Members of the Women Mediators across the Commonwealth (WMC) network are responding to these challenges in creative and varied ways. The network aims to increase the participation of women from the Commonwealth in mediation at all levels. In response to COVID-19, the network provides a platform for members to stay connected with women mediators from diverse contexts. Members have come together online to discuss the implications of COVID-19 on their work and learn from each other to find solutions.
Some peace processes are facing funding cuts as resources are diverted to support COVID-19 responses. In Mozambique, Neha Sanghrajka, the Senior Mediation Advisor to the peace process is having to choose carefully what work is most significant to keep the process moving and to not lose momentum. The process has already been delayed for six months, and she is worried that it will face additional delays related to COVID-19 which will test people’s commitment to the process. For example, reintegration workshops which would usually involve 100 ex-combatants at a time at the moment can only accommodate 20 ex-combatants because of social distancing.
To ensure that the crucial Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process is not stalled completely, commitment from communities within Mozambique to support the process is also needed to survive the delays. So far it seems that the momentum is being kept up by local communities leaders who are sharing positive messages about the importance of the reintegration workshops in their community outreach, as well as sharing messages about how to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading. This is important because workshops to reintegrate ex-combatants often take place in remote communities whose residents have expressed fears that the returnees or the international team may bring the virus.
In other countries, the absence of information and support from governments is allowing armed groups to take advantage of the virus to gain more sway in communities. Armed groups have been providing frontline support in the form of financial aid, aimed at the most vulnerable in society such as pregnant women and widows. It creates a real risk of increased sympathisers, giving the groups access and leverage to recruit and share propaganda.
In Pakistan, Mossarat Qadeem is responding to the risk of armed groups gaining new footholds. She has set up local women-led peace groups called Tolana, which are providing alternative support to that from the armed groups. They are also providing local assistance to halt the spread of the virus, and their methods have included standing on their rooftops with a loudspeaker instructing women on other rooftops on how to sanitise their hands properly and keep their families safe.
Mediators with experience of working on trauma-informed mediation methodology are also looking at how they can apply their skills to tensions caused by COVID-19. They are advocating for the need to approach mediation in a way that centres the individual’s experience at the heart of the process. Alicia Kuin works with Indigenous Peoples and First Nation communities in Canada and designs peace processes specifically to prevent re-traumatising those that have experienced conflict. Due to the trauma and stress caused by COVID-19, she is examining how peacebuilders can incorporate parties and individuals' experiences of COVID-19 into the process.
The effectiveness of Resolution 2532 is yet to be seen, but it is clear that women are working to maintain key peace processes, mitigate the escalation of conflict and provide support to their communities at a time of real uncertainty and risk. In the twentieth year of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security it is essential that women’s leadership and frontline role in COVID-19 responses is recognised, and that this leads to increased support for their active participation and inclusion in peace processes globally.
This article is based on discussions convened by the LSE’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security and chaired by Sanam Anderlini, Director of the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security and founder and CEO of international Civil Society Action Network (ICAN). Neha Sangrajka, Mossarat Qadeem, Alicia Kuin and Sanam Anderlini are all members of the Women Mediators across the Commonwealth network.
Women Mediators across the Commonwealth is hosted by Conciliation Resources and this work is funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.