24 August 2023 by Natia Kostava* and Sophia Farion**
“Nothing survives without action. We need to be strategic, creative, innovative, resourceful and think outside the box to revitalize and sustain networks.” – Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP)
On 26 and 27 June 2023, women peacebuilders and mediators from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan convened in Istanbul, Türkiye, to exchange best practices and lessons learned. These women were gathered for the “Women’s Networks WIN Together” regional conference with the goal of revitalizing women’s networks on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and gender equality in their respective regions. The convening further offered one of the first opportunities since COVID-19 for local women peacebuilders and mediators to share updates on the status of National Action Plans (NAPs) on WPS in their countries. This intergenerational conference was organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), in partnership with the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) “WIN – Women & Men Innovating and Networking for Gender Equality” (WIN) project.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has brought to the fore local and regional dimensions of unresolved conflicts and crises in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia. For example, a refugee crisis across Eastern Europe, clashes over disputed territories in the South Caucasus and inter-communal violence in Central Asia. “The real knowledge about peacebuilding is on the ground. Usually, [this knowledge] is not only silenced at the local level, but women leaders’ voices are also absent at the international level,” stressed one of the conference participants. As local women peacebuilders and mediators continue to advocate for their full and meaningful participation in formal decision-making — a prerequisite for inclusive and sustainable peace — participants emphasized how WPS networks remain crucial in promoting peace, conflict resolution and social cohesion.
While successful examples of WPS networks exist, many networks are unsustainable or ineffective as a result of insufficient and inflexible funding, re-emerging conflict and other factors. Furthermore, although a few cross-regional networks focus on WPS-related matters such as gender-based violence, there are no regional networks in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus or Central Asia dedicated to the implementation of the WPS agenda. To bridge the gap between women peacebuilders’ need for strong WPS networks and the current dearth of impactful options, GNWP’s “Women’s Networks WIN Together” conference transformed challenges, best practices and lessons learned from women peacebuilders and mediators on the ground into a strategy “roadmap” for efficient WPS networks. This roadmap will provide local and national civil society organizations with a practical guide to establishing, revitalizing and sustaining efficient networks on WPS and women’s meaningful participation in peace processes in the OSCE area.
To complement the efforts delineated in the strategy roadmap, each participant also crafted an individual action plan with three concrete SMART goals they committed to implementing in the coming months to revitalize a stalled or inefficient network of which they are members. These commitments ranged from sharing what they learned during the conference with their connections, to pitching a proposal to restructure their network’s operational model, to conducting training on WPS and leadership organized jointly by conference participants from different countries. “Through this event, I gained not only knowledge but also a renewed sense of motivation to actively participate in peacebuilding initiatives and support the rights and empowerment of women,” stated a Turkmen participant. GNWP will organize check-in meetings to follow up on the progress of the implementation of individual action plans in the fall of 2023.
The initial outcomes of these collective and individual revitalization efforts will culminate in January 2024, at a second OSCE conference in Vienna, Austria. During this convening, GNWP will introduce the finalized strategy roadmap, and women peacebuilders and mediators will have the opportunity to present their key messages to national and multilateral stakeholders. Participants will further engage in a constructive dialogue with key policymakers to jointly identify concrete actions and strategies for supporting women peacebuilders and mediators across the region. These discussions will contribute to building the capacity and momentum of women’s networks working to implement WPS across the regions.
GNWP extends its gratitude to the OSCE for their continued support through the “WIN-Women & Men Innovating and Networking for Gender Equality” initiative.
* Natia Kostava is the Program Officer for Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP).
** Sophia Farion is the Senior Program Officer for Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia at GNWP.