Fostering Inclusion to Build Resilient Societies: What does Meaningful Participation mean to Women Peacebuilders Working to Prevent Conflicts and Atrocities

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Posted October 31, 2018 from Fiji
The GPPAC #team1325
The GPPAC #team1325 (1/3)

The Women, Peace and Security agenda is inextricably linked to the progress of gender equality and women’s rights commitments made by member states of the United Nations (UN).

But as we are experiencing more and more - in addition to the protracted and prolonged situations of violence and crisis, the devastating impact of climate change including by cyclones and storms, floods and droughts - we are experiencing the shrinking social, economic and political spaces which makes it seem harder to mediate for the prevention of conflict, as well as resolve and negotiate for more inclusive and just outcomes in the negotiated political and peace agreements.

But we persist.

1325 in action, 18 years on, is in fact is in fact due to the persistence of women peacebuilders who despite violence and conflict remain grounded in localizing and translating commitments to progress the peace, security and human rights agenda finding ways to overcome the exclusion from public life and key decision making roles.

1325 in action is the feminist innovation of peacebuilding – enabling peace education, dialogue and mediation, advocacy and outreach from the creation of women’s spaces – using traditional and new storytelling or rallying together to confronting and challenge the status quo – despite the risks.

1325 in action is not business as usual but actually dismantling the inequalities – not only of gender but class, race, ability and identity. It continues to be about collaboration within the peacebuilding movement, broader civil society and social movements

1325 is action is demanding change. It is dismantling and transforming patriarchal power structures to achieve commitments of meaningful engagement – highlighting the inter-linkages and nexus approach - whether it is at the local, national, regional and international level –whether it is the United Nations or regional inter-governmental organisations.

What then does meaningful participation mean?

It is not just about asking for a seat at the table but re-designing the table so that we can better reaffirm and sustain the contribution women make to peacebuilding outside of the formal processes.  

1325 in action is an inter-generational journey – my own personal experience is a journey that I have shared with my late mother and my children - in conversations, in action for the collective desire of peace and security.

Ahead of the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, 18 years since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, I was extremely humbled to join a conversation with 4  women who shared their experience as advocates and actors from different parts of the world but with a global commitment – to make a shift from reaction to prevention.

“Those of us on the ground as women peacemakers and women’s human rights defenders, we know the entrenched military power” said Khin Omar who helped us looked beyond the headlines and understand the political power that is linked to the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya community and the violence of displacement:

“As we speak today the genocide continues today”

As a human rights activist for more than 30 years Khin Omar is well aware of the challenges for women’s rights activists before and since the political transition:

“In my work I have been meeting, interviewing and working with women from different religious minority communities, including rape survivors from many communities, so what you have seen is not new to our country”

But even with the evidence from women, the political narrative of the governing power, the success of a constitutional government she says is being bought by the international community

“Our voice on the ground is totally unheard” and that means also under-resourced which she says is affecting the work with women in affected communities and to progress the conflict prevention and mediation efforts, particularly when aimed at working with and for women from minority communities.

When ‘peace funds’ prop up the political status quo, she says, it is actually silencing the voices from the ground, including the voice of rape survivors:

“In many cases they told us to keep quiet and just engage with the government.”

Meaningful Participation, she says is being about to raise your voice – without the risk to your personal safety and security. A risk that Khin Omar and many other activists continue to bear:

“I should be able to speak up for my experiences. I should be able to get enough information and the space that is conducive, the space that is secure.”

Meaningful Participation is also not expecting women who come to the table to be politically correct and that requires government and development partners and donors to let the women speak:

“We need to be able to bring the women, particularly from the conflict affected communities. We need to be part of the peace process where the policy is being initiated, deliberated and discussed and of course in the implementation.”

Whoever the women are, even if they are from elite communities, there should never be tokenism. 

In Uganda, women raised their voice to not only bring attention to the reality of rape as a weapon of war, as well as overcome the social marginalization and the discrimination because they had become widows.

It continues to be a walk of solidarity says Lina Zedriga of the Uganda based National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and All forms of Discrimination.

The initial peace arrangements, said Zedriga, meant women were not at the table despite the consultations but they were also told that women’s issues can wait, so as not to disrupt the political process and peace agreement:

“And we realized that whatever was agreed women’s issues would not be there”

And so women mobilized beyond Uganda and demystified the war beyond the political borders moving is solidarity with women from DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania as well as Liberia:

“We knew that we were all affected by this armed conflict”

The Women’s Peace Caravan is a 1325 her’story which included consultations and documentation of women’s messages that affirmed Uganda needed peace and that peace needed women. It resulted in the adoption women’s protocol grounded in UNSCR1325 and the message was clear from the delegates:

“We were making demands for women’s advisers on the mediation teams…and that the agenda items should reflect the global commitments”

Women had worked together, to ensure their demands were clear. It resulted in the adoption of their recommendations.

But political victories also require women to heal in order to progress the commitments into tangible action that tackle the root causes of the violence and conflict beyond the capital. This process of accountability was vital for women activists like Lina. It also meant sharing her story with women who felt disconnected from the peacebuilding process. Lina and her five children had not been able to bury their husband and father like many of women and children in the camps:

“They knew because of the discrimination and the identity of widowhood, the way we are defined is so discriminatory and dehumanizing.”

Meaningful Participation says Lina is recognizing, affirming and resourcing women’s power to and the many ways of mobilizing at the community level. Commitments and protocols should not be like un-consummated love letters. Don’t just say “I do” but turn the commitments into practice at all levels but with grassroots women at the core:

“It is about addressing the root causes and enabling these women to have hope. Enabling these women to send their children to school”

It is about dismantling harmful practices and securing a peaceful future:

“No more generation of women should be with missing husbands. No more generation of women should be raped because they are looking for firewood.”

