Geneva Peace Week Coverage

Days 3 and 4 of Geneva Peace Week

DAY 3 – 04.11
‘Peace is in our hands’ – Women take the lead to rebuild trust

Organized by Angie Brooks International Centre and
the Gender Centre (The Graduate Institute)

By Manon Déglise

Events coverage in the era of online meetings is a bit challenging. Despite a reluctant wifi connection and some technical issues on the host side, I’ve been able to get the highlights of this session dedicated to women bringing peace. 

The women involved in the discussion shared obvious mutual respect and all acknowledged each other’s achievements. Shipra Bose moderated this session, herself being a Senior Gender Advisor to the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Somalia. She introduced “with great honor” the first speaker, Ruth Dreifuss, political activist and the first woman to be the President of the Swiss Confederation in 1999. In turn, most of Dreifuss’s talk was dedicated to introducing and highlighting the next speaker’s accomplishments: Yvette Chesson-Wureh, the Establishment Coordinator of the Angie Brooks International Centre. The latter started by thanking the moderator and emphasizing her great involvement in women’s causes. Due to technical issues, the audience, unfortunately, couldn’t hear the third speaker, Paula Drumond, an Assistant Professor at the Institute of International Relations PUC-Rio. Elisabeth Prügl, Professor at the Graduate Institute and Director of Gender Centre, then hastened to present Drumond’s work, because “it’s really worth it”. In short, this session was all about women supporting, encouraging, and acknowledging each other.

The main topic discussed in this session was the campaign “Peace is in our Hands” led by Chesson-Wureh and a coalition of women and youth. The biggest contribution of this campaign is the establishment of a peace-building project called Women’s Situation Room (WSR). Encouraging women to take the lead for peaceful and democratic elections, this project appeared for the first time in Liberia, in 2011. As violence frequently breaks out around elections, WSR aims to engage with communities by negotiating and discussing with them in order to ease election-related tensions. WSR has been so successful that it has been extended to countries such as Kenya, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. This success was attributed to 3 reasons by Drumond and Prügl. Firstly, it focuses on women and it takes advantage of understandings of femininity and motherhood. Interestingly, this argument came just several minutes after Chesson-Wureh said: “We’re meeting these gang youths and we discuss. As a woman, we ask them to stop these acts of violence. We tell them Listen to your mothers!”. The second reason for success lies in the fact that women involved are highly political and evolve political networks. Finally, and a bit contradictorily, WSR’s success is due to these women’s pledge that they are neutral and that their sole purpose is to ensure peaceful elections. As such, these women act outside the system. However, on a broader note, Dreifuss concluded that: “As a woman who has been inside the system, I know how important the involvement of women from outside is”. The multiple feminist movements and women’s strikes that are increasingly happening nowadays confirm that women in public space are just as crucial as women involved at the state level. 

Day 4 – 05.11
Why Authentic Female Leadership is Critical for Peace

Organized by Inspired Women Lead and Female Wave of Change,
together with the Graduate Institute Geneva

By Raksha Gopal

The world needs each of you to step into your authentic female and male leadership for peace”, said Bonnie Fatio, founder of Inspired Women Lead, in a powerful interactive session on ‘Why Authentic Feminine Leadership is Critical for Peace’ on 5th November 2020. The Session was organised in collaboration with Inspired Women Lead and Female Wave of Change. Both organisations are actively involved in inspiring authentic feminine leadership qualities around the globe for fostering peace. The panellists were Pamela Thompson, Ambassador for Canada for Female Wave of Change, Bonnie Fatio, Founder of Inspired Women Lead and Cate Bichara, an alumna from the same organisation. 

The session began with an interesting poll asking how many audience members believed in the importance of feminine leadership in the world today. A whopping 58% of the audience voted that they did, and their belief was reaffirmed by the end of the session. The panellists sought to enlighten the audience about the importance of inculcating ‘authentic’ feminine leadership in their personal and professional lives. According to Thompson, women’s participation in peacebuilding increases the probability that a peace agreement will last for more than 15 years by 35%.  For her, now is the right time to bring world leaders, state and non-state actors and individuals together to inspire peaceful change. 

But what counts as ‘authentic’? 

For Thompson, authenticity lies in the qualities of compassion, creativity, intuition, emotional intelligence, collaboration, inclusivity, acting as catalysts for change and unconditional acceptance – qualities which she believes all women possess. However, this does not mean that authenticity is restricted to women. On the contrary, men and women leaders alike must strive towards inculcating these 9 qualities in their lives. In a world battling  Covid-19  and witnessing the Black Lives Matter Protests, we need to move away from hyper-masculine values of competition, reason and individuality which are endorsed by the existing structures and balance them with feminine values.  

