Ukraine: Female mediators must sit on the table, says UN official

Thursday March 31 2022
Woman in Ukraine

A woman carries her dog during the evacuation by civilians of the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 8, 2022. PHOTO | AFP


Traumatic experiences of women in Ukraine have rekindled the push for the impactful participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution.

A Monday meeting of female diplomats from the United Nations (UN), female ambassadors from the European Union bloc, and representatives of peace building organisations revealed that although women are included in peace processes, their presence is often taken to be ceremonious.

In a situation like Ukraine, they noted, women should be part of the core mediators since they are the most affected.

The 1325 UN Resolution provides for women to be actively involved in peace and security processes namely negotiations and reconciliations.

However, based on the reports in the international media, the publicly mentioned negotiators from both Ukraine and Russia have all been men.

Sexual violence


Further, a photo published in Deutsche Welle where the Turkish President Erdogan addresses Russian and Ukrainian negotiators before their face-to-face talks in Istanbul, showed no face of a female negotiator.

A month has passed since Russia invaded Ukraine and already, Ukrainian leaders including Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Mariia Mezentseva, a Member of Parliament for Verkhovna Rada have decried sexual violence against women.

State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, Ingrid Brocková said Ukrainian women are going through traumatic experiences.

“The war has a negative connotation on women. Ninety per cent of the refugees are women and children,” said the diplomat who is in Kenya for an official visit.

As of March 28, data from the UN Refugee Agency shows that 3.9 million people have fled Ukraine with Slovakia hosting 278,238. Most (2.3 million) have fled to Poland and Romania (602,461).

United Nations Children's Fund has also warned that more than 1.5 million children who have fled Ukraine since the start of the war on February 24, are at a high risk of human trafficking and exploitation, often ending up being sexually abused.

“The situation has been very traumatic for the refugees,” observed Ms Brocková.

UN office at Nairobi (Unon) director-general Zainab Hawa Bangura was emphatic about the urgency to strategise effective ways women can influence peace negotiations.

She referenced her mediation role in ending the war in Colombia between the government and the rebel group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP).

The civil war ended after 52 years when the two parties signed a revised peace deal on November 24, 2016.

“I remember when the negotiations were going on Cuba. I had to meet the Farc and the Colombian government. I went to engage women in the peace process and they put me at a high table and the Farc women sat this way and the Colombian government women sat(the other way),” she explained.

“I said I did not come to meet two women, I came to talk to women of Colombia. I said no and I redesigned the table. I sat here with my team and I told them to sit on the opposite (side).That was the first time Maria and Victoria, the women representatives of the Farc and the Colombian government sat together.”

Peace committees

She said the women cried after the discussions and told her, she has taught them a lesson.

“I told them, don’t follow these men. So what you should do from now on; before going to any negotiations, you women, have your own meetings and agree on what is important to (lay on the table). (Then), you put pressure on your Farc; you put pressure on your Colombian government. After the meeting, you come back and compare notes,” she said.

She voiced out that women should not “sit on the table to listen,” but “sit on the table to contribute-to make a difference.”

UN Women Kenya Country Representative Anna Mutavati, said efforts must be made to ensure there is a sufficient number of women on the table to inform decisions on peace and security.

“Kenya has seen an increase in the number of women in the peace committees. In 2013, (they constituted) 14 per cent and in 2021(they made up) 35 per cent (of the members),” she said.

“But what we have seen in the arid and semi-arid areas where there are different levels of conflict, the women will be there but without enough support, you know what they make them do? They make them rubberstamp decisions they made elsewhere.”