7-18 September 2012, New York, USA – Increasing women’s capacity to participate in high level decision-making processes has become an important point of the United Nations (UN)’s agenda during the last years. However, significant challenges remain with regard to bringing this agenda into practice. Despite the number of female Permanent Representatives having increased significantly during the last decades, women are still under-represented in leadership positions. This is especially true with regard to one of the most important fields of the United Nations’ work – negotiating and building peace: of the 14 peace negotiations going on in 2011, only four included women delegates and of the 28 current peacekeeping missions only five are led by women. This is considered progress.
Against this background, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) has taken over a pioneer role in the UN system, setting up a skills-building workshop series for women diplomats dedicated to promote and enhance women’s leadership capacities. After having carried out a workshop on Women in Diplomacy in 2011, this year’s follow up workshop focused on the special challenges and barriers women face in peace negotiation processes. The two-day workshop, held on 17-18 September at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, comprised speeches from prominent women in leading positions as well as practical negotiation trainings.
In the opening panel on “Women and Negotiating in Multilateral Diplomacy and Advancing Peace”, four female ambassadors, including H.E. Rosemary DiCarlo, Deputy Representative of the United States to the UN; H.E. Ms. Joy Ogwu, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN; H.E. Mirela Miculescu, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations; H.E. Ms. Signe Burgstaller, Deputy Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations, and one man, H.E. Mr. Guillermo Rishchnyski, Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN, shared their expertise knowledge as well as their very personal experiences with the 25 women diplomats from twenty different countries who had come to attend the workshop. Ambassadors DiCarlo and Ogwu reminded the participants that the task of recruiting more women to the negotiating table requires the support of the whole diplomatic community: “It is important to transform the political agenda as a whole in order to integrate so-called women’s issues into the general agenda instead of treating them as separate topics”, stated Ambassador Ogwu. This is especially important in peace-building processes as Ambassador Rishchnyski pointed out: “Male delegates need to understand, that certain topics, such as sexual violence, are not exclusively women’s topics, but matters of human rights!”
In a second panel on “Women Leaders in the United Nations”, Michele Bachelet, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Ms. Carman Louise Lapointe, Under-Secretary-General in the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services and Ms. Margaret Carey, Director of the African Division of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, illustrated, based on their very personal experiences, the important role and great potential of female participation in negotiating peace and building sustainable post-conflict societies: “ Women tend to want what is best for their children and for the future generations and they usually raise issues such as healthcare, education, employment, human rights and transitional education”, Bachelet explained.
Another central aspect, for which women’s participation in peace processes can promote successful outcome is their very special negotiation style, which differs from the one of their male colleagues. According to Alexandra Carter, associate clinical professor of law at Columbia Law School and director of the school’s Mediation Clinic, and Prof. Virginia Valian, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Hunter College and Graduate Center of the City University of New York, women tend to share more information in negotiations than men, thus facilitating the trust-building between the parties.
Beyond discussion and presentations, the workshop also gave the women the opportunity to apply the newly acquired knowledge about negotiation techniques and styles in practice in several simulations in which the women, inter alia, had to design a proper peace agreement. As last year’s workshop, this workshop was a big success, as expressed in the comment of one of the participants: “During the last two days, I learned so much, not only about women’s role in peace-building processes, but also about my own negotiation style and capacities. I feel much more confident about confronting negotiating situations now and I hope that UNITAR will further develop this unique skills-building programme for women.”