Daring to differ? Strategies of inclusion in peacemaking



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Hirblinger and Landau (2020) - Daring to differ

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society organizations. Thus, calls for broad-based inclusion remain largely rhetorical and difficult to operationalize, and bear little potential for conflict transformation.
Box-ticking exercises An inclusive peace for few?
Mediation professionals commonly speak about the included in closed terms, most prominently in relation to a prioritization of women’s inclusion, and to a lesser extent to that of youth. This reflects the significant emphasis on women’s participation in peace processes since the passing of UNSC resolution 1325. The ready association of inclusion with women among practitioners is also facilitated by institutionalized UN mechanisms, such as the MSU’s Standby Team of Senior Mediation Advisers, which includes an expert on gender and inclusion, or the direct support provided by UN Women to women’s inclusion in various ongoing peace processes. However, the use of closed terms also appears to be a fallback option in light of the difficulties of operationalizing an open framing of the included. This is because without in-depth knowledge of a given context, as one interviewee put it, it is impossible to see who is missing from the table (Interview 1). Predefined actor groups based on gender or age simplify this intricate task. Women are an identifiable group outsiders can easily count the number of women in a process, which then serves as a proxy for its inclusiveness. Several interviewees noted the danger of developing a ‘box-ticking’ mentality around inclusion, which reduces sensitivity to the conflict context, potentially obscures important fault lines and can turn inclusion into a tokenistic exercise.
Inclusion strategies that apply closed framings also presume an essentialized group interest. For mediation practitioners, the rationale for women’s inclusion corresponds with arguments presented in UN policy to enhance women’s voices and foster more diverse participation in order to advance women’s rights and combat sexual and gender-based violence. Concrete UN mediation support activities in the realm of women’s inclusion have empowerment at their core, typically involving capacity building and networking to prepare women for upcoming negotiations. However, respondents noted that the empowerment rhetoric often falls short the mere presence of a small number of traditionally excluded individuals at the negotiation table can backfire, if they are unable or unwilling to make their voices heard.
Mediators’ experiences also demonstrate that concerns about essentializing women’s (and other) identities are warranted. The above-mentioned interventions in support of women’s inclusion obscure women’s heterogeneous identities and create erroneous assumptions about their apolitical and independent nature. Conflict parties may strategically exploit the inclusion discourse to place loyal women representatives at the table, a problem mentioned by several interviewees who spoke of regime women or proxy women included in negotiations (Interview 2; Interview 3). This suggests that inclusion strategies that rely on closed framings risk overlooking some of the most important cleavages in a conflict, if they are the result of empowerment agendas that focus on a single identity trait. Moreover, inclusion by fixed actor category tends to deny the included the choice to speak on matters unrelated to their group membership. The resulting dynamic was described in interviews as one where, for example, included women fail to perform the role expected of them by inclusion advocates, since they sometimes even take regressive positions on women’s rights Interview 2). The same can be said for those included by ethnicity or region identity traits can be co-opted in order to occupy seats on a minority ticket, while advancing other agendas. This suggests that a strategic essentialism from the top is likely to fail, as it typically overlooks the complex interplay of the identities and interests of those included or excluded from a given process.
Finally, highlighting the ways in which inclusion as currently practised in UN peacemaking struggles to overcome existing power relations that shape peace and security more broadly, the use of closed framings can lead to a competition for inclusion between fragmented interest groups that


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complicates peacemaking efforts. For instance, the latest trend to highlight the inclusion of youth has raised fears that representatives of quota civil society groups may no longer engage in joint agendas, but rather compete in a struggle for seats at the table. Similarly, in contexts such as the
UN-mediated Syria talks, calls fora separate women’s delegation were met with fears that this could undermine the negotiation position of the political opposition. In sum, peacemaking strategies that frame the included in closed terms may fulfil international demands for inclusion and support the interests of the respective essentialized group. However, in practice they often fail to reach the intended empowering effects, risking instead to become tokenistic or instrumentalized forms of inclusion. While resulting from global struggles fought in the international policy arena, they often correspond with local fault lines, as is the casein the struggle for women’s empowerment. However, when practitioners aim to implement international guidelines through the inclusion of selected groups, they are ill-equipped to ensure that the multiple other differences in need of accommodation in apolitical settlement are acknowledged at the negotiation table.
Towards relational inclusion
A relational approach aims to account for the complexity and intersectionality of actors multiple identities, while paying attention to their potential strategic essentialization in peace processes. Importantly, relationality requires not thinking about the included as homogeneous actor groups, but moving the focus to the space between actors, asking how their multiple relationships can be transformed through peacemaking. Such an approach considers not only gender relations, for example, but includes a woman’s position in existing power relations related to class, race and ethnicity. Many mediators acknowledge the tensions arising from open and closed framings of inclusion, and aspire to more tailored, context-sensitive inclusion strategies built on thorough conflict analyses that can account for the cleavages and exclusionary fault lines of a particular conflict, be they regional, linguistic, ethnic, age or gender related. Rather than engaging in strategic essen- tialism from the top, or advocating fora depoliticized notion of broad inclusion, a relational inclusion strategy can sharpen mediators awareness of the power struggles that characterize peace processes, and of how identities are reformed and reshaped at the negotiation table.
Relational inclusion means asking less about who should be included, than what antagonistic relations need to be transformed. It sheds light on the multiple sociopolitical contestations that underpin peace processes, by building on the vision of an agonistic peace. As Shinko put it, the concept of agonism encompasses a range of contestational political strategies through which exclusions, marginalisations, and states of domination can be problematised, resisted and possibly altered (Shinko, 2008: 476). Relational inclusion can thus be understood as a platform that enables antagonistic contestation at the negotiation table (Strömbom, 2019: 9). This may require moving away from a notion of formal inclusion at the table that puts emphasis on the physical presence of a group representative voicing the seemingly homogeneous interests of abounded constituency, towards a notion of inclusion that focuses on the themes and narratives underpinning the antagonistic relationships. Relational inclusion is less concerned with who has a voice at the table, than with what this voice expresses, which relationships it invokes and what resources it offers to move these relationships from enemy to adversary. Relationality thus invites us to think beyond the ideal- typical peace table composed of actors with bounded identities that define their interests, rights and needs, and move towards complex, dynamic mechanisms of negotiation that put on the table those antagonistic differences that need to be accommodated in the political settlement.
To support an agonistic peace, mediators thus need to embrace the ontological complexity of social relationships that underpin both conflict and peace, while maintaining an epistemological reflexivity that helps them to clearly observe their own role in bringing specific identity traits to the


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fore. The approach taken in this article – shedding light on the relationship between inclusion strategies and framings of the included – can provide a starting point, as it helps to understand how specific differences have become more prominent than others, due the existing policy and practice of inclusion. In practice, however, relational inclusion means to grapple with the multiple framings that bring differences at the negotiation table to the fore, and through which conflict parties and stakeholders dare to differ in the political struggles that characterize peace processes.

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