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The role of women in mediation: status quo and challenges
   
 
 
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The role of women in mediation: status quo and challenges

 
Monday, 25 August 2014 12:48
 
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Epos converses with Maria Butler

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations

Maria Butler is the international Director of the PeaceWomen Programme of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the longest serving women's peace organization. As part of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the PeaceWomen Programme promotes a progressive gender-perspective in preventing conflict and creating peace through bridging global and local efforts to implement a holistic and transformative Women Peace and Security agenda. PeaceWomen envisions a peaceful world based on human security for all, ensuring the full participation of women in all areas, gender justice, full disarmament and the realization of WILPF’s founding principles of peace and freedom.

Maria Butler directs and manages the monitoring, advocacy and outreach work of PeaceWomen. In the work to make international policy more effective and advance accountability, she has authored numerous publications including the "Women, Peace and Security Handbook", an expert analysis of the Security Council's resolutions. She is Attorney-at-Law (NY) and holds a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics. She is native of Ireland, but she is currently based at WILPF United Nations Office in New York.

In this exclusive interview for EPOS, Maria Butler talks about the role of women in mediation and negotiation at the national and international level, and focuses on what is the role of Syrian women's group in the Civil War and at the table of negotiation. She also points out the challenges that women involved in mediation and negotiation are asked to face.

Nicolamaria Coppola - EPOS: According to UN Women's statistics, women are just 7% of delegates to peace negotiations, 4% of signatories to peace agreements, and 2% of chief mediators. Why does female representation at the peace table remain so low? What can be done to improve it?

Maria Butler: Meaningful participation of women in peace processes – as independent civil society, mediators, negotiators, technical experts, and official observers – remains unacceptably low. Power is the bottom line. Power holders, most often governments and armed groups, want to control the power dynamic, resources and discourse. Men with guns fail again and again to address root causes of insecurity and to build the frameworks for peace. This real and persistent gender bias and resistance among power holders must be challenged to change the staus quo. Early and meaningful participation of women must be systematic and automatic - not a voluntary “commitment”. The UN and Member States should only recognize peace agreements that actually include women’s participation. This could be a game changer. The details also matter – how, who and when women participate. We noticed this around the Geneva 2 Peace Talks on Syria in 2014 when women civil society actors were excluded. In addition to participation, of course, is the inclusion of gender perspectives and women’s rights in peace processes and agreements.

Nicolamaria Coppola - EPOS: The 58th Commission on the Status of Women that took place last April focused on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda for women and girls. In which ways are peace and conflict, economic development and women's leadership linked?

Maria Butler: The Post-215 Development agenda is very important. All our governments will be negotiating this. Making the linkages between development, peace, gender and disarmament is critical for its effectiveness. Conflict and development are not linear and time-bound. I remember working in rural Kenya with a women’s group on economic empowerment and sustainable farming – yet these same women were also dealing with post-conflict challenges. They had been displaced from election violence and had to deal with the economic, legal and political challenges that displacement causes. The links are direct and indirect.

In situations of acute on-going crises or conflicts, these issues are heightened. For example, in Bosnia, the failure to address issues of political economy, particularly women’s economic empowerment, in the context of transition has precluded effective participation and contributed to the continuance of violence and abuse.  The complex transitions from conflict to post-conflict to sustainable development, and the avoidance of renewed armed conflict is a critical opportunity in which women have the potential to transform their communities by securing active participation, embedding human rights.

Too much is spent on arms and military security, and too little on development and gender equality. The reality is that a shocking majority of the world’s poor are projected to live in fragile states over the decade. As current examples in Libya, Nepal, Colombia, and elsewhere remind us, sustainable peace and development is not possible without the meaningful participation of women and integration of gender considerations. We, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, have been engaging on this and we need much more support to remind governemnts to make strong progressive commitments on prevention. A real conflict prevention approach to the next development agenda is needed to change business as usual.

Nicolamaria Coppola - EPOS: What do women add to peace processes in communities and at the national and international level?

Maria Butler: Women, I believe, can add legitimacy to local, national and international processes. Women can also add expertise, perspectives, and ownership. We see in Syria that women have a real knowledge of what is happening on the ground and how peaceful solutions can be brokered. They are occasionally able to secure ceasefires in particular areas or prisoner exchanges. They know exactly who the players are. It is not about adding women and stirring! Of course, conflict and peace-making are more complex and each situation is unique.

Nicolamaria Coppola - EPOS: Since the beginning of the Civil War in Syria almost three years ago, Syrian women have demonstrated exceptional creativity and resilience. Despite their heroic efforts, these leaders have received too little attention from policymakers and the media and have not been fully consulted as part of the ongoing negotiations. According to your experience as Director of the PeaceWomen Programme, what is the role of Syrian women's group within the war and at the table of negotiations ?

Maria Butler: Syrian women are doing so much inside and outside the country. We in WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) are learning a lot from them. They also have a lot of solutions, information, expertise, and perspectives to bring to the crisis and any transition processes in Syria.

To date, women’s participation and gender expertise have not been comprehensively addressed in Syrian conflict responses and failed peace processes. There is a growing constituency of women’s networks inside and outside of Syria with a common demand to influence and shape the transition of Syria into a democratic state with equal citizenship rights according to the international human rights framework. Women’s participation and gender expertise has been notably lacking. There will be neither peace nor security for all without peace and security for women. Ensuring women’s legitimate role as decision makers in influencing and shaping a peaceful resolution to the conflict is critical to long-term peace. The ongoing situation in Syria continues to worsen as the civilian population continues to be killed, tortured, and their rights violated. Gender-based violence including rape and sexual assault continues to be a significant element of the conflict, with women and girls also at increased risk of exploitation by forced marriage. Syrian women’s groups are already responding to the humanitarian and displacement crisis by providing access, aid and information. Syrian women’s groups are already working on political solutions and recommendations for any transition.

Nicolamaria Coppola - EPOS: As Director of the PeaceWoman Programme, what do you think are the challenges that women involved in mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution are asked to face in the future?

Maria Butler: 2015 is a milestone year for the Women, Peace and Security agenda with the 15th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 and other major political milestones, including new Post-2015 Development agenda. It is an important year for action beyond rhetoric and we in WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) will be doing our part to address root causes of conflict from a gender perspective and augment women’s voices for peace. Peace-making and negotiations happen at all levels – in back alleyways of war-torn communities, and at official “tables”. Women around the world are working at local, national and international level and we will continue to support, facilitate and be part of this work. I am also happy to share with all the readers how you can support and get involved in "Women’s Power to Stop War". WILPF, as the oldest women’s peace organization, will be celebrating our 100th anniversary next year, is inviting the peace and security community to a large gathering in La Hague on April 27 – 29, 2015 which aims to connect the work of women peacemakers and map out the future of women in mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 25 August 2014 13:37
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