Guidance on Gender and Inclusive Mediation Strategies

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Mediation is identified by Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations as a means for the peaceful settlement of disputes. It is a process whereby a third party assists two or more parties, with their consent, to prevent, manage or resolve a conflict by helping them to develop mutually acceptable agreements. Mediation, which has proven to be an effective instrument in both inter-state and intra-state conflict, is a voluntary endeavour that varies in scope, sometimes tackling a specific issue in order to contain or manage a conflict and sometimes tackling a broad range of issues within a comprehensive peace process. Such processes offer a critical opportunity for states and societies to reshape their political, security and socio-economic landscapes in order to lay the foundation for a sustainable peace.

Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 on Women and Peace and Security, adopted in 2000, was the first resolution to link women to peace and security, acknowledging that armed conflicts impact women and girls differently from men and boys. The 1325 agenda, driven by grassroots organizations and by women living in war and working for peace, recognizes the role and contributions of women in wartime and to peacemaking, as well as their fundamental right to be included in peace processes. The participation of women-led civil society groups and the need to address the different needs of women and men in relief, recovery, and post-conflict efforts were key motivating factors for the advocates behind the resolution.

In the following 15 years, seven further resolutions of the UN Security Council and three resolutions of the General Assembly have called for greater and more effective participation of women in conflict mediation processes; for the inclusion of dedicated gender expertise in all peacemaking efforts; for the specific needs and concerns of women and girls to be addressed; and for the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence. Even so, the participation of women in mediation processes and the gender sensitivity of peace agreements have increased only gradually, demonstrating a need for greater efforts to bridge the gap between aspirational global and regional commitments and the lived experience of women in conflict and peace processes. 

The UN Guidance for Effective Mediation (2012) defines “inclusivity” as the extent and manner in which the views and needs of conflict parties and other stakeholders are represented and integrated into the process and outcome of a mediation effort. Inclusive mediation rests on the assumption that building sustainable peace requires integrating diverse societal perspectives, those of conflicting parties and other stakeholders, into the peace process. Inclusive processes will provide multiple entry points and diverse mechanisms for participation. Broader constituencies increase the potential to identify and address the root causes of conflict and to ensure that the needs of those affected by the conflict are addressed. An inclusive process, however, does not imply that all stakeholders can participate directly in formal negotiations; it will rather facilitate a structured interaction between the conflict parties and other stakeholders to include multiple perspectives in the mediation process.

The call for inclusion in mediation processes is not limited to women, but applies to social, demographic, religious and regional minority identities as well as to youth and to organized civil society and professional organizations. In response to increasing demand for targeted expertise in this area from mediation actors and the international community more broadly, the focus of this UN DPA Guidance on Gender and Inclusive Mediation Strategies, however, is the gender dimension of inclusivity.

With this focus, the Guidance seeks to enhance gender-sensitive mediation capacity at international, regional and national levels and to create more consultative mediation processes through the promotion of both the effective participation of women and gender sensitivity in the design and substance of peace agreements. It gives an overview of the relevant normative frameworks and modalities by which women participate in mediation processes as part of mediation teams, conflict party delegations and civil society organizations (CSOs). It also offers practical strategies and tools for mediators and their teams working to prepare and design gender-sensitive mediation strategies, as well as recommendations on gender-sensitive provisions within peace agreements.

The Guidance aims to be of utility to UN envoys, senior mediators and their teams engaged in or contemplating formal peace processes; UN partners in mediation efforts, including representatives of regional organizations, Member States and civil society organizations; as well as, critically, conflict parties. It recognizes that mediation is a complex endeavour, whose outcomes will be 

determined by many different factors, including the regional and international environment; that not all conflicts are amenable to mediation; and that while mediators may have significant room to make procedural proposals, the scope for substantive recommendations varies and can change over time.iii

Gender, Inclusive Mediation and Sustainable Peace

Gender refers to the social attributes, challenges and opportunities as well as relationships associated with being male and female. These are constructed and learned through socialization; they are context- and time-specific and changeable. Gender affects power relations in society and determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman and a man in a given context. A culturally informed approach is of particular importance when promoting the effective participation of women in a peace process, as gender relations are perceived differently in different cultures.

Women and girls play varied roles during violent conflict. Women may be combatants or provide services to combatants, or they may be peacebuilders working to resolve conflicts in their communities. When men are absent, injured or killed, women take over as breadwinners, decision-makers and often become more active in public life. Women leaders can also be effective peacemakers at the community level. Yet, women and girls tend to be identified first and foremost as victims of violence, as they constitute the majority of the world’s internally displaced and refugees, and are at risk of grave physical harm, including conflict-related sexual violence. A rights- based attention to their needs is of paramount importance, but should not overshadow the active roles women play in conflict situations.

Conflict dynamics tend to change gender relations, both positively and negatively. In wartime, women may acquire different social and political roles, gaining access to opportunity, leadership and decision-making within their communities when men are away, engaged in or escaping from the armed conflict. This can enhance their ability to mobilize constituencies and advocate with combatants for an end to the violence. Recognition also needs to be given to the role and participation of young women. Young women are frequently part of movements demanding change, but tend to be excluded from peace and transition processes, which, if they include women at all, will commonly engage older and better-connected woman leaders. 

This Guidance builds on the premise that mediation strategies that systematically include women, and civil society more broadly, are more likely to generate broad national ownership and support for a negotiated settlement and to lead to a more sustainable peace. Drawing on the body of research and practice developed in the framework of SCR 1325, it holds that:

  • Women’s participation can expand the range of domestic constituencies engaged in a peace process, strengthening its legitimacy and credibility.

  • Women’s perspectives bring a different understanding of the causes and consequences of conflict, generating more comprehensive and potentially targeted proposals for its resolution.

  • Peace agreements that are responsive to the specific needs of women and girls, men and boys, contribute to sustainable peace. 

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