In October 2020, the international community celebrated the 20th anniversary of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which reaffirmed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations and peacebuilding.
To mark the occasion, we chaired the gathering, ‘The Elders in conversation on women in mediation in the Arab world’.
We had a stellar cast list including four of The Elders, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ban Ki-Moon, Lakhdar Brahimi and Graça Machel.
We were also joined by HRH The Countess of Wessex and women mediators from the Middle East. These are women who risk their lives to work for peace in some of the most troubled areas of the world, from Yemen to Afghanistan, from Syria to Libya.
Why were we hosting a conference on ways to promote women’s participation as mediators in peace processes in the Arab world?
Little progress has been made in the last 20 years since the passing of UNSCR 1325, despite clear evidence that women’s participation is key to the success and longevity of peace processes.
When women meaningfully participate in peace processes, the resulting agreement is 64% less likely to fail and 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.UN Women and the Council on Foreign Relations
In other words, including women around the peace table is not a favour to women or a nod to gender equality – their inclusion makes peace agreements stick.
So, what’s gone wrong?
“We are dealing with something deeply entrenched in the minds and social norms and practices of societies to believe that women are some kind of second class citizens in society. And changing these beliefs is a struggle which is not easy to overcome.”Graça Machel – co founder of The Elders with her husband Nelson Mandela and one of the world’s best known advocates for women and children’s rights
For Graça Machel, this explains why there are so few women around peace negotiating tables and why women still only make up 3% of mediators in all major peace processes. The ongoing Afghan peace process is a good example with only 4 women out of a total of 42 delegates around the table. There are no women on the Taliban side.
How to bring about change, especially in a region that suffers from some of the most intractable conflicts in the world?
Or how to challenge “patterns of patriarchy” as one participant put it?
Young women peacebuilders from Iraq to Tunisia all spoke of their frustration at how it was easier to gain access to the peace table if you’re a male member of an armed group committed to violence than a woman who’s been working for peace.
“This is the moment for change. COVID-19 is a storm in the call for change and we shouldn’t let this moment of slip by”.Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female Head of State and former President of Liberia
For Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, now is the time to create a more inclusive society where men and women of all ages are regarded as equals.
The former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, went further and said that prioritising women’s inclusion in peace making should be part of the global responsibility to build forward better.
He described women’s lack of representation in peace processes as an injustice and committed himself to “continuing this journey until we are in a peaceful world where men and women are equal.”
Inspirational calls then for bold, courageous action – calls for women to be troublemakers, to challenge the superglue of power and for all of us to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to bring about radical change.
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Find out about our previous event on women’s inclusion in peace processes