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A new pathway to power: How to fast-track women’s participation in peace processes


Women remain drastically underrepresented in peace processes. This is not due to lack of capacity, but lack of power and access. We need visionary methods for targeting this problem, one of which is to team them up with power players who can open the right doors. Mobilising the Nordic Women Mediator Network can be a first step in making this happen. By Ingrid Magnusson and Antonia Potter Prentice

Despite growing international attention to the importance of inclusive peace processes, women remain drastically underrepresented in formal peace processes. Issues relating to gender are far too often still treated as marginal despite the mounting evidence of their relevance. The key issue keeping women out of the conflict resolution game is not lack of capacity to play, but lack of access to power to get them through the door in the first place. And while gender issues are slowly creeping into peace agreements, it is an agenda that would benefit greatly from the dedicated power of high-level peace-makers. Are there any alternative levers for opening the doors that the classic political economy of power in a peace process leave barred to conflict-affected women? The Nordic Women Mediators’ Network is a potentially groundbreaking tool to make this happen.

Since the passage of the foundational UN Security Council Resolution on women, peace and security (UNSCR 1325, 2000) the capacity of women and women’s organisations to participate more effectively in what remains the very male-dominated domain of formal conflict resolution has been energetically boosted; peace-makers have benefited from new resources on how gender can be holistically incorporated into a peace process. But much less work has been done to stimulate demand for these inputs and resources from mediators, but even more importantly from conflict parties. This results in a bottleneck: across the world there are scores of active, dynamic and well-capacitated women peacebuilders, but still very few invitations for them to join the conflict resolution game. Even well-meaning international mediators with sincere commitments to international norms will wring their hands and say, ‘it doesn’t matter how much I push the parties, they have no interest to include women, and they don’t accept the arguments for relevance which I provide’.

It is our business at EIP to know those mediators, and those conflict parties engaged in negotiations. We understand how they work and the difficulties they face. EIP’s Mediation Quality Programme is precisely designed to up the quality and impact of their game by accompanying them in these challenges and identifying workable solutions. One challenge is exactly this, that following international laws and principles relating to human rights and equality seems like a luxury to many third party mediators, and a distraction or even an insult to many conflict parties. Peace processes are a game of power: it is about who has access to resources and decision making. To be taken seriously in that arena, you need a currency that is recognized and valued. That currency is usually in the hands of men, whether it’s political power, control of important resources like oil or land or cash, or control of military assets. So we know how hard it is for women and their views to fit into that paradigm, even though research and our own experience confirms the value they add and the right they have to be there.

Women in conflict are used to facing and overcoming intransigence and insolubility with imagination, optimism and action, and in this spirit we suggest there are in fact several avenues to address this problem of exclusion. This could include, for example, strengthening the role of insider (women) mediators; ensuring that peace agreements are inclusive and provide opportunities for women and other groups to participate actively in implementation; boosting the number of female negotiators and supporting male negotiators to work effectively alongside them; continuing to increase the number of international female mediators; and working on supporting international mediators of both sexes to work in an inclusive and gender sensitive way.

EIP can contribute to work on these options through getting peace process actors in our networks to engage on topics and with interlocutors that they might not have done without third party assistance. And a key asset here is the new network established by Sweden with support from Finland, Norway and Denmark: the Nordic Women Mediators’ Network. Supported by their respective Foreign Ministries, this new network aims to gather, strengthen, showcase and deploy the Nordic countries’ significant and growing female high-level peace-making talent to the benefit of more inclusive peace processes worldwide.

This network has a vital and new role to play in increasing the demand for women’s meaningful participation in peace processes, and putting gender perspectives solidly on the agenda. These Nordic women, former and still active ambassadors and envoys, and up and coming high flyers, know the international corridors of power. They can be a powerful partner to women peacemakers on the ground. Given the high level and extensive networks of the players in this group, they could deliver significant results for women and processes on the ground, for example:

  • strengthening local women peacemakers’ access to formal peace processes. They can make the calls, send the requests and secure the meetings that the Syrian women brokering local ceasefires, or Libyan women carrying messages between tribes, cannot.
  • acting as mentors throughout the process once these local peacemakers have been linked up with the formal processes, or even been offered a seat at the table. This helps to ensure that their presence also translates into influence.
  • working for the inclusion of gendered topics on the agenda and into the peace agreements, in their roles as mediators and influencers. They can moreover propose models for the inclusion of women in the negotiating parties’ delegations, based on their experience and the demands of women on the ground.
  • providing high-level technical expertise to conflict parties on particular aspects of a peace process outside of the negotiating arena.This is a highly valuable asset for the negotiating parties, and therefore provides an alternative, high-powered in-road for introducing gendered perspectives among them. This is an asset many gender advisors lack, but that plays highly in the political economy of power in a peace process.
  • providing access for local peacemaking women at donor conferences, ensuring that women’s voices are included also in the implementing and programming phase that follows a conflict settlement. They can moreover condition their participation in high-level forums on peace-making, such as the Oslo Forum, on the inclusion of insider mediators or local women peacemakers.
  • using their leverage and political clout to gather high-level peace-making actors to expert seminars, discussing concrete solutions to inclusion issues.

The key asset underpinning these actions is power and access. These women hold connections that no amount of capacity building can buy: access to those who have power and influence. This, coupled with their special mandate in the NWMN, makes them a formidable source for addressing inclusivity in peace processes.

So, we applaud this Nordic effort – not just because we’re happy to see the modelling of good practice, but because we see this idea as a highly strategic way for high-level peace-makers in the global north to share their privileged access to power with women peacemakers in the global south. We are looking forward to seeing partnerships build meaningful, pragmatic inclusivity in our own operations and of those we support.