EPLO recently brought together 15 women mediators from very different contexts to discuss how the EU could move beyond the stereotypes and better support women in mediation. The day-long expert meeting was organised as part of the Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN) project and culminated with the mediators presenting their conclusions to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini.
The mediators had a broad range of experience, from the highest diplomatic circles to long-term grassroots engagements, from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia. Despite the differences in their experiences, it soon emerged that most of them had got involved in mediation because it was necessary: it was the right and the only thing to do to try and stop the violence. It was only later, after they had been mediating for some time that people told them that this was ‘mediation’ (although others would stick to outdated definitions of mediation and insist that their work was not mediation at all).
While many of them had been praised privately for their courageous work, very few received the public recognition their mediation justified. As soon as talks became more formal, they became ‘men’s business’ and the women were pushed out.
They also found that their perceived weakness as women could be a source of strength as mediators. Men would lose face, be thought cowards or traitors if they tried to communicate with the other side; women were not so constrained. Some of the mediators shared their experiences of working in traditional societies, which may offer different, or even more opportunities for women mediators than more ‘modern’ societies.
The abuse that women mediators receive as a result of their work is often much worse than that experienced by their male counterparts. They can be threatened and intimidated by the parties, or people with a stake in the conflict. Often these threats are very gender-specific: they may include rape threats against the women. Others aim to bring dishonour on the woman, her family and community and so increase the pressure on the mediator to step away. The psychological effect of mediation on mediators is not always recognised yet.
The mediators reflected on their experience to make the following recommendations to the EU:
- Modelling inclusion. To be credible, the EU must ensure that all EU mediation and support teams, and other mediation teams supported by the EU, include a significant proportion of women – at least 30% women;
- Insist that the UN quota of 30% women participants in talks is met by all parties in all processes the EU supports; and
- Ensure that gender analysis is a key component of all conflict/context analysis so that mediation outcomes are based on understanding how power works in the society and so are likely to have better results.
Strengthening mediation practice is a long-term undertaking, and the EU should prioritise supporting the following activities:
- Training and networking of women and men mediators, to professionalise mediation practice in general and to connect women to opportunities;
- Recovery retreats for mediators in burnout, similar to those offered to human rights activists; and
- Projects that portray different roles that women play in conflict and in peace to help change stereotypes that portray women as only victims in conflict and not agents.
The full report of the CSDN meeting is available here.
Dr Laura Davis is the Senior Associate responsible for EPLO’s work in pursuit of its Policy Objective 4 (To strengthen the implementation of a gender-sensitive approach in EU policy and practice which enables the EU to be more inclusive and effective in promoting peace).