Michele Brandt, a constitutional lawyer, who launched and directs Interpeace’s Constitution-Making for Peace Programme, has spent over two decades directly assisting constitution-making processes in the field. In this video, Michele shares the lessons learned through her experience in Timor-Leste and Afghanistan, and how constitution-making ensures a more durable peace. She addresses the importance of making these processes inclusive for all members of society.
Women have a right, as equal citizens to play an integral role in drafting the defining Social Contract in their countries. And over the past few years they have asserted this right and fought to realize across the Arab region, as several of its countries engaged in different constitution making processes.
This is the basic message of the short video “Irreversible – Women’s full participation in Constitution-Making processes: Testimonies from the frontlines,” which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the international peacebuilding organization, Interpeace, have just put out for screening through this Video. This project was supported by The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)
The film is released as the world celebrates today, the International Human Rights Day. It also comes at a time when the many in the Arab region reflect over the great wave of change that has swept through many of its countries since December 2010 –five years ago in two weeks.
Every year approximately 20 countries go through the process of writing or revising a constitution and a further 20 envisage doing so. At a recent event, “More Inclusive Ways to Peace: The Role of Women in Constitution-making processes”, experts and advocates in the field of constitution-making gathered to discuss how this process could be made more inclusive, ensuring that women’s voices are heard.
Scott Weber, Director-General of Interpeace, opened the discussion by stressing the potential that each constitution-making process represents for peacebuilding. He said they present a chance “for those countries to embrace more inclusive political practices by ensuring women participate fully at every stage and every level of the constitution-making process.”
Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto, Permanent Representative of the United States in Geneva, acknowledged that steps forward have been made in many countries due to the advocacy of women’s groups and civil society. Progressive and inclusive constitutions are important, she said, but warned that this is not enough.
“Equality on paper does not necessarily translate to equality on the ground.” She said. “There is no doubt that this form of equality will require more women in leadership positions on all fronts, in all sectors.”
This theme was continued by Fatima Outaleb, the founder of Union de l’Action Féminine in Morocco, who discussed the difficulties faced in achieving a truly representative constitution. In part, she said, the problem is one of political will, but civil society has also been responsible. “We as civil society have not done much to include the people we are speaking on behalf of,” she pointed out.
Ensuring gender equality in the constitution-making process is essential to building a sustainable peace, that’s according to Farooq Wardaq, the former Minister of Education for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, who held key government roles in the revision of his country’s constitution and in ensuring women’s equal participation in elections.
A key to their success, as Wardaq pointed out, has been countrywide civic education that put a priority on reaching out to women. “Up until that time people thought the constitution was a book on a government shelf that meant nothing for their lives. This we had to change.”
As a consequence of the constitution, he said, women now participate in 40% of national decision-making overall, and hold 29% of the seats in the upper house, 22% of the lower house and 22% of the provincial councils.
In order to advance women’s role in constitution-making and nationbuilding processes, Interpeace’s Women’s Constitutional Voices Programme provides a space for women to have their voices heard and to share their experiences and expertise.
“Our aim is to provide a platform for women – and for men who are fighting for gender justice – to share what works,” Scott Weber concluded. “It is up to all of us, men and women, to work together for find more inclusive ways to peace.”
Too often women find themselves excluded from the peace-making process. But at the same time many women have been able to make a significant impact on statebuilding in their own country.
How do we ensure that women’s voices are heard and that many more women can participate in re-shaping their countries’ future?
The More Inclusive Ways to Peace panel features women and men from different backgrounds and professions who will share their own experiences of working within constitution-making processes around the globe.
The goal of the event is to underline that sustainable peace can be built if the process is inclusive and all voices are heard equally. This is the central message of the Interpeace’sConstitution-Making for Peace Programme.
The panel is co-organized by Interpeace and the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations in Geneva.
You are welcome to join the panel event on Thursday January 12, 2015, from 9:30 to 11:00 CET at the Espace Henry Dunant, Musée international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge in Geneva, Switzerland.
