Despite the fact that women play an active role in mediating conflicts at all levels, their role is often not acknowledged and supported. A recent UN study found that only three percent of mediators, thirteen percent of negotiators, and four percent of signatories were women in all major peace processes between 1992 and 2018.
My experiences in Afghanistan and internationally have shown me that networks have an important role to play in championing efforts to increase the recognition of the role of women mediators in peace processes regionally and internationally. In Afghanistan, my work mediating conflicts demonstrated that women are more likely to participate meaningfully in specific peacebuilding spaces when they are able to operate in coalitions or networks. Networks do not only provide an opportunity for creating solidarity among women, but also a means of support in times of need. While working closely with Afghan women peacebuilders I found they take huge risks in providing safe spaces for women and other groups to come together. The support they could receive from networks of other peacebuilders navigating similar challenges made a big difference.
I now coordinate the Women Mediators across the Commonwealth (WMC) network. WMC brings together women from many different regions, and with diverse experiences of conflict mediation – from the grassroots to the political. The network advocates for the increased recognition of women mediators. It also provides opportunities for the members to learn from and support each other. So far this support has ranged from practical and technical advice, to mentorship, to simply sharing experiences from different conflict contexts. Most importantly, I have seen how being part of the network has increased the confidence of many members to be more vocal about the work they are doing, and to explore new opportunities. Being a part of WMC has allowed the women to position themselves as credible, trusted and experienced mediators.
There are now several networks supporting women mediators around the world including the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network, Nordic Women Mediators, and FemWise Africa. Along with the WMC, these networks are coming together to ensure strengthened cooperation and coordination between the regional women mediators networks, as well as embodying a collective voice to amplify our common goals. The Global Alliance of Regional Women Mediator Networks was launched on 26 September during the Opening Week of the United Nations General Assembly. Over fifty women from the four networks attended the launch, as well as senior government and UN officials.
The launch of the Global Alliance at the United Nations was a crucial step in publicly acknowledging and elevating the vital work women mediators are already doing. Yet for many of the women present in New York it also highlighted the obstacles facing women mediators that are still to be overcome.
The momentum that has been created by these networks and alliances needs continued support. As we approach 2020, the year which marks the 25-year anniversary of the Beijing Platform of Action and the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, there is still much work to be done. We must ensure that women are no longer side-lined and they gain their rightful recognition as mediators, negotiators, and peacebuilders.
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Peace processes that involve women are more likely to last. We are supporting a new network of women mediators to increase the participation of women in peace processes and mediation at a local, national, and global level.