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OSLO forum 2008 – The OSLO forum Network of Mediators

A practical approach to sensitising peace processes to gender

This paper offers examples of how issues in peace processes can be treated in a gender-

sensitive manner, an exercise that is surprisingly simple yet can yield rich analytical results.

Being aware of gender in conflict mediation is not a silver bullet to cure the ills of peacemaking,

but is an under-utilised practical tool that can open up opportunities and strengthen mediation’s

already strong interest in gathering and using good intelligence. This paper aims to explain:

what gender sensitivity really means; what roles the currently excluded sex has played or could

play in negotiations at and between different tracks; what substantive or process-enhancing

inputs women can provide; and the mediation-support functions they can play, such as

relaying messages to and from broader communities, helping to contain spoiling elements in

communities, keeping the political middle ground alive, helping to get buy-in for a process, and

preventing the dreaded slide back into conflict.

The arguments in this paper are based principally on the practical experience of professionals

currently or recently involved in the management of peace processes in Aceh, Kenya, Kosovo,


Liberia, the Middle East, Nepal, Northern Ireland, the Sudan/Darfur and Uganda, together


with some secondary academic research and analysis. This paper does not offer a discussion

about the need for equality or fulfilling the requirements of international norms and instruments


relating to gender, women, peace and security, although these issues are clearly important.

Rather, the paper is an attempt to come at the subject from a fresh perspective that recognises

the constraints under which peace-process actors work. It aims to help them find their own

ways to internalise and operationalise these norms from a pragmatic perspective, rather than

ignoring them, reducing them to box-ticking exercises, or simply despairing about what they

should actually do about them in practice.

papers Thus, the paper explores what peace-process actors, including mediators, have done to make

Background peace processes more sensitive to gender, what else might be done, and the benefits (and

costs, if any) of such strategies. While it focuses principally on the agreement-crafting phase,

the paper also touches on aspects of implementation in which gender sensitivity has played or

could play a useful role.


Section Managing contributors and spoilers

Almost without exception, formal peace processes have strikingly low female presence, among

both parties and mediators. Explanations for this, and suggestions on how to address it,


have been rehearsed exhaustively elsewhere. One exceptional case recently was in Kenya,

2 Hans Jacob Frydenlund, Ellen Margarethe Loej, Carla Koppell and Steve Krubiner (of the Hunt Alternatives Fund), John Paul

Lederach, Ian Martin, Brendan McAllister, Meredith Preston McGhie, Jolynn Shoemaker, Johan Vibe, Sherrill Whittington. If I

have misrepresented their ideas or arguments, the fault is entirely my own.

3 As readers will see, apart from discussions with practitioners, my key resource has been Sanam Naraghi Anderlini’s book,

Lynne Rhienner (2007). This book, which is concise, richly researched

Women Building Peace, What they Do, Why it Matters,

and well argued, is a quick must-read for anyone interested in this topic.

4 Key instruments include: UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, 2000; the Beijing Declaration

and Platform for Action 1995; Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women 1979.

5 To give a few examples, Potter, Antonia, HD Opinion,

We the Women: Why Conflict Mediation is not Just a Job for Men,

October 2005; (WIIS) is about to bring out a detailed report,

Women in International Security Women in Peace Operations:

with recommendations looking specifically at the UN; the UN’s Senior Leadership

Increasing Leadership Opportunities,

Appointments Section has initiatives on this, and various rosters are in operation (although the effectiveness of rosters is very

much in question).

56 OSLO forum 2008 – The OSLO forum Network of Mediators

where there was an eminent female adviser (Graça Machel), two lead female negotiators

(Martha Karua, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and Sally Kosgei, a former High

Commissioner to the UK) and a female senior-level political adviser from the UN (Margaret

Vogt) to the mediator Kofi Annan, as well as a female adviser from the Centre for Humanitarian

Dialogue (Meredith Preston McGhie). In Nepal, by contrast, despite Maoist commitments to

equality and the existence of at least a handful of politically powerful women, no females were

seen around the table.

Although women rarely make it to peace tables, there are very few places with absolutely no

women in prominent roles in public and/or political life. Several of the mediators interviewed

for this paper argued strongly that mediation teams should invest more heavily in identifying

both individual powerful women political actors, and the looser networks and groups of women

which, again, tend to exist in almost all societies. Where possible, these women should have

accessed positions of power directly and not through their identity as wife/mother/widow, the

mediators felt. This status helps women to act as role models, and to make powerful cases on

the issues they see as important, including but not limited to those affecting women, without

vulnerability to accusations of illegitimacy. Just a few of the examples given include Nepal’s


Pampha Bhusal, Sudan’s Anne Ito, and the Philippines’ Teresita ‘Ging’ Deles.

