International Dialogue on Increasing visibility of women in conflict resolution, negotiations and mediation


Women are the reservoir of moral force, love and compassion – Vidya Jain
An International e-dialogue was organized by Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti on June 13, 2020 on “Increasing visibility of women in conflict resolution, negotiations and mediation”. Dr. Vidya Jain, former SG APPRA & Convener, Nonviolence Commission, IPRA (International Peace Research Association); Dr. Bernedette Muthien, Facilitator, Researcher and Poet in South Africa founder of African Peace Research Association; Prof. Matt Meyer, Co-Secretary General, IPRA; Prof. Janet Gerson, (Peace Educator) Education Director, International Institute on Peace Education and Ms. Dinah Lakehal, Programme Officer, Global Network of Women Peace-builders were the key speakers. Dr. Vedabhyas Kundu, Programme Officer, GSDS moderated the session. The e-dialogue underlined that voice of women and their rights are equally important. 105 participants from different countries, which included academics, writers, social activists, pioneer of women movement in the USA, youth from different universities and others.
Beginning the session with his welcome address, Shri Dipanker Shri Gyan spoke on the patriarchy society and domestic issue in a day to day life of women, focussing on the need to increase the visibility of women in this era. While speaking about society that has recognized male as mediators, he said that even in the most conflict zones, it is women who have come to the forefront for restoration of peace dialogues.
In her address Dr. Vidya Jain spoke on how the role of women has emerged from traditional era to modern era also emphasizing the issue of sexual harassment against women and the need to address them during this hour. She said that through non-violence, “We can build bridges of understanding and reconciliation. With peace in our minds and souls, we can build our common future”, adding, “The need today is to actively think, analyze and participate in several transnational alliances to create a culture of peace”.
While terming ‘patriarchy as a bigger virus than Coronavirus’, Dr. Jain said that masculinity is more toxic than COVID-19 and said that of all the inequalities in terms of caste, class, race, religion, “The most comprehensive and pervasive of all inequalities is of gender. These profound inequalities extend to every aspect of life, nutrition, education, livelihood, leisure, etc within homes and at work places”.
Calling “Women as the reservoir of moral force, love and compassion”, Dr. Jain said that women can be very good at persuasion and negotiation. “These qualities were redefined and remodeled by Mahatma Gandhi who in fact desired universalisation of these so-called womanly traits of care, compassion and patience”, and added that “Gandhi constructs a new woman who has compassion and courage; who is caring, but firm and who has the moral force to protect any attempt made on her chastity and honour. He creates a woman as powerful as Kali and Durga who by her own resolute will fight for her future”.
Dr. Bernadette Muthein spoke on the violence against women and how they are battling it each day. She also emphasized on cultural, social, political violence against women. “As an individual we all need to make a community for women that provide them quick redressal to their problems”, she said. Addressing issues ranging from conflict, peace and violence, she highlighted both structural violence, direct violence as well as cultural violence. She said, “These concepts of peace by our favourite peace gurus were previously used by, among others, Martin Luther King in his 1953 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, in which he wrote about "negative peace which is the absence of tension" and "positive peace which is the presence of justice." Even earlier, Jane Addams’ Newer Ideals of Peace of 1907 speaks to this topic”.
She also dealt with sex and gender in details and further underlined the segmenting role of state vs community and called for understanding the role played by what she called, ‘ordinary women who are battling life in the open amidst challenging circumstances and working towards peaceful reconciliation. She said, “It is these ordinary women on the Cape Flats, dodging gangster bullets eking subsistence, women mediating between the army supposed to combat gangsterism, but sometimes abusing residents, between deadly gangs who are in economic and power struggles variously, between extractive religious leaders who care only about enriching themselves rather than supporting the community, communities dealing with a pandemic like covid19, combating poverty inequality and unemployment. These, as Betty Reardon has pointed out, are our everyday heroes or sheroes, our ordinary peacemakers, these women struggling for survival among so much unspeakable violence. It is they who deserve the accolades, the salaries and benefits, the peace prizes and cash, the support and celebration. For, it is these usually unsung women who comprise the state, who comprise the international, who populate the planet, who need us the most”.
