The Levant News — Istanbul – Turkey: More than 50 opinion makers and policy makers from the Middle East came together to
discuss linkages between women, water and peace in a conference hosted by Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) and MEF University in co-operation with Sida on 18th and 19th March 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. Participants included Members of Parliament, former ministers, government officials, media leaders, entrepreneurs and scholars from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon
and Turkey. The conference was part of the experience exchange process of the Blue Peace
community in the Middle East.
The conference was convened particularly to focus the attention of policy makers to the
gender perspective in the region. The role of women in addressing water and peace linkages
was discussed by experts and media observers having direct experience of the subject in the
presence of senior parliamentarians, government officials and political leaders. The
conference was instrumental in linking different levels of policy making structures in the
The conference also included a presentation on institutional co-operation in the Nile River
Basin as part of exchange of experiences with other parts of the world in collaborative
management of shared water resources.
Perspectives from Sweden
Welcome Remarks by Prof Mustafa Kibaroglu, Mr Yasar Yakis and Ms Ulrika Holmstrom
In the opening session of the conference, Ms Ulrika Holmstrom, Senior Gender Advisor at
Sida, presented the Swedish perspective. With the objective of achieving gender equality,
Sweden has launched a feminist foreign policy which emphasises on three Rs – Rights,
Representation and Resources. In the context of water and peace, there is a strong need to
stress on the rights of women to participate meaningfully in policy-making and peace
agreements. Women must be represented in a holistic way in peace negotiations because
there are strong links between sustainable peace and inclusion of women. Increasing
women’s representation in governance, peace building efforts and core economic institutions
is vital. Finally, to achieve the goals of more rights and representation for women, women’s
access to resources must be increased and channelled.
Local bodies (Mayors and Municipalities)
When women are appointed at the local level – i.e. in municipalities and as mayors, they are
quicker to respond to crisis related to issues of water scarcity. An example was given of the
case of Yuksekova in Turkey where a newly appointed woman mayor started drilling for
water wells within 10 days following protests by women in the region. Time and energy are
precious resources lost when basic needs such as water need to be addressed. Often girls are
made to walk long distances just to procure drinking water for the family. Non-inclusive
policy-making leaving women out of decision making processes increases water scarcity
which is further exacerbated by climate change.
Several times, decisions taken by women leaders are more favourable to family issues. There
is a need for understand what “co-operation” truly means and this can be done only by
agenda setting before any situation. It has been seen that having more women at the national
policy making level increases multi-stakeholder inclusiveness in policy-making. This is
particularly important in light of the fact that almost half of the refugees in the Middle East
are women, while about 25% of these women refugees are under 18 years of age. In the
Middle-East, women are also often the managers of agricultural water since large number of
women work on farms.
International Water Diplomacy
When women negotiate, they focus on building relationships and trust. Which is why, it has
been observed that peace agreements are more sustainable when women are included.
Making policy changes to mainstream gender concerns at the international level needs
cultural acceptance at local levels, for which education is extremely important. An example
was given that when a particular ministry appointed 68% women executive bureaucrats, the
country was looked at more favourably at the international level. It was also felt that since
women are more detail oriented, chances of success of negotiations become higher.
Media can play an important role in gender mainstreaming. On the panel concerning the role
of the media, there was complete agreement among all participants that a positive story is
much stronger than a negative one and the media should focus on positive stories that realign
female roles as heroes rather than victims only. Journalists can take care to use gender neutral
language so as to not reinforce traditional gender roles. It is also essential that barriers
stopping women from reaching decision making processes in the media are identified,
including the need for salary and compensation parity. It was suggested that a ‘bio-regional’
process led by women could create an effective water management system. Also, the gender
angle could help the media to narrow down water and peace linkages. Journalists need
training to talk about serious issues such as water and peace and skill building workshops
could be used for this purpose.
Lessons from the Nile Basin
The conference had a session on experience exchange with a presentation on the Nile Basin
by John Rao Nyaoro, Executive Director of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). He explained that
successful trans-boundary cooperation depends on the existence of three critical factors:
1. Institutional infrastructure for cooperation
2. Stakeholder dialogues at multiple levels
3. Personal commitment of the Heads of States and governments.
Mr John Rao Nyaoro making a presentation on the Nile Basin Initiative
In addition to the three critical factors mentioned above, it is important to have a mechanism
for exchanging technical know-how and developing technical solutions. The involvement of
Heads of States is the beginning of finding a solution. However once the Heads of States
provide a political direction for grand bargains between the riparian countries, it is the task of
the technical teams to convert the vision into a reality.
Normally, the process begins with the emergence of dialogues between stakeholders.
However at some stage, the dialogue process must be complemented by the creation of an
institutional mechanism. It is not enough for an institution to come into existence. In order to
make the process of cooperation substantive and significant, joint technical projects should be
launched. When the process reaches this level, it creates a good platform for finding solutions
to conflicting interests of the riparian countries. At this stage, there is still risk of conflicts
and cooperation having a limited impact due to its technical nature. Once the Heads of
Government get involved, the political process is initiated. Once they provide a direction,
there must be convergence of political, technical, institutional and multiple stakeholder
The NBI Executive Director further explained that these three factors had enabled the Nile
Basin Initiative to evolve from technical cooperation to strategic and political cooperation.
Their latest achievement is an agreement between Heads of States between Ethiopia, Egypt
and Sudan in the planning of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on a cooperative basis.
He said that there is still a long way to go for the Nile Basin Initiative to reach the level of
cooperation achieved by some other shared river basins in Africa.