Women in Peacebuilding: An ALforGovernance Masterclass

In celebration of South Africa’s Women’s Month in August, the ALforGovernance Masterclass explored the role of Women in Peacebuilding on Friday August 7th. Two female guest speakers drove the session, Keolebogile Diswai (Botswana)  and  Esther Soma ALA alumni Class of 2010. 

Keolebogile Diswai currently works for the United Nations Population Fund in Damascus, Syria furthering the mandate of sexual reproductive health rights of women as well as prevention and protection of Gender-Based Violence. She has a background in International Policy & Diplomacy, Peacebuilding and Advocacy with regional expertise in Africa and the Middle East.

Ester Soma is a Women’s Peace and Security expert working for the United Nations in South Sudan. In her current position at UN Women, Esther supports South Sudanese women in the implementation of the signed peace agreement. She has experience in policy and advocacy with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit industry with international organizations such as Mercy Corps.

Esther is the author of the joint Oxfam-UN Women research report, Our Search for Peace, Women in South Sudan’s National Peace Processes which documents and highlights South Sudanese women’s crucial roles and impact in key South Sudan peace processes. The session was moderated by ALA alumni- Moitse Moatshe Class of 2019 from Botswana, who is currently studying Women Gender and Sexuality Studies and Economics at Smith College in Massachusetts.

(From left to right) Fred Swaniker , Esther Soma ’10, Claudia Masemola ’09, and Spencer Horne ’08 at the Coca-Cola’s Global Executive Team visit to ALA in 2019.

Lebo started the Masterclass with a lecture on how we as a society must rethink the current role of women in peacebuilding. Much of her talk was focused on highlighting the differences between informal and formal peacebuilding and the role that women play in both types. She believes that historically and currently women’s voices have been more widely found in informal peace building processes. Informal peacebuilding comes from the grassroots level, whereas formal peacebuilding processes come from institutions such as governments and the UN Peace Builders.

After insightful remarks and context from Lebo, the Masterclass group broke into four separate groups to come up with solutions to the following: Provide three solutions to put into practice regarding the divide between informal and formal peacebuilding in order to bridge the divide between the two. The four separate groups provided numerous solutions to this issue including the following: creating structures of communication between the leadership of informal and formal peacebuilding groups, engaging more women in the formal peacebuilding platforms, supporting and mentoring women in order to encourage them to go into politics to have a voice in formal peacebuilding, and redefining what peacebuilding means altogether in the context of the primary caregiver.

Once the deliberation of the solutions had come to a close, the group heard from Ester about her personal experience working in the field in South Sudan. From her experience, Ester provided four distinctive needs for women to be engaged in this critical work:

1) targeted advocacy prior to the commencement of peacebuilding processes;

2) ample funding;

3) women building networks and coalitions and lastly;

4) technical support teams.

Ester challenged the group to think about how we can ensure all stakeholders, not just male ones, have a seat at the table. Wrapping up the session with a Q&A section, the participants left hopeful and empowered with a concrete understanding of how critical it is to have women engaged in peacebuilding conversations and processes at every level.


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