Peace through diversity and inclusive constitution-making

Photo credit: Andrea Cardin for Ottawa Peace Talks

“Real diversity exists where differences are appreciated, embraced and where we are all enriched as a result.” Roberta Jamieson, a Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario, spoke these words at the Ottawa Peace Talks, celebrated on 19 April 2016. The event was organized under the theme “Let’s build peace through diversity,” and like Roberta, several men and women from diverse backgrounds shared their personal stories and ideas on how every individual can play an active role in building peace in their communities.

Michele Brandt, a constitutional lawyer, who launched and directs Interpeace’s Constitution-Making for Peace Programme, participated in the Ottawa Peace Talks and spoke about the importance of inclusive constitution-making processes in peacebuilding: “In war torn countries, constitution-making is often a key component of a political transition. Research shows that inclusive politics and civic engagement secures a more durable peace. But what level of inclusion and civic engagement is sufficient and who gets to decide?”

Michele shared the lessons learned through her experience in Timor-Leste and Afghanistan and addressed the importance of making constitution-making processes inclusive for all members of society – including women. In Timor-Leste, she recalls, the constitution makers were given only three months to write the constitution. Despite several pleas from civil society organizations, “the process was rushed and the constitution was largely viewed as the product of a single dominant political party rather than a consensus based social compact.” Michele went on to describe that shortly after the new constitution was drafted, violence broke out in the country. After her experience in Timor, she was called to participate in the constitution-making process in Afghanistan. The process took place at first behind closed doors, but after consultations with the authorities involved, it opened to Afghan citizens. The country established 11 satellite offices, which allowed hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians, women, religious leaders, artists, youth, nomads and minority groups to be consulted. Michele noted that “Though the process wasn’t perfect… women gained significant rights in the Constitution.”

Alongside Michele, several other women shared their insights at the Ottawa Peace Talks. Alaa Murabit, founder of the Voice of Libyan Women, spoke about leadership and what a leader looks like. She explained that the definition is too narrow, disregards young leadership and ignores local and community leaders. She explained that local leaders are often women, who play a critical role in ending conflict and preventing violent extremism. Moreover, Désirée McGraw, President and Head of Pearson College, and Roberta Jamieson, President and CEO of Indspire, Canada’s premiere Indigenous-led charity, both agreed that educating and empowering young people are very important methods to change the world.

In order to build peace, there must be a conscious decision to accept and celebrate diversity, which are the foundation to building more inclusive societies. This is also true in constitution-making, whereby it is essential to listen and respect women’s voices and aspirations. To watch all of the Ottawa Peace Talks visit [Link to site].

Photo credit: Andrea Cardin for Ottawa Peace Talks