On Wednesday, 15 February, guests from the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UNDPPA), UN Office of Counterterrorism (UNOCT) and UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) joined the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and women peacebuilders in the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) for a special consultation on the UN Secretary-General’s “New Agenda for Peace”.
The goal of this consultation meeting was to generate ideas about what concrete actions and commitments the Secretary-General could call for in the New Agenda for Peace. The New Agenda for Peace will aim to advance the implementation of critical priorities – including the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda – to address current and future peace and security challenges.
Through the conversation we explored what women peacebuilders consider critical priorities and how the framework could affect their lived realities and work on the ground in fragile and conflict settings.
Recognition of the role of civil society and women peacebuilders
Women peacebuilders from Ukraine to Cameroon stressed that civil society’s role in addressing peace and security issues and responding to humanitarian crises is vastly overlooked. In the context of the recent devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria and the delayed response from UN agencies, Ahlam Almilaj, a Syrian peacebuilder and Executive Director of Zenobia Syrian Women’s Association, who has been carrying out emergency response noted:
“Action always comes late during disasters, responsibility lands on grassroots women peacebuilders.”
Given women are the most affected by conflicts and crises, she argued that quick response is vital to any agenda for peace. Others too noted how, despite being the first to support their communities, women’s efforts fail to be recognized, and they are excluded when it comes to decision-making. According to a WASL member from Morocco, the WPS National Action Plan (NAP) in her country was tailored by the government to suit its priorities, while grassroots civil society organizations such as her own were left out of the process.
A Cameroonian peacebuilder called for the framework to prioritize the inclusion of grassroots women in policymaking. She also argued that youth are consistently marginalized and that efforts must be made to better include their voices.
“Looking at Women, Peace, and Security ten years from now, what future is there for us as women peacebuilders and mediators? The future is bleak if we don’t take drastic actions to make sure our voices are included in all policy decisions.”
– Esther Omam, Executive Director, Reach Out Cameroon
Protecting and funding peacebuilding
On top of being recognized and included in decision-making processes, women peacebuilders need to be able to carry out their peace work safely. The WASL members present at the consultation called for consideration around the protection of women peacebuilders, activists, and human rights defenders. A Cameroonian peacebuilder pointed out that civil society space is shrinking, and violence and attacks on activists dissuades women from taking on public roles and carrying out peace work. Meanwhile, a Tunisian WASL member said that women peacebuilders are increasingly stigmatized and are sometimes even labeled terrorists because they engage actors on all sides of the conflict.
Flexible and equitable funding of local peacebuilding organizations was put forward as a priority for the New Agenda for Peace. A peacebuilder from Albania argued that local civil society organizations face barriers to receiving international support due to bureaucracy and administration, she called for technical capabilities training alongside increased funding. ICAN’s Founder and CEO, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, MBE, added that there is a need for greater accountability and transparency in donors’ funding practices.
An ecosystem of peacebuilding and violence prevention
Throughout the consultation many pointed to a disconnect between civil society and the international system. Peacebuilders are actors of change, who are on the frontlines as mitigators of conflict and first responders. Sanam Naraghi Anderlini closed the consultation by calling for the New Agenda for Peace to listen to grassroots voices and recognize civil society as equals in an ecosystem of peacebuilding and preventing violence.