Discussants felt that when such women did draw attention to issues specifically affecting

women their voices were immediately more powerful because these were not the only

issues to which they referred. Examples of these issues include, perhaps inevitably, how to

deal with sexual violence towards women both as an act of war and as an after-effect (as

part of security, justice and community rehabilitation/reintegration concerns), and looking at Section

disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) from the perspective not only of the men

and women who are being demobilised but also of the communities which must reabsorb 2

them. Both the communities and the demobilised individuals may have changed radically as Background

a result of conflict and traditional roles may no longer be available, acceptable or possible

for them. Another example is ensuring women’s access to benefits that may ensue from any

conflict settlement, including access to land (a major issue, as women’s rights to own land

are still circumscribed in many cultures), resettlement assistance, and access to employment papers

and educational opportunities that are again frequently restricted by law and culture in some



6 Pampha Bhusal: Maoist politician, member of Central Committee, Minister for Women, Culture and Social Affairs; Anne Ito:

Deputy Secretary General SPLM, Minister of State for Agriculture and Forestry; Ging Deles: former Presidential Advisor on the

Peace Process.

7 For a discussion on the transformative potential of conflict and post-conflict periods on gender relations and the emancipation

of women, see Potter, Antonia, ‘Women and gender in civil wars’, a chapter in Darby & MacGinty (eds) Contemporary

Macmillan, June 2008 (forthcoming).

Peacemaking, 57

OSLO forum 2008 – The OSLO forum Network of Mediators

It is also important to identify potentially powerful (even if not obviously visible) female spoilers.

Women can organise aggressively around their identities as wives or mothers of fighters, or

simply around their political or religious affiliation, to support their cause in the conflict, not to

end it. A mediator in Northern Ireland recently recounted that some of the toughest negotiations

he had over bitterly contentious issues like marching were with hard-line female community

representatives. While on the one hand the renowned Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in

Argentina banded together in the 1980s to lobby against the junta who had ‘disappeared’

their offspring, militantly pro-conflict mothers and wives of Ugandan fighters mobilised against

the peace talks in Juba in 2008. It is important to understand that while women may not be

spoilers in the classic, visible sense (like being an armed group which threatens violence if not

included at the table), by playing roles like this in society, they indeed qualify for the title, and

thus for being encompassed and hopefully neutralised by a mediation effort.

A gendered view of post-conflict stability

Kosovo mediator Martti Ahtisaari thinks it is beyond argument that more women should be

represented at peace tables and that the views of women, as different from those of men and

regularly unrepresented, should be sought. This is part of creating a vision for a post-conflict

society that is not hidebound by all the institutional and systemic problems that bred a conflict

in the first place – a particular challenge when the agreement is usually made between an

established government and an established rebel force, neither of which want to give up power.

Women whose views have not been traditionally sought can play a part in letting fresh air into

such a vision.

In addition, as Ahtisaari and several others argue, the paramount short-term concern of

papers agreement brokers, to create a situation of stability in which real peace might begin to be built,

is undermined by a perception of that stability which is overly driven by male definitions. How

Background can a concept of stability be taken seriously if it does not include, for example, the prevention of

systematic rape (as in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Darfur)? This is a form of violence

which seriously destabilises society, and while it garners much media attention, it still does not

command much political space. A gendered perspective on what comprises stability might lead

2 to a more nuanced concept of how that stability might be achieved, even allowing for the fact

Section that not every issue and every nuance can possibly be fitted into a single cessation of hostilities

or peace agreement.

A different gender lens for looking at stability focuses on the situation of young men, proven

to be the group most affected by armed violence both in and out of conflict. They may have

been militarised during the conflict, and in most cases excluded from normal educational

and employment opportunities during war. Experience has shown that such groups, lacking

employment and meaningful focus, more often than not turn to gang activity, criminality and

can be part of a slide back into conflict. Stopping that before it starts requires an understanding

58 OSLO forum 2008 – The OSLO forum Network of Mediators

of how those young men came to be in that situation, how they perceive themselves in regard

to their families and communities and what can practically be done through family, community,

government, or international intervention to assist them to find a place in a peaceful society.

That too, is a gendered analysis.

The problem Ahtisaari sees is lack of foresight, or, less kindly, laziness: if a mediation team

and negotiation teams are pulled together in a hurry, and identifying critical women leaders

or groups has not already been considered, then the chances are it won’t be, or it will be

done badly. But, he argues, what is to prevent research and reconnaissance in advance,

in a period where dialogue seems imminent, about who might be the female leaders to

include, or groups to consult? There is no argument anymore, he says, for saying there’s not

enough time. It is true that women may be organised in different ways (not only, for example,

in accessible ‘women’s coalitions’ but in looser networks based on any number of shared

concerns), and thus slightly harder to track down; but there are very few places where for

the price of a few intelligent questions, formal or informal women leaders or groups cannot

be unearthed – alongside all sorts of other information which a mediation team might find

valuable. For example, the women’s health network in Nepal has provided a valuable means of

communication with rural communities on issues ranging far beyond health concerns.

