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Liberia Women in Peace Building Network (WIPNET) pray for Peace on a roadside outside Parliament at the Capitol Building offices in Monrovia, Liberia, 11 August 2016.

Liberia Women in Peace Building Network (WIPNET) pray for Peace on a roadside outside Parliament at the Capitol Building offices in Monrovia, Liberia, 11 August 2016.

Bringing Female Mediators to the Table: Shed the Spotlight on African Women in Peace Processes

blog Joint Futures 44, 13.02.2024

Women are underrepresented in high-level peace processes. Germany’s new Africa Policy Guidelines should prioritise cooperation with regional and national networks to strengthen women’s mediation capacities and aim for inclusiveness in high-level peace negotiations.


In July 2003, negotiations in the Liberian peace process reached an impasse. The Liberian Women Initiative and WIPNET (Women in Peacebuilding Network of the West African Network for Peacebuilding) took the lead and organised a sit-in in the halls where the peace negotiations were taking place. They called on the men involved to honour their previous commitments to include women. Two weeks later, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, officially ending the civil war in Liberia. This emancipatory moment shaped the role of women in the peace process that followed. 

The German government’s new Africa Policy Guidelines are being developed at a time when complex conflicts and humanitarian crises are on the rise worldwide, affecting the well-being and prosperity of societies as a whole. Women are often the hardest hit by these crises – they bear the brunt of the conflicts and are severely affected by gender-specific discrimination and violence. Even when the violence subsides, women are still largely excluded from participating in peace processes: Between 1992 and 2019, only 6 per cent of mediators, 6 per cent of signatories, and 13 per cent of negotiators worldwide were women.

In its Feminist Foreign Policy Guidelines, the German government has called for an integrated approach to security – a framework that now demands increased efforts to counter the lack of participation of women in peace processes. Studies overwhelmingly show that women’s participation in peace negotiations and mediation leads to sustainable peace. But change is still lacking. The absence or low level of participation of African women in mediation and at the negotiating table in peace processes is clearly the unfinished business of Resolution 1325, adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000. The German government should emphasise the importance of mediation and negotiation in its foreign policy and promote the integration of women in these (high-level) processes.

Why do high-level peace negotiations involve so few women?

Many of the formal peace processes are largely dominated by men, whereas women are often seen merely as victims of war or are simply not given enough space to participate in peace processes. Over the years, the degree of inclusion of women has somewhat improved. Yet, obstacles remain that make it difficult for women to participate in negotiations and peace consolidation. Many of these structural and material barriers are often firmly anchored in the conflict realities.

The barriers are linked to the lack of sustainable financial resources, capacities, and experience to support the peace process directly or indirectly. A lack of capacity and experience in conflict mediation can lead to women being excluded from opportunities to participate in (high-level) mediation efforts. In most sub-Saharan African countries, there are not enough trained female mediators, and where they do exist, they are often only involved at a grassroots level or in local mediation efforts.

These challenges are grounded in societal structural barriers and asymmetries – divisions that are much more difficult to address through policy guidelines. For many female mediators, the access to formal processes is difficult to achieve due to a lack of power. Patriarchal structures exclude women from formal and informal peace processes. This is as true for local processes in sub-Saharan African countries as it is for high-level diplomacy at the national or global level.

New female actors and networks enter the field of mediation

Faced with systematic and continuous exclusion, many women and girls have chosen to join civil society organisations to make their voices heard and to gain access to peace processes. Previous African women’s mediation networks established over the past two decades were sporadic and often established in response to local or regional crises. Yet, in the last five years, a new generation of networks has emerged; more and more national, regional, and global women mediator networks have been established. They advocate for peace among and through women, and they pursue the overarching goal of implementing Resolution 1325. Women should not only be included in processes at the regional but also the international level. These networks and associations seek to bridge the gap between the community level (where women are often actively involved) and formal high-level processes (where they are too often overlooked) by bringing women’s mediation experience to a common level to facilitate access and use.

The African Union (AU) has contributed to this development through three landmark decisions that led to the establishment of FemWise-Africa. FemWise aims at strengthening the role of women in conflict prevention and mediation within the framework of the African Peace and Security Architecture. The network not only provides a platform for capacity-building, but also for strategic advocacy and networking, with the aim of strengthening the inclusion of women in peace processes. In 2019, the Global Alliance of Regional Women Mediator Networks was also founded, with the aim of expanding common goals and strengthening coordination and cooperation across networks.

Above all, the networks serve as a resource for female conflict resolution experts who can be deployed in mediation. They provide a platform for the exchange of best practices, expertise, and peer-to-peer learning, where women working in different contexts of mediation can learn from each other.

In this process of mediation, regional as well as country-level organisations play an equally important role: The establishment of regional women’s networks to realise the women, peace, and security  agenda began over a decade ago. In Western Africa, the experiences of the Network on Peace and Security for Women in the ECOWAS Region, the West African Network of Young Women Leaders, and the Mano River Women’s Peace Network; provide examples of joint advocacy initiatives aimed at accessing peace processes and building the capacity for women’s involvement in conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding. The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) strengthens the integration of women in processes for the prevention and resolution of conflict, and the ECCAS began promoting this integration in 2022 through an inclusive mediation approach administered by the Regional Network of Women Mediators.


What Germany can do to support the role of women in mediation

Firstly, these networks should be a focus of German feminist foreign policy. The German government can support the networks and their members as well as aspiring female students through trainings, peer-to-peer coaching, skills development, and other forms of assistance based on the needs and requests of the networks. However, it is important to bear in mind that the conditions under which these policies are implemented vary greatly in terms of gender equality. There is therefore a certain tension between advocating the goals and values of feminist foreign policy worldwide and working in partnership in the respective country-specific contexts.

Secondly, the existing networks that are connected to regional and sub-regional organisations play a vital role as partners for Germany. For instance, FemWise could be expanded and supported to promote the AU’s capacities for preventive diplomacy, mediation, and political dialogue. By linking these measures to these organisations and working with them as implementation partners, there could also be a change in perceptions about German foreign policy being paternalistic and neo-colonial in its implementation.

Thirdly, the German government should also support and strengthen the mediation capacities of its partner countries through cooperation and training measures that are on equal footing – this could help to transform emerging conflicts, above all at high-level negotiations. The promotion of networking is commendable and a first step, but it does not automatically lead to the adequate participation of women in Track 1 peace processes. This requires organisational as well as structural guidelines and standardised processes. Germany should back the AU’s efforts to promote the involvement and leadership role of women in sub-Saharan Africa and push for the joint development of new approaches to promote the inclusion and participation of women in peace processes.

In sum, if Germany’s Africa policy aspires to take a holistic approach, it must prioritise the empowerment of women in mediation and dialogue processes. This will contribute to sustainable crisis prevention and effective crisis management. Peace processes become more successful and last longer with the inclusion of feminist perspectives. Germany can play a decisive role by providing funding, expertise, trainings, forums for peer exchanges, and other forms of support for female mediators and their networks.

Lilian Reichert and Amelie Overmann work at the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF), where they coordinate the project “Strengthening of Mediation and Dialogue Activities” as part of the International Capacity Development team.

Responsibility for the content, opinions expressed and sources used in the articles and interviews lies with the respective authors.