By Kelly Haggart
During a tranquil summer week on the uOttawa campus, 25 remarkable women worked with their usual energy and passion on bringing peace to the world’s most conflict-ravaged places. They had overcome hurdles to make the trip from two dozen countries, including Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Colombia and South Sudan.
The women were taking part in a trail-blazing seminar and certificate course on gendered and inclusive mediation offered for the first time by the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN). The event was hosted by uOttawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the invitation of director John Packer, and funded by the Canadian government.
Experts at peacemaking
From July 16 to 21, the peacebuilders shared experiences, learned how to engage even more effectively in peace processes and firmed up their global support network.
“This is a unique group of extremely courageous women,” said Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, co-founder and executive director of ICAN. “They have negotiated with the Taliban and with extremists. They have mediated ceasefires.
“On the frontlines of local conflicts, women are taking care of children and providing humanitarian assistance — they know intimately what is going on. These women are not experts at making war, but they are the experts at making peace.
“It is essential that women are around the table when peace is being negotiated — it is their future being decided. Being violent shouldn’t be the only ticket to the talks.”
Promoting women's participation
Packer, the inaugural Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution in the Faculty of Law, observed that peace processes typically exclude women and their perspectives, which undermines the likelihood of a lasting peace.
ICAN cites research showing that peace is 54% more durable when women are involved in negotiating it. As part of its Better Peace Initiative, the group has developed a how-to guide aimed at promoting women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution.
“Women peacemakers in conflict situations do one of the most dangerous jobs in the world,” Packer said. “These women are bucking social norms to be involved — and this is life-threatening stuff. The men have militias or other forms of support. But many of these women have no protection whatsoever and often become the targets of radical groups.”
'An amazing opportunity'
For participants, the course was a rare chance to gather with peers engaged in similar struggles and to enrich their knowledge of a “gold standard” of peace process practice. Graduate students who took part as note-takers “had an amazing opportunity to hear first-person accounts of things they otherwise would just have read about,” Packer said. (He is now co-creating a law course on international conflict resolution with Professor Ellen Zweibel, to be offered in summer 2019.)
Packer noted the value of the ICAN gathering for Ottawa-based NGOs and desk officers at Global Affairs Canada, who met the women on the margins of the workshop. The women also visited Parliament at the invitation of Senator Mobina Jaffer, chair of the ICAN board. She extols this pioneering global network of women peacebuilders:
“We could write books about every woman. It is an honour just to be able to observe what they do.”