- Fatima Outaleb – Founder of Union de l’Action Féminine
- Farooq Wardaq – Former Minister of Education, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
- Louise Kasser Genecand – Attaché for Intercantonal affairs. Presidential department of the Canton of Geneva
- Michele Brandt – Director of Interpeace’s Constitution-Making for Peace Programme
- Sapana Pradhan Malla – Gender advisor to the Prime Minister of Nepal
- H.E. Ms. Pamela Hamamoto – Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva
More information, including the full biographies of the panelists, is available here.
Correspondents and journalists interested in talking with individual speakers and event organizers prior to or after the event, please contact:
Alexandre Munafò, Global Engagement Officer
T : +4122 404 59 21
M : +4179 272 73 22
About Interpeace: Interpeace is an independent, international peacebuilding organization and a strategic partner of the United Nations. Interpeace works with local partner organizations in 21 countries with the aim of building long term peace. The organization is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It has regional offices in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire); Guatemala City (Guatemala); Nairobi (Kenya); and representation offices in Brussels (Belgium); New York (USA).
Françoise and Igor operate seamlessly within their team. Based in Bujumbura – the capital of Burundi – they work closely with their fellow peacebuilders from Interpeace’s local partner, the Conflict Alert and Prevention Centre (CENAP).
They travel throughout Burundi conducting consultations using the Interpeace methodology. Igor is an audio-visual (AV) researcher and is responsible for the ‘AV Unit’. Françoise is the audio-visual assistant. She records the dialogue meetings using video and photos in order to capture the insights of the participants in real-time. Everything comes together when Igor and Françoise review the video footage they have recorded during the dialogue sessions and produce documentary videos to share results of the research with the participants of the process.
These videos accompany the recommendations. In a country where many people have not had the chance to go to school, Françoise and Igor stress that videos ensure that the population can follow the process and understand all points of view, allowing them to have informed opinions and choices.
We talked with Françoise and Igor to find out their thoughts on their research, the role of audio-visual media in their work and building peace in their country.
You both love your jobs. Françoise, can you tell us why?
I originally worked for the local TV station. Igor had his own audio-visual company. I think we were both born with a passion for video work. How many people can combine the passion for filming and documentaries with peace and development in their own country? I am working with people from all walks of life to help make Burundi a more stable place. One day I am filming a local farmer, the next morning I am with a top level decision-maker. But the work and the subjects we touch can be very delicate – I love this challenge. Speaking for Igor, he is constantly saying: ‘We work for ourselves – it’s our country.’ What can be more satisfying than that?
Your audio-visual work is central to peacebuilding – but how?
When we meet participants for the first time they often think we are journalists and won’t share what is on their minds. So we use footage from previous sessions to kick off many of the dialogue sessions we hold. We find that it enables us to quickly build trust since they can see the results of our earlier work. Participants see other participants sharing their views openly and freely. At first they may not be able to sit face to face with another group, but by viewing the films they can quickly see that they share the same points of view as other groups. Our audio-visual work breaks down barriers and enables us to work more effectively. Bridges are formed between different ideologies and social groups. We often hear in the countryside, ‘You tell them that!’. Participants know that their opinions will be heard by the decision-makers of the country, and they quickly see the value of being filmed.
Françoise and Igor, your team motto is ‘balance.’ Can you tell us more?
Our biggest challenge is to make sure that whatever we produce is balanced. The groups we feature must be representative of society.
We also have to be careful with the words as well. Does the clip we have chosen accurately reflect what the person was thinking? Have we been faithful to the discussion? These are the types of questions that go through our minds as we review the hours of footage we hold. Right now we think it stands at 400 hours – and the archive is still growing.
How do you know your work is effective?
We know that when people take ownership of what we have done, we have already built their trust and respect. When they start saying ‘Our research says…’ instead of ‘CENAP research says’ we know they have achieved ownership of the contents and the recommendations. We feel at this point, we have achieved local ownership. The population needs to build peace – it is our job to facilitate the process.
A former government minister in Guinea-Bissau, Filomena Mascarenhas is a deeply committed peacebuilder. Since 2007, she has been an active member of the Voz di Paz programme, which focuses on giving Bissau-Guineans a voice in the peacebuilding process. Working across all the Voz di Paz initiatives, Filomena shared with us her motivations, learnings and some of the areas she is most proud of.
