Missing No More: Women Negotiating and Implementing Ceasefires

Fawzia Koofi, a former negotiator in the Doha talks and the first woman deputy speaker of Parliament briefing the media outside the chamber of the UN Security Council on 21 October. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

I n 2014, Lieutenant Juanita Millán Hernandez was called to serve as an expert on the Government of Colombia’s delegation to the peace talks with the FARC-EP in Havana. She was the only woman on the 17-person delegation. The equally sized FARC-EP delegation had three women.

Two weeks later, negotiators decided to create a gender sub-commission to the talks. Lt. Millán Hernandez was also asked to represent the Government in that panel. Her presence there was initially treated with deep skepticism by the other women — delegates and civil society representatives alike, she recounts. Over time, however, as negotiations continued and trust was slowly established, the shared experiences of women involved in and affected by conflict came to the fore, and a sense of common purpose emerged. Working together, the members of the Gender Sub-Commission were able to significantly impact the talks — integrating gender throughout the text and ensuring the gender-responsiveness of provisions. The Colombia Peace Agreement is now widely regarded as setting the benchmark for gender inclusion in agreements, and Lt. Millán Hernandez, now retired, is a serving member of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA)’s Standby Team of Senior Mediation Experts.

Lt. Millán Hernandez’s experiences as the only woman on a male-dominated delegation to peace negotiations is hardly anomalous. Women continue to be severely under-represented in peace talks around the world. These gender dynamics are especially acute in ceasefires and security arrangements, which are often exclusively composed of male military officers. Male military leaders frequently advance spurious justifications, including that women lack strategic capabilities, field experience or technical expertise, for this lack of representation. These obstacles are even more pronounced for local women leaders and civil society representatives, as conflict parties can effectively serve as gatekeepers, questioning their skills and credibility to engage in “hard security issues”.

The Government of Colombia’s delegation to the peace talks with the FARC-EP in Havana. Lieutenant Juanita Millán Hernandez was the only woman on the 17-person delegation.

“My early experiences during the Havana talks inspired me to propose that DPPA’s Policy and Mediation Division launch a pilot course on ‘Women’s participation in negotiation and implementing ceasefires’, Lt. Millan explains. The aim would be to provide a cohort of women in conflict-affected contexts with the strategic and technical skills required to engage in security arrangement negotiations.

In October 2021, this vision became a reality. Organized by DPPA’s Gender, Peace and Security, and Mediation Support units, the 12-week pilot course concluded in January 2022, with women from, or working in, Cameroon, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Africa, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Participants were selected on the basis of their current, or possible future, involvement in ceasefire or security arrangement negotiations or implementation.

The course covered topics such as ceasefire typologies, inclusion strategies, contents of ceasefire agreements, monitoring and verification mechanisms, protection and safety of civilians, and implementation issues. Live sessions with high-level guest speakers also enabled participants to hear personal stories from senior women negotiators and mediators in previous ceasefire processes. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, head of the Government of the Philippines Negotiating Panel in the Bangsomoro peace talks, said: “The Agreement [1997 Bangsomoro Agreement] was negotiated largely among men — Commanders and Generals on the Government’s side.” She recounted that the only woman who was part of the team was Alma Evangelista, Executive Director of the Peace Process Office. She was a peace advocate in this arrangement, and it was really her who pushed for compromises, and who tried to find the right language. Coronel-Ferrer remembers that, in fact, they called her a ‘language engineer’. “She of course got intimidated and to a certain extent harassed by very strong generals but in the end one of the generals actually told her: ‘You are the peace advocate, and I am the General, let’s both do our job.’” And Minister of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs of South Sudan, Angelina Reny, stressed: “The security sector as a whole and the war business as a whole is seen as a male thing and as a masculine thing and is left to men. And often men start the war, but the impact is on everyone. It motivated me. We cannot just leave it to men, to handle it.”

Participants plan to use the new skills they acquired by providing inputs on gender-responsive ceasefire process design and provisions into an active peace process, integrating ceasefire commitments into National Action Plans on UNSCR 1325, refining civil society messaging calling for ceasefires and organizing a National Women’s Peace Convention in Cameroon

“I know what it’s like to feel lonely in a room full of men, particularly when it comes to peace and security — we are certainly missing,” UN Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) for Africa Martha Pobee told a closing session. “And even when we are there, you don’t feel you belong in room because of the attitude. Your experience also makes you feel inadequate and not well-informed. Therefore, for me, hearing about this pilot program [made me] very excited that we have begun the process of enhancing capabilities to do what is really required when we talk about sustaining peace and security in our world today.”

ASG Martha Pobee and the participants from the pilot course on ‘Women’s participation in negotiation and implementing ceasefires.

DPPA plans to expand this community of women ceasefire negotiators by offering a second iteration of the course later in 2022 and building a network of women with the skills and experience to change the way ceasefires are designed, negotiated and implemented across the world. If you know of women peacemakers in your place of work who are involved in ceasefires or other security issues in peace talks who you think might be a good fit for the course, please write to the Women and Ceasefires Team at women-in-ceasefires@un.org.

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The online magazine of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs

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The online magazine of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs

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