On 25 October, the UN will lead a debate discussing how to encourage greater involvement of women in addressing conflict. I will be there – and as well as highlighting the positive steps that are being taken, I will also be airing my frustrations. As manager of an emerging women mediator’s network, and a woman with my own experiences of mediating conflict in my native Afghanistan, I believe there is much more to be done
Eighteen years ago, on 31 October, the UN Security Council (UNSC) introduced resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This commitment reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and stresses the importance of their equal participation.
Despite this agreement, the number of women actively involved in formal peace negotiations remains woefully low. Experience proves that peace deals last longer when women participate. Common sense dictates that approaches to addressing conflict will not be as effective if you exclude half the population, yet so often we continue to do so.
There are a number of reasons why, nearly two decades after the adoption of this resolution, we still struggle to create enough spaces for women. One of the major obstacles to equal participation is the lack of recognition of the role women already play. In my work I often come across the misconception that there aren’t enough women mediators. In my view, this is simply not true. This misconception stems from a lack of awareness of what mediation actually means.
Women have been actively involved in mediation throughout history. From the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, which participated in the formal peace negotiations, to the role women played at different levels during the peace process between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. My experience working with other women mediators confirms that they play a vital role in mediation at many different levels. Within societies, they are often the bridge between communities, armed groups and conflict parties.
While working closely with Afghan women peace builders I found they take huge risks in providing safe spaces for women and other groups to come together. There are many other examples from around the world of where women have played a leading role in mediating peace. In the Philippines, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer was Chair of the government peace panel during formal negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, women led efforts to reconcile societies broken by suspicion and mistrust.
However, there are countless other women mediators who remain invisible. In so many cases, mediation efforts are initiated by women, and later hijacked by those in power. Crediting women for their existing achievements is an important first step towards enhancing the role of women in mediation.
Being part of the Afghan peace process, I experienced how women in Afghanistan mediated community conflict on a daily basis. At the same time, women with formal seats were engaged in highly political and dangerous processes, where they negotiated terms of peace with armed insurgents, including the Taliban. However, these examples are not cited, and the credit for their successes was often taken by male politicians.
Things are slowly starting to change. Women mediators are creating platforms to highlight the work they are doing. Recently, several all-women mediator networks have been established. These aim to advance the meaningful inclusion of women mediators and obtain recognition for the roles they are already playing in peace processes.
One such network is the Women Mediators across the Commonwealth (WMC), which I am privileged to coordinate. WMC brings together women from many different regions, and with diverse experiences of conflict mediation – from the grassroots to the political.
This week these various networks will be coming together in New York, alongside the UN Security Council to hold their own important discussions. The message that is likely to come from these conversations will not be how we can better equip women to do mediation, but how can we get better at acknowledging and elevating the vital work they are already doing.