Women as everyday peacebuilders critical to nation-building

Date: Wednesday, September 3, 2014

New York — In the aftermath of conflict, studies have shown that women play a key role in rebuilding their nations. The roles that women often assume during conflict– as combatants, political or economic actors providing for their families or activists engaged in community reconciliation – must be recognized, say experts, and supported in the post-conflict period. However, too often, women’s daily peacebuilding stories remain untold.

To bring such voices to light, the UN Peacebuilding Commission, under the chairpersonship of Brazil, held a session entitled “Women, Everyday Peacebuilderson 3 September 2014. The session brought together women peace activists from Colombia, Kenya and Liberia, delegates to the Peacebuilding Commission and senior UN officials.

“Investing in women’s leadership is peacebuilding’s best value for money. In the aftermath of conflict, billions of dollars are spent on projects that often predominantly benefit men. By contrast, grass-roots women leaders often work with very few resources – this must change,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, in a video message.

“National and international security actors must ensure the protection of women peacebuilders so they can continue their critical work. The targeting of women who speak up for their communities … is unacceptable and must be urgently addressed,” she added.     

Liberian Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and keynote speaker, noted that “women across the world have been tested and proven worthy of building peace at the local level and in some cases the national levels. There is no need to build a strong case on their behalf.” Stressing the role of women in peacebuilding, she stated that “It is ordinary women who can make and bring change.”

Emphasizing women’s role in reconciliation and peacebuilding at the local level, as well as its impact at the national level, Judy Cheng Hopkins, former Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG) for Peacebuilding Support, addressed the audience with a question: “While we are all working for lasting peace, maybe we are not looking at the right places if we are ignoring what women are doing at local level.”

During the session, Commission members reflected on women’s peacebuilding efforts in their own national context and discussed the opportunities to prioritize women’s empowerment in their daily work.

Explaining how women’s groups used mobile technology to develop an early warning system in Kenya after the 2009 electoral violence, Alice Nderitu, of the African Regional Office of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue noted that “the ways people mobilize for violence can also mobilize people for peace.”

Sharing the experience of Colombia, Rosa Emilia Salamanca, Executive Director of Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica (CIASE) stressed the importance of women’s economic empowerment for peacebuilding, noting that “security for women in Colombia is tied to economic independence.” She also emphasized the convening power of women peacebuilders. Ms. Cheng-Hopkins commended the Peacebuilding Fund for launching a Gender Promotion Initiative in order to increase the allocation of funds to women’s peacebuilding efforts in priority countries.

In his concluding remarks, UN Women Deputy Executive Director John Hendra highlighted the fact that women peacebuilders bridge the local – national divide and come up with innovative solutions to conflict due to their expertise, knowledge and legitimacy. He also reiterated the urgency with which international partners must increase financial and political support to women peacebuilders on the ground.

Closing the event, Ambassador Antônio de Aguiar Patriota, PBC Chairperson, stressed inclusive national ownership and commented that “Women and men have to unite to ensure the culture of [militarism] does not prevail.”

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