In conclusion, Dr. Bernedette said, “When violence is perpetrated, not only the victim of violence suffers. The perpetrator is brutalised before committing violence and through their very acts of violence. Witnesses to the violence also suffer of vicarious trauma. So, all of society suffers when violence is perpetrated. No one is immune from violence. Yet everyone benefits from peace”. She further quoted what President Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso once said: “We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up half the sky.”
Prof. Matt Meyer emphasized on Gandhian studies as women peace builder, and constructing institutions for women for their growth and more participation and women leaderships. “Women in conflict resolution of view from the invisible eyes” stated with various case studies the role of women in peace building and reiterated the necessity of what he said, “How to truly increase visibility in more than simply a tokenistic manner”. Referring to Smt. Ela Gandhi granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and former African National Congressmen and Member of Parliament, Prof. Matt said that Mahatma Gandhi believed that working at grassroots “Trains one in democracy to consult to value opinions of the people not to have a judgment not to make up your mind in drawing-room or something else to go out to the community and experience what the community is experiencing to work with them to listen to what they are saying that is the one way we can really make a difference to empower of communities and educate them”, for this would enable people to govern and empower women with skills and much greater opportunities.
Further referring to the African liberation movements, Prof. Meyer said, “All the research all the scientific evidence accumulated especially over the last decades points to the clear and simple fact that women peace-builders engaged at all levels of conflict resolution negotiation mediation and building alternative institutions and constructive programs”. He also spoke about the significant contribution of Mozambican Leader Graça Machel in Minister of Education of her own post independence Mozambique and as in some ways the key mobilizer of a global consciousness around the right of children and youth to not be conscripted, to not be engaged and to not be forced into armed conflict. So looking at women and of course looking at women and children and youth has been a center point of Graca’s leadership which even the United Nations took cognizance of in its outlook at conflict and violence and war.
Prof. Meyer also shared stories of women leaders – from Ana Garcia, who's intellectual work on BRICKS the new sub imperialist sub-regional Brazil Russia India China and South Africa; to some of the work of indigenous women and women leaders in Mexico the Zapatistas and others to stories of women from Kashmir to a new cutting edge network developing of people from occupied territories sharing resources and stories the women of occupied West Papua and Western Sahara – who are leading new generations of new movements looking at the connections between means and ends advocating tactics of civil resistance in the face of structural institutional interpersonal and all forms of violence. He also specifically mentioned about Dr. Betty Reardon, who taught him that his job as peace researcher and activists was not just to resolve conflict “but rather to foment creative conflict especially for the empowerment of young women and for an end to the war against the earth known as the climate crisis”. He also shared his inputs on the movement in the US against the death of a Black citizen and called for many other women to push towards visibility and also to actual power for urgent positive social political and environmental change.
Dr. Janet Gerson, spoke upon the motto of conflict resolution and how we can overcome this in a more harmonic way without dominating other person’s view. She called upon people to join peace initiatives as a nonviolent peace builder and join the community of global civil society peace-builders. She spoke her role as a woman, how she was raised to be, what she termed as ‘good wife’ and how to be ‘beautiful and graceful’ and she had t refused to be the property of a man and therefore, “We thousands and thousands of women actually disrupted this view by working together by helping each other in communication in conversation we could talk about our feelings our thoughts and we could strategize for actions and we could support each other in those actions and in that way we opened up the place for women in many dimensions”, adding, “We practiced dialogue, community building and we practiced thinking together and learning from and with each other in relation to challenging the problems that we were facing and worked for conflict resolution”.
Dr. Janet further emphasized on rewriting stories of conflict and reframing conflicting dialogues. She said, “The idea was how can we be nonviolent and work out problems without dominating, yelling, pounding, eliminating the other person's view; how can we or I would say conflict resolution is a practice of rewriting the story of a conflict, to reframe one person or one group or one community against another – me against you and him against or her – we reframe the story through discussion and dialogue and open listening and identifying what we have in common and how we're interconnected and bring our resourcefulness, our limits and our capacities to challenge the existing conflicting situations to dialogue and mediation”.
