Modern peacemaking struggles with the challenge of effectively including women in peace processes. A proper response requires a radical rethink of what a peace process should look like – because in power politics, inclusion does not come naturally. Boosting the link between local insider mediators and their high-level counterparts can be the way forward. By Stine Lehmann-Larsen and Ingrid Magnusson


Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Colombian Foreign Minister Marìa Angela Holguín write wisely in Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish) about the need to step up the peacemaking game. Their first priority is to empower women peacemakers. Number two, to strengthen the inclusion of civil society in these processes. There is an effective way of targeting both these issues: through insider mediators.

Why insider mediators?

Insider mediators, or local mediators, are actors from the conflict-ridden society itself, supporting locally-driven dispute resolution. They are a crucial asset for any formal peace process. They can provide high-level mediators with key information and introductions, help them understand the real issues behind public positions, facilitate dialogue and undertake mediation on the local level, accompany key leaders – and the list goes on: the benefits of engaging with and empowering insider mediators are substantive. In short, they are needed to anchor the peace process beyond the powerful elites to the local level of the conflict-ridden societies.

Insider mediators are instrumental in strengthening the inclusiveness and national ownership of a peace process. They are often well situated, through their networks and comprehensive insider knowledge, to identify and reach out to hitherto marginalised constituencies such as women and civil society actors. Their ability to connect to these groups is key for peace agreements to be sustainable. As Wallström and Holguín argue: “Peace must be built from below. Formal processes that exclude the victims of conflict or local peacemakers have little chance of lasting over time”. 

The local level and women’s participation

Through their access to civil society, insider mediators are particularly well-suited to target the inclusion of women in peace processes. Because in order to create sustainable peace, is it in fact necessary to rethink what a peace process should include. The very notion of what is considered ‘political’ needs to be revised, because old-fashioned views of power politics still dictate who is heard at the negotiation table. Insider mediators are crucial in this context. Successfully connecting them to formal processes would help the inclusion of women in three ways:

First, it would increase the quantity of female mediators. Women all over the world play pivotal roles in mitigating conflicts through mediation, yet are rarely acknowledged for it. One of the reasons for this is that they often work under the radar as insider mediators. Giving them access to the formal processes amplifies the role many of them are already playing as mediators and dialogue facilitators within their own communities. Empowering insider mediators is therefore a concrete method of boosting the quantity of female mediators in formal peace processes. 

Secondly, it would solidify women’s rightful place at the table. By elevating insider mediators, we underscore the value of what they bring: namely engagement with groups not typically included in formal processes – such as women. Where formal mediators tend to include political and military elites, insider mediators access important but unarmed or less resourced parts of society. Working with insiders can therefore amplify these constituencies’ voices, underscoring the idea of women’s right to influence.  

Finally, connecting insider mediators to formal peace processes targets one of the more challenging aspects of inclusion: how to turn representation into meaningful participation. The inclusion of women in peace processes to date has all too often been merely symbolic. While headcounts are important, they alone cannot deliver meaningful inclusion. For women’s participation to have a beneficial effect on a peace process’ outcome, mediators need access to influential and representative women in conflict areas. Insider mediators are uniquely situated to connect key actors at the local level with those involved in the formal process. They can ensure that the content of a process resonates at the local level, making women’s participation meaningful and substantive.  

Getting down to business

There is no shortage of highly-skilled local peacemakers, – but the international community will need to play its part in elevating them. Wallström’s peacemaking initiative ‘The Nordic Women Mediator’s Network’ presents a great opportunity. As argued in a previous post, this high-powered network of politically savvy women can champion insiders at the international level.

We ourselves, at the EIP, will target this challenge through a new methodology that gets to the bottom of mediation practice and how it can be improved. We will work with high-level mediators to achieve change, identifying and implementing the best ways to link insiders to the formal processes.

It is well known that women and civil society must be put at the centre of peacemaking efforts, if any accords signed are to last. Now we need to find the best ways of making that happen.