The role of women in civil society and their involvement in peace negotiations has been notable, though women have often been overlooked as mediators in peace talks.
On January 20, the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program and the Institute for Inclusive Security
(IIS) hosted a meeting titled “Can Women Help Make Peace Agreements Sustainable?
” with Luz Mendez, member of the Advisory Council of the Global Fund for Women, Guatemala; Jacques Paul Klein, former United Nations Secretary General’s special representative and coordinator of United Nations operations, Liberia; Alice Nderitu, National Cohesion and Integration Commission, Kenya; and Suaad Allami, director, Sadr City Women’s Center and Legal Clinic, Iraq. Carla Koppell, director of the Institute for Inclusive Security, moderated the event.
Mendez recounted her experiences at the negotiating table during the peace process that ended a 36-year war in Guatemala. She described the shift in that process when the United Nations went from observer to mediator once participants realized the original format was not producing results. Mendez emphasized the challenges she faced when trying to address women’s rights concerns in talks, being the only woman present for four years of the five-year process. She also described the satisfaction she felt when the UN moderator consulted her on the inclusion of particular women’s rights provisions. Mendez also highlighted the ongoing challenges in Guatemala, such as weak implementation mechanisms for the accords, the ubiquity of femicide, and the persistence of socioeconomic grievances.
Klein, who served the UN aiding victims in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Liberia, denounced the violence and hatred that often erupts when a state is too weak to implement rule of law and is unable to turn its human capital into a source of strength. He described the prevalence of human trafficking witnessed throughout his career and the programs implemented to rescue kidnapped and exploited women. He concluded by emphasizing the responsibility and ability that each individual has to foster tolerance and take action against violence and repression.
Nderitu reviewed the origins of ethnic tensions in Kenya, which erupted into violence following elections in 2007-2008, as well as the role of women in the subsequent peace negotiations. She referred to the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation agreements mediated by Kofi Annan, which involved women throughout the peace process. These agreements focused on ending violence and the humanitarian crises while also addressing longstanding issues such as poverty, inequality, and unemployment.
Allami described the rise of the conservative movement in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, which has effectively limited women’s rights and freedoms codified in the existing Iraqi personal status law. She stated that coalition forces in Iraq helped to limit this trend, but the situation was still contentious because Iraqi leadership tends to not work with women’s groups even though women are mandated to comprise no less than 25 percent of parliament. Allami indicated that female leadership is ultimately weakened if the general female population’s rights are repressed. She also discussed the commitment the international community and the United States have made to Iraqi women.
Koppell concluded by discussing how there are plenty of models throughout the world where women in civil society have been brought into negotiations and peacemaking; policymakers can no longer justify the exclusion of women by claiming there are no proven strategies of inclusion.
Sara Girgis is an intern with the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.
Photo Credit: “070905-A-5406P-024,” courtesy of flickr user The U.S. Army. Sgt. Yasser Ahmed, a soldier from the Iraqi Army’s 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 11th Infantry Division, talks with a local woman during a patrol in the Graya’at area of Baghdad’s Adhamiyah District Sep. 5.