The role of women in peace: perspectives from Mali and Syria

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Mali

The Mali mission has been named “the deadliest active peacekeeping deployment in the world” (O’Mahony, 2018). In the city of Gao in Mali, recent United Nations (UN) peacekeeping efforts have been ongoing since 2013. The UN would like to recruit more women as peacekeepers, but there are some challenges. US Air Force captain and intelligence adviser to the UN mission, Jayci Jimenez, comments that “in Gao, local women cannot be seen talking to men who are strangers for cultural reasons – but they might chat freely with a policewoman like Ugorji and let slip some information about unusual movements in their neighborhood” (O’Mahony, 2018). This is a small example of the way that women’s agency and access to the peacemaking process is restricted. Other logistical impediments include simply the number of women police who are actively a part of the mission. Superintendent, Catherine Ugorji, a Nigerian policewoman, is one of just 477 female police and military working for Mali’s 15,000-strong peacekeeping mission (O’Mahony, 2018). The numbers reveal the significant lack of representation of women in this process. However, Mali is not unique in this way. According to UN figures, about 4% of military staff and 10% of police personnel in UN peacekeeping missions around the world are women (O’Mahony, 2018). With a small minority of women participating in these peace missions, it is obvious that the role of women in the foreign policy and the peacemaking process is miniscule.

To sum it up, Captain Ahlem Douzi, a Tunisian army engineer who spends her days promoting gender equality on the base, adds, “I think there’s no difference between women and men in capacity but unfortunately, we have a narrow-minded mindset here,” says (O’Mahony, 2018).

Syria

In an interview on November 19, 2018, “Mariam Jalabi, co-founder of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement and the Syrian National Council’s representative to the United Nations, reflected on Syria’s future” (Bigio et al., 2018). Jalabi shares, “most people want the same things: respect of human life and human dignity, respect for children, respect for the elderly, respect for education, respect for healthcare, and respect for what makes a better country” (Bigio et al., 2018). As a woman and an active participant in peacemaking efforts in Syria, Jalabi offers insight into the fundamental needs of her community and how they are shared by many around the world. She adds,” this has given momentum for Syrian people to make decisions for themselves. Yes, we are coming together as women, but we are coming together because we want a solution for our country” (Bigio et al., 2018). The community and solidarity built by women in the peace process goes beyond sharing a struggle and extends into wanting to actively create a stable, peaceful country and home in Syria.

Jalabi and her team started the Syrian Women’s Political Movement in 2017. According to her, “it’s a movement that addresses all the issues the general opposition is not addressing: inclusion of women, women’s rights, and a feminist foreign policy perspective” (Bigio et al., 2018). Movements and peace efforts that exclude folks left at the margins of operating systems and policies cannot be successful. Jalabi points that out and shines light on the need to incorporate the perspectives, experiences, and capacities of women in this process.

Bridging the two

Mali and Syria share similar stories. Like Bigio points out, “women’s under-representation at peace negotiations is a worldwide problem” (2018). Research shows that women’s active participation in a peace process makes it 64 percent less likely to fail, and 35 percent more likely to last 15 years. But since 1990, women have only been 2 percent of mediators and 8 percent of negotiators (Bigio et al., 2018). In both Mali and Syria, it has been noted that there has to be an active intention and attempt to include women in peacekeeping missions. From a feminist perspective, Ugorji and Jalabi share their insight into the work they do and the changes they need to see. It is no doubt that an organization such as the United Nations is aware of it, and they are showing intentions of changing that. However, the implicit biases, discrimination, and marginalizing experiences that have kept more women from being a part of this also need to be considered. It is not fair to say that women are ill-prepared or unable to take part in these efforts, and Ugorji and Jalabi are both examples of that. Both women share a drive to increase the women participating in these movements and are standing examples and voices for those few women who have become a part of these foreign policy efforts in two countries facing extreme violence and instability.

 

Bigio, J., Kirkpatrick, L., Luisa Gambale, M. (2018, November 19). Women and the Syrian          Peace   Process: A Conversation with Miriam Jalabi. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/blog/women-and-syrian-peace-process-conversation-mariam-jalabi

O’Mahony, J. (2018, November 18). The women keeping peace…in the deadliest place.     Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-46156627

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