If you Google “the secret to world peace,” you get a raw deal: Four out of the first five articles offered up to you by the internet gods were written by men.
It’s true, though, that the secret is out there. In fact, it’s been right before our eyes all along. But it’s merely a whisper in the halls of power, hardly applied in any practical or political sense, and often systematically discouraged.
The secret to world peace is women.
Although if you were in Vienna, Austria, on Feb. 19 and 20, you would be forgiven for assuming that women were already front and center.
It was the setting for the Global Women’s Forum for Peace and Humanitarian Action — a summit that brought together grassroots feminist activists from all around the world to learn from one another and build on a lifetime tackling gender inequality.
Hosted by the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) with the Austrian Development Cooperation and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), the forum gathered 70 women-led organizations to share their success stories of women resolving conflicts around the world — and the challenges they’ve found fighting to get in the room in the first place.
The evidence is inarguable: When women are involved in negotiations, the probability of a peace deal being sustained over two years increases by 20%. It’s 35% more likely that the deal will last over 15 years when women are represented at the negotiating table, according to UN Women.
Yet between 1992 and 2018, just 13% of peace negotiators, 3% of mediators, and 4% of signatories in major peace processes were women.
Today's the day we've been waiting for!— Women's Peace & Humanitarian Fund (@wphfund) February 19, 2020
To the grassroots women peacebuilders & humanitarians convening from around the world, welcome to your Global Women's Forum for Peace & Humanitarian Action.
Today we listen, exchange & lay the groundwork for action!#GWF2020#WPSin2020pic.twitter.com/mHjwwP3ox4
The forum led to some remarkable results — including commitments worth millions from governments and private donors, such as Canada and technology company Dell. It also ended with a declaration agreed upon by more than 70 grassroots women peacebuilders and grassroots activists to clear a definitive path to getting more local women’s voices included in peacebuilding.
But for most of the grassroots activists, the key takeaway was solidarity: listening to the diverse voices of women from countries, often thousands of miles away from their own, facing strikingly similar problems in their work.
Global Citizen spoke to five incredible activists from Africa, South America, and the Middle East, who, among them, have spent close to a century fighting for feminism.
Here’s what they had to say about getting women involved in building peace processes from the start.
1. Ndacayisaba Marie Goretti from Association Dushirehamwe in Burundi, Africa
Goretti is a sociologist, researcher, and activist who has been in the equality space for more than 25 years.
She’s an expert on UN Resolution 1325 — adopted in 2000, it acknowledges the impact conflict has on women and girls, while calling for women to be protected and included in peacebuilding efforts. She was also the first person to draft a plan of action based off that resolution, which was adopted by the Burundi government. Her specialist interest continues to influence politicians.
“We’re looking for change in Burundi because women are always under pressure,” Goretti told Global Citizen. “Their rights are violated in many ways ... There’s poverty, domestic activities ... They are traumatized because there are sexual violences."
She added: “It’s very important to involve women in the peace process because we have the talent, we have the knowledge. Women are mothers. We have something special: We’re emotional, we don’t like conflict, we want peace, and we work for peace ... Participation is our right.”
2. Shire en Hussain from Sewan in Iraq, Asia
Hussain works for Sewan — an Iraqi organization that focused on 10 women in 15 different districts in the country for training in the art of conflict resolution.
The project has worked with these women for 18 months to build networks in their communities, collaborate with religious leaders, and teach others about UN Resolution 1325 — essentially, training women in understanding what rights they have and how to advocate for them.
“The woman is the mother, always playing different roles: the mother, the head of the family, raising kids,” Hussain told Global Citizen. “She should be involved in peacebuilding because she has a vital role in the community.
“The support from the global community can push people and authorities inside the country to involve women in peacebuilding and decision making,” she said. “We need the support from the outside.”
However, she insisted that local people who understand the community must be trusted to do the work on the ground. What they need is for international groups to have their backs.
3. Ana Cristina Pino Cabrera from Centrap in Colombia, South America
Cabrera runs an organization in Bogotá that supports women’s groups across Colombia. Her team trains women to be leaders and to overcome their challenges to participate more fully in politics and earn social influence.
“Peace is a right — and women have a right to live a life free of violence,” Cabrera told Global Citizen. “In Colombia, women are affected by high vulnerabilities, in particular related to the armed conflict. For this reason, we think women’s empowerment is important in such a challenging context.
“The forum is very important because it brings together voices and women from all over the world,” Cabrera said. “We have this common objective of peace and are affected by common problems like conflict, gender-based violence, and structural inequality. It allows us to build a joint feminist awareness and to coordinate action.”
4. Margaret Taylor from the Women Empowerment Network in Liberia, Africa
Taylor has worked on gender equality for the last decade, and now works as executive director for the Women’s Empowerment Network, a group of 45 women-led grassroots organizations under one umbrella to advocate for equal rights.
In Liberia, peace and security is a particular focus that touches on all sorts of issues ranging from food to housing. She loves that the forum brings together local women from underserved communities — and says that’s the only way you will empower women to become part of the peacebuilding furniture.
“We need a lot of advocacy, we need a lot of awareness, we need to reach out to the grassroots women more — more, more, more!” Taylor said, proudly showing off the three colours of her country’s flag draped around her neck. “Because we don’t have seats at the table ... participation is good for peace and security — bringing women to the table.”
5. Dr. Nibras Almanoury from the Iraqi Women Journalists Forum in Iraq, Asia
Almanoury has worked in Iraqi media for 28 years, and after experiencing the gender bias in the industry, she established the first nonprofit organization in Iraq for women journalists. She also has a Ph.D. in political science to boot.
When women are involved in peacebuilding, she said, the entire community benefits. It’s about mutual trust between the activists raising awareness and those who eventually benefit. That’s where Almanoury comes in with a network of 400 female journalists who volunteer time to provide support and stability.
“You cannot marginalize women — they are a big part of the global community,” Almanoury told Global Citizen. “So they must be included in the peacebuilding.
“All religion from the heavens is based on equality and justice,” she continued. “It’s a justice to include women in all aspects of life.”