By Lauren Mellows

“Amplifying Voices for Peace: Women at the Peace Table – The New Norm” concluded that meaningful inclusion and participation of women in peacebuilding processes is instrumental to ensuring sustainable outcomes. The virtual event, held on 5th October 2020, was spearheaded by the German Federal Foreign Office and the International Civil Action Network (ICAN) and co-organized with the Foreign Ministries of Finland, France, Italy, Norway, UK, Spain and Sweden; the Global Alliance of Regional Women Mediator Networks; and the European External Action Service. 

The occasion, which brought together women peacebuilders and mediators with governments and multilateral mediation units, kickstarted the 20th anniversary celebrations of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). The objective was to address what needs to be done – as well as how and by whom – to ensure the full participation of women in peace processes. Participants explored how to build on and further develop existing commitments by governments and multilateral institutions, particularly against the additional challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and response measures. The event also proved an opportunity to amplify the voices and recognize the critical work of women peacebuilders and mediators who, according to  ICAN Founder and CEO Ms. Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, who moderated the discussion, “have been the engine and spirit and soul of the Women, Peace and Security agenda throughout the past twenty years.” 

During the welcome remarks Ms. Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Germany expressed how “history has proved UN Security Council Resolution 1325 right” referring to empirical evidence that shows peace agreements are more stable when women participate in the processes. Ms. Müntefering pointed to the Sudanese peace process articulating that: “The peaceful revolution in Sudan would not have been possible without the many courageous women.” The panelists also provided case examples of progress and good precedence in their respective regions. H.E. Dr. Ambassador Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, Head of Social Sector, the League of Arab States (LAS) noted how ten of the 22 LAS countries have become members of the Arab Women Mediators Network, involving women in prevention, diplomacy and peace-making. She explained that in 2015, LAS launched its Regional Action Plan for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and began working with the Arab countries to establish their own action plans. Ms. Kate Fearon, Deputy Head of the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia, explained how supporting women at the peace table is a real area of interest for the European Union, “…in Georgia we are able to identify who women peacebuilders are and provide confidences for women who are interested in contributing to instruments and platforms for building confidence and building peace.” Speaking as a beneficiary, Ms. Fearon also highlighted the EU’s success in supporting Northern Ireland’s peace process through structural funds. Meanwhile Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), noted women’s involvement in Sun City in 2002 when DRC’s peace negotiations resumed.    

History has proved UN Security Council Resolution 1325 right

The speakers underlined why having women at the peace table is critical, focusing on the community voices and perspectives that they bring. Ms. Zerrougui stated that “you see the difference between men and women in a negotiation process”, referring to her experiences working on the Syrian Crisis from 2012 to 2013. She explained how the women refugees she met with wanted to speak about the education of children in the camps. They were insistent that the children learn Arabic and receive a certification that would be valid upon return to Syria. This contrasted with speaking to men, who she said, “always speak about power-sharing.” Afghan peacebuilder, co-Founder of Women & Peace Studies Organization (WPSO) and member of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) Ms. Wazhma Frogh reiterated this dynamic stating “we [Afghan women] are not talking about dividing the power, we are talking about dividing the responsibility.” Ms. Naraghi Anderlini also touched on the issues of responsibility and power, emphasizing that “so often we see that those in power are abrogating their responsibility to protect their communities.”. In this case, she continued, “it is very often women peacebuilders who take up that burden of responsibility to protect, not with weapons or bombs or militaries – but with their brave words and actions.” Ms. Fearon made the point that specific values and characteristics women embody make them valuable at the peace negotiating table: “what we see here is that for women in peacebuilding ideas generation is something that comes naturally and inherently.” There was general agreement that the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the critical work of women peacebuilders and that the WPS agenda is more relevant than ever.  

Among the participants there was widespread recognition that, despite notable achievements, two decades on we are still far from achieving the Women, Peace and Security agenda’s goals. Notably, women remain heavily underrepresented in peace processes. The participants called for accelerated progress, with many expressing disappointment over the lack of political will and funding for its implementation across the last twenty years. Ms. Cristina Gallach, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Ibero-America and Caribbean, Spain, described the low numbers of women in peace processes as “appalling”, meanwhile Lord Tariq Ahmed of Wimbledon, Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict and Minister of State, from the United Kingdom, noted that despite some progress “women remain largely absent.” Ms. Helga Schmid, Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) cited figures from across the last 30 years that reveal how “women are 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators, and 6% of signatories in major peace processes.” She also emphasized the difficulties that women face beyond access into the peace negotiating room; either women are chosen due to their lack of strong agenda or their agenda is sidelined once they are in the room. This issue was also examined by Ms. Zerrougui and built upon by Ms. Naraghi Anderlini. They explained how women brought to the table as part of delegations are often women close to the negotiating parties who will not speak up, or are hardliners with no agenda for peace or connection to the women’s movement. There was agreement that the inclusion of independent delegations of peace actors is crucial. On the current Afghanistan peace negotiations, Ms. Frogh noted that “high levels of local and international mobilization have enabled a good number of women in the negotiating team but we need to have more independent peacebuilding voices.” She expressed frustration that there has not been an independent delegation of women peacebuilders in Doha for the Afghan Peace Talks.

So often we see that those in power are abrogating their responsibility to protect their communities.

There was a forward-looking sentiment to the event, and all co-hosts agreed on the need to increase the engagement to achieve women‘s full and equal participation. Ms. Schmid stated that “we need to support, fund, and protect women peacebuilders to bring women’s representation in even more than before.” In terms of practical steps, Ms. Naraghi Anderlini presented ICAN’s newly released “Operational Guidance to Guarantee the Participation of Women Peacebuilders in Track One Peace Processes”. The ten recommendations, which build on over twenty years of experience and precedence, are about systemizing good practices and making them the norm. Several of the speakers and high-level interventions focused on particular areas in need of attention: Ms. Zerrougui emphasized the need to facilitate the travel of women to peace processes and prepare them to express their needs and views. Ms. Paivi Kannisto, Chief of UN Women‘s Peace and Security focused on access to finance and resources. She noted that development assistance to gender equality and women’s empowerment has been reduced in 2019 and that “goals and priorities without financing are called hallucinations.” Ms. Fearon emphasized the need to communicate well with societies and communities on the ground, in order to get people to buy-in to the peace process whilst Ms. Marianne Hagen, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway committed to integrating inclusion as a tool from the start: “Identifying key women actors at an early stage and investing in them is an investment into the future peace process.” ICAN’s final recommendation advises mediation teams and governments supporting peace processes to consult with women peacebuilders before committing funding or political support to determine the viability and vulnerabilities of agreements. It continues: “Don’t commit support if agreements enable, validate or reinforce violence, corruption, discrimination and exclusion”. This generated a reassurance from Ms. Schmid on the Afghanistan Peace Process: “…EU will not fund any result of these talks that goes at the expense of the achievements of women in the last few years.” 

We need to support, fund, and protect women peacebuilders to bring women’s representation in even more than before.

Among the participants there was agreement over the shared responsibility to fully realize UNSCR 1325 and make women’s inclusion and participation the norm. Strong commitments to stand with women peacebuilders threaded through the event and “Words matter but actions matter more” was the overall sentiment from Ms. Naraghi Anderlini.  Ms. Frogh concluded the event with a final call for support on behalf of the Afghan women pushing for their rightful place at the negotiating table: “We are not asking for our international allies to fight our battles, we will do that ourselves, but we need the space, we need the opportunities to be there.” 

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