International Women’s Day: Looking beyond the handshake
Today we want to celebrate all women in places of war and conflict who tirelessly and defying all obstacles work towards peace.
In conflict-affected countries around the world, women and men work together to overcome violence and root peace in their societies. CMI works in thirteen such contexts across Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East to support complex and lengthy peace processes.
When such a process finally concludes and the peace agreement is signed, the camera usually focuses on the handshake between two men as a symbol of reconciliation. This moment is however but a fraction of a much larger picture. What we often do not see are the people who have been working across all levels of society to reach such a moment.
“Focusing the lens of the camera beyond the handshake would show that women have worked as unofficial mediators and interlocutors between conflict parties”
Focusing the lens of the camera beyond the handshake would show that women have in most cases worked as unofficial mediators and interlocutors between conflict parties. Once formal negotiations have started, women have looked for ways to get their voices heard at the peace table. And the agreement is merely a beginning: translating it to reality requires dedicated action by all segments of the society, both women and men.
Yet, on average women represent only 8 per cent of negotiating parties, and the vast majority of peace agreements reached in the past three decades have failed to reference women or address their concerns. Changing this setting is not only women’s business, but the commitment and action of men is equally necessary.
“We have learned that in conflict resolution, the best results are achieved when women and men together decide on the issues to be addressed ”
Without including women’s experiences and expertise on a range of subjects, from what are traditionally considered hard security questions of military affairs to socio-economic and humanitarian issues, finding lasting solutions to conflicts will not be possible.
In South Sudan, CMI has supported the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, a platform which brings together women leaders across political and ethnic divides to consult and channel citizens’ voices to the ongoing peace process.
In Libya, many women actively participated in the Arab Spring but have since been sidelined. Together with such women activists and organisations, CMI has looked for ways to include women in the political transformation of their country.
We have learned that in conflict resolution, the best results are achieved when women and men together decide on the issues to be addressed and the steps to be taken for moving forward. Including women in peacemaking is at the heart of paving the way for more democratic and equitable societies.
On International Women’s Day, we would like to commemorate and celebrate all women in places of war and conflict who tirelessly and defying all obstacles work towards peace, often outside of the narrow lens of the camera.
Johanna Poutanen heads CMI’s Women in Peacemaking team