Filomena told us about what inspires her as she works to help Guinea-Bissau build lasting peace.
Where do you get your motivation to build peace?
I feel it is my obligation to contribute to the peace process in Guinea-Bissau. I believe that everyone with a good heart can help. I love the challenge of harnessing the knowledge gathered in the consultations that we run across the country and transforming the results of the discussions into something positive, useful and effective.
Can you tell us more about the Voz di Paz programme and the ‘Regional Spaces for Dialogue’?
Voz di Paz has created forums across the country known as ‘Regional Spaces for Dialogue’. Here communities work to tackle obstacles to peace and cope with the most pressing challenges: the lack of state, governance issues, poor administration of justice, poverty and ethnic divisions. We are now fostering the development of a national network of these spaces so more people can have access and experiences can be shared.
Over the last three years with Voz di Paz, what has stood out in your mind?
There are three areas for me. Firstly, the only way to understand a country’s issues is to listen. By doing this, problems can be listed and understood, effectively producing an X-ray of a situation. Secondly, if peace is to be reached, it must not be exclusive. There needs to be local ownership of the solutions throughout all communities. Thirdly, fairness, respect and tolerance in every action taken are the three pillars of success.
You say, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ to build peace. Can you give us one example?
In a dialogue session in Bambadinca, just 150 km from Bissau, an example of cattle theft was discussed. This example of conflict in the country concerns one ethnic group, the Balant, who were typically blamed for cattle thieving by another ethnic group, the Fulanis. In a tragic turn of events, two children were found murdered. They were thought to be spies linked to cattle thieving. When I heard this story, I thought it would be impossible to overcome, but the Bissau-Guineans showed they had both the heart and the will to build peace. The situation was resolved through a Mediation Committee set up by Voz di Paz.
Your programme goes beyond the borders of your country. Can you tell us how?
Central to our work and to lasting peace are our citizens that live abroad. We involve the diaspora in consultations and send them newsletters so they get a neutral perspective on what is going on. We also welcome peacebuilders from around the world to experience what we do first hand. We recently welcomed João Boavida, the Director of the Centre of Studies for Peace and Development (CEPAD) from Timor-Leste. While we learned from him, he also began planning to implement some of our learnings in Timor-Leste. Serge Ntakirutimana from the Burundi programme has also been in town to share his experience with the team.
What are your hopes for the future?
Bissau-Guineans are tired of not having peace. It is simple, I want to help lift my country out of this situation.
Monica lists three crucial questions to ask when talking peace: Who is at the table? What’s being put on the table? What do the peace terms really mean for the people? She demonstrates the importance of these questions with examples from her pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland.
Peacebuilder Ghaida describes hers and her father’s experiences of the conflict in the Middle East. This comparison helps illustrate how attitudes are slowly changing, and how the Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel could be the key to building a sustainable peace in the area.
On May 30, Interpeace’s Women’s Constitutional Voices project organized a workshop in Kiev, inviting women from across Ukraine to participate. The workshop, organized in co-operation with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the International Centre for Policy Studies (ICPS), addressed ways in which women could participate fully in the constitution-making process.
Many of the women who attended were members of local government, chosen not only for their job role but because of their community volunteer work. The daylong event included discussion on what constitutions are, how they are made and how women’s voices can be heard during the process of constructing a constitution.
The participants voiced their concerns about severe obstacles blocking the path to political reform in Ukraine and expressed a strong interest in having their own, and their fellow citizens voices included in the debate.
Isolation from the reform process, even at a local level, was a common frustration for the women. The dangers of speaking out were also raised; one participant’s house was burned down after she wrote about corruption in her local community.
But the women were not deterred by these obstacles. They showed enthusiasm and a strong commitment to having a role to play in the reform process. After the event the participants exchanged emails in order to keep in touch and to continue their discussions with one another outside of the workshop, helping to bridge the gap of isolation.
