On November 27th 2015, representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland gathered at the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway to launch the Nordic Women Mediators Network. State Secretary, Tore Hattrem, of MFA Norway explained that this initiative was inspired by a South African network of women mediators. He expressed the belief that the implemenation of sustainable peace could only be achieved by including meaningful participation of women in peace negotiations. The persistent lack of women peace negotiators in spite of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was recognized, between 1992 and 2011, only 9% of peace negotiators and 2% of lead mediators were women. Hattrem noted that it was important for the Nordics to lead by example, hence they should ensure that their own delegations and negotiation teams are gender balances and address gender issues, as well as support the appointment of women as UN Special Envoys, Special Representatives, Ambassadors, and other Offices. He concluded by stating “It is not about counting women, it is about making women count.” Ambassador Ann Bernes (MFA Sweden) underscored how this network fit in within Sweden’s Action Plan for a Feminist Foreign Policy. Stefan Haukur Johannesson (MFA Iceland) suggested that it was essential to engage men in supporting gender awareness, encouraging them to become agents of change to support gender empowerment.
There was discussion about the common heritage of the Nordic countries in implementing gender equality through public education, health care, child care, social safety nets, etc. In addition “Nordic” was considered to be a good brand name in international affairs that could help push the aspiration of promoting gender empowerment throughout the world.
The launch included a high-level panel of women mediators and negotiators who provided vivid reflections on their experiences in the field. Hilde Frafjord Johnson, former Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (2011- 2014), observed that since women are more seldom belligerents they are more often excluded from cease fire negotiations. She indicated that peace negotiations should ideally be divided into different stages, separating the cease fire stage from the state building/peace building stage which would address political and social issues relating to marginalization and exclusion that should include women.
Greta Gunnarsdottir (Ambassador of Iceland) commented that women always face the challenge of having to prove that they are competent and that they have something to bring to the table, whereas in the case of men this is never questioned, rather it is taken for granted. She pointed out a climate of indifference or irritation regarding gender issues among many actors. The lack of a woman UN Secretary General and the presence of only token women representatives within the UN General Assembly were noted as giving evidence of the poor status of women around the world.
Karin Landgren ,former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General who led the UN Missions in Liberia, Nepal, and Burundi, called for increased support of conflict prevention and mediation efforts, in spite of the fact that these approaches are not easily marketed to donors who may not be oriented towards long term perspectives.
The objectives of this network are:
- To increase the number of Nordic women that are actively involved in international peace mediation efforts.
- To connect with and promote networks of women mediators in the South, both at country level and in regional organizations.
- To serve as a pilot for similar initiatives in other regions or at the international level, through close coordination with the UN.
One member of the audience recounted the Nordic Women’s Peace Marches against nuclear weapons in Europe (1981), in the USSR (1982), and USA, suggesting that Nordic women have a long history of cooperation for peace and that this initiative had good prospects for success.