflict and Peace Making

Around the world, women peacebuilders are working within their communities to de-escalate violent conflict and prevent the recurrence of conflict in post-conflict or transitional environments. However, their work is made increasingly more difficult by the framing of conflict resolution as a linear process. WASL partners suggest that conflict is actually a cycle and that most countries will experience multiple phases of the cycle, simultaneously.
In the 14th virtual WASL call, peacebuilders discussed the ‘cycle of conflict’ and how it affects their work on conflict prevention, de-escalation, and peacebuilding.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

“Conflict prevention requires us to tackle the root causes of conflict – poverty, lack of access to education, inequality, unemployment, lack of security and even the role of the international community in the country.”

The Importance of Global Connectivity in Peacebuilding

The concept of interconnectedness is one that ICAN has directly addressed through the formal establishment of WASL, meaning “to connect” in Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. In the 12th weekly call, WASL members shared their stories of what this alliance means to them as a family and community of support.
“ICAN and WASL offer moral and political support to women. They energize us and empower us to raise our voice.”

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

“ICAN and WASL offer moral and political support to women. They energize us and empower us to raise our voice.”

Secondary Impacts of COVID-19 and the Role of Development Aid

As COVID-19 has exacerbated existing gaps in services on the ground, and many women peacebuilders pivoted their work during the pandemic to deal with urgent humanitarian response, the question of whether development aid reaches local communities arose. Members of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) highlighted the need for change so that development aid can reach local communities and provide the basic services of food, healthcare, and education.
Canada’s Minister of International Development, Karina Gould, and Canada’s Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security, Jacqueline O’Neill joined WASL members in the tenth virtual call.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

“If development aid is not reaching local communities, we need to rethink development aid”

How Women Peacebuilders are Balancing Work on COVID-19 and Violent Extremism

During the COVID-19 pandemic, women peacebuilders witnessed an increase in xenophobia and extremist messaging. Weakness in state infrastructure and response has left a vacuum which extremist actors have exploited for their own interests. Women peacebuilders are meeting this challenge by building a counter-narrative that is also grounded in the local culture, religion, and traditions.
“We need to be connected with you and establish new working methods for inclusive, sustainable peace,” remarked State Secretary Marianne Hagen from Norway who joined the ninth weekly call with the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL).

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

“From Pakistan to Morocco, Sudan or Egypt, Islamist militants are presenting the pandemic as a curse to ‘bad’ Muslims”

Carrying the Weight of Caring for Communities and Countries: Women Peacebuilders and COVID-19

As some countries begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, for many others, respite is not on the horizon. During the eighth virtual meeting of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) on May 21, 2020, women peacebuilders highlighted some tough truths about worsening poverty, mismanaged Covid-19 funds, tragic events that have been largely ignored, and feelings of desertion by the international community.

As ever, the call was a firm reminder that WASL is a community; partners shared honestly about feelings of exhaustion, offered each other moral support and promised to keep each in their prayers as individuals overcome personal challenges. Adding a brighter note, a wave was exchanged between a small son in the United States and a young grandson in Cameroon, showing the universality of the joy and resilience of childhood even during difficult and unprecedented times.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

“Nothing is good about war, except stopping it” 

COVID-19 and its impact on women’s participation in peace processes: Challenges and opportunities  

For the sixth virtual meeting, we were joined by H.E. Ann Linde, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, as the discussions focused on how the pandemic is impacting current peace processes. In particular, we explored questions around ensuring inclusivity and transparency, the opportunities and challenges of virtual convenings, and the continued activism of women peacebuilders. Touching on several of the global conflicts in her remarks, Minister Linde reinforced Sweden’s commitment to ensuring women’s meaningful participation in peace processes, including access to digital tools.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

 “By excluding women, we are not listening to the real signs of what could go wrong,” the women argue. Rather, “warring parties get incentives for taking up arms: they are listened to when they take up arms.”

How do Women Peacebuilders Cope with Rising Domestic Violence and the Humanitarian Impacts of COVID-19?

The fifth virtual meeting of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) focused on women peacebuilders’ humanitarian response with guests including H.E. Ambassador Kåre Aas, Norwegian Ambassador to the US; Luc Duckendorf, from  the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs; ; Amjad Saleem from the International Federation of the Red Cross. The conversation focused on how women peacebuilders are at the forefront of this pandemic, despite a deficient response from governments and the international community, and their role in raising awareness about domestic violence and COVID-19.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion


 Civil society is there ready to take the lead, but by what means and by which roads.

Ground Realities: Women, Peacebuilding & the Pandemic

A UNDP & Civil Society Global Dialogue

How can people stay home when they are dependent on daily wages to feed their families? How can they wash hands if there is no soap or water? From Cameroon to Yemen, women are making soap, and tackling the lack of water. As first responders, women peacebuilders are trying to fill the vacuums and urgent basic needs in terms food, sanitization and security such as mediating ceasefires and calling for prisoners’ release. 

For the fourth virtual meeting, Assistant Secretary General Asako Okai, UNDP’s Crisis Bureau Director, and her colleagues joined the ICAN-hosted call with some 45 women peacebuilders across Asia, Africa, the Arab World and Latin America to discuss health care, livelihood and crisis management in the time of Corona. 

Click here to read a summary of the discussion

People have no trust in the state because of their experiences of the levels of corruption, absenteeism in terms of provision of services, and oppressive behavior. So now they are skeptical about public health announcements.

How is the pandemic exacerbating or alleviating xenophobia, ethno-nationalism, religious or other extremisms and are there gendered dimensions to this?

In the third virtual meeting, women peacebuilders reported an uptick in hate speech, xenophobia, and extremist messaging. The vacuum left where the state is failing to provide for people’s basic health and economic needs, the vulnerability created by fear of the virus and more time spent online, and the inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19 are all trends identified by WASL members from the beginning of this crisis. These same trends are now clearly being leveraged by extremist groups to foment xenophobia and other forms of extremism.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion


Extremist groups are providing humanitarian assistance and filling the vacuum left by the state

– Pakistan

Part II: How women peacebuilders are responding to COVID-19

The second virtual meeting continued the discussion of what women peacebuilders around the world are doing to respond to COVID-19. The conversation also revealed emerging trends in the way the pandemic is impacting peace and security, from reinforcing authoritarian practices to providing fuel for extremist narratives.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion


Extremists are recruiting people by brainwashing them into believing that the pandemic is the wrath of God

– The Maldives

Part I: How women Peacebuilders are Responding to COVID-19?

In the first virtual meeting, various topics were raised however the similarities of the challenges was evident. Women spoke about food insecurity, faulty messaging about the pandemic, uncertainty, and domestic violence.

Click here to read a summary of the discussion


Social Distancing is a luxury not everyone can afford

– Sudan

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