Why Women Should Be Equally Represented in Peace Processes


Women and girls in Libya’s Misrata protesting against Gaddafi in 2011 ©Mojomogwai

Armed conflicts affect women and men in different ways. Men are often physically threatened, imprisoned, or kidnapped. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to experience the same kind of violence directed at the civilian population, such as forced displacement or sexual violence. Furthermore, because women in armed conflicts generally assume the sole responsibility for their family’s livelihood, they are directly affected by supply shortages and a lack of access to resources, land, and medical assistance. Nevertheless, women’s participation in peacebuilding efforts is often too limited.

The Swiss government is committed to promoting greater female participation in peacebuilding efforts, for such peace building is more sustainable and of better quality when it includes women. Measures are being taken to create supportive conditions for a better gender balance in peace missions and United Nations and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) operations at the institutional and field levels.

Through its human resources policy, Switzerland also specifically encourages the joint participation of men and women in military and civilian peace missions. During the Geneva 2 talks on Syria, for instance, the Swiss government actively supported the Syrian Women’s Initiative, a network of different women’s associations. Switzerland also recently facilitated the drafting of a peace agenda of a diverse group of Libyan women.



Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini speaks at OSCE Winter Meeting in Vienna, February 2015 © OSCE

Heidi Tagliavini, Mediator Par Excellence

“The need to enhance women’s participation also applies to “traditional” mediation actors, including Switzerland. In our case, we have had excellent female mediators—just think of Heidi Tagliavini— but we must and can do better to widen our pool,” said Federal Councilor Didier Burkhalter at the celebration of the 15th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in September 2015. Heidi Tagliavini provides one of the best examples of the sustainability of that process.

Dr. Tagliavini started working for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in 1982, after earning a Ph.D. in Philology. According to the Federal Council, her “remarkable abilities” and “profound knowledge of political relations in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union” led to her deployment in Chechnya in 1995, in Georgia with the United Nations from 2002 to 2006, and with the European Union from 2008 to 2009, among many other postings.

Recently, the 65-year-old diplomat from Basel received international praise for her role and her tireless efforts in contributing to the resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. She was awarded the medal of the OSCE, with which she has been working in Ukraine. The Universities of Basel and Bern also awarded her honorary doctorates for her “outstanding services” as an arbitrator in crisis and conflict zones.

Heidi Tagliavini speaks eight languages, which she considers an important asset. “I communicate with the parties in their language. They appreciate you making the effort to understand their country, their culture, and their history,” she said in an interview. And her role as a female mediator in a milieu that sometimes lacks women doesn’t intimidate her. “Women may well have more patience and understanding, but we must also be able to fight our corner. I laugh with [all the parties]. Humor and humanity are key,” concluded Heidi Tagliavini.


The Embassy of Switzerland’s Contribution to Greater Inclusion of Women

The Embassy of Switzerland in the United States of America supports Switzerland’s commitment to include women in peace processes by partnering with Vital Voices, a Washington-based NGO. “Experience shows that women’s participation contributes to broadening the range of issues on the negotiation agenda and enhances public support and acceptance of those agreements,” asserted Ambassador of Switzerland Martin Dahinden during a panel discussion organized with the NGO.


Ambassador of Switzerland Martin Dahinden giving opening remarks at a panel discussion organized with Vital Voices © FDFA

The event was the fourth in a six-event series with Vital Voices, whose mission is to “train and empower emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe.” Featuring Thania Paffenholz, director of the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Hafsat Abiola, 2016 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award recipient, and Virginia M. Bouvier, Senior Advisor on Peace Processes at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), the discussion was moderated by Kathleen Kuehnast, Senior Gender Advisor at the USIP. In the report Making Women Count—Not Just Counting Women, Dr. Paffenholz finds that while direct inclusion of women does not per se increase the likelihood that more peace agreements will be signed and implemented, the influence women actually have on a process does make a difference. Decision-making is equally important: “You can have inclusive tables, but if the decision-making groups are not reflective of women, you’ll find no results,” said Thania Paffenholz.

In the future, the Embassy of Switzerland will continue to advocate for and encourage public discourse on the important and timely issue of greater inclusion of women in peace processes.


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