By Anmol Yagnik
On a sunny fall afternoon on November 6, 2021, Geneva Peace Week came to an end. After five days of diverse and engaging discussions centering around this year’s theme From seeds to systems of peace: Weathering today’s challenges, the closing ceremony wrapped up the week, leaving the audience and international community at large with pieces of wisdom and hope to carry forward.
The ceremony began with a short video of attendees from all around the world sharing what peace means to them, citing everything from justice and equal rights for all to inclusivity, foreshadowing themes that emerged later from conversations with the panelists. The video concluded with attendees declaring “I will plant seeds for peace” which portrayed unity – an inspiring start to the event.
The first part of the ceremony consisted of a panel discussion moderated by Rainer Gude from the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, with the four thematic track leads: William McDermott from DCAF Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance; Florence Foster from the Quaker United Nations Office; Gabriel Gomes Couto from Centre for Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding; and Mariazel Maqueda-Lopez from EFPL EssentialTech Centre.
Although the panelists were addressing challenges to peace from different perspectives, common takeaways emerged from the varied tracks of environmental peacebuilding, moving beyond securitization, harnessing the digital sphere for peace, and the nexus between peace, inclusion and inequalities. They all identified inequality as the underlying basis of conflict, highlighting the need for inclusion of marginalized communities as well as for multidisciplinary action. A crucial takeaway from this group, which was repeatedly iterated, was the call for a transition from a top-down to a bottom-up approach in peacebuilding solutions.
I found it particularly refreshing that several panelists encouraged self-reflection and the importance of asking uncomfortable questions such as: whose interests are really being protected? Are we part of the solution or the problem? Hence, reflections that are often overlooked within development spheres.
A second panel was invited on stage which included Xiangchen Zhang from the World Trade Organization (WTO), Barbara Hintermann from Terre des hommes Foundation, Juha Siikamaki from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Mathilde Boddaert from the World Health Organization (WHO). This panel, moderated by Alexandre Munafo from Interpeace, explored the intersection of peace with other pressing issues such as health, trade, conservation and children’s well-being. A distinction was made between social cohesion – a proxy for peace at the community level – and peace at the political level, whilst pointing out how one feeds into the other. All panelists emphasized the need for comprehensive solutions, an all-hands-on-deck approach to peacebuilding involving actors from all sectors, echoing the first panel’s theme of multidisciplinary action.
Finally, the closing remarks were given by Thomas Greminger from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), who reiterated the urgency of peacebuilding efforts by referring to the concerning situation in Afghanistan and the importance of asking the right questions so that we serve the right people. He wrapped up the speech by highlighting the many ideas, strategies and methodologies exchanged during Geneva Peace Week and concluded with an encouraging call for inclusive action and the crucial “need to move from polarization and confrontation to dialogue.”
Geneva Peace Week 2021 will be held between November 1st and 5th covering four thematic tracks: Creating a Climate for Collaboration, Moving beyond Securitization, Harnessing the Digital Sphere for Peace, and Confronting inequalities and advancing inclusion, peace, and SDG16. Find more information and registration links here.