How can we inculcate authenticity? 

All three panellists gave examples of the practical tools they use in their daily lives. Thompson focuses on ‘grounding’ herself to reality and channels her heart and soul in decisions. Bonnie Fatio recommends visualisation of future goals based on unconditional acceptance of all perspectives  – she emphasises focusing on a collective vision over dissension and disagreement. Finally, Cate Bichara introduced  the importance of organising social dialogues that are based on trust, empathy, acceptance, mutual respect, sustainability and creating a safe space for all involved in a conflict. 

Fatio ended the session on a poignant  note and exclaimed that “The world is crying out for feminine leadership.” We must inspire change in the mindset, heart-set and soul-set of everyone, and strive towards a conscious, sustainable and more human future where diversity is accepted and individuality is valued.

Day 4 – 05.11
Cultivating Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding Skills

Organized by the Alliance for Peacebuilding, and the United States Institute of Peace

By Justin Yu

Day Four of Geneva Peace Week was entitled ‘How to build peace’ and, as the name suggests, was centred around the practical skills involved in peacebuilding. One of the many workshops taking place this Thursday was co-organised by the Alliance for Peacebuilding and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), with Nick Zaremba from the latter taking the lead. USIP’s ‘Synergizing Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding’ programme, or ‘SNAP’ for short, was front and centre in this workshop.

After the speakers from USIP went through a series of poll questions to gauge the degree of the audience’s experience with peacebuilding, negotiation, and campaigning, USIP’s Xochilt Hernández introduced attendees to the case study of the ‘Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace’ campaign through an online activity. Attendees had to  order a series of events that characterised that particular campaign’s effort to end the Second Liberian Civil War, and discuss in breakout rooms the reasons for their choice of order. This was followed by an introduction by Zaremba to the Curle diagram of the conflict transformation process, which laid out different strategies for different stages of a conflict. Hernández explained that we could apply this model to the trajectory of the Liberian campaign, hence the nature of the online activity.

Having demonstrated this concrete example of nonviolent campaigning as a means to bring about peace, Liz Hume of Alliance for Peacebuilding then took the floor to introduce SNAP. Hume described how historically, nonviolent action has only been accidentally included as a part of peacebuilding programmes. Hume stressed the role that the SNAP guide, a publication of the SNAP project, can play in bridging the gap between these two fields. Picking up from this point, Zaremba briefly outlined the contents of the SNAP guide and made the case for nonviolent action. He used a series of statistics to demonstrate this point, such as the fact that nonviolent campaigns take an average of two years to reach their goals, while violent campaigns take an average of nine. Zaremba also highlighted specific aspects of nonviolent action that contribute to its success, such as employing tactics that are accessible to a greater number of people, ensuring a higher degree of participation.

With this done, the USIP team delved deeper into some examples of SNAP in action. Sabrine Laribi, project specialist in Tunisia, explained how SNAP workshops in postrevolutionary Tunisia have helped previously unstructured, confrontational groups adopt a more structured, constructive and strategic approach. Specific examples included a group of doctors who wished to bring about health sector reform but lacked the necessary skills before the help of SNAP, and the Kamour movement in southern Tunisia. SNAP helped the latter transition away from confrontation with the police and towards creative non-violent action; for example, the use of spent teargas canisters to produce aesthetically-pleasing plant pots and ice cream tubs. Laribi highlighted how tactics such as these were much more effective in garnering sympathy than combative tactics. Hernández mirrored the Tunisian example with that of Latin America, arguing that SNAP has also helped build the capabilities of social movements in that region.

SNAP’s track record is certainly compelling, but as the brief Q&A session that concluded the workshop demonstrated, it is not a magic bullet for every situation. When asked about cases where campaigners are subject to direct violence or face entrenched authoritarian structures, the USIP team was careful to stress the context-dependency of SNAP’s effectiveness. Laribi explained that Tunisia’s status as a transitional democracy meant that, among other things, SNAP has been able to work with both social movements and the government to foster dialogue. Nonetheless, the idea that nonviolent action is the only effective way to bring about change was insisted upon. Zaremba’s, and therefore the workshop’s, concluding point was that while state violence can create support for a movement, a violent response in kind will result in an evaporation of this sympathy. As persuasive as this argument may be, one does wonder how much those who are expected to put this philosophy into practice are willing or able to do so.

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