A peacebuilding forum in Vienna on Feb. 19 and 20 brought together diverse groups of women from all over the world to discuss issues that had touched and sometimes devastated their lives.
It was called the Global Women’s Forum for Peace and Humanitarian Action: a space for grassroots activists and peacebuilders — the vast majority of whom were women — to learn from one another and agree on productive steps to increase participation in conflict resolution.
All the evidence suggests that peace deals last longer and extremism is reduced when women are involved in the conflict resolution process.
But between 1992 and 2018, just 13% of peace negotiators, 3% of mediators, and 4% of signatories in major peace processes were women, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. What’s more, when women continue to be excluded from conflict resolution in the aftermath of conflict too, sexual violence is often increased.
The forum was hosted by the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) with the Austrian Development Cooperation and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP).
Commitments toward the WPHF worth millions — that would then be awarded in grants to organizations just like those in attendance — were made from Austria, Germany, and the European Union. Meanwhile, private organizations stepped up to invest in the mission, like technology company Dell — which announced a new social platform where the entire community could share information and resources despite being thousands of miles apart.
What’s more, representatives from 70 women-led gender equality organizations across 17 different countries joined with governments, policy experts, and the private sector to come up with the Vienna Declaration 2020 — a plan of action that formalized their key priorities to drive critical momentum for their movement to build peace and respond to crises around the world.
During the forum, activists called it the forum outcome declaration (FOD), and they told Global Citizen it was a crucial component to ensuring the voices of the grassroots organizers are acknowledged at the highest level of policymaking.
“ [With] the implementation of the FOD ... for once, our perspective will be heard,” said Margaret Taylor, executive director of the Women Empowerment Network, a group of 45 women-led grassroots organizations in Liberia.
“One or two of my requests from back home that went into our groups will go into the FOD,” she said. “That will be an achievement for my organization.”
Shire en Hussain, a manager at Iraqi organization Sewan, which trains dozens of women in community peacebuilding across the country, added: “This resolution enables them to show women’s rights in all aspects of life — and have to be applied.”
Still shocked i could speak in front of all these impressive ladies without drooling. Thank you so much for having me and i will continue to shine a spotlight on your work am accomplishments and the peace you are bringing to communities around the globe. https://t.co/My3d377E4x— Kristen Bell (@KristenBell) February 19, 2020
Kristen Bell — of Veronica Mars, Frozen, and The Good Place fame — also joined attendees at the conference and used her platform to help amplify its message.
Bell signed up for the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund in 2014 and became the organization's Global Advocate in 2018, spending the two days of the forum moderating panels, compèring during commitments, and taking interviews.
"I wanted to become the Global Advocate because I am an empowered woman — and I believe that empowered women should empower other women,” Bell told Global Citizen in Vienna. “I think it’s my duty.”
“I also love the way that the Women's Peace and Humanitarian Fund is two parts: It's the UN part, then the civil society organizations — and they come together," she added. “So the UN has the ability to strategize and get the job done. But it's nothing without hearing from the grassroots organizers about what they need — and putting the money and the training and the support systems where they need to go.”
Bell said the aspect of the role she enjoys most is listening to the stories of others, and doing whatever she can to lift up those experiences and give them a greater platform.
But she also praised the trailblazing work of the WPHF, which has rallied a number of countries, businesses, and charities to generate more investment into a cause that’s woefully underfunded.
"The commitments that are being made today — the investment in these local grassroots organizations — is profound because people are starting to acknowledge that women can change the tide in their own communities,” Bell said. “We have a long way to go, but this investment is a great first step."