IRAQ: Conflict Resolution, Communication Skills and Organizational Management - A Capacity Building Workshop for Iraqi Women Leaders

Friday, June 1, 2007
Western Asia

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has long recognized the distinct experience of women in conflict and post-conflict settings and has developed a strategy for gender mainstreaming in such situations. One of the components of this strategy is capacity-building for local women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide them with the skills to participate in rehabilitation and peace processes.

This report concerns a training workshop entitled “Conflict Resolution, Communication Skills and Organizational Management”, held in Istanbul, Turkey, 11-15 June 2007. Its purpose was to train Iraqi women leaders in tools and procedures to enhance their effectiveness and that of their organizations.

The Women, Peace and Security Initiative in the Technical Support Division of UNFPA sponsored the workshop, under the overall coordination of Ms. Sahir Abdul-Hadi, Senior Technical Adviser. The training was provided by four facilitators: Lesley Abdela, Senior Partner, Shevolution; Eleni Kyrou, Lecturer, Development Planning Unit, University of London; Fotini Sianou, President, Centre for Research and Action on Peace (KEDE); and Eleni Stamiris, Board of Directors, Mediterranean Women's Studies
Centre (KEGME). Participants were drawn from 19 Iraqi organizations that provided health or other social services or were advocates for women's rights and human rights generally.

Participants were invited to view their situation in the light not only of constraints but also of opportunities, the opportunities that conflict may offer. Participants noted that in Iraq more NGOs were operating today in an increasingly more active civil society. Since 2004, despite the country's dire security problems, the number of women working in NGOs has increased, challenging traditional gender roles, beliefs and practices.

Participants discussed all aspects of organizational management–planning, organizing, directing, coordinating, reporting and budgeting. Participants were asked to draw on their experience and point out the management functions in place at their respective organizations and to address aspects of leadership, teamwork, roles and responsibilities, and the delegation of these on the basis of appropriate skills and experience.

In sessions on advocacy and communication skills, participants reviewed principles of effective advocacy. Before those undertaking advocacy campaigns can influence others about women's human rights and gender-based violence, they must become well-informed on the issues. It is important to know that acts of gender-based violence are prohibited under international law and some national legislation. The facilitator reviewed the many international conventions on women's rights, including United Nations Security Council resolution 1325.

In sessions on resolving conflicts, the facilitator explained the need to translate the positions of two conflicting parties into their needs and interests. Positions can be irreconcilable–both may want the same thing–whereas the needs of the two parties can be many. Common ground may be found that they all can agree to. Compromising may respond to some needs but rarely does it fully satisfy the parties. In contrast, a WIN/WIN process will lead to better solutions. In a WIN/WIN approach, each party talks to the other to identify the other's needs. Using this approach requires new skills, such as learning to listen, developing empathy and stepping back physically and emotionally to consider a situation. Negotiation is one of the skills of the WIN/WIN approach and it requires separating the people from the problem, generating many options to satisfy needs and identifying which cannot be done and which can.

In the final working session, participants focused on the long- and short-term action plans they are to develop and work towards within their organizations. They were asked to envision what life in Iraq would be like 10 years from now and to make one or two suggestions of how their NGOs could help reach that vision.

It is clear that the momentum attained so far with regard to the implementation of resolution 1325 illustrates that change is possible. Yet much remains to be done. The international community must work diligently to fulfil unmet needs. As a critical part of its leadership in implementing resolution 1325, UNFPA is moving forward to support its field offices in conflict and post-conflict countries and to support the civil society.