Women mediating in peace processes. Personal chronicles and reflections
The nature of conflicts between and within states presents multiple challenges to traditional mediation in order to achieve sustainable peace. Those challenges include the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution nº 1325, passed in 2000, on "Women, Peace and Security". This was the first Resolution that linked women to both issues, recognizing that armed conflict affected women and girls differently than men and boys. The agenda established by this Resolution recognizes the role and contribution of women during war and peace building, as well as their fundamental right to be included in peace negotiations.
It was not until recently that the peace agreements began to show results of the women’s participation, with the incorporation of a gender perspective. However, the inclusion of women is not yet part of the “standard” operating procedures in “High Level” peace mediation, called “Track I”, framed in a multi-path diplomacy.
Therefore, some questions regarding the implementation of Resolution 1325 remain pending: When women participate through inclusive mechanisms, what effects are produced in the implementation of those agreements? Why do so few women participate at a high level in Peace processes? When they are the mediators, what differences have been identified?
A decade ago, some of these responses proposed that one of justifications for the difficulty in achieving this advance was the same faced by the peace processes themselves; putting an end to violence. Since the women, for the most part, were not the belligerents, their participation did not seem legitimate. Since this model demonstrated the failure of the agreements, the objective began to change: from ending armed struggle to building a sustainable peace. Thereafter, the range of participation in the peace processes expanded. This is how multiple path interventions began to gain importance, joining the High Level negotiations or Track I, with a vision towards levels of participation in Track II and Track III. These avenues refer to unofficial negotiations of influential actors that support the High Level and to processes that occur at the local and territorial levels.
In line with the aforementioned research on the implementation of Resolution 1325, the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, the Center for Security Studies, the Folke Bernadotte Academy and the European Peace Institute invited me to be part of a research project with the aim of deepening the understanding of the roles that women negotiators and mediators play in peace processes and evaluating the conditions in which it would be possible to reach Track I. Within this framework, in October 2019, a meeting was convened in Stockholm to share experiences in order to assess to what extent our work had advanced the participation of women in the gender perspective agenda and to what extent our participation in Track I had been.
In my case, I shared the most relevant experiences I had had, participating in the Mediation Support Unit of the Department of Political Affairs and Peace Building of the United Nations, as part of the Permanent Team of Experts.
I was once asked to travel to Kyrgyzstan. My task, in the city of Osh, on the border with Uzbekistan, was to work in joint strategy with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with local religious leaders of the opposing clans, to make use of their legitimacy by putting them in the roles of facilitators and mediators in the region most affected by violence.
My intervention approach had to be based on the teachings of the Quran, requiring me to develop a high cultural sensitivity in order to be accepted. As a United Nations team, the lack of participation by women was a tremendous challenge. However, we were able to open an unofficial and almost intangible path through which the vision of some Muslim women could be included. Among them were women with a certain degree of influence, given that they taught in Islamic schools.
In the Colombian process, my role was to help “open up” the level of participation within the framework of the concept of multi-path diplomacy, so that it was not limited to the few official negotiators from the High Level of the Government and the FARC. The process design needed to identify and create entry points and participation mechanisms to include the needs of other sectors of society, in particular women.
To that end, I worked with the Government's High Commissioner for Peace and the Congressional Peace Commissions and we began consultations in the territories. These, in turn, opened the process to the participation of new social actors, among them, the women's movement that managed to establish in La Habana, for the first time during a peace process, a “Gender Subcommittee”, composed of women from both delegations.
The experience in Stockholm was privileged, allowing for reflections and some conclusions concerning issues that were posed as part of the investigation.
a) The question concerning the effect that the participation of women has in more official negotiation, which does not necessarily derive from them having influence over the decisions. This topic has been the subject of exhaustive research, reaching the conclusion that what counts is the quality of female participation and not just the quantity. Indeed, many processes in which women are included in the negotiations fail to incorporate a gender perspective into the analysis.
b) To the question of why so few women participate at the High Level (Track I)in peace processes, an article by Catherine Turner is worth referencing. It mentions the criteria used in international mediation to identify "special envoys" and "heads of peace missions". Words such as "authority", "high rank", "experience in the field", "convening power" are mentioned.
This denotes that the international community has been upholding the traditional, patriarchal concept of “leadership”. One of the consequences is that many of the women in this power game tend to reach high-level positions if they manage to show that same style.
c) Finally, the question of whether those of us women who mediate at the High Level make a difference takes us back to the previous point related to “leadership”. In the fight for equality, the perception has been that the more masculine characteristics we possess, the more likely we are to be perceived as successful. Without entering into a discussion about innate or cultural characteristics, it is evident that the way in which women have been socialized makes them more associated with abilities considered as “soft”, while men were “formatted” towards “hard” and competitive logics, notions of which society as a whole is also victim.
Like any paradigm, once installed, it is regarded as "true", at which point it becomes behaviors, which in turn are sustained by cultural stereotypes.
It will be necessary to promote institutional efforts from the United Nations to advance in the implementation of policies that support the access of women to these positions. The objective is to be able to contribute to modifying a model that is depleted and to become part of a new leadership that considers itself a defining characteristic when it comes to identifying the people who will guide the formal and non-formal peace processes.
Graciela “Gachi” Tapia is Senior Advisor in the Policy and Mediation Division of the Department of Political Affairs and Peace Building of the United Nations since 2012. She is currently a consultant for the Swiss and Swedish Peace Agencies, as well as UNDP-Argentina for the area of "Environment and Sustainable Development".