This fall will mark 17 years since the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security. This agenda includes specific provisions for peace negotiations and agreements, as does the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). While there have been achievements in women’s access to and participation in peace processes, there is still much to be done. Unfortunately, women continue to be largely excluded from participating in and mediating peace processes.1 As a result, gender perspectives are absent from emergent peace agreements. This occurs despite the tremendous role that women play in promoting peace, peaceful dialogue and ending hostilities in many armed conflicts. A 2012 UN Women study of 31 peace processes between 1992 and 2011 illustrates well this marginalization of women: only 4 per cent of signatories, 2.4 per cent of chief mediators, 3.7 per cent of witnesses and 9 per cent of negotiators were women.2

What can external actors and external regional networks contribute to addressing women’s marginalization and even exclusion from participating in peace processes?

Instituting a ceasefire between belligerent parties is a critical dimension of peace processes. However, equally important, peace processes are also about devising and defining new political structures and institutions of governance and even, in some cases, creating new constitutions or constitution-like provisions. Peace processes, when they are successful, are defining moments in a country’s history and trajectory, and women should not be left out. Secondly, peace processes offer a unique opportunity to promote the country’s commitments to gender equality, implementing CEDAW provisions, as well as integrate these strategic objectives into defining agreements, institutions, mechanisms and processes.

Inspired and partly sparked by a similar South African initiative (the Gertrude Shope Annual Dialogue Forum), a regional Nordic Women Mediators (NWM) network was launched in Oslo, Norway, in November 2015, and since then, five national networks have also sprung up in each Nordic country. The NWM network was established to address the limited participation and access of women to peace processes by strengthening and supporting women’s participation in negotiating peace at all levels and stages—be it by amplifying women’s voices and concerns, advocating for more inclusive processes, undertaking joint projects, exchanging experiences or networking and building relationships with other women mediator networks. Hence, recognizing and actively promoting women’s full participation in peace processes—as par- ties, participants and mediators—constitutes a critical part of implementing this agenda and our commitment to it. Other regional networks are being established and can serve as an effective tool in different crisis and conflict areas.

As the first female Force Commander for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Major General Kristin Lund was able to participate in, support and promote the ongoing peace process. Women comprised 50 per cent of the Senior Leadership Team. Gender was always high on the agenda internally and externally, never the last item. Gender was integrated into all aspects of our work. Furthermore, as a United Nations leader you have a responsibility and obligation to support diversity and act according to Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). In UNFICYP this was easy. Having female leaders helped open many doors in the community. Reaching out to different layers of society can play an important role in a peace process.

In May 2016, the NWM (Norway) was invited to Cyprus to meet with women’s organizations, the Gender Advisory Team, the Technical Committee on Gender Equality, Special Representative to the Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General. The NWM (Norway) gained extensive experience from the Middle East, Colombian and Philippine peace processes. Many experiences were communicated and exchanged. It was clear that promoting gender equality still comes as a bottom-up effort instead of a top-down approach that is so vital for sustainable peace. In terms of the evidence base, recent research has shown that with inclusive peace processes, the success of negotiated settlements is higher, and the chances of establishing sustainable peace also increase.

Empowering Women in Crisis and Conflict

Empowering women in crisis and conflict is vital. They make up 50 per cent of the world’s population and must therefore be a part of the solution.

In situations of armed conflict and crisis it is necessary to reach out to and consult regularly with different women and women’s organizations. Women are not a homogeneous group in any country, and it is important to take into account ethnic, religious, linguistic and other identities. One shouldn’t expect all women to be of the same mind. For instance, urban-based professional women’s views, concerns and needs will likely differ from those of farmers and micro-entrepreneurs in rural areas. Take women seriously. There will be women on different sides of the conflict whose views, perspectives, needs and concerns will not always be the same—not anymore than men’s will be.

In many conflict-affected countries, there will be local women’s peace initiatives—often not in the capital but in the affected areas. It is critical to reach out to, consult and support these local women’s efforts to end hostilities and promote dialogue and understanding. This is also a Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) obligation (Paragraph 8).

Where formal women’s and civil society organizations do not exist, it is key to establish communication with women directly and, where possible, a mechanism for consultations with their peers and partners. Of course you must be aware of the political structure so you do not put women in a supplanted situation.

During periods of conflict and crisis, various local, national, regional and international efforts are aimed at stopping or reducing violence and bringing belligerent parties to pre-negotiations in order to see whether there might be a basis for formal peace talks between these actors—often including some form of temporary ceasefire. Pre-negotiations, when successful, result in a roadmap of key issues for formal talks and for a formal settlement.

