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Mediation Perspectives: Including Religious Women in Mediation Processes
10 agosto 2018

di Cora Alder

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry that’s provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here.

Religious women often face a double discrimination as regards inclusion into political mediation processes: They are not only discriminated against as women but also as religious actors. While there is an increasing consensus that effective, legitimate and sustainable agreements require the inclusion of both women and religious actors in the contexts where they play a role, the nexus between the two – i.e. religious women – is often neglected. Existing mediation guidelines rarely offer insights on how to better include this actor group in mediation processes. This blog argues that the role of religious women needs to be carefully considered and offers four key reflections for including religious women in mediation processes.


Overcoming the Double Discrimination

Religious women typically suffer from a double discrimination due to their gender and their religiosity, which can cause hesitancy among secular and religious actors to include them in political mediation processes. There have been efforts to overcome the two types of discrimination as well as to improve the inclusion of women and of religious actors. However, these efforts are rarely pursued together.

Including women: The launch of eight UN Resolutions on women in conflict kicked off by UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in 2000 has increased international attention on the need to include women in mediation processes for more just, sustainable and lasting results. In the last twenty years, the peacebuilding community has moved away from its focus on simply “adding women and stir”. Indeed, no single woman can speak for all women, or their different socio-economic classes, nationalities, ethnicities, ages and sexual orientations. Today, the inclusion of women is more often performed through an inter- or cross-sectional approach, which pays attention to the variety of roles, experiences and needs of different women. Nonetheless, religion is rarely cited as one of the contributing factors.

Including religious actors: The trend of increasing the involvement of religious actors is a response to the rising number of armed conflicts with religious dimensions worldwide. Indeed, mediators are now often faced with conflicts where they need the awareness, skills and tools to include religious actors and perspectives. The UNDP Guidelines on engaging with faith-based organizations and religious leaders, released in 2014, underlines this trend. One key lesson regarding such efforts is to respect the values and worldviews of religiously inspired political actors. However, this can result in difficult situations, such as religious actors calling for gender-segregated meetings, challenging certain approaches regarding the inclusion of women.

Including religious women: The points above reveal a potential dilemma: We cannot simply combine approaches to the inclusion of women with those on religious actors as some seem to contradict each other. For instance, some Western mediators primarily tend to include secular women due to their assumed advocacy position for human rights and gender equality, and their apparent similarity to the mediators’ own backgrounds. Third parties pushing for greater inclusion of religious leaders, on the contrary, often focus on formal religious hierarchies to determine influential key persons within the conflict parties. This can preclude women of faith from involvement as formal spaces of power are frequently occupied by men.

Dynamics stirred by the conflicting parties can also make it difficult to include female and religious actors simultaneously. Secular conflict actors may refrain from involving religious actors as they may see religion as inherently opposed to women’s progress. Moreover, religious and traditional actors can create complications for the inclusion of women, sometimes rejecting the notion of including women altogether.

A scan through the numerous guides on women’s inclusion and on religion in mediation [1] highlights the extent to which these two issues are seen as separate categories. Almost none of the guides mention the inclusion of women and of religious actors as parameters that have to be taken into consideration simultaneously when working in mediation processes. While the determining factors “women” and “religious actors” already steer prejudice, when these two actor types overlap the problem is multiplied. As most guides do not offer sufficient assistance, the question remains as to how to encourage the participation of religious women in mediation processes. This blog offers four key avenues that may serve as starting points for action and further reflection.