Participants at the UN High-Level Seminar on Gender and Inclusive Mediation Strategies in Finland, 2023.
Participants at the UN High-Level Seminar on Gender and Inclusive Mediation Strategies in Finland, 2023.

The 12th UN High-Level Seminar on Gender and Inclusive Mediation Strategies gathered senior peace mediation experts this week, to discuss how to strengthen women's role in peace processes. The topic is timely as women's rights are being pushed back in many conflict areas around the world.

It is widely agreed by the international peacemaking community that excluding women from peace processes is unlikely to end in just or lasting peace. Yet the ratio of women involved in formal peacemaking processes and the number of gender-relevant provisions in peace agreements remain low.

Promoting women's effective and meaningful participation in conflict mediation and addressing their specific needs in peacemaking efforts is therefore a high priority for the United Nations and its member states.

The annual UN High-level Seminar on Gender and Inclusive Mediation that this year convened between 9-11 May in Porvoo, Finland, is an international forum for senior mediation practitioners to come together to discuss what does the women, peace and security agenda means for their work. It helps experts in the field translate the normative commitments into real strategies, concrete measures and approaches in designing and leading mediation processes.

The seminar was co-organised by the United Nations Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UN DPPA), the CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation (CMI) and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), with support by the Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The programme included ten modules, including gender-sensitive conflict analysis, mediation process design, power-sharing and constitutions, ceasefire and security, normative and policy frameworks, and digital inclusion.

Steps forward among practitioners despite global pushback on women's rights

The seminar has been convened regularly since 2013, and 252 senior mediation envoys have attended the seminars over the years. The participants represent UN bodies, regional organisations, state actors and civil society, bringing their expertise in peace mediation and experience of conflicts from different parts of the world.

"Reflecting the past decade, we can see a change in how leading mediators approach the thematic. In early years participants came with a question "why" – why we need to talk about gender inclusion. Today they ask "how" – how do we ensure women's meaningful participation in peace processes," explains Johanna Poutanen, head of Women in Peace Making team at the CMI.

"Today, the women, peace and security agenda has emerged as a normative framework with a clear impact both on how we talk about international peace and security, and on policy development," said Torunn Tryggestad, deputy Director of Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO).

This year the seminar was convened at a time where there is a global pushback on women's rights.

"In the current context where existing commitments to gender inclusion are being questioned, it is very encouraging to see senior mediation envoys to come together to share real dilemmas in implementing the Women, Peace and Security agenda and think creatively on how to step up efforts," says Poutanen.

Gender-sensitive conflict analysis paves the ground for gender inclusive process

The seminar discussions identified several takeaways on how to design and implement inclusive peace processes in practice, starting with gender-sensitive conflict analysis as a basic requirement for gender-inclusive mediation.

In the process of participatory analysis, it is important to consult both men and women, considering their full diversity, as well as to regularly reflect on a person's own biases. Gender-sensitive conflict analysis goes well beyond considering sex-disaggregated data only.

It was acknowledged that conflict analysis that is blind to gender risks reinforcing harmful gender inequalities, existing power structures and norms in the mediation process design.

Inclusion in peace processes can be supported by normative, rights-based, and evidence-based arguments.

Advancing inclusion in peacemaking praxis is about finding contextually relevant opportunities and entry points for the participation and contribution of women. Digital tools have strong potential in facilitating women's participation, empowerment, and protection – which in turn can strengthen and further legitimize the effort.

Mediation teams can overcome and address challenges to inclusion by using practical guidance and insights from experience. To this end, exchange among peers and sharing of comparative strategies is of immense value – as repeatedly highlighted by many seminar participants.

A quote by Filipino peace negotiator Miram Coronel-Ferrer, referenced at the seminar, wisely summarizes the premise of the seminar:

"There are no perfect parties. There is no perfect process nor a perfect peace agreement. But we render the process and the outcome more imperfect without women's and others voice to taken into account.