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On September 18, 2014, SDSN’s thematic group on Social Inclusion (SDSN TG3) convened a high level panel at the International Conference on Sustainable Development Practice, at Columbia University in New York. This event focused on the concepts of building resilience and sustaining peace through inclusive democratic processes.

Speakers included Mr. Bineta Diop (Founder and Chair of the Executive Board of Femmes Africa Solidarité, Special Envoy of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on Women, Peace and Security, co-chair of SDSN TG3); Sarah Bradshaw (Associate Professor at Middlesex University); Jan Peterson (President of Huairou Commission); Eduarda La Rocque (President of Instituto Pereira Passos) and Sanam Anderlini (Director of ICAN). The event was moderated by Professor Joshua Castellino (Dean of law, Middlesex University and co-chair of SDSN TG3). The speakers represented a broad range of disciplines, and had experience of working at a range of levels – from community interventions to high-level politics.

Ms. Diop’s presentation focused on the concept of the women’s situation room; an inclusive, participatory mechanism for engaging women in monitoring elections. She discussed its capacity to promote sustainable peace by creating a culture of accountability, through citizen’s engagement. She also highlighted the power of information and communication technology (ICT); using smart phones electoral observers were able to report problems and receive assistance, in real time.

Bineta Diop speaking at ICSDP

Expanding on the theme of citizen’s engagement, Dr. Sarah Bradshaw explored the power of local action in response to natural disasters. She cited examples from Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua, where community mobilization has fostered a subsequent community