The Role of Women and Young People in Promoting Peace and Security: Workshop with Cynthia Enloe

Students from the University of Iceland and the United Nations University Gender Equality and Studies Programme (UNU-GEST) participated in a joint workshop with Professor Cynthia Enloe on Tuesday, 11 April. The workshop was organized by HÖFÐI Reykjavík Peace Centre and UNU-GEST.

Cynthia Enloe opened the workshop with a thought-provoking lecture on concepts and the importance of naming things. Concepts can provide us with tools to see things we would otherwise miss and help us analyse change that happens over time. Without concepts, militarization is hidden until a war breaks out and systematic violence can be overlooked and seen as isolated crimes. Discovering patterns demands work and analytical skills, and phrases such as ‘bad apple’ can be used to divert the focus, taking away all accountability and responsibility of other actors, institutions and the society as a whole. 

Students in Journalism and Mass Communication, International Relations, Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Iceland participated in the workshop, as well as fellows studying Gender, Peace and Security at UNU-GEST from diverse countries, such as Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Tunisia, Somalia and Ethiopia. The students participated in three different roundtables. Tamara Shefer, professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of the Western Cape, led a discussion on UN resolutions 1325 and 2250, and the role women and youth play in creating peace and security. The second roundtable focused on how to address the challenges female refugees face while migrating, and once they arrive in a country to claim asylum. The moderator was Ortrun Merkle, a doctoral fellow at UNU-MERIT at Maastricht University and a visiting researcher at UNU-GEST. The third roundtable was led by Dr. Anne Flaspöler, an Affiliated Researcher at UNU-GEST and coordinator of the Gender, Peace and Security module of the UNU-GEST programme, where the discussion was focused on the role of women in post-conflict reconstruction and how to ensure women's participation.

The main conclusions of the student discussions, were that young people lacked the tools to have an impact on peacebuilding in the world, and that the UN resolution on Youth, Peace and Security only delivered a goal but gave no specific tools to see them through. The students also felt that the resolution seemed rather to be based on fear than optimism towards the role of the coming generations. In the discussions around women refugees the students proposed among other things increased involvement of the UN at borders, protecting the rights of refugees, including women refugees. Women refugees are an especially vulnerable group that have often been forced to leave their homes without having any say on the matter. When discussing the role of women in peacebuilding students felt that women were still marginalised and left out of the decision making process. They felt that it is important to create a network of women working in peacebuilding and that a temporary gender-quota system is necessary to correct the prevalent imbalance as well as to work towards permanently changing people’s views on women’s role in peacebuilding.