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Women stake their claim as key players in peace processes

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Picture: REUTERS – An internally displaced woman holds her ration card as she waits to receive food at a relief distribution centre in Hodon district in the south of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Representation and participation of women in peace processes is not taken for granted, as women are increasingly becoming key players in peace processes unfolding/taking place in their countries and on the Continent, says the writer.

By Pravina Makan-Lakha

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The CSW provides a platform for advancing the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, by highlighting the links between gender inequality, conflict, and peace. This includes addressing the impact of conflict on women and girls, advocating for their participation in peacebuilding and decision-making, and promoting the protection of women’s rights in peace agreements and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

The 67th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67) took place from March 6 to 17, 2023. It is worth noting that the CSW67 will be recalled for its many defining characteristics.

Firstly, it was the first time in almost three years since the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath of lockdowns that this meeting was convened in person and that men and women converged on the United Nations (UN) headquarters, New York, for this annual gathering.

Secondly, the CSW noted that “Progress in the Security Council’s WPS Agenda is lacking, as sexual violence, insufficient protection, absence in peace processes continues”.

Setting up their own peace table towards a common position for Peace on the WPS agenda, in the Post Peace Agreement between FDRE and TPLF, Ethiopian women made clear their position as leaders and not victims to this agenda

As United Nations Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) reaches its Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, advances on gender equality are shrinking worldwide, women are still suffering from brutal armed conflicts, and “Gender Apartheid”.

Thirdly, the CSW67 chaired by the Republic of South Africa and steered under the leadership of Ambassador Mathua Joyini, South Africa’s Permanent Representative to the UN, convened under the theme “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.

From a WPS lens, the CSW67 theme is timely and important, however, the theme is a stark reminder of the contestations between the global, regional, national, and local level priorities and the lived realities of women in conflict situations, and the practical responses required at local, national and regional levels.

Amongst various topics highlighted, it was worth noting that Mozambique chaired the UNSC ministerial-level debate on WPS, where more than 90 speakers took the floor over the day-long meeting, emphasising the challenges faced by women in the world’s increasingly complex conflict zones, from Syria to Mali, Yemen, Ukraine, South Sudan and beyond.

For women peacebuilding practitioners on the ground, the challenges echoed in the UNSC chambers were all too familiar to the realities in our varying conflict contexts. In reflecting on the status of the WPS Agenda globally, CSW67 highlighted clearly that more work needs to be committed to advancing the WPS agenda globally, continentally and regionally.

Highlighting the trajectory of the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and the overall WPS agenda globally, CSW 67 noted there are gains that were made over the past years, and there are also setbacks.

One of the recent setbacks was the exclusion of women in negotiating parties from the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) and Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) in the African Union (AU)-led Ethiopia Peace Process. While women’s participation in peace processes is one of the most vital pillars of UNSCR 1325, after twenty-two-and-half years since the adoption of the UNSC 1325 – the Ethiopian women were not present in the 6-a-side delegation.

This exclusion and lack of women representation in the negotiations raised concerns amongst the champions of the WPS movement across Africa.

However, the inclusion of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former UN WOMEN Executive Director and former Deputy President of South Africa, a champion of women rights, as a senior member in the AU-led mediation panel was welcomed and applauded. For the Ethiopian women and Africa, this inspired the hope for women’s meaningful leadership, inclusion, protection and design of relief and recovery efforts.

Representation and participation of women in peace processes is not taken for granted, as women are increasingly becoming key players in peace processes unfolding/taking place in their countries and on the Continent.

This is viewed through the Ethiopian women, who did not accept their exclusion at the Peace Table passively, nor have they ignored the opportunity of the presence of a women mediator of the calibre of Mlambo-Ngcuka for taking leadership and contributing to their country’s peace efforts.

Ethiopian women convened and developed practical steps to further strengthen their efforts as women peacebuilders. Setting up their own peace table towards a common position for Peace on the WPS agenda, in the Post Peace Agreement between FDRE and TPLF, Ethiopian women made clear their position as leaders and not victims to this agenda. This is a candid response to be included and this is what Ethiopian women are championing and promoting amongst themselves.

