Avenue de la Paix 14
in Geneva 1211
Humanitarian action has two dimensions: assistance and protection. Humanitarian actors require humanitarian access to be able to deliver assistance and ensure protection. Humanitarian access tends to be achieved – and maintained – through negotiations with a variety of actors, each with its own interests. Humanitarian negotiations can be defined as a process of carving out a space for discussion and engagement to ensure access to assistance for the most in need, the protection of vulnerable populations and to preserve humanitarian space for the delivery of assistance.
IHL provides humanitarian negotiations with a legal framework that most other negotiations lack, which can challenge negotiators given the perceived lack of space for compromise. Personal relationships and trust-building constitute critical dimensions of humanitarian negotiations. In order to operate effectively, in many contexts, humanitarian organizations must first ensure that they are accepted by the parties to a conflict, and establish and maintain an ongoing relationship with counterparts. Because frontline negotiations occur in contexts of armed conflict or other types of violence – these often accentuate or exacerbate the relevancy of personal identities such as gender, culture, ethnicity, religion, and age.
In response to this, negotiation teams have become increasingly diverse in recent years, in terms of not only gender but also the “intersectionality” of these various aspects of identity. Yet, many frontline teams still do not effectively leverage the richness and diversity of their team members. For example, decisions about who should assume the role of lead negotiator in a given context are sometimes based on hierarchy alone, without considering the added value of negotiators with diverse identities across the team. Conversely, in theaters of operation where a conservative culture is prevalent, personnel diversity is sometimes discouraged – without an indepth analysis of whether or not this is appropriate and relevant to the context. This is particularly true in the MENA region – where cultural gendered norms are used to legitimize women’s exclusion from public roles, including taking prominent roles in brokering access between and with warring parties.
Very little has been written about the impact of gender and sex on humanitarian negotiations. Most recently, a working paper was produced by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and SIDA on the impact of gender on front line negotiations. It focused on the perceptions of ICRC negotiators and found, broadly, that women can be very successful at advocating for others, and even in contexts where conservative cultures entrench gender roles, gender stereotypes can be leveraged to the advantage of female negotiators (e.g. women can be perceived as more legitimate because they are thought of as selfless caregivers and potential mothers).
Moreover, there is a growing body of work that highlights the role that community leaders are playing in brokering humanitarian access and space – outside of the engagement of international actors; and yet little support (financial, technical, etc) or attention is given to this.
To bring together regional experts in humanitarian access negotiations, including access negotiators, researchers and humanitarian practioners - to explore the relationship between gender, diversity and access negotiations across the Middle East and North Africa.
To this end the meeting will reflect on:
• the urgent need for humanitarian assistance across the region, and the large number of access negotiations taking place at different levels every day
• whether the approach to negotiations change with more diverse negotiation teams
• the relationship between diversity – including gender diversity – and better access outcomes,
• the complex challenges of gender norms in the region, vis a vis women’s engagement in engaging with warring parties on humanitarian space and delivery.
The outcome of the meeting will be a policy paper setting out; why diversity is important for the effectiveness of humanitarian negotiation team, case studies and ‘how to’ principles and guidance. As relevant, recommendations and language can be link to Security Council directives on humanitarian settings.