24-25 March 2014, New York – The UNITAR New York Office, organized a workshop examining the role of women in negotiating sustainable peace.  An important foundation is Security Council Resolution 1325 as well as an affirmation that women could play a special role in contributing to the sustainability of peace and in ensuring an enduring peace.  Currently, there is substantial inequality of women’s participation in peace agreements though women are disproportionately involved in conflict violence.  Structural barriers, perception issues and general stereotyping need to be overcome since women often offer innovative solutions and achieve sustainable outcomes when they are involved in peace agreements.  The workshop comprised of panel discussions, with simulation exercises led by Professor Alexandra Carter of Columbia Law School, and Mr. Miki Jacevic, Vice Chair of Institute for Inclusive Security. These role play exercises focused on peace processes and the challenges faced by women in creating resilient societies.

The opening panel led by H.E. Ms. Mirsada Čolaković – Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the UN – recounted her experience from the Dayton Agreement where there was a dearth of women at the negotiating table.  There would be a substantial benefit to women being involved at the highest levels of negotiations as they are often most skilled at finding a compromise in producing peace agreements. Also opening the panel was H.E. Ms. Signe Burgstaller – Deputy Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN.  Ambassador Burgstaller asserted that armed conflict has a disproportionate impact upon women, which dictates higher participation by women in peace negotiations. 

Panelist, Dr. Shyama Venkateswar, Distinguished Lecturer and Director of the Public Policy program at Roosevelt House, Hunter College, CUNY focused on the need for organizations and institutions to have standard protocols for women’s representation in peace negotiations.    Peace processes need to entail a gender rights-based approach as a component of a lasting peace and be used as a vehicle for a change in the status quo.   Ms. Nahla Valji – Policy Adviser and Office in Charge, Peace and Security Section, UN Women – observed that women’s leadership and participation is crucial to peace and security.  Although there have been further Security Council statements beyond 1325 to integrate all agendas with women’s participation, this has been ad hoc and inconsistent.  Although formal participation at major peace negotiations by women has been very limited, inclusive peacekeeping that includes civil society, which is often led by women, is estimated to be 60% less likely to fall apart. 

Ms. Gay Rosenblum-Kumar – Executive Secretary, UN Interagency Framework for Preventive Action, UNDP– discussed what the UN is doing to support women along a continuum of activity, from pre-violent situations to reconciliation and post-conflict situations.  An initiative was launched via a joint Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and UNDP to build national capacities where UN teams would help targeted countries and work with its counterparts.  This involved the full participation of women in conception, analysis and implementation to both inform strategies and bring all citizens to the table.  Dr. Stephen Jackson – Team Leader and Senior Political Affairs Officer, Mediation Support Unit, DPA– focused on the difficulty in achieving negotiated agreements since men with guns often demand mediation and limit representation at the negotiation table as a condition to stop killing.  This creates a perverse incentive and a moral conundrum on how mediation can best be done.  

Ms. Sarah Taylor, Executive Coordinator for the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, discussed her organization's approach to advocating the status of women in building peace.  This approach takes the form of a Monthly Action Plan aimed at providing the Security Council with recommendations to better address the needs of women around the world.  Ms. Harriette Williams Bright, Advocacy Officer for Femmes Africa Solidarité, relayed her organization's impact on the plight of women in Africa through their advocacy work here in New York as well as their facilitation of ongoing peace efforts in the region.  Ms. Sanam Anderlini - Co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network - stressed that, while the status of women in peacebuilding has improved, there needs to be more inclusion of women in this process.