Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative

New-York, United States - 21 September 2017

IPTI's Director Dr. Thania Paffenholz moderated a high-level side event of the United Nations General Assembly about women mediator networks, currently a topic of significant interest in the peacebuilding field.  There are a number of networks in operation, including the Nordic, African Union (Fem-wise), Mediterranean, Commonwealth, Eastern European, and Spain / Morocco (MedMed) networks.


Improving women’s representation in leadership roles in mediation and conflict management

The 1325 Global Study on WPS in 2015, as well as the other two UN reviews on peace operations and peacebuilding that same year, underscored the critical role women play in prevention and peacemaking efforts.  Since he took office in January 2017, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has declared women’s participation in peace and security efforts a priority, and led the way by appointing several women to senior UN positions. However in practice, while peace processes are slowly becoming more inclusive, there is still resistance to greater women’s involvement, most starkly evident at the negotiation table itself. This was confirmed in discussions at the event: all participants agreed that, while there are high numbers of very qualified women mediators around the world, we are not seeing them properly utilized.

Making women count: increasing women’s influence

It is not enough to simply increase the numbers of women mediators or negotiators.  Research has shown that this does not per se lead to the signing of more peace agreements or more sustainable peace.  The key thing is to ensure such participation is meaningful, i.e. women must also have influence in the process. The participants pointed to this research in calling for qualified women mediators to play more strategic roles in decision-making processes. This must start at the top of the UN system, where there is still a lack of women among high-level envoys and senior mediation teams. There must also be a concerted effort to identify and meet necessary conditions to effect greater influence for women, e.g. in process design, resourcing, coalition-building, and combating political resistance.

The importance of sharing experiences across networks

Women mediator networks are an important initiative by states and other international actors to meet some of these conditions. From a practical perspective, they open communication channels among women regionally and internationally, supply resources and training, and push for more meaningful representation.  Evidence has shown that such support by networks of women at the national level can enhance women’s influence within processes. At the event, the participants encouraged the different networks to open communication within and among them and create partnerships to build on their respective strengths.

Women’s empowerment needs to happen at all levels for inclusive and peaceful societies

Most of the panelists agreed that women mediator networks are a positive step in increasing women’s meaningful participation in mediation processes.  However, they also highlighted that it is only one small piece of a much larger, complex puzzle, whose end goal is inclusive and peaceful societies.  Without women’s empowerment occurring at all levels of society, be it economic, social or political, this end goal cannot be met. The discussion emphasized that the networks must therefore be comprehensive in their approach, including working with actors at all levels in all stages of peace processes and in all types of participation and leadership.



Opening Session

  • H.E. Angelino Alfano, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Italy
  • H.E. Ditmir Bushati, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Albania
  • Ms. Ana María Menéndez, Senior Advisor on Policy, Executive Office of the Secretary General
  • Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

Panel Discussion

  • Dr. Thania Paffenholz (moderator), Director of the Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, Graduate Institute Geneva
  • Mme Catherine Samba-Panza, Former President of CAR, member of the AU Panel of the Wise and of African Women Leaders Network
  • Ms. Jutta Urpilainen, Nordic Women Mediators Network, Foreign Minister’s Special Representative on Mediation, Finland
  • Ms. Irene Fellin, President, WIIS Italy, Associate Fellow, IAI Istituto Affari Internazionali

Closing Remarks

  • Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women