While women are active and successful mediators at the grassroots level, they remain largely invisible in international peacemaking. Dr. Catherine Turner says it is urgent to raise the profile of women mediators.
The idea of peace mediation usually conjures up images of elder statesmen deployed to seemingly intractable conflicts to try and broker an agreement. Think of Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi in Syria; Martti Ahtisaari in Kosovo; or George Mitchell in Northern Ireland.
The high-level meditation that we see in the news is what is known as Track 1 diplomacy. It is an official process that occurs at the governmental level, often supported by the United Nations or other international organizations. But this is only one aspect of meditation. It is also usually the end, rather than the beginning, of mediation efforts. Earlier in the process, women play a much larger role.
In the midst of war, it can be next to impossible to get parties to agree to talk, let alone agree to a cease-fire or a peace process. To get warring factions to the table at all requires significant mediation efforts. Track 1 processes are usually extensively supported by unofficial processes, known as Track 2 or Track 3 processes, which help to create the conditions for formal talks.
The term Track 3 is more recent in its origin. It refers to the grassroots mediation work that occurs within and between communities in an attempt to de-escalate conflict locally and improve communication. It is at this level that women are most active and where they have proved themselves to be skilled mediators.
Women play a range of mediation roles at the Track 3 level. These may be formal or informal. They may be engaged in organized grassroots mediation efforts supported by international organizations, or they may simply be meditating on an informal basis within their own community. Women can often gain access as mediators where men cannot and help to decrease tensions within a community.
They may be mediating between factions within armed groups. They may be acting as intermediaries in resource conflicts or facilitating access for humanitarian aid. Or they may be using mediation skills, such as dispelling myths and misinformation, as a means of preventing young men from becoming involved in violence.