The conference “Celebrating 20 years of UNSCR 1325: Past, present and future of the WPS Agenda”, analysed the often-steep path of the implementation of UNSCR 1325, trying to chart the future of the WPS Agenda. Security Praxis reports here the highlights of the second panel. (Read more about panel I).

Practices of exclusion: “We need more women at the peace tables”

“That women are needed at the peace tables – were it only because we make up more than half the world population – seems to be a quite stable notion, at least in those countries that support the feminist struggle for equality”. This was Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini’s opening statement for the second panel of the conference “Celebrating 20 years of UNSCR 1325: Past, present and future of the WPS Agenda”, taking place at Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies and online on November 4th, 2020. The conference was the final event of the project “Enhancing Women's Participation in Peace and Security” (WEPPS), funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and implemented by the Sant'Anna School, in collaboration with Agency for Peacebuilding (AP). Founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and director of LSE’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security, Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini is a globally recognized advocate for women’s rights in peace processes: in her speech she highlighted not only the ways in which women further and promote peace, but also those in which men and the system that is formally designed ‘to do the job’ hinder them.

Women are usually the first ones to create networks in conflict-ridden spaces as they engage in all the core security aspects of conflicts, bringing expertise and creating solutions. However, virtually none of their initiatives are recognized in the formal spaces where peace is negotiated, their work being by and large taken for granted. Since the goal of Resolution 1325 is to change this situation, according to Naraghi-Anderlini at least one step is imperative: independent women delegations must be present at the peace table. Women must be included to understand what is actually going on and what solutions are urgently needed, both in the short and in the long run. Today’s conflicts are fought in people’s streets and communities: to think that civilians are not impacted enough to have a say in formal peace processes is a delusion. Women are already building peace: the international community needs to support them.

Naraghi-Anderlini identifies the main excuses through which international and local armed actors perpetuate the exclusion of women, de facto defusing a challenge for the status quo. The truth is that no “cultural,” no “technical talk” excuse holds: practice has shown that the inclusion of women, if based on a comprehensive design, can only bring benefits to the negotiation: there is no single instance where the opposite happened. The problem is then not that the process is “too delicate,” that rebel parties do not want to talk to women, or that women groups are not legitimate: the problem is that peace processes are structurally designed to relegate women to the margins so that they do not challenge more and less explicit power configurations. If the international community really does want to build peace, it has to push for further inclusion of women at the peace table.

But in addition to the explicit reasons that are given for excluding women are the intrinsic motivations, which have to do with how women are seen and perceived daily. First of all, gender is not part of diplomatic training, which means that officials lack practical knowledge. Second, one can detect a combination of sexism and racism: on the one hand, women are held to standards that are never applied to men, especially on issues of credibility and legitimacy; on the other, indigenous women are believed to be powerless and the widespread idea is that “first we’ll empower them, then we’ll hear them out.” This deadly combination makes it clear that the exclusion was in fact decided from the very outset. Third, but not less important, the fact that peace and war have been the exclusive practice of men for some 2,500 years of human history:  why change now? But change is coming nonetheless, and even though exclusion is still the standard, practice has shown again and again that inclusion is what works.

The final part of Naraghi-Anderlini’s talk focused on 10 steps to be taken to inch closer to the objective set out 20 years ago. These include the presence of independent women delegations at peace processes from the outset, gendered briefing papers to mainstream the gender dimension of conflict, funding women peacebuilders on the ground, pragmatically helping them with access to the formal meetings, and stopping the funding of groups that destroy women’s rights. What is really important and encompassing of all the individual steps is that inclusion must become standard practice.

The project “Enhancing women’s participation in peace and security”

The second part of the panel was dedicated to the illustration of the WEPPS project’s findings, in terms of research, training and dialogue activities. Clara della Valle, project manager and researcher, reported the main findings on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Morocco and Tunisia on the implementation of resolution 1325. Some of the common challenges among the four target-countries were, for example: a rocky collaboration between national institutions and local civil society organizations due to different priorities; centralization of the process with inadequate inclusion of local actors; National Action Plans (NAPs) not well harmonized with the rest of the countries’ policies; and most of all, the security field being still generally seen as a male issue, which either does not concern or does not affect women, with the concept of human security far from being acknowledged. With the Covid-19 pandemic and all the issues it worsened (gender-based violence within the household, insecurity for those working in the informal sector, digital divide…) there must be more work done towards a mainstreaming of gender in all policy areas. It is important not to lose momentum and to find alternative solutions to existing problems.

This last point was further developed by Bernardo Monzani, director of the Agency for Peacebuilding (AP) and expert on conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and civil society support. He reported on training and dialogue sessions organised with professionals engaged in the field of the WPS agenda in the four target-countries of the WEPPS project. He spoke of four main takeaways: first, online spaces are neither safe for all nor neutral, and to hold such an assumption is both wrong and dangerous. Second, with the pandemic limiting movement, both new barriers and opportunities are created. All can participate in events without needing the means to travel; but at the same time, not all have the possibility to go online. Third, working with governments has become more difficult: stakeholders and power-holders are much harder to reach now. And fourth, there is a need for more empathy and active listening, because the present situation has created much stress and anxiety. What is important to realize, however, is that the pandemic has not taken away all of our means to make connections and find solutions: it is a challenge that can be overcome by creating and exploring new strategies and updating the old ones. It is fundamental to accept the possibility of failure, in order to progress towards higher inclusion of women in peace processes.

Voices from the field: Western Balkans and North Africa

The panel was concluded by four speakers, who took part in research and training activities of the WEPPS project and highlighted the situation in their own countries. Kika Babic-Svetlin, who works at the governmental Agency for Gender Equality, explained the Bosnian NAPs approach as one of “localisation”: by framing the resolution in human security terms, the central government delegates local entities to come up with local action plans, in principle closer to the people’s needs. Despite the positive results achieved thanks to this approach, Bosnia and Herzegovina still includes extremely few women in peace processes.

From neighbouring Kosovo, Majlinda Behrami, an activist from the Kosovo Women’s Network, reports from the study they conducted titled “Where’s my seat at the table”. From this report emerges that especially young women are completely sidelined when it comes to issues of security in the country. The well-established patriarchal mindset lets young women believe they are not in the position to participate in decision-making, and it contributes to the harsh competition among the ones who rebel to this idea. Women’s rights organisations all around Kosovo are working to show women their power, and until the government engages more diverse cohorts of women, the road ahead is still long.

Reporting from Morocco, Fatima Outlaeb, founder of the Union of Women’s Action, underlines the struggles of the country with focusing the public’s attention on women’s rights: because a large part of Moroccan civil society is reluctant, there is still no NAP. Outlaeb highlights the need for a sharper focus by the international community on prevention rather than protection: there is no incentive for Moroccan women to join in the WPS fight right now, because they are excluded from any security-based discourse, especially at the international level.

Lastly Boutheina Hammami, a Tunisian gender specialist who worked as UN Women consultant in the framework of the WPS program (2018-2019), covered women’s position vis-à-vis the Covid-19 pandemic in her country. Hammami highlighted both the extensive role women played in prevention and assistance and how they were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and noted the fact that, in spite of this, they were excluded from decision making at all levels of the country’s governance. Hammami ended on a note that was implicitly present throughout the whole conference: gender must become a mainstream element of policy- and decision-making, and not be considered as a separate issue. The inclusion of women, coming back to Naraghi-Anderlini’s message, must become the standard practice at all levels of governance.

Cover photo: Hambastagi – Solidarity party of Afghanistan's activists advocate for women's participation. Kabul, 2017.