Implementation of commitments, like UNSCR1325 must be linked to the realities of women:

“Safe spaces should be created. We need one-stop centres for women, peace and security where women can meet to craft the table. We need to be at the table not on the menu. We want to be at the table to discuss the menu.”

Ghana based Kesia-Onam Birch works across the 15 countries of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) is the regional coordinator of the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) is also shifting the power with and for young women, including with faith leaders. This strategy is a result of the work responding to experiences of open violence as well as enhancing the availability of early warning and early response mechanisms as well as enhancing the engagement with young women.

In Liberia, she explained, inclusive peacebuilding is no longer about working with the older women particularly to tackle the prevalence of gender based violence. The Peace Huts have become that inter-generational space to meet. 

Young women are able to share their experiences including the violence, harassment and bullying in schools as well as within their families even in public spaces like the market:

“We are trying to shift the power. Leave what the older generation has done for the younger ones to pick up the torch and work with it”

This is resulting in young women champions, as peer educators including as actors for the prevention of election related violence:

“These young ladies go to schools and sensitize their peers to prevent sexual harassment and sexual gender based violence”

The outreach has resulted in gender and youth inclusive peace education programmes.

Meaningful Participation, she says, is when women are able to come together and write a statement and publicize their information. It is when women can define, monitor and realize their security at the community and national level:

“It is when women can see the early warning signs and put that information into a early warning system without anyone seeing her face but she has provided that information. Early warning and early response is crucial …particularly when it is based on gender specific indicators so that the response addresses the needs of the women. It is gender specific.”

It requires a changing of the narrative to prevent conflict and violent.   

Enabling interfaith dialogue and engagement with traditional leaders has been important to strengthen the prevention of violent extremism. This has included supporting leaders from across the faith communities in Mali, Niger and Bukina Faso to meet and strategize together to develop messages and actions to use their religion in a more positive way, as well as work with religious leaders in Nigeria to use the peace infrastructure.

There is a need to revitalize the culture of non-violence in what has been described as an intractable conflict where human security is absent for more and more of the Palestinian population says Lucy Nusseibeh of the Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy network and the Chair of the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

Active violence, including the use of media is a way to build resilience she says:

“It is taking a human security approach to insist on dignity, to insist on solidarity which is what you get from active non violence”

Working on 1325 has meant working within the Palestinian community, including with women, not just to influence and engage in the formal or official political and peace processes but to also build peace within communities:

“We gave women non-violence training and awareness and a lot of education on human security and also media training (because) one of the ways to also resist is to become visible”  

Given the inter-generational nature of crises, which she has experienced by living and working in East Jerusalem with her family, working for a peaceful resolution Nusseibeh believes non violence strategies can empower and build hope and resilience rather than exacerbate the feeling of despair and an acceptance that peace can only be attained through militarization:

“This is important for women. Part of the solidarity is to have one’s voice heard. To become visible”

Participatory or community media strategies, including the use of radio, is engaging members of the community to better understand and embrace non-violence and promote gender equality. It can she says shift the perceptions and change the mindsets and to tackle the violence that grows within communities as a result of the oppression experienced because of the prolonged occupation that makes people lash out without thinking rather than work in solidarity. The peace education processes using the media is contributing to rebuilding a fractured society separated by a system of walls and permits:

“Too much oppression, going on for too long, over too many generations has led people to stop caring”

It starts in the home, with early childhood education and to work with schools to integrate non violence so that everyone sees non-violence as an option.

Meaningful Participation, says Lucy is full participation, at every level including demanding 50-50 targets:

“Gender balanced leadership is what we want in all of these processes”

Meaningful participation she adds is the use of participatory community media practice to enable anyone to work with the available media technology:

“(because) it is not possible for everyone to be at the table but it is possible to raise voices to that table.  People can do that with authenticity and tell their own stories, get their own voices to the table. This is participation too.”

The 2015 Global Study highlighted that at the center of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, stating: “The women, peace and security agenda is about ending conflict, not making it safer for women.”

It has been a rallying call for women peacebuilders across the globe and throughout the generations because we know the economic, political and social costs of violence and conflict.

We also are well aware of the drivers of violent conflict, and therefore women of all diversities must be included in processes and systems where we can enhance conflict and atrocity prevention measures.

The world continues to see the realities and cost of not including women in the formulation of more effective prevention mechanisms to enable and sustain a shift from reaction to prevention: It is time, for women, of all diversities to reclaim these public spaces for peace.


About the event:

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), working in partnership within the Prevention Up Front (PuF) Alliance, convened a side event to the annual UN Security Council (UNSC) Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in October 2018. This side event brought together a panel of experienced practitioners to discuss the benefits of and best practices for integrating and including women peacebuilders in conflict and atrocity prevention. The event aimed to support collaboration and cooperation across communities of practice and contribute to women’s equal participation in peace processes, as well as emphasise the role of women in building sustainable peace as key agents of change not only as victims of violence or observers. Increasing and improving efforts to foster women’s inclusion and to ensure better integration across the conflict and atrocity prevention, WPS, and peacebuilding sectors including during humanitarian crises will increase all stakeholders’ abilities to develop more coherent policies and practices to better sustain peace






Comments 1

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Jill Langhus
Nov 01, 2018
Nov 01, 2018

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for sharing your interesting and informative post about meaningful participation and what it means to these four powerful women in their different regions. It's very interesting and inspiring to see the different ways that these women are creating peace and security in their respective regions. Looking forward to more posts from you.

Hope you have a great day!