On May 9th, PeaceRep hosted a public event at the University of Edinburgh to discuss opportunities and challenges that the Digital Age offers women’s equality advocates who are seeking to influence conflict transitions. Panelists shared their insights as experts on Women, Peace and Security, peace and conflict, and PeaceTech.
The event also showcased PeaceFem, a mobile app co-created by PeaceRep researchers and partners as a digital tool to support women’s inclusion in peacemaking.
PeaceRep’s Executive Director, Professor Christine Bell (University of Edinburgh Law School), welcomed attendees and shared some background on PeaceRep’s research on women and gender, as well as the programme’s work in the field of PeaceTech.
Attendees were then introduced to the PeaceFem app by Fiona Knäussel, Associate Researcher at the University of Oxford. Fiona shared an overview of the app’s core features and how it can be used to support to support women in peacemaking.
The main panel discussion on the topic of “Women, Peace and Security in the Digital Age” was then introduced by Ms Laura Wise, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh Law School, who chaired the discussion. Laura introduced the panelists; Dr Monalisa Adhikari (Lecturer in International Politics, University of Stirling), Dr Sanja Badanjak (Chancellor’s Fellow in Global Challenges, University of Edinburgh), and Dr Claire Duncanson (Senior Lecturer in International Relations, University of Edinburgh), and Ms Fiona Knäussel.
The discussion began with an introduction to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, i.e.: the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda, and its four pillars; Participation, Protection, Prevention, and Relief and Recovery. Sanja Badanjak then described the two main strands of PeaceTech innovation; the practical use of technology in peace negotiations, and the data and tools used to analyse peace processes in order to identify trends. Sanja also highlighted how both strands of PeaceTech can pose challenges to women’s inclusion in peacemaking; security issues with online interfaces pose a challenge for women in particular, while big data models and language models for analysis often do not accurately represent gender issues in the data.
Monalisa Adhikari shared insights from her work with research communities based in Myanmar, highlighting specific challenges for women in peacemaking in this context. In many ways, applications of PeaceTech and digital tools have enabled progress for women in peacemaking; a Myanmar study group was enabled with online meetings, and digital responses to the coup in Myanmar showed that women had taken on roles at the forefront of efforts towards democracy. Challenges to using digital tools for women’s inclusion in Myanmar include the “digital haves and have-nots” of the population, periods of military-enforced internet shutdown, digital censorship by the regime, and repercussions for women who have been tracked and then harassed or arrested in response to their online activities.
Fiona Knäussel shared comparative insights on women’s use of tech for peacebuilding in Yemen and the associated challenges, suggesting that a framework of four areas can be used to understand the factors that are shaping women’s use of tech:
- Access and connectivity issues – These can limit video and audio communications. In the context of Yemen, where some communities can s be conservative or patriarchal, women may not have their own digital devices.
- Security – Women in Yemeni have been persecuted based on their online activity, meaning that digital activities can mean exposing themselves to risks.
- Circumstances – The availability of tools, or lack thereof, is often a factor for women in Yemeni communities.
- Preparedness to engage with new methods effectively – Different contexts will have different approaches to the teaching and learning of digital skills, and to the use of digital tools.
Laura then asked panellists: Is the WPS Agenda still fit for purpose in the Digital Age? Claire Duncanson argued that recently, it’s not fit for purpose, but not because we’re in Digital Age – rather that it needs to be broadened and deepened to consider important factors such as climate change and sustaining biodiversity, which can have significant effects on peace and conflict on a global scale. Digital technology can be used more effectively to communicate the urgency of these issues for peace and conflict considerations, however, a dilemma is posed by large scale technology also contributing to global warming through energy consumption.
On whether PeaceTech innovations can provide solutions to achieving WPS Agenda goals, Sanja Badanjak highlighted that existing data and models in the field are not yet developed enough to allow for accurate understandings of gender representation needs in peace processes. There is potential for developments where peacemaking activity is seeing effective engagement by women, but because big data is atheoretical and distinct from political contexts, we have a long way to go before data can accurately reflect important issues for women in peacemaking.
Panellists then opened the discussion to the audience, and gained valuable insights from feedback and further questions on aspects of the WPS Agenda and on applications of the PeaceFem app.