Geneva Peace Week: “Making Women Count in Peace Negotiations: An Insider’s Perspective from Colombia, Syria, and the Philippines”

NEWS RELEASES - The International Center for Peace and Human Rights (CIPADH) attended the following conference: “Making Women Count in Peace Negotiations: An Insider’s Perspective from Colombia, Syria, and the Philippines”, organized on November 9, 2017 by the Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, the United Nations Department of Political Affairs and the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and Sweden to the United Nations in Geneva, as part of the 2017 Geneva Peace Week. The task of moderating was undertaken by Dr. Thania Paffenholz, Director of the Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative at the Graduate Institute Geneva, and the panel was composed of Olga Marín, Member of the International Commission of the FARC-EP, Advisor of the Gender Sub-commission during the peace negotiations in Havana, and Member of the Joint Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, and Teresita Quintos-Deles, Former Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process in the Philippines. This event aimed to examine insider perspectives through the testimonies of mediators involved in peace negotiations in Colombia, Syria, and the Philippines, and discuss ways for women to access the negotiation table and have a meaningful impact on peace-building.


The opening statements of the conference, delivered by the Swedish and Swiss ambassadors, were centered around the idea of what women’s inclusion in peace processes practically looks like, rather than determining whether or not they should be included, which has already been established. However, rates of women invited to take part in these efforts remain noticeably low around the world. Consequently, they should be supported in capacity-building and breaking down the structural barriers that hinder their participation. Another important point made in the outset of the conference was women’s inclusion as a peace issue additionally from being a woman’s issue.

Olga Marín was the first panelist to be given the floor, and she began by introducing the FARC movement, which she has been a part of for 36 years, and has recently successfully transitioned from an armed group to a Colombian political party. Marín stated that when she first joined, very few women were present. Nonetheless, their participation increased in the 1980s by virtue of the appearance of contraception and family planning. This makes a clear reference to the structural barriers previously mentioned, especially in a society described as highly influenced by religious beliefs. However, she claimed growing numbers of women joined the FARCs over the years, as a means of resistance to the patriarchal model they endured, and to combat discrimination and gendered violence. Indeed, the audience was told women had more possibilities and agency within the FARC movement than in Colombian society, despite the organization’s strict rules. For instance, Marín explained that she was given by the group the opportunity to obtain a gender studies masters from the University of Barcelona, during which time she wrote a thesis on gender discrimination, which became public in her home country and subsequently influenced the later strategies of the group.  

Teresita Quintos-Deles followed this testimony with her experience of negotiations on peace between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government in the late 1990s. She claimed a large number of women had been included in this peace process, with the somewhat reluctant acceptance of the Islamic group. In the end, they were praised for being meticulous, a quality Quintos-Deles explained by arguing that women’s tenacity came from their direct experience with discrimination, which the negotiations aimed to end: “women were the faithful ones. They were the ones that stuck through the process”. Furthermore, the audience was informed of the risks some of the women involved took, as illustrated by their gifting of chocolates to the men on the other side of the table, or their determination to engage in small talk during breaks. In this sense, Quintos-Deles argued that women were able to bring back the element of ‘humanity’ to the negotiations, reminding the opposing party that they were all similar, with related human motives of peace.

Finally, Staffan de Mistura’s intervention about peace negotiations in Syria highlighted an important element women bring to the table, in his opinion, which is creativity. He supported his claim with the example of the Cold War, during which a woman had the idea of starting a conversation around vaccination, which allowed the opposing sides to cooperate during a 3 day long cease-fire, thus breaking down the spiral of violence and marking the beginning of the peace process. Concerning the Syrian conflict, de Mistura claimed he knew from the beginning that including women would be a difficult ta sk. From this resulted the decision of appointing 12 female advisors to the chair, rather than having women delegates that would fill quotas without being heard or having meaningful roles. Furthermore, the speaker argued that the women chosen came from very different backgrounds and had contrasting political opinions, but were nonetheless able to impact peace-building because of their willingness to discuss issues with one another, unlike the male delegates who closed themselves off to conversations.

During the Q&A period, a member of the audience asked the question: “does including women in peace-building efforts come at a cost?” to which the panelists replied that sexism is without a doubt a deep-seated element in peace negotiations. Women must make sacrifices to reach the negotiation table, and face more adversity and criticism than men in the event of failure. As Quintos-Deles said: “Every woman in a peace process has a unique story. As we push for their inclusion in peace negotiations, we need to understand their struggle.” In other words, the cost is most often beared by the women themselves, who often see it as a useful sacrifice.

By Manon Fabre – Research Assistant at CIPADH