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This panel explores the contributions of civil society actors, notably women’s organisations, to conflict resolution and 'peacebuilding from below' in various contexts. It examines the difficulties encountered, including from ‘shrinking civic space’, and the strategic responses to such challenges.
A bottom-up or grassroots approach, often associated with John Paul Lederach (1997), has increasingly taken centre stage in peacebuilding discourses. It places emphasis on the “significance of local actors and of the non-governmental sector and the links with local knowledge and wisdom” (Ramsbotham et al. 2016: 274). Some analysts consider such ‘peacebuilding from below’ as essential to resolving conflicts, creating space for the needs, perspectives and practices of local communities to be included in conflict resolution processes (Pearson 2001). Especially important is the centrality of gender and recognition of the unique and crucial contribution of women to peacebuilding.
However, peacebuilding from below is not without its difficulties or complexities. Local communities are also “sites of power asymmetry, patriarchy and privilege” (Ramsbotham et al. 2016: 276). Additionally, a bottom-up approach to conflict resolution is unlikely to be sufficient in itself, given that resolution of conflict is likely to be formalised in national-level agreements. Therefore, an interplay between local and national levels is required, perhaps mediated by professionally staffed NGOs. The potential role of civil society is also influenced by the wider national context and the extent to which CSOs are affected by ‘shrinking civic space’.
This panel invites papers that look at the range of roles that women’s groups and different civil society actors play in conflict resolution and peacebuilding in various country contexts, how effective they are, the challenges faced, and the strategies adopted to counter constraints.