Persistent conflict is exacerbating social and gender inequalities and impeding the recovery of countries grappling with the aftermath of COVID-19. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is among those experiencing the most severe and long-lasting effects, with humanitarian crises proliferating and disrupting community prosperity and well-being.
This, combined with the emergence of new humanitarian crises, such as those in Afghanistan and Ukraine, heightens the urgency of advancing women’s meaningful participation in peacebuilding and sheds light on the critical role they play in fostering long-term peace.
Women are among those most affected by conflict, but they are also the most likely to be excluded from peace talks. Despite evidence that includes women, peace agreements are more likely to be reached, peacebuilding initiatives are more responsive to community needs, and peace is more sustainable.
Women peacebuilders around the world, including in the MENA region, have been working to make the work of women in mediation and conflict prevention spaces visible, and to achieve women’s participation at all levels and in all spaces—from civil society to politics to mediation and beyond.
Uniting women political leaders in Syria
Nada Aswad, the founder and director of the Syrian organization Smile of Hope for Development and a member of the Syrian Women Advisory Board (WAB), has spent her entire life advocating for women’s participation in political and peace talks in Syria. She is committed, based on her experience and work on the ground, including as a member of WAB, to bringing together women political leaders of different perspectives to discuss and iron out differences that would impede the progress of the larger peace talks. “It is critical that female political leaders from various parties come together to discuss and reach consensus on specific policies, so that they can stay focused on the bigger picture and goal—namely, building peace together,” she says.
Training women mediators in Libya
Suzan Hemmi is the General Coordinator of the Libyan Network for Supporting and Empowering Women and oversees the High National Elections Commission’s Women’s Support Unit. Her organization has worked for more than seven years to support the training of women mediators in the country and throughout the MENA region. She fights for women’s rights to sit at the peace table and hold positions of power.
“Although there is some female representation in government in Libya today, the percentage is as low as 16%.” “I firmly believe that more women are required,” Suzan asserts. “When women are trained in mediation, it allows them to conquer powerful positions and contribute to peace.” When women are present at the table, we can achieve extraordinary results.”
Fighting women’s under-representation in leadership in Iraq
Amal Kabashi, executive director of Iraq’s Women’s Network, has been fighting for women’s rights for decades. She was one of those who successfully advocated for the inclusion and participation of Iraqi women in the creation of the constitution, peacekeeping, and the country’s democratic transformation. She had to overcome numerous obstacles, including constant threats from armed groups and a sociopolitical context in which women’s rights were gradually eroding.
“Despite the many efforts made by women’s civil society organizations over the years to educate communities on the importance of defending women’s rights, support for women’s movements is still dwindling today.” This reflects the persistent lack of female representation in senior leadership positions and government: “While there is a quota system in place that ensures a formal 25% female representation in parliament, women are still excluded from decision-making spaces,” Amal says. “We must ensure that women’s perspectives are heard in decision-making forums and in the boardroom.” It is critical that women with diverse beliefs and visions all sit at the table to ensure that a diverse range of voices are heard and integrated.”
Global Convening on Women, Peace and Security: Geneva, November 2022
UN Women will hold a global convening in Geneva, Switzerland between November 15-17, 2022, as part of the program “Enhancing Women’s Leadership for Sustainable Peace in Fragile Contexts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region,” which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in collaboration with Deutsche Gesellschaft für International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
The conference, titled “Women’s Leadership for Sustainable Peace,” will bring together women peacebuilders and peace activists from around the world, with a focus on the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan. It will provide an opportunity for information sharing and reflection, building on recent and ongoing discussions at similar gatherings, such as the outreach event “Strengthening Women’s Participation and Influence in Peace Processes in the MENA Region,” which will take place on June 29, 2022, in Amman, Jordan.