Women in conflict: A discussion with the UN University

Mariana Batista, intern at SB OverSeas, shares her take-aways from a recent conference hosted by the UN University where SB OverSeas gave a presentation:

Women are not victims, and when empowered and included in peacekeeping operations, solutions are much more tangible and sustainable. This was the central message that resonated from a discussion on International Women’s Day at the UN University, of what could happen when women are given leadership roles in post-conflict situations and what can happen when they are empowered in their everyday lives.

The United Nations University on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS) invited SB OverSeas to be part of the panel discussion in their workshop in Bruges on “Women in Conflict and Emergencies: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward.” The panel consisted of academics, students, and practitioners from all across the board in this field of study. The speakers included: Dr. Vanessa Newby, Dr. Adriana Banozic, Louma Albik, and two research interns Olga Petrova, and Nani Makubalo.

As these emotional stories of empowerment came to the forefront, it was clear that the energy in the room had changed. There was an urgent feeling of motivation and encouragement to research more, to bring data to light, and to change the way we describe women.

The topic of this year’s panel discussion revolved around potential remedies on how to address social violence and conflict and how to promote gender equality and women’s rights. The panel discussion began with the role of women in peacekeeping operations and the importance of female representation in conflict-driven areas.

Louma Albik, the chairwoman of SB OverSeas, provided on the ground perspectives and recounted her testimony of what empowerment of women truly looks like. SB Overseas runs schools and centres in Lebanon for Syrian refugee women and youth. She presented the work SB OverSeas has been doing at the three women’s centres in Lebanon, which focus on vocational training, psychological support, and literacy programmes. These programmes are fundamental to the empowerment of women and youth in post-conflict settings. The stories recounted varied, but they all had one commonality; the more women were included and participated in programs that gave them the tools to better themselves, they more likely they were to better the lives of others around them.

The discussion also extended beyond conflicts, focusing on the role of women in natural disasters. Through various fieldwork studies, it was shown that women who had a role in the post-disaster operations were able to minimize risks and work better in a team setting which led to a positive progression in the recovery of a disaster.

As the workshop came to an end, we could not help to think of all the things that are still understudied, all the programs that still need developing, and all the discourse about women that must be changed. However, on this particular day, a day of celebrating women, I could not help but feel a strong sense of empowerment and hope. Thanks to this workshop, and many of its kind, and all the amazing work these women, and millions of others have done, we are one step closer to celebrating women every day.