Global Justice

A Gathering for Peace at the Women’s Peace Dialogue

Leaders from Eastern Europe and Central Asia gather for the third round of the Women’s Peace Dialogue

A Gathering for Peace at the Women’s Peace Dialogue

In late June, 26 women from Eastern and Southern Europe and Central Asia met in Austria for the third round of the Women’s Peace Dialogue (WPD). This project was begun by United Methodist Women and its partner, the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations, in 2015 as a response to the heightened conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

The goal of the first round was to simply get women from the two sides of the conflict together in one room to begin a dialogue for peace. Among the many things discussed, both sides agreed that women were increasingly excluded from peacebuilding, especially in their own region, and that it was time for that to change.

Call for Change

This call for change is what inspired the creation of the Women’s Peace Dialogue Platform (WPDP), which is envisioned to unite women peace leaders across the Eastern and Southern European as well as Central Asian regions and provide them with a network, resources, skills and capacity to work toward peace. The WPDP brings marginalized gender issues out into the open and integrates the efforts of both gender equality and peace building. No other such forum exists in the region, making the success and growth of the WPDP all the more important.

The third round of dialogue focused on consolidating the WPDP while also expanding its participant base to represent virtually every country in the region, including the disputed territories of Abkhazia and Crimea. Several participants had returned from the second round of the Women’s Peace Dialogue just last year in the same location, the Austrian Center for Peace and Conflict Negotiation. After the second round, these women had gone on to lead initiatives inspired by the WPD in their home communities — initiatives such as UN SCR 1325 (United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security) training for police and military personnel in Kazakhstan, a peace camp for conflict-affected children in Ukraine, and a dialogue between Armenian and Azeri women in the South Caucasus.

The meeting also featured guests from the international community. Marie Jacobsson, of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Women’s Mediation Network, talked to the women about the role of law during peace processes. She ended her presentation on a poignant note: “You all give me faith,” she told the 26 women sitting around her, listening intently.

Gudrun Kramer, the Director of the Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, held a training session on peace dialogues and negotiations, using the case of Israel and Palestine as an example, which proved to be especially enlightening to all the participants.

Memnuna Zvizdic, Executive Director of the Zene Zenama organization in Bosnia, Sonja Biserko, Founder and President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, and Flora Macula, Head of the UN Women office in Kosovo presented the women with real-life experiences and best practices in cooperation of women’s organizations across conflict lines and toward peacebuilding. These established women gave words of hope and motivation to the participants and helped in the consolidation and planning of the WPDP by sharing their own work and experiences in the field.

For the three intense days of the meeting, the agenda was full from morning to evening with leadership development and capacity building activities. These included a negotiation training session conducted by Olena Suslova of the Women’s Information Consultative Center in Ukraine and an aquarium-style dialogue session between women of Ukraine and Russia led by Iulia Kharashvili of the IDP Women Association “Consent” in Georgia. The dialogue session was an important continuation of a tradition from the first round of the WPD, and proved to be a highlight for the participants. “We should be doing this with the women from Azerbaijan and Armenia,” said a participant from Armenia.

The participants learned how to advocate for the formation and implementation of a SCR 1325 National Action Plan in their country and were enlightened to learn about the work of women — their successes as well as their challenges — who are carrying out the Women, Peace and Security agenda in the region.

Most importantly, the women who were at the third round meeting were able to elevate their leadership through intense dialogue and leadership development and by connecting with other women from the region doing similar or equally important and impactful work. Through the presence of United Methodist Women, the women also learned about the global rise of women in politics, peace and security, encouraging further development of their skills and initiatives.

Developing Action Plans

By the third round’s end, the team of women, all coming from different parts of the region, had agreed on the strategy and focal points for the work of the WPDP and developed action plans based on UN SCR 1325 to bring about women-led peace and security in the region. The team also cooperated on a gender-sensitive analytical paper for the region, taking into account the unique perspectives of all 26 participants.

There is still much work to be done, and the geographic barriers sometimes make cooperation and coordination from a distance difficult, but the women are committed and determined.

On departure day, among goodbyes, the women were promising one another they would continue to work together toward a solution, extending a true olive branch across a region afflicted by conflict and war.

Maryna Prykhodko is a Global Justice intern.

Posted or updated: 8/3/2017 12:00:00 AM
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