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CSW63 Side-event: Centrality of Gender Equality to National Cohesion and Sustainable Peacebuilding

On the margins of the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women that took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 11 to 22 March 2019, the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS) lead an event highlighting the importance of placing gender equality and national cohesion at the centre of peacebuilding, statebuilding and conflict prevention efforts in conflict affected states, “The Centrality of Gender Equality to National Cohesion and Sustainable Peacebuilding”. The main objective of the event was to raise awareness about the IDPS’ new Vision, one of whose thematic focus areas is advancing gender equality and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda to further the delivery of SDG 16+. 
The event was hosted by Hon. Maryam Monsef, Canadian Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality highlighted that women’s inclusion leads to longer lasting peace processes in conflict-affected countries, Hon. Nabeela F. Tunis, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Planning and Economic Development noted that women’s participation in public life contributes to conflict prevention in g7+ countries, and Somalia as well, Hon. Deqa Yasin, Minister of Women and Human Rights Development in Somalia, and by the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Fatima Maada Bio. 


The event was followed by a panel discussion among IDPS representatives on progress, challenges and opportunities in relation to gender equality and peacebuilding, with inputs from members of CSPPS as representatives of civil society on conflict affected countries were, Visaka Dharmadasa, from Sri Lanka representing the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), appealed to donors and governments to finance and support women’s participation in peace processes, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction. Anne Kwakkenbos, from the Netherlands and representing Cordaid and also representing the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), spoke of the need for greater representation of women, citing the example of the peace negotiations taking place in Doha with the Taliban with no women present. She delivered a statement on behalf of AWN calling for full, equal and meaningful participation.

One of the points raised by one of the CSPPS representative Anne Kwakkenbos, an expert on Gender, Peace and Security, was about the challenges faced on implementing SDG16+ by fragile countries as the highest priority. And, that combining SDG 16 and SDG 5 is not just important, but it is a necessity. Peace, justice and strong institutions are not sustainable if we do not involve 50% of the population, women. Anne shared an experience from the Central African Republic where she was present in a meeting between local women and local formal and informal leaders.  “the idea that women had different security issues had not occurred to many of these actors”. Just pointing this out, already helped to create a different approach by these local leaders and they established a consultation on a regular basis. Furthermore, when in Libya she witnessed women taking the most creative ways to call for inclusive peace negotiations, and challenging the international debate on migration. 
In the other side, when visiting an Internal Displaced People (IDP) camp in South Sudan, Anne expressed how she could clearly see that women there had no knowledge on how to access local institutions that could help them improve their personal security situation. One of Anne’s strongest and most urgent point was about the US lead peace negotiations taking place in Doha with the Taliban, which has no women present and she pointed out that the Afghan women did not accept this and explained how much they are working to make the peace negotiations inclusive and have their voices heard. For Anne, that is the added value for IDPS members, to fight together to keep the civic space open for local men and women. Unfortunately, the Afghan women from AWN that was meant to be presenting on the IDPS side-event had their visas denied by the US government and could not be present. Anne shared their statement, you can find it here.

“There is a fear, that due to the deuterating climate in Afghanistan, and the potential for a backlash on women’s rights in Afghanistan due to the talks with the Taliban. High potential and well educated women in Afghanistan are leaving. There is a serious risk for a female brain drain.
For years the international community worked on improving the situation in Afghanistan for both men and women. A partnership between governments and NGOs. And there are still serious issues women face on a daily basis, but there has been a lot of progress.”

Visaka Dharmadasa, the other CSPPS representative also shared her work and experience on women’s participation in Sri Lanka peace processes, where between the years of 1992 and 2011 from 31 Major peace processes only 3 % of Chief mediators and 9% of negotiators were women. In the end, between 2008 and 2012, only 2 women were signatories out of 61 peace agreements. Visaka stressed why is so important to have women at the formal level of peace building and to give recognition to their valuable work, since research has already shown that many peace processes fall apart in the first 5 years, and many even fall apart before they have come to an agreement when not considering women part of the processes.


Please see below 8 important lessons learned from the speeches and experiences shared in the event listed by the IDPS:
What did we learn from the event?
1. Transitions from conflict can provide unique windows of opportunity to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.  In Somalia, ongoing efforts to develop a new constitution and electoral laws, for example, have the potential to significantly increase women’s rights, not just today but for generations to come. In March 2019, 300 women from across Somalia joined hands to press their demands in a Women’s Charter.
2. In conflict-affected countries in particular there is a strong link between the delivery of SDG5  (on gender equality and empowerment) and aspects of SDG16 (on peaceful and inclusive societies). As Minister Deqa Yasin said: “Combining SDG 16 and SDG 5 is not just important, it is a necessity. Peace, justice and strong institutions are not sustainable if we do not involve 50% of the population.” Furthermore, the delivery of sustainable peace and stability over the long term will create the necessary conditions for the delivery of all the other SDGs, as envisaged in SDG 16+.

3. Women’s inclusion in peace negotiations is still seen as extraneous. During peace negotiations led by men, women seeking to be included may be urged not to risk harming fragile negotiations by insisting on being involved. “Don’t rock the boat,” was the advice offered to Visaka Dharmadasa in Sri Lanka.

4. Valuable analysis and insights are lost by excluding women from the table. There is often a gap between what we think are the main security challenges in conflict-affected societies and what local people know are the real challenges. For the international community migration is the top challenge in Libya, for example, but for Libyan women, armed violence, armed groups and chronic insecurity are the biggest challenge.  As Anne Kwakkenbos noted: “If we don’t create a platform for these voices, these issues are not being brought forward.”

5. Giving women a meaningful voice requires an inclusive consultation process. A people-centred approach to peacebuilding demands that a range of voices are heard from rural and urban areas, different ethnicities and language groups, mainstream and marginalised groups.
6. Misunderstandings abound. A key barrier to women’s participation is the misperception that women come to the table only to talk about “women’s issues”. In reality, women have a right to participate in decision-making that affects their lives.

7. Ensuring women’s participation in peace processes requires practical, flexible and accessible support. A context-based, well informed approach is essential to understand what women need in order to join the conversation. Women’s meaningful participation is blocked in a myriad of ways, including through the denial of visas to women seeking to take part in national peace negotiations hosted by other countries. Very few international organisations exist with the flexibility and means to support women’s meaningful participation.

8. The time has come for action! With the Women, Peace and Security Agenda marking its 20th anniversary in 2020, the time has never been better for concrete action and results. 

What can we do as a community to advance this global agenda?
•    Improve people’s understanding of how to promote gender equality in fragile contexts.
•    Carry out global advocacy to mobilize international attention and resources for the specific gender equality challenges and opportunities faced in countries affected by conflict and fragility.
•    Push for dialogue and keeping civic space open, especially for women.
•    Advocate on the centrality of gender equality to peacebuilding among those who lack gender expertise.
•    Advocate for women’s participation in peace negotiations and peacebuilding through flexible and easily accessible funding and support.
•    Use the International Dialogue platform to share, learn, exchange and support one another.

Since 2011, CSPPS has been advocating for appropriate and focussed attention for Gender & Women, Peace and Security issues in the context of the IDPS. Calling for meaningful participation of women and representing institutions in the design and implementation of IDPS work plan activities and supporting efforts to strengthen all IDPS stakeholders’ capacities to integrate gender into peacebuilding and statebuilding processes further. AWN, GPPAC and Cordaid are members of CSPPS and have been active partners in this context.
The goals of CSPPS are to strengthen the voice and capacity of societies to engage in effectively, and influence, peacebuilding and statebuilding as a critical contribution to crisis prevention and sustainable peace and development for all.


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