*In an effort to shed light on the important role of women mediators at the grassroots level, the South African Embassy in Oslo and the PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security co-hosted a breakfast seminar entitled, "*Women Mediators Capacity Building Programs: An Effective Tool in Grassroots Mediation".
In celebration of South Africa’s Women’s Month, The South African Embassy in Oslo and the PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security hosted a breakfast seminar on 24 August, with the aim of highlighting the role of capacity-building programs in strengthening local women mediators. The seminar was opened by Director of the PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security, Torunn L. Tryggestad, who gave an overview of existing initiatives and cooperation on Women Mediators Capacity Training, and discussed how cooperation can be expanded to include mediation training for women at the grassroots level. As women and children continue to be adversely affected by conflict, capacitating women at grassroots level can empower women to be more responsive, proactive and resilient in the face of conflict.
This was followed by a keynote address by H. E. Delores Kotzé, South African Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway, which provided the backdrop to this important debate in the South African context. In her opening remarks Ambassador Kotzé paid tribute to the 20,000 women who marched to the Union building on 9 August 1956 in protest of the extension of Pass Laws to women. These women stood in silence for 30 minutes in front of the Union building before breaking into a song. The song’s main message, “you strike a woman you strike a rock”, has come to symbolize the strength of women, and the importance of engaging women at a grassroot level. The historic event of 1956 led the South African government to later declare the whole month of August the Women’s Month.
The panel included several experts in mediation and conflict resolution: Signe Gilen (Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) emphasized the importance of giving political space to women as a part of capacity building; Karishma Rajoo (Senior Programme Officer for the Training for Peace Programme, African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, ACCORD) pointed to the value of including men and women as a part of the capacity building, while also focus on inclusion across ages, especially young women in mediation practices; Sylvia Rognvik (Nordic Women Mediators Network and CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation) highlighted the already-existing capacity among women as mediators, and ways to capitalize on local knowledge and capacities to ensure their representation in mediation; Ghita El Khyari (Head of the Secretariat, Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund) underscored the vast capacity that already exists, and the importance of sharing experiences and knowledge to empower one another across organizations and networks. She further stressed that local intervention could serve as a preventative intervention through the involvement of women on a grassroot level.