The event convened organisations from Liberia, Ethiopia (Tigray) and Kenya (Garissa) under the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund’s Rapid Response Window (RRW). As an implementing partner of the RRW, Conciliation Resources awards short-term grants to civil society organisations (CSOs) to increase women’s participation in peace processes and the implementation of peace agreements.
Participants discussed successful approaches to increasing women’s meaningful participation, as well as the types of resistance they have faced, and the structural barriers hindering women’s participation.
Attendees shared the successes of their work under the RRW. This ranged from engaging with diverse groups to increasing the legitimacy and recognition of the work that women can do, and already are doing, to build peace. Participants from Tigray, Ethiopia outlined how they had helped establish better coordination between the government and CSOs, successfully securing the participation of two women in an ongoing peace process.
The Garissa County Women’s Peace Movement (GCWPM), based in Kenya, explained how they have supported the implementation of two peace agreements between Garissa and its neighbouring counties, Isiolo and Tana River, through women-led dialogues. This has led to government and community actors asking GCWPM to mediate new conflicts, demonstrating increased trust in women peacebuilders.
Partners from Liberia shared how they were able to successfully advocate for the reintroduction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations bill into parliament in 2022. They achieved this through organising training sessions for the public on the TRC to increase knowledge and awareness, coordinating a petition, and strategically engaging with legislators at the Senate and House of Representatives.
However, women from all three contexts experienced significant challenges, including being excluded from peace discussions due to locations of talks. In Liberia, women have traditionally been unable to access Palava Huts, where men in communities meet to discuss local conflict and peace issues. To address this, women created their own Peace Huts, making a safe space where women are comfortable and empowered to share their experiences and jointly identify and develop solutions to challenges in their communities.
The Women NGOs Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL) have been working with partners to strengthen these structures at the community level. These huts have also become a safe space for women to engage with male policymakers, as the Programme Manager at WONGOSOL explained:
“In Grand Bassa County, we trained women's Peace Hut leaders on local stakeholder engagement and advocacy. These women then conducted stakeholder mapping to identify local leaders, and invited them to the women’s Peace Huts to discuss the issue of women not being represented. Following these meetings, the local authorities really started to engage, and this push led to several women leading as chiefs now.”
Other participants highlighted the importance of working with male peacebuilders and policymakers, who can sometimes resist working with women due to cultural norms or concerns that women can jeopardise talks on ‘harder’ security issues by prioritising ‘soft’ and ‘feminine’ issues. Women explained that they engage closely with men in order to reduce this resistance:
“The Local Peace Committees [in Kenya] and Somali society are male-dominated. Women have traditionally been at the back, just listening. When we said that women wanted to be involved in peace processes, initially there was resistance. We spoke to power holders to explain what we are doing, the role women can play and to get them on our side. We invited them to the activities that we organise to show them first-hand how our involvement can enhance what they are doing. They no longer feel excluded, defensive or criticised. They are part of the journey themselves.”
Garissa County Women’s Peace Movement (GCWPM)
Women shared how they use other innovative and creative strategies to increase participation in peace processes and to build common ground across communities. This includes working with male champions and allies, and sharing stories across communities in informal spaces. In Kenya, the GCWPM brings together women from different communities in abay-abay (sister-sister) meetings to share stories, ideas and food, and dance together in a safe space. The GCWPM introduced this approach to the Local Peace Committees, who then asked how they could take part in the abay-abay meetings.
A common theme throughout the event was the importance of not treating women as one homogenous group within peace processes. Women have their own unique experiences and insights into peace. An important first step is understanding the needs of different women and building solidarity amongst women in peacebuilding.
Participants welcomed the opportunity to learn from women peacebuilders in different contexts and plan to build on these going forward. One participant from Tigray, Ethiopia said:
“I learnt the power and passion of women to change everything. I learnt how women in Garissa started from the grassroots level to implement the declarations in Garissa. It gives me hope to work in my own country. In Liberia they are making a difference in their local communities, it's just powerful. [This work] needs persistence to make any result or any difference in society - we must be resilient to overcome all the challenges.”
Conciliation Resources will be developing a learning paper, collating the experiences and insights shared during this exchange, to share lessons from local organisations on how to increase women’s participation in peace processes in practice, as well as addressing remaining barriers for this. We will also be using these lessons to inform future RRW partnerships with CSOs, including those in other countries and regions.
Conciliation Resources works in partnership with the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) Rapid Response Window. The WPHF Rapid Response Window is a funding mechanism that addresses urgent funding gaps with targeted, short-term support to increase women’s participation in peace processes and the implementation of peace agreements. WPHF is a flexible financing tool supporting quality interventions to enhance the capacity of local women to prevent conflict, respond to crises and emergencies, and seize key peacebuilding opportunities.
As an INGO partner, Conciliation Resources provides technical and operational support to grant recipients, as well as the provision of services to individuals or civil society organisations seeking direct financial support to access formal peace spaces and address specific barriers to women's participation, such as logistical support. Conciliation Resources also sits on the Technical Committee for the Rapid Response Window, reviewing and making recommendations on applications to be approved.
Photo: Participants at a Rapid Response Window learning event, Nairobi, Kenya, September 2023. (c) Conciliation Resources 2023