While in Ukraine, the Constitution-making for Peace Programme (CMP) met with representatives from international and local organizations to deepen understanding of the current Ukrainian situation and begin developing a plan of action. Important lessons were learned from stakeholders and the workshop discussion. The promotion of constitutionalism, education driven reform of the political environment, and the support of citizen’s active engagement in the reform process were all identified as potential areas for CMP to help with.
Photo credit: Interpeace
09 March 2015 – International Women’s Day is an important date to celebrate and reflect on the progress made in bringing about greater gender equality. For 2015, the day’s theme was “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity.” Strongly committed to this, Interpeace is highlighting the work being done by its Constitution-making for Peace Programme.
Women’s Constitutional Voices (WCV) is a project launched by Interpeace’s Constitution-Making for Peace Programme (CMP) in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It empowers women globally to fully participate at every stage and at every level of a constitution-making process – from building coalitions, engaging in civic education efforts to debating, adopting, drafting and implementing the constitution. Enabling women to build constitutions that promote gender equality and reflect women’s aspirations is another goal of the WCMV. The project will also document and share women’s vital contributions and experiences in building their constitution.
We live in an age of constitution-making. Since 1975 well over 200 new constitutions have been adopted, typically in response to conflict. Every year as many as 20 national constitutions are reformed or adopted, and another 20 or more constitutional reform processes are considered or initiated. Each of these constitutional processes represents an enormous opportunity to empower women to claim their political, social, economic and cultural rights. Moreover, if the constitution is made through an inclusive process, it is more likely to lead to a durable peace.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security underscores that political transitions are critical moments to empower women. Constitution-making processes are an essential component of the roadmap to peace. The stakes are high. If women are supported during a constitution-making process they will be able to play larger roles in the political, social and economic life of their country after the adoption of the constitution. In short, each constitution-making process represents an enormous opportunity to advance the status of women but also carries a risk of losing hard fought for gains.
With these goals in mind, Interpeace and UNDP, with the support of the United Nations Democracy Fund and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA, jointly organized a workshop in Amman, Jordan on women’s full participation in constitution-making processes. Participants from Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Iraq shared their experiences and lessons learned. They were able to talk with their peers about how to ensure women fully engage in the constitution-making process – including the critical role women are playing, often at great risk, to promote peace through constitution-making.
Making the role played by women visible
As one participant pointed out during the workshop: “The critical role that women play in constitution-making and peace processes is too often forgotten. Monuments and history only celebrate the men, whilst women are usually omitted from the historical records.” Another noted that she had become a citizen journalist because the media was ignoring issues that were central to women.
The women came from diverse backgrounds, including youth representatives. Some were part of civil society or the media, while others have worked with former or current official bodies involved in constitution- making or were members of the Arab Regional Network for Women’s Peace and Security Network (Karama).
Connecting women within their countries, across regions and globally
Reflecting on the workshop, participants particularly valued what they had learned from the experiences of women in similar situations. Hearing about the common challenges women face icreated enthusiasm about a global network that could support their efforts and foster learning. Everyone agreed on the need to share strategies about how women at the grassroots level can fully participate in constitution-making process and how to incorporate constitutional provisions that promote gender equality. As Michele Brandt, Director of the Interpeace’s Constitution-making for Peace Programme and the WCVM project explains: “It is hard to achieve constitutions that promote gender equality but it is even harder to implement those constitutional provisions.”
Empowering women in political transitions
The workshop highlighted how women can and should be equal participants in every task and at every phase of a constitution-making process to realize the goals of international efforts to empower women. “History has shown that when marginalized in the constitution-making process, women continue to be sidelined in the political life of the country. That’s why we need to carefully plan the full participation of women prior to the launch of a process,” explains Michele. “Women should not only be at the negotiation table, but also carry out civic education, public consultation, research, elections and other activities associated with the making of a constitution,” she adds.
This not only leads to a more durable peace but also more prosperous countries. Based on data drawn from numerous UN specialized agencies active in gender-related issues, the UNDP Gender Inequality Index indicates that countries where women play active roles in the political life of the country have a corresponding higher level of development.
Photo credit: Interpeace