Women and civil society actors are often excluded from pre-negotiations talks and agreements, which are also often top secret. As a result, women and civil society are unable to introduce their needs and concerns during those pre-negotiations, when an agenda for formal talks, which examines “what the conflict is about”, is set. Most peace processes focus on ending violence—or the political violence—but fail to acknowledge the different forms of violence experienced by women and minorities, such as indigenous peoples—leaving these forms of violence in place and failing to address the security concerns of half of the population. As such, pre-negotiations talks and agreements present a major challenge for women and civil society—as these talks and agreements set the stage and structure the formal talks.

There may also be opportunities to support parallel dialogue processes between women and civil society actors, but this very much depends on the security situation in the country. Once there is greater clarity that formal talks may be convened, it is critical to work with women, women’s organizations and civil society to assist them in preparing for their participation in peace processes—whether that be directly at the formal negotiations table or in parallel tracks, structures and processes. Very few civil society actors are able to simply show up and participate in such processes. Many need assistance, guidance and support if they are sincere and willing to effectively participate—meaning technical help and financial support, but also the means to consult with their constituencies and strategies for key agenda items, when preparing inputs on particular issues.

Women’s Role in Ongoing Peace Processes

Women play a variety of roles in complex, multitrack peace processes. They can sit at the formal negotiating table, on a technical committee or subcommission, or they can be outside the talks engaged as civil society actors in following developments. All of these roles are critical. In the recent process between the Government of Colombia and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo (FARC), women civil society actors played a key role in their national mobilization and in articulating their demands and concerns. These unabated voices played an important role in securing a number of provisions for women in the final agreements.3

Female experts and representatives of civil society are also important in ensuring that the new constitutions, legal provisions, mechanisms and institutions include women’s concerns, perspectives and needs—as with the reform of the courts, the police, the security sector and other government institutions. Legal provisions are critical, but so are implementation mechanisms. In all of these reforms lies a unique opportunity to integrate strategic gender and human rights objectives and to address the structural roots of inequality.

There is a tendency to view “women’s issues” in quite a narrow way—as largely health, education and sometimes social protection services. It is critical to break out of this narrow understanding—so that reform of the police, security sector and courts are understood as critical to women as well as to men. For example, violence against women remains a global phenomenon and a major source of insecurity for women and girls—whether it takes place at home in the private sphere or out in public. Women need to be involved in the reform of police services and the courts if their needs are to have any serious chance of being integrated into the work of these institutions. For women and civil society actors to be able to engage in these processes and to ensure a broad base of participation, mechanisms must be established for sectoral consultation processes.

The need for the role of mediators in reaching out doesn’t diminish with formal peace talks. If anything, the responsibility of mediators and facilitators increases after a formal peace process is established. To do so, mediators should establish an action plan and protocol to ensure women’s engagement. We must enable and facilitate women’s groups to articulate and frame their concerns and demands, as with the Colombia-FARC process with the national women’s mobilization. Secondly, it is important to create mechanisms whereby these groups can access the formal negotiations.

External actors play a key role in ensuring that these women’s organizations and mechanisms have sufficient resources to be able to participate. Another important role which mediators, facilitators and external actors can play is to ensure that the talks create an arena where women can raise their concerns.

Empowering women in crisis and conflict must be one of the most important tools in a peace process, and using established women mediators or networks can be a good starting point to make leaders aware of the importance of including the whole population.

Christine Bell crystallizes why women’s exclusion from peace processes is so problematic:

“The exclusion of women cuts them out of processes that are essentially processes of constitution-making that both chart a road out of conflict and put in place the political, legal and economic structures of government; provide for the blueprint of post-conflict reconstruction; circumscribe the role of international organizations; and set in place funding streams.”4        


1      Christine Bell, “Women and peace processes, negotiations, and agreements: operational opportunities and challenges”, Policy Brief (Oslo, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, 2013), pp. 2-3. Available from Themes/Peace-processes-and-mediation/Women-and-peace-processes-negotiations-and-agreements- operational-opportunities-and-challenges.

2      United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, “Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connections between Presence and Influence”, Research paper (New York, 2012), pp. 1-3, 5.

3      Hilde Salvesen and Dag Nylander, “Towards an inclusive peace: women and the gender approach in the Colombian peace process”, Report (Oslo, Norwegian Centre for Conflict Resolution, 2017). Available from gender-approach-in-the-Colombian-peace-process.

4      Bell, “Women and peace processes, negotiations, and agreements”, p. 4.