Women often suffer the most in times of conflict, but they are rarely represented in peace negotiations. In fact, no woman has ever been the lead negotiator in U.N.-sponsored peace talks, a situation the United Nations is now seeking to redress through a unique training programme.
As delegates began arriving for the recent opening of the 67th United Nations General Assembly, the U.N. Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) for the first time assembled female diplomats from some 20 countries in a two-day training session designed to hone their skills in international conflict resolution.
“They are women who need to learn skills not only to help them at the negotiating table but to get to the negotiating table in the first place,” said Alexandra Carter, an associate clinical professor of law at Columbia Law School and director of the school's Mediation Clinic, who led a three-hour workshop on negotiation skills.
Ranging in age from their late 20s to their late 50s, the women came from such countries as Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Haiti, South Africa, Togo, Zimbabwe, Australia and Malaysia.
“The women who attended this programme are diplomats who are concerned that women across the world have not been involved in negotiating international peace agreements,” Carter said.
Although women have won the Nobel Peace Prize 15 times, women comprise just 2.4 percent of signatories to all 24 major peace agreements signed in the last 20 years, Yvonne Lodico, head of UNITAR's New York office said during a break at the workshop.
“That's like the paradox,” Lodico said. “They are the victims of the war and the tools of the war, but they haven't been at the negotiating table.”
Little progress has been made since the United Nations passed Resolution 1325 in 2000 mandating women's participation in all aspects of peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding, according to a 2010 U.N. report on women and peace talks. "It is thus clear that at the peace table, where crucial decisions about post-conflict recovery and governance are made, women are conspicuously underrepresented," it said.
Women are far less likely than men to demand anything in negotiations, Carter told the group. “The key is to try to negotiate more, flex those muscles,” she told them.
It's worth it, she said, because research shows that women tend toward a more collaborative style versus the competitive approach often taken by men. That's important because one key to a successful negotiation is to “make the competitive person see how he can win by helping you win”, she said.
The female diplomats were tasked with negotiating a dispute between two fictional countries in which two women played opposing heads of state and a third acted as mediator.
By the end of the one-hour exercise, most of the three-woman teams had reached an agreement.
That, Carter noted, contrasted with a similar workshop with mostly male delegates she had run last year when she recalled that only one peace agreement had been reached.
“There is research to show that when women negotiate they tend to share more information than men … which often leads to superior results,” she said.
Although some countries supported the training – including Nigeria, Romania, Canada, Sweden and the United States whose ambassadors to the United Nations attended the training session's opening panel – many declined to contribute funding for the training.
“I don't think they feel it's an important enough issue. Are they going to get more votes in the Security Council? Are they going to get their other issues through? They probably don't see women at the peace table as an important part of their foreign policy agenda,” she said.
Carter's top negotiating tips for the group were:
--Listen to what the person is saying and dig down to ascertain their underlying interests, not just their positions on issues
-- Take notes when someone is speaking and then play it back to them
--Then pose a question, such as: “Can you tell me more about how you arrived at that decision?” When you ask that question you're opening up a whole universe of information, including what that person's interests are.
--Generate options for mutual gain. Is there a way to create a win-win outcome?
--Know your BATANA, i.e. Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement. Know what's going to happen if the negotiation is not successful.