Another example of women leading at the sites of strife and conflict, with innovative context specific responses, is in Mozambique. In 2022, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), FDC, IMD, in Mozambique launched the Mozambique Movimento Mulher e Paz.

This movement is an initiative targeting women at a district and provincial level to engage in peacebuilding and social cohesion. The Mozambique Movimento Mulher e Paz is anchored by a network of women Peace Ambassadors as Focal Points representing seven provinces including Cabo Delgado, Niassa, Nampula, Sofala, Manica, Tete and Zambézia and 28 districts[i].

This women peacebuilders’ network engages and unpacks the challenges women face at local and provincial levels, conscious of the multiple dynamic conflict contexts and jointly explore the power of their agency to identify entry points within existing institutions to respond locally and nationally to the women peace and security agenda across the country.

In South Africa, the Gertrude Shoppe Women’s Mediation Network, a national institutionalised platform for women peacebuilders and mediators, marked International Women’s Day by revisiting the Women’s Mediation Networks. The forum convened under the theme “The current state of global peace and architecture: utilisation of the existing capacity by peace institutions” and their role in striving for women’s meaningful inclusion in peace efforts.

Institutions, Global Dynamics and Investing in Institutions of Peace – the forum highlighted the role of Women’s Mediation Networks such as the Global Alliance of Mediation Networks, the Nordic Mediation Network and FemWise-Africa and why these women’s mediation networks were established, how these forums were envisaged to contribute to the progress of women mediator’s inclusion in the peace efforts.

The meeting shared good practice on the importance of the local and national women mediation networks for the multiplicity of local demands from peace efforts and existing institutions.

At a continental level in Africa, the AU’s 3rd Africa Forum on WPS – met under the theme “Leveraging of WPS monitoring to enhance Women’s Participation and leadership in Peace Processes in Africa”.

The continental meeting explored the current institutions and structures within the AU Peace and Security Architecture, such as the Office of the Special Envoy on Peace and Security, and the AU FemWise Women Mediators Network, the Regional Economic Communities (REC’s) Women Mediation Networks, looking for greater collaboration and coherence at the different levels of response and influence.

Representation and participation of women in peace processes is not taken for granted, as women are increasingly becoming key players in peace processes unfolding/taking place in their countries and on the continent

From the global to the regional, to the national and local levels, tensions between the goals and progress recorded in the WPS agenda, are ever present. This is not necessarily bad.

The mixed results on the WPS Agenda and its aspirations that we witness, are nothing less than the function of the state of gender relations and gender inequality; that is layered in a complexity of women’s social realities, levels of poverty, inequality, the role of culture; disparate economic realities, unemployment, women’s exclusion in the economy and relegation to unpaid labour, unequal pay and subsistence economic activities and the system of patriarchy.

At the same time, these multiplicities of responses we witness at the various levels is not without innovative ideas, context specific weaved with cultural nuances and innovative practice that involve the power of the agency of women to dare to change the status quo and make meaning of the policy frameworks that exist.

Policy-making offers changes in the spirit and letter; however, more local good practices need to drive policy implementation frameworks and place emphasis on adaptation to see the results and progress that do exist.

Moreover, the instruments of measurement of good practices must offer the diversity of real and prevailing conditions on the ground. Notably, the WPS agenda requires all men and women from all backgrounds, to play their role in ensuring that the agenda is implemented at all levels.

Measurement of results has to be quantitative and qualitative and measurement should not be confined to existing instruments of measure. The WPS agenda, as is evident from practice, cannot be in the custody of policy makers only but, should be in the custody of everyone playing their respective roles.

Concluding Comment

As we approach 25 years of the WPS- Agenda, we have more to celebrate than when we started. The agenda has been institutionalised, it is showing greater results of ‘permanenting’ the different global, regional, national and local layers.

For women at the cold face of conflict and bearing the direct impact of such conflict, the guiding principle should reflect a greater solidarity with women and the priorities of the WPS agenda. In doing so, men are encouraged to show their solidarity in support of more collaborative implementation of the WPS agenda to avoid a relegation to women only.

Pravina Makan-Lakha is an advisor on Women, Peace and Security at ACCORD.

This article was first published on ACCORD