Women’s participation in peace processes

Norway is working to ensure that peace negotiations are inclusive, and that peace agreements safeguard the rights, needs and priorities of both women and men. We strive to ensure that more women participate at all levels of peace and reconciliation efforts, and that all those involved in a peace process know how to integrate the gender perspective into their work.

Often, women are still left on the sidelines when peace agreements are negotiated. There are few women facilitators and peace mediators, and few women at the negotiating table. Civil society has little access or influence, and there are still very few peace agreements that integrate the gender perspective and women’s rights in a satisfactory way.

Peace agreements often lay the political and institutional foundation for a country’s future, stability and development. It is crucial, therefore, that peace agreements do not discriminate against any groups, but take the rights and needs of all citizens into consideration. Women’s participation is key in this connection, but other actors and groups should also be heard and involved.

Inclusive processes can strengthen the credibility and legitimacy of an agreement, as well as the population’s sense of ownership. Inclusive processes often add to the complexity, and therefore adequate mechanisms need to be carefully designed. At the same time, the probability of the agreement being implemented is also higher. In other words, inclusive processes prepare the ground for successful implementation of the agreement and lasting peace.

Norway’s peace efforts

Norway is involved in a number of peace initiatives in various parts of the world. These include formal peace processes, for example in Colombia and the Philippines, as well as dialogues with one or more parties to a conflict, where the goal is to bring the parties to the negotiating table. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs includes both women and men in its delegations to peace negotiations. Our first female special representative to a peace process was appointed in 2014. In 2018, we had women special representatives in both the peace processes where Norway was a formal facilitator. The gender balance in our teams is important in itself, but it is also important as a motivating factor for others.

The parties appoint their own delegations to negotiations. The fact that few women are included is partly due to the fact that women are under-represented in political parties and in armed groups. Norway works to raise the parties’ awareness of the importance of having a better gender balance in their delegations. Norway also seeks to support women who are participating in the process.

However, the presence of women in a peace process will not in itself guarantee a gender-sensitive peace agreement. Norway therefore works with both men and women in peace delegations with the aim of achieving gender-sensitive agreements that meet the specific needs of women and men.

Norway seeks to ensure that different women’s groups and civil society organisations can be heard and can provide input to negotiations. The Colombia process led to the development of several innovative mechanisms to ensure that women’s experiences and needs were taken seriously and their rights respected. These included a sub-commission on gender issues. We have also seen innovations in connection with the Geneva-based Syria talks.

In preliminary dialogues and unofficial negotiations, the circumstances are different. It is difficult to involve other actors in processes where the parties themselves are not yet formally committed. However, it is possible to raise awareness and enhance the capacity of the parties involved and of civil society. Unless the ground is prepared at the preliminary stages, local women’s organisations and other civil society groups will often lag behind if and when a formal process starts.

Despite all these efforts, there is still a long way to go before women are able to participate in peace processes and peace negotiations on an equal footing with men. There are still few peace agreements that adequately incorporate a gender perspective. Norway will work to increase the number of women taking part in delegations to peace negotiations, to increase the number of women peace mediators, to ensure that women are represented and consulted in peace processes, and to integrate the gender perspective into peace agreements. We have committed ourselves to these goals in the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2019-2022).

Networks of women mediators

Inspired by an initiative taken by South Africa to develop a network for African women mediators, the Nordic Women Mediators network was launched in Oslo in November 2015. It is made up of Nordic women who have experience from peace processes and peacebuilding. The network provides a forum for members to work together to increase women’s participation and influence in peace processes. It is also intended to be an instrument for strengthening Nordic women’s efforts to promote inclusive peace processes and sustainable peace agreements that safeguard the rights of both women and men. A Norwegian network has been established in connection with the Nordic initiative.

Since the launch of the Nordic network, other regional networks of women peace mediators have been established: FemWise-Africa under the auspices of the African Union (2017), the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network (2017) and Women Mediators across the Commonwealth (2018). Norway invited these networks to Oslo in March 2018, where they were joined by representatives from the UN and other multilateral actors. The outcome document from the meeting can be read here. This was the first step towards the launch of the Global Alliance of Regional Women Mediator Networks in New York in September 2019. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the League of Arab States have also established regional networks, the Asean Women for Peace Registry and Arab Women Mediators. The latter network has joined the Global Alliance.