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12 March 2024, Tuesday | 8:30 – 10:00 AM EST | Church Center for the UN

On the occasion of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 68th Session, the Journalists and Writers Foundation organized an in-person panel discussion om “Women`s Leadership for Sustainable Peace and Conflict Resolution” at the Church Center to the UN on March 12, Tuesday at 8:30 AM EST. 

The rising armed conflicts worldwide, the surge in the killings of civilians, the enforced migration levels, and the alarming increase of militarization are among the vicious barriers disabling the gender-mainstreaming of the Sustainable Development Goals. The meaningful participation of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in conflict situations increases the effectiveness of monitoring and reporting on gender-based crimes and strengthens the call for seeking justice and accountability. The WHRDs also battle against deeply rooted patriarchal structures despite the distressful conditions that they work in encountering violence of various forms, intimidation, legal restrictions, and criminalization of their work. In this CSW68 Panel Discussion, the JWF gathered experts from diverse disciplines to stress the fact that sustainable peace is %35 more achievable when women leaders are meaningfully active in the conflict prevention and resolution stages. 

This timely discussion started with the opening remarks of Cemre Ulker, Representative of the JWF to the UN Department of Global Communications. As the moderator of the discussion, Ms. Ulker started the session by acknowledging that in its 11th year participating at the CSW, the JWF is proud to collaborate with its Global Partners, civil society leaders, journalists, and educators from different states of the United States, Belgium, Canada, Greece, India, Romania, Kenya, and Tanzania in organizing 12 panel discussions covering many different priorities of the CSW68. 

Ms. Ulker underlined that according to the UN Development Programme 2024 Trends, not a single indicator for SDG 5, gender equality, has been met -or even “almost” met. Women globally are empowered to achieve only 60% of their full potential. The decline in democracy for the past 17 years has gone with a gender backlash, constraining women’s rights and rolling back gender equality. Ms. Ulker said that “increasing risks to women in conflict environments includes sexual violence as a weapon of war to lack of medical care and being sidelined in peace negotiations. And amid conflicts that are dramatically increasing — from Sudan to Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, to Gaza-Israel, 2023 witnessed a three-decade high in the number of conflicts worldwide since World War II”. 

As a human rights advocate following up on the developments at the intergovernmental platforms, Ms. Ulker shared several critical achievements realized as a result of women’s rights advocates, fearless women human rights defenders, impactful political leaders, and decision-makers. She reminded the audience that France became the first country to make abortion a constitutional right and that notable women are continuing to be the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize including but not limited to the imprisoned human rights defender Narges Mohammadi from Iran as a champion of women’s rights and gender equality received the last prize.

Ms. Ulker also highlighted the draft in progress on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Humanity, an important step forward in the codification of atrocity crimes, including its explicit recognition of sexual and gender-based crimes beyond rape. She noted that there is also a strong global campaign primarily led by Afghan and Iranian women peacemakers to codify gender apartheid regimes under international human rights law.

Keynote remarks of the session were delivered by Hon. Neema Lugangira, Member of Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania, a prominent figure whose leadership is not only making a difference for African states or the region but also on a global level as a woman politician. Hon. Lugangira started her remarks by sharing the best practices of the first woman President of Tanzania, H.E. Samia Suluhu. Hon. Lugangira underlined that the first action-oriented policy-making that President Suluhu prioritized has been the reconciliation of Tanzania as a state to strengthen pillars of democracy by creating a presidential task force, which is built upon 4 R`s: reconciliation, resilience, rebuild, and reform. 

 Parliamentarian Hon. Neema Lugangira also underscored the impact of gender-based violence towards women in politics hindering their meaningful participation in peacemaking and sustainable development. Hon. Lugangira emphasized that under the leadership of President H.E. Suluhu, every political party in Tanzania must conduct its own social and gender inclusion policy aiming to close the gap of inequality in the participation of women and young decision-makers. She then shared the fact that representation of women in foreign and security policy discussions remains at alarmingly low levels. Under the umbrella of the Munich Security Conference, she shared a best practice of launching the Women Parliamentarians program, focused on selecting women members of parliament and capacitating them to become leaders in foreign and security policy for development.

Followingly, Phoebe Donnelly, Senior Fellow and Head of Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) of the International Peace Institute took the floor to speak on the implementation of WPS for women`s leadership: challenges and resolutions. Ms. Donnelly emphasized that gender-responsive leadership must work towards empowering a focal person in an executive or management position who actively works towards equality for all women and men both in the workplace and in operations. They use their existing leadership and management skills to achieve their institutional goals of gender equality, considering the structural and systemic issues that lead to discrimination and inequality.

