Kofi Annan

No stone has been left unturned – or so it seems. Syria is experiencing a full-scale civil war. If Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, the world's most eminent diplomatic figure and renowned mediator resigned (read: gave up), who else could even imagine trying to achieve a cease-fire (not to mention peace) in Syria? What about a woman for a change?

In early August, Kofi Annan announced his resignation from his post as Special Envoy of the UN and Arab League for Syria, as well as Chief Mediator charged with finding a solution to the Syrian crisis. As a result, Lakhdar Brahimi has been appointed as his successor. There has been much subsequent speculation about why Annan and his proposed six-point peace plan failed, including many analyses that have gone into detail on why he was not able to be insistent enough on some ground rules, such as Assad resigning. Other observers maintain that he may not have tried hard enough to get China and Russia on board.

He may also not have had the right people around him.

Annan's support team, across all UN ranks – as a UN staff member confirmed – consisted only of men. In other words, not one single woman. Annan's mediation arguably, therefore, had at least one flaw this time around.

Didn't he learn from Kenya? Back in 2008 during the Kenyan election crisis, Annan, together with a team of mediators and advisors, successfully assisted political leaders in negotiating a settlement and end to the violence and evolving humanitarian situation. During the mediation, women were well-represented and played crucial roles as negotiators and advisors. Led by former Mozambican politician Graça Machel as an eminent adviser, two lead negotiators, as well as two additional female advisors participated in the mediation team. These women also sought to include more women on both sides of the table to represent the conflicting parties.

Many studies have demonstrated that the impact of women in such situations is manifold. They bring a different experience and a different perspective to the negotiation table, and direct the focus towards distinct issues. A dissimilar way of communicating and dealing with emotions may also change the dynamics of a negotiation. Ultimately, the participation of women naturally alters the outcome. Aside from these aspects, however, if the outcome of peace negotiations, be it a failure or a peace accord, affects women as well as men, why shouldn't both be represented and take a share of the responsibility and burden?

Specifically addressing women in Syria, who suffer disproportionally from ongoing violence, means gathering a critical mass of potentially regime destabilizing opposition in the country as well as in the refugee and immigrant communities. Women in Syria are involved in the political scene. The Syrian National Council (SNC), recognized by several states as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, has a number of female members. Indeed one of its three spokespeople is a woman, the academic Bassma Kodmani. Another woman who could equally be mobilized for dialogue and mediation from the opposition side is human rights lawyer Catherine al-Talli, who was until March also a member of the SNC. Assad's cabinet contains few women. Nonetheless, in its current form (subject to likely further defections), there is Lamia Assi, Minister for Tourism and former Minister for Economy and Trade, as well as Kawkab Sabah al-Daya, Minister of State for Environment Affairs. These individuals alone are enough to make a start and allow for a female presence in any dialogue and negotiations.

More broadly, this is – sadly enough – an old story. Despite the fact that women constitute half of the world's population, they are surprisingly under-represented in the field of conflict resolution. Research conducted by UN Women revealed in 2010 (ten years after the vote on the famous Resolution 1325) that women made up only 10 percent of participants in negotiations and even less (3 percent) of the signatories of peace agreements. Women are largely excluded from conflict mediation and official diplomatic resolution processes. Within the UN, women occupy 6.5 percent of peace and conflict related posts. The current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has led a big step forward in supporting women's careers within the UN. Since his appointment, the number of women in the organization’s highest ranks has increased by 40 percent. Today, five UN field missions are headed by women (previously, that figure stood at one). Similarly, around 38 percent of the mediators on the UN Mediation Unit's roster are women, with 39 percent originating from the global South. Despite this increase, however, there is still not parity.

So in the case of Syria, who could be the female successor to Annan? Admittedly, it is a difficult question to answer. There are indeed far fewer eminent female than male leaders in this world. The most powerful (Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel) are hardly an option – for obvious political reasons stemming from a lack of perceived neutrality in the eyes (of at least one) of the parties to the conflict. Notwithstanding the need to cast a wider net, we could at least consider the following women in the meantime: recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Liberian peace activist, Leymah Roberta Gbowee, former President of Kyrgyzstan and mediator Roza Otunbaeva, or Queen Rania of Jordan. There are certainly pro's and con's for each.

The alternative option of course would be for the international community to simply wait; wait for more high-ranking figures within the Assad regime to defect, wait while the massacres continue. We are in agreement that buying time is not really a solution. Yet saying we have tried everything is wrong, as long we have not. If we claim to have explored all options already, then we could also attempt a more gender-based mediation. Why not?

(Photo © Julie Mandoyan)

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