Fears expressed by other mediators that focusing on involving women might slow down a

process to the extent that more civilians (in particular women and children) might be put at

risk, can of course be applied to all arguments about broader inclusion. If the intelligence

gathering and foresight suggested by Ahtisaari could be brought to bear, this narrowly

utilitarian argument would have no significant purchase. It also belies the current thinking that Section

the process is in many ways more important than the product. 2

Identity confusion and men’s gender identity in conflict Background

The discussion above on understanding stability hints at the interesting question of the identity

issues faced by men and women in conflict, challenging them to establish, often publicly,

whether their first loyalty is to political party, ethnic group, religious group, or – though rarely in

the case of men – gender group. An understanding of this is not just interesting psychology for papers

the peace-process actor, but critical to working out how people are to fit back into a society no

longer in conflict.

Even, or perhaps especially, in highly developed and sophisticated situations like the Middle

East, there can be confusion about whether women are lobbying to have women’s concerns

represented at talks, or to have their own organisation present. This is exemplified by the

positions taken by the International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Israeli–


Palestinian Peace in their approach to the recent Annapolis talks. A Northern Irish community

mediator recently recounted, ‘I’ve always thought of myself as an Irish Catholic woman, in that

8 A body made up in principle of one-third Israeli women, one-third Palestinian women, and one-third high-level international

women. 59

OSLO forum 2008 – The OSLO forum Network of Mediators 9

order, and I now realise that has defined how I have approached my life and my work’ . By

contrast, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) defines itself by nationality first, then

gender, but not, of course, by religion. This identity conundrum is a problem of human nature,

and of politics. Men share the same problems around ethnicity, religious and political affiliation,

and nationality, but have not been burdened by the need to place their gender in that list as

well, or, therefore, have their loyalty or competence questioned on those grounds.

The problem men face is that, while their gender does not necessarily bar them from having

a say in peace negotiations (although all sorts of other political and socio-economic factors

may do so), very few peace-process actors give psychology the weight they accord to politics.


There is a growing literature about masculine identities and linkages with conflict and

violence, suggesting that men need more assistance in adapting from a war psychology to

one of peace. This is true for both leaders and others, especially given the roles that societies

at war can ascribe to fighters and leaders. No one is surprised, while everyone is appalled, by

the apparently inevitable spike in domestic violence in a post-conflict period. In today’s Liberia,

10–15 rapes of women and children are reported every week, which is strongly suggestive of

significantly higher actual rates. Peace brokers and implementers need to ensure space to care

for the victims, to protect them and others from future attack, and to ensure accountability, but

also to address the problems of identity confusion, shame, marginalisation, trauma or post-

traumatic stress, misdirected pride and aggression which lead the perpetrators to act violently.

And, as just demonstrated, a gender-sensitive analysis is required to spell this out.

Walking the walk: how women contribute substantive issues

The greater problem here is whether those women who do get access to live negotiations are

papers well organised, focused and trained or supported enough to bring the right issues to bear at

the right time in a process. An individual closely engaged in the recent Kenya talks expressed

Background frustration that, while the consultations with women’s groups were extensive, prioritised

precisely because of the presence of high-level women on the advisory panel, and while their

early contributions were rich and valuable, the quality of their inputs declined at the later stage

in the talks when detailed, technical inputs were required. At this point they seemed to focus

2 disappointingly on the one goal of female presence at the talks. A recent study on justice issues

Section 11

in Liberia suggested that the advocacy of some women’s groups centred on keeping talks

alive, without specific platform or purpose.

Much more valuable, discussants suggested, is specific, substantive advocacy on critical

issues relevant to the peace process, and all of which have interesting and important gender

dimensions. Regular female civilians, women ex-combatants, prisoners or ex-prisoners, victims

of sexual violence, displaced and refugee women, and the single-female-headed households,

which are one of the most common and poignant products, especially of prolonged conflicts,

have particular needs relating to DDR, land rights, employment opportunities and community

9 Workshop participant at European Mediation Conference, Belfast, April 2008.

10 Barker, Gary, Routledge, 2005; ‘Hitting the Target: Men and Guns’,

Dying to be Men: Youth, Masculinity and Social Exclusion,

Review Conference Policy Brief, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, June 2006 (for The United Nations Conference to Review

Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small

Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects).

11 Hayner, Priscilla, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, 2007.

Negotiating Peace in Liberia: Preserving the Possibility for Justice,

However, this paper also describes examples of women’s ability to bring the reality – and urgency – of the conflict to peace-

60 table delegates.




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Dispensa per il corso di Teorie dei conflitti e dei processi di pace della Prof.ssa Maria Luisa Maniscalco. Trattasi del saggio di Antonia Potter dal titolo "Gender sensitivity: nicety or necessity in peace-process management?" all'interno del quale viene affrontato il tema del potenziale ruolo stabilizzante della donna nelle situazioni di conflitto.

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in relazioni internazionali
A.A.: 2011-2012

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Teorie dei conflitti e processi di pace e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Roma Tre - Uniroma3 o del prof Maniscalco Maria Luisa.

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