There is an urgency to reach for the magnifying glasses and amplify our vision to see what already exists and what could be possible if the resources and support for women mediators are enabled and channelled for better access.
As we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, funds have consistently been diverted away from the ongoing work of addressing the root causes of conflict, resulting in increased inequalities both within and between communities and globally. This is the very work that needs to be done now more than ever.
How can we do peacebuilding differently?
New research, Women mediators: bridging the peace gap draws upon the findings from case studies, focus group discussions and interviews of Women Mediators from across the Commonwealth (WMC) - a diverse and inter-generational network of women working across a wide range of geographic and thematic areas. They are mediating on a vast range of issues and conflicts including climate change and migration, regional cross-border conflicts, violence against women and girls, indigenous disputes and the prevention of violent conflict with armed groups – all urgent and pressing issues of our time.
The expertise of the women who contributed to the research clearly demonstrates that their knowledge is not confined to “women’s issues”, although these are of critical importance, but to problems that resonate with whole communities and nations and that are globally important for long-term sustainable peace. The challenge remains that the door must be opened and the right platforms created to allow women mediators better access to engage and share their expertise with others and across different contexts. This is one of the key recommendations of the report and was also raised at the Global Alliance of Regional Women Mediators Virtual Meetings this October, bringing together five regional networks including WMC, along with other networks in the process of forming.
Other recommendations within the report emphasise the need for professional development and pathways for younger women mediators and those moving in from different contexts to the international and regional spaces. This is required not so much in terms of training but in terms of providing exposure and opportunities to engage in mediation and peace processes at the level of decision-making and moving beyond observation.
The importance of ‘high level’ recognition and credibility was also cited as essential for women mediators to do their work. Not only do women mediators have to work harder than their male counterparts to continually prove their worth, but in many instances due to challenges of institutional gender bias and social norms which prescribe the type of work that women can engage in and the locations from which they can operate, they also have to maintain this credibility which is so vital to their protection and ability to meaningfully participate.
For women mediating within communities the importance of access to funding to enable them to continue their peacebuilding work effectively in order to reach the hard to reach – including in times of crisis – is a loud call. The research demonstrates how women are employing strategies including reaching out to others through collaborative ways of working, and investing in long -term sustained dialogue, recognising that even when the short-term project funding stops the peacebuilding work must still continue. Many women have utilised their own resources, meaning they sometimes go without. They have little chance of funding for their own self-care or psycho-social support – a need which goes largely unrecognised but which is crucial for any long-term sustained work with trauma affected populations. In spite of the many barriers faced, the report documents strategies that women mediators have used to open this door, and the real impacts of their mediation work.
Recognising the value of women mediators working in communities in their own right is necessary to building a truly inclusive peace. This includes the vital role they play in preventing the escalation of conflict that may start as a family issues and quickly transcend to a community conflict and then to a conflict between towns, regions and across borders.
Through collaborative working and gender-sensitive and inclusive mediation processes that intentionally look to engage with a wider range of diverse stakeholders and through recognising the value of their own identities in relation to the cultural context in which they may be operating – women mediators have found ways to build trust within communities and beyond to gain access to spaces that would otherwise be closed. They are also amplifying their work through training and supporting others, both women and men, to bring about non-violent means of conflict resolution and more durable peace.
With the ever-growing number of intersecting layers of conflict where root causes become less and less clear, there is an urgent need to fund and resource women operating in all spaces to amplify their voices and expertise. Women mediators: bridging the peace gap offers some creative steps and recommendations that can be taken by international and multilateral organisations, national governments and regional bodies, local governments and non-governmental organisations to ensure that the gaps of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which advocates for women’s full participation and decision making in peacebuilding and peace processes is effectively implemented and becomes a reality.