UN discusses the Role of Women as Mediators

13 Mar

The theme of the role of women as mediators was in air around the UN, in the latter part of last week, with two back-to-back meetings addressing this topic. The missions of the UK and Portugal hosted the Arria Formula, while the Mission of Finland and the UN Department of Political Affairs hosted roundtable workshop to discuss guidance for effective mediation, based on Resolution 65/283 on Strengthening the Role of Mediation in Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, Conflict Prevention and Resolution.

As the first panelist to present at the Arria Formula, Minister Betty Bigombe, drawing from her experiences from Uganda with the LRA, addressed common excuses often surrounding lack of women’s participation, such as women are too emotional to handle war lords or they are constrained by family obligations. She also addressed the limited political will of governments and regional organizations to increase women’s ability to participate in mediation. Involving women early in the process is necessary in the overall design of the rules of procedure as a way of ensuring their participation in the process is effective.

Turning the focus a broader gender theme, SG Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, stressed women’s human rights are not subject to compromise, and that both men and women mediators need to promote UN standards and norms, and both have an obligation to ensure gender expertise is mobilized. The last panelist was President of the Aceh Women’s League Shadia Marhaban, who spoke based on her experience from the Aceh Peace talks. Ms. Marhaban noted the lack of psychological support available to her, and recommended that mediators get briefed from women’s organizations to make sure that the gender expertise is available to negotiating teams.

The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security opened a round of questions, asking the panel for recommendations on how women’s issues can become nonnegotiable, while Canada, as Chair of the Group of Friends of Women, Peace, and Security, asked the panel to rank the top three practical steps for the international community to take to increase women’s participation. Recommendations from the panelists included government accountability; more involvement by regional organizations; training available to both men and women mediators; and better coordination between member states and women’s organizations.

Security Council Member States also took the floor, with Pakistan noting that peace agreements are a great place to begin promoting the role of women as mediators, while France encouraged the Secretariat to appoint more women mediators because the UN itself needs to set a better example of including women mediators. Finally, Morocco noted the limited amount of women representatives in the Security Council, while the US encouraged more collaboration with the civil society members to create a group of qualified women mediators, ready to be sent to missions.

Touching upon the themes and recommendations of the Arria Formula, the roundtable discussion held at the Finnish Mission focused more on the challenges of the process, from how to include women in mediation to the lack of political will, among many others. Emphasis was placed on laying out a good process for integrating more women in mediation roles/processes. A task simpler in theory than it is in practice, some of the practical steps identified to achieve it include- positioning gender issues so as to make them more political; addressing the fear of failure and defeat found among many women in their hesitations to take on the mediation challenge; and empowering women to enter in diplomacy. Discussion also revolved around the standard of evaluation for men mediators versus women mediators, and the tendency to set the standard much higher for women; and bringing out a gender perspective early on in the process.

Overall, in a week with attention on a wide range of women’s rights, attention on their role as mediators was timely to emphasize the various lenses of women’s participation. Both events were insightful, the recommendations were resourceful, and left a sense of activism in this area.  The discussion and the attention of women as mediators were not new by any means, as the Security Council held an Open Debate in October 2011 on Women’s Participation and Role in Conflict Prevention and Mediation. One can only hope that the energy around this topic continues and we see more similar events and small opportunities to begin to foster change in the system.

-Melina Lito

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