Moderator: Sarah Taylor, Senior Researcher, International Peace Institute
Speakers: Christina Shaheen, Gender Adviser, Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Syria, United Nations; Catherine Turner, Associate Professor, Durham University; Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner
Despite the numerous initiatives which have been launched in recent years, women remain under-represented in peace processes: just 2% of UN mediators are women and some women have even been murdered for their involvement. Yet their role seems vital in negotiations, particularly to promote women’s rights.
Catherine Turner emphasises that peace processes required combined efforts at every level of society, involving diplomats as well as political, religious and social authorities at a local level. In her view, it is at a local level that women can put their mediating skills to use and exercise a form of leadership in peace processes. On this subject, Christina Shaheen refers to a citizens’ initiative which began in 2018 and was led by several women’s groups; it resulted in protests in favour of peace in Idleb in Syria and a petition signed by 10,000 women which was delivered to the UN Security Council. This initiative alerted the international community to the gravity of the humanitarian situation of the civilians who were facing a resurgence in the fighting in north-western Syria.
However, in Catherine Turner’s view, if women are to take on a meaningful role in prominent processes, the very notion of leadership must adapt to include new elements, no longer focusing solely on power mechanisms but on concrete conflict resolution skills as well.
Jody Williams has adopted the following principle: “If I do nothing to change a situation which I consider to be unfair, then I am part of the problem.” She earned the approval of participants in peace processes because of her ability to encourage people to question their own behaviour, even if this required her to adopt a provocative attitude. She has never felt penalised for being a woman and believes that recognition is earned on the basis of an individual’s skills. Her greatest achievement remains the culmination of her fight against the use of land mines, a process in which women played a major role.
Women can contribute real innovation to future peace processes. They are able to question the rules of the traditional diplomatic game, which were created by men and are fundamentally based on the concepts of power and military domination. Women are much more than their traditional image of “family caregivers” and are more inclined to focus on interhuman relations in ways which are unrelated to the balance of power and domination. As such, they deserve better representation in groups which participate in negotiations.
Jody Williams took the example of the process against the spread of “killer robots”, which are robotic weapons with an autonomous decision-making ability to engage targets. This work is coordinated by a woman, who rebelled against the fact that the panel of experts which had been appointed was exclusively male. She demanded significant female representation as part of this panel, arguing that women could enhance the debate. Her demands were met. The idea that female representation on expert panels is valuable has been increasingly championed, even by men.
This example illustrates another problem: women are not always given the recognition they deserve for their skills. Often, they must fight to obtain this recognition. Jody Williams tempers this statement by pointing out that “women’s past successes are the steps which today’s women can climb as they make their way to the top of society”.