As a best practice, Ms. Donnelly underlined that the International Peace Institute has been engaged with member state leadership within the United Nations Security Council to better implement the WPS agenda, and in turn, promote women’s leadership. Ms. Donnelly expressed that the “Shared Commitments” on WPS, which all Security Council members are invited to sign onto, have been a tool for Security Council members to unite around advancing WPS in the Council. They are organized around three areas to drive forward implementation of the WPS normative framework: facilitating women’s participation in Council meetings, including gender perspectives in Council meetings and products, and promoting transparency in advancing the WPS Agenda in the Council. Currently, 11 Security Council members have signed onto them.

Ms. Donnelly said “Analysis into this initiative has shown that the Shared Commitments has led to an increase in women civil society briefers at Security Council meetings and an increased number of meetings at the Council focused on WPS. However, one of the key issues that the Shared Commitments holders are grappling with is that the heightened visibility of women briefers has led to violent reprisals.” Gender-responsive leadership is expected to involve actively promoting diverse voices by giving these voices the power to make permanent institutional changes – including those of women leaders. 

The next panelist Vonya Womack, Executive Director of the Refugees Unknown Stories Untold shared her reflections on the cohesive approach of women peacemakers in conflict zones. As a peace mediator and trainer, she shared her experiences working with WHRDs in pressing conflict regions. Ms. Womack underlined that in 2022, only six out of 18 peace agreements included provisions specifically related to girls, women, or gender. We need to work harder by getting more women involved and calling an end to being sidelined from critical negotiations. Ms. Womack said “We can do more than lead successfully at the local level by starting to uplift other women to what I call the peacemakers table. If we don’t have a seat at the table, let’s create a table where we make a seat for ourselves. We make ourselves the chairs for others. Another cohesive approach for women peacemakers who work in conflict zones is to look ahead and work toward creating environments for women peacemakers to be able to confront the complex challenges that are facing global peace and security. 

Ms. Womack expressed that we should rethink peace-building strategies by looking at the past and addressing the future. Women need to be encouraged to be in technology, local community engagement, and leadership positions. She also underlined that increasing WHRDs’ access to financial resources is one of the new challenges for civil society members. Ms. Womack underlined that more funding opportunities for women who are involved in peace works must be available so that empowerment toolkits can enhance their skills and foster a more inclusive economic environment. 

As the last speaker of the CSW68 in-person session, JWF hosted Sara Wahedi, CEO and Founder of Ehtesab, a mobile security application to speak on facilitating technological advancements for women human rights advocates. As an Afghan women’s human rights defender, she underlined that it is estimated that 188 women have been detained for political reasons since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. Ms. Wahedi underlined that such injustices are neither the first nor regrettably will it be the last of their kind. Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the region has exhibited particular cruelty towards women and even more so towards women’s rights advocates. She underlined that the Afghan community has borne witness to the detention and torture of countless women activists conducted without any formal charges.

Following a regional context, Ms. Wahedi posed the following question to the audience: how can we amplify the voices of Afghan women eager to share their narratives, extending beyond a handful of case stories and how do we accurately document these experiences? At Ehtesab, her civic technology started based in Afghanistan, Ms. Wahedi underscored that they are actively developing machine learning models capable of verifying reports and working on voice models designed to safeguard women during the documentation process of human rights violations without jeopardizing their safety. This approach ensures that all identifiable information remains securely stored on their devices. Ms. Wahedi said “This initiative is particularly vital considering the global push for numerous activists for the formal recognition and incorporation of gender apartheid into international legal jurisprudence. Achieving this necessitates the collection of robust evidence, underscoring the imperative to connect with and provide a platform for a voice from across the nation, not just those in major cities, enabling them to share their stories with local and global stakeholders.” Sara Wahedi concluded her remarks by saying that there is an urgent need to amplify these stories as comprehensively as possible is paramount, particularly in light of a profound paradox. Women, despite being disproportionately impacted by conflict, find themselves markedly unrepresented at mar negotiation tables where pivotal decisions about their futures are being made. 

The event was attended by an over-capacity number of participants including UN diplomats, civil society members, and women`s rights experts coming from different parts of the world to participate at the CSW68 Session. At the last session of the event, Moderator Ulker opened the floor for an active engagement of the audience to share their reflections on the topics of panel discussion as there was an active audience engagement.