“Who are these women anyway?” Questioning the legitimacy of women peacebuilders.

Questioning the legitimacy of a group or individuals is a sure means of excluding them from the mediation process. On the inclusion of women, this ‘legitimacy’ question is often raised. They are framed as either ‘too grassroots’ or ‘too elite’—thus lacking the credibility and credentials to participate in peace talks. At the same time, other civil society groups, such as religious leaders or elders, are more likely to be included without facing these qualification hurdles.

However, the legitimacy of groups that bear arms and use violence is rarely questioned; because they can spoil the process through force, they are often invited to participate without question. This double standard risks incentivizing violence by rewarding perpetrators of conflict with a seat at the table, while overlooking women peacebuilders and other civil society actors committed to nonviolent conflict resolution.

How to overcome this barrier:

1.    Research the history of women’s leadership for peace during the conflict, their past mobilization and gains, and their work in peacemaking, mediation, ceasefire negotiations, and forms of social and cultural change.

2.    Rebuff arguments that claim women are ‘too elite’ or ‘too grassroots’ or unqualified by reflecting on and questioning the qualifications of men at the table.

3.    Suggest a formula for an ‘inclusive enough’ process, with criteria for civil society inclusion based on core values, competencies, and constituencies. (See Box 2 on Sample Criteria for Identifying Civil Society.)

4.    Support women’s efforts to conduct public consultations to develop a common manifesto for the process and agreed upon election or selection processes for their representation.

Though women played prominent roles in negotiating local ceasefires in Syria, they were largely excluded from UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva in early 2014. At the time, supportive third party governments leveraged their political influence to secure a meeting between women peacebuilders and the UN envoy to Syria. While the women representatives did not gain admittance to the round of talks, they benefitted from this early engagement with formal process. The outside pressure to include women catalyzed more systematic interaction: today, outreach to Syrian women by Track I representatives has been more extensive than in other formal mediation processes.

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