Perspectives from Women Peace Negotiators

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security commemorated the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 and a new season of the Seeking Peace podcast in conversation with women peace negotiators from Colombia, the Philippines, and Northern Ireland. 

Dr. Monica McWilliams, Signatory to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and Co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, Ms. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Chief Negotiator of the Philippines Government in the Mindanao Peace Talks, and Ms. Elena Ambrosi, Member of the Colombian Government’s Negotiating Team in Havana and Former Thematic Director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace shared reflections on the difference that women make at the peace table and recommendations (see below) for other women, who still comprise only 13% of total peace negotiators.

  1. Getting to the Peace Table
    • Women from all areas of society must be prepared to lead, in partnership with civil society. When the peace talks were declared in Northern Ireland in 1996, a preexisting network of thousands of women decided to run to be one of the ten elected parties. They got organized, formed the Women’s Coalition, and agreed on three guiding principles: human rights, inclusion, and equality. By mobilizing a diverse network, they were “outsiders who became insiders.” The crafting of the Philippines’ 2010 NAP and 1325 campaign was also a civil society-led process. The “Women Engaging Action on 1325” network was created to follow through on the process, and it provided critical support throughout the government’s implementation.
    • The public must put pressure on governments and political leaders to include more women as negotiators. At the international conference in Norway during the Colombian peace process, there was not one woman among the remaining negotiators. Women started a campaign to guarantee inclusion in negotiations and, at the peace summit a year later, more than 500 women from all over Colombia participated. They demanded that governments include more women as negotiators, and that they consider the unique needs, interests, and problems that the conflict has caused for women. After that, the government named two women negotiators.
    • When building a negotiating team, officials should look at the roster of women mediator networks to give women mediators the opportunity to do real mediation work. Women often do not need more trainings-just opportunities. There is no shortage of excellent women with the capacity and expertise to do the job.
    • Negotiation teams should break down goals into specific components, build a strong team of women from diverse sectors, and delegate responsibilities. No one woman will do this alone. She needs a strong group of women who are experts in different areas, with the confidence to know they are experts. That’s how to successfully broaden the peace agenda.
    • Cross-cultural networking and building connections among peacebuilders on the ground is critical to build the capacity for peacebuilding and mediation at the local level. The ones who are most affected by the conflict are those in communities. Local level peacebuilders can help change mindsets of the warring parties and provide support on the ground.
    • Women must be empowered to speak up on “harder” issues, such as security, the economy, and political power sharing. All of these issues have critical gender dimensions.
    • Men must champion gender issues and speak up on behalf of women’s rights. In the negotiations in the Philippines, it was important to have a male Islamic scholar speak up in support of gender issues. This can often have a much greater impact throughout local communities.
    • Facilitators and mediators must talk to everyone – including the so-called terrorists. Women involved in the negotiations are able to build safety nets around themselves and go into spaces where no one else will go. Doing so allows them to build a more sustainable, lasting peace. 
  1. Implementing Peace Agreements 
    • Community buy-in is central to implementation of a peace agreement. Negotiators must mobilize broad, local support for the agreement from the bottom-up. It is easy to make an agreement but it is very hard to implement it. In Northern Ireland, women went to every town and every village to explain the provisions of the agreement to the people, while the politicians were motivated only by their impending elections. Peace is dependent upon broad support and understanding of any negotiated settlement.
    • Proposals for peace must be properly enforced. Without enforcement, peace agreements are just words on paper. Champions dedicated to enforcement must also move quickly and settle implementation provisions together, keeping up the momentum of the signing process. It is also important to create an implementation and validation committee, including international actors, to maintain political will, keep parties to a timetable, and ensure the provisions of the peace agreement are upheld.
    • Key actors must insist on mechanisms to see through implementation. For example, independent commissioning bodies should be put in place to see through implementation, while intergovernmental relational bodies should ensure coordination and oversee relations between the autonomous region and the central government. External parties should step back, but remain accessible to troubleshoot problems with implementation. In the Philippines, there were very good implementing mechanisms, including an international monitoring team, to ensure compliance with the ceasefire. There have not been any serious hostilities between the government and the MLF, and security cooperation has been utilized.
    • The implementation agenda must be a key part of government negotiation efforts, and it should include a gender-specific focus. Women should be part of the implementation efforts, including the creation of truth and reconciliation commissions, because they know the impact of conflict on their lives and communities. “If you are going to be on the table, you should be around the table.”
    • Transitional justice and reconciliation (TJR) must happen between and among people to address victims and deal with the pain, trauma, and memories of the past. Civil society should support the implementation of TJR processes and be present to fill governance gaps. In Northern Ireland, the Women’s Coalition put in a proposal to address victims in the agreement, but that has still not been implemented today. In the Philippines, the TJR component of the peace agreement has been slow going. There is not a clear mechanism in place for what body is responsible for TJR implementation. In Colombia, women negotiators were able to access and talk with victims and other women that male negotiators could not reach.
    • Attitudes around police, violence, and militarization must change. Human rights and the Bill of Rights are the core of the police, and this must continue to be at the center. There are always spoilers to peace, but we must work with them to prevent further violence.
    • Negotiators must be prepared to encounter circumstances that they cannot possibly anticipate, such as Brexit. Peace is never done and an agreement is never final. For Northern Ireland, leaving the European Union is a disaster. Policymakers and peacebuilders need to get the parties back to the table to figure out how to resolve this peacefully, while working with international champions. 
  1. Role of Third Parties and the United Nations
    • Negotiating parties should look to third party countries as key mediators and champions, and ensure that independent, international third party champions are part of the peace negotiation networks. Northern Ireland drew on Canada, Finland, and the United States. Colombia drew on Norway, and the Philippines on Malaysia.
    • Third parties should use their outside influence to insist on affirmative action, such as quotas, and draw on country-specific examples to make the case for women’s inclusion. Women experts bring critical perspectives and experience to the table. International champions and global ambassadors are critical for breaking through patriarchal societies to ensure the participation of women.
    • UN funds and assistance should be directed to gender-specific implementation provisions, and gender considerations should be integrated throughout all government and UN reports. The UN has played a key role in making sure gender considerations have been part of implementation efforts. The UN Commission in Colombia has strong representation of women and raises issues important to women.