She also mentioned about Dr. Betty Reardon who she said has been very active in challenging the idea that only governments can speak and has been instrumental in shaping policies related to human rights issue at the United Nations and the treaty called the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women that came into force. While reiterating the fact that many battles have been won at international platforms on ensuring security for women against any form of violence, Prof. Jane said that “These are not battles that are simply won, these are not conflicts that are simply resolved, but their ongoing struggles that take constant vigilance… they take the skills of community building, of dialogue, negotiation, mediation, conflict resolution and at the UN level the global international or global civil society level they take deliberation in using all those skills for policy negotiation, policy formulation and decision-making and strategy organizing to move forward”.
Dr. Dinah Lakehal , programme officer ,global network of peace builders said that gender inequality is the key driver of conflict, if we think of changing others then that change must come from within and this will happen by building women stronger be it politically, structurally, culturally, economically, so that future generations won't have to experience these conflicts and inequality that they have been part of and much more involvement if women in peace building processes, sustainable peace has to be inclusive of our diversities and communities.
Dr. Dinah while speaking of her global network of woman peace builders said that her organization is an international coalition of more than 100 women's rights organizations and civil society from over 40 different countries who are experienced in conflict or humanitarian crises we work to build equal resilient and peaceful commune and we work with the UN with governments other international organizations. She pointed out that while the UN this year is celebrating its 75th anniversary, 75 years ago the UN was tasked with promoting international peace and security along with human rights and development. But “It was only 20 years ago after the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security that it was formally recognized that women experienced war and conflict differently; that conflict had an inordinate impact on women on young women and on girls; that it exacerbated gender inequalities across the board and in every way possible by excluding and marginalizing women socially, politically, economically, culturally; that sexual violence and rape was used as a tool of war; that there were higher rates of illiteracy for women and girls with increasing numbers in forced and child marriages; that there are over representations of women and girls in refugee and international and internally displaced populations to name a few of the outsized impacts of conflict that that women face”.
She also said that while the Security Council is the body that adopted 1325, “It was actually a product of women led civil society organizations who have been championing this long before the Security Council adopted it on paper and while the Security Council sits in the comfortable chairs and chambers, it's really grassroots women's rights or organizations and civil society who are breathing life into these (WPS) women peace and security resolutions; it's local women who are translating the resolutions into necessary actions on the ground who are using them as instruments to demand participation and leadership and decision-making and conflict prevention and peace building so that future generations will not experience the war and conflict and inequality that they themselves experienced”.
Dr. Dinah further lamented that the work of grassroots women's rights organizations and peace building organizations is not sufficiently recognized or supported by governments by international organizations including the UN by the media and sometimes even by academics. She said, “We now have more and more evidence of the link between gender inequality and conflict”, adding, “Gender inequality is one of the key drivers of conflict and at the same time gender equality is a key driving force of peace. We have overwhelming empirical evidence that women's participation and peace processes have a positive impact on peace and security and on the durability of peace agreements. Sustainable peace has to be inclusive and reflect the needs and priorities and realities of the diversity of participation of women from all sectors”.
She concluded by pointing the necessity to look beyond just numbers and the physical presence of women in the room and said, “Instead we have to define meaningful participation as direct substantive and formal inclusion of diverse women in positions of power that can influence the outcome of negotiations and other processes as well as their implementation”, and added that “Enabling meaningful participation requires valuing and legitimizing the work of diverse women and creating and safeguarding the opportunities for them to speak for themselves rather than to be spoken for consultations and that women must be given the opportunity to set and shape agendas and experience the tangible benefits of their engagement meaningful participation”.
Founder and director of the Peace Education Center and Peace Education Graduate Degree Program at Teachers College, Columbia University Dr. Betty Reardon, a leader in peace education and a scholar in human rights education and a mentor to many leading women activists, shared her experiences on the occasion and expressed her hope and delight on one of the first ground-level was within the church movement which she said, “Like all institutions was infected with patriarchy”. She further added, “It is wonderful to see the depth and variety of positions and the richness of substance of young women who are doing the work of 1325 to the young women who are in our streets during these past weeks and to the young women who brought the climate crisis to the conscious of the whole world”.
The international E-dialogue concluded with a poem on “Peace” by Ms. Rumana from Pakistan on Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.