Hanna Tetteh, Ghana’s former foreign minister and FemWise-Africa member, explains why female mediators are essential for sustainable conflict resolution.
What role do women play in conflicts?
Conflicts always affect all members of a community. However, it is striking that men are usually the ones who take up arms, while women and children tend to be the victims in these conflicts. Despite this victimisation, women often keep fragile communities together. Even during conflicts, they manage to create some semblance of 'normality', as they work together to solve problems arising from the conflict and provide a safe haven for their families.
When it is time to tackle the conflict itself, women reveal themselves as active peace builders. They often work on their own or lead informal peace initiatives behind the scenes in order to try to restore the social fabric of their communities.
Why are female mediators needed, both in Africa and elsewhere?
Formal mediation to reach a peace agreement is most often carried out by men. Many traditional African societies are patriarchal and overlook the role of women, even though it is primarily women who pay attention to restoring their communities’ social fabric, a crucial condition for a truly sustainable peace process.
Moreover, women are often the main victims of conflicts, as they suffer both physical and sexual violence. These serious traumas must be recognised during peace negotiations by including programmes that deal with them, but men sometimes tend to forget it.
In essence, however, women's participation in mediation is simply a question of equality and fairness. Women make up half of a community. Their voices should be heard. Post-conflict societies must give women the opportunity to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. That is why we need female mediators who make sure the peace process takes into account women's aspirations and engage women from these communities in conflict in the negotiations. Only in this way will it be possible to reach balanced agreements that also takes into account women’s needs.
In essence, women's participation in mediation is simply a question of equality and fairness. Women make up half of a community. Their voices should be heard.
Do the current, mainly male, African leaders recognise the need for female mediators?
This need is certainly recognised, especially within the Commission of the African Union (AU) and at the level of the Regional Economic Communities, who are making efforts to involve more women in peace negotiations. The AU Panel of the Wise, which is also active in the field of mediation, includes two women. However, the leaders of the African states themselves still do not really grasp the importance of female mediators. Awareness raising is desperately needed.
What are the main obstacles to increasing the number of female mediators?
There are very few women in leadership positions or with leadership experience who also have the appropriate education and professional experience. Only such women are suitable to take the lead in mediation.
Men involved in conflicts sometimes see negotiations as a way of holding on to their positions of power once the conflict is over. Involving women means cutting the pie of power into thinner slices, which male negotiators want to avoid. In order to prevent such resistance, more women should be active at all levels of the peace process. Thorough training is required for this. Only teaching women how to help rebuild their communities after a conflict is not enough.
Are female mediators respected?
It depends. If an experienced woman is officially appointed as mediator, people generally respect her, just like women who mediate informally. But Africa remains mainly dominated by men. Female mediators must therefore make an additional effort to be seen as strong, fair and impartial and gain the respect of all parties involved.
Female mediators must make an additional effort to be seen as strong, fair and impartial and gain the respect of all parties involved.
In which African conflicts have female mediators played a role?
Many women are working on creating more peaceful societies, especially a community level. For example, Rose Nyandwi of the "Women Network for Peace and Dialogue" has been mediating in Burundi since 2015. A better-known name is the Nigerian Aichatou Mindaoudou Souleymane, who negotiated in Ivory Coast in 2013 as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General. Or Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, who was appointed as Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and led the peace process there in 2013.
You negotiated a ceasefire yourself, in South Sudan. How did you proceed?
Getting the parties to the conflict in South Sudan to strive together for lasting peace is not easy, but we do what we can. It is important to be fair and impartial throughout the process and to listen to the concerns of all parties, including the weaker ones. That means also involving women. Only this way can we achieve an outcome that is fair, just and truly inclusive.
Of course, I did not negotiate the ceasefire alone. I am part of a High Level Forum that includes other (former) ministers such as Angola's Chicoti and Algeria's Lamamra. In addition, the negotiations have not yet been concluded. We are still working on a regulation for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and for the organisation of free, fair and credible elections.
Read more on international mediation in conflicts
What is FemWise-Africa?
FemWise-Africa (Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation) was founded in 2017 within the African Union. Its aim is to train and engage more female mediators in conflict prevention and peace initiatives in Africa. By 2018, 500 new female mediators should be accredited.
Belgium is committed to international mediation
The Belgian history bears witness to a willingness to seek reconciliation and compromise which is part of our DNA. Therefore our country wants to help support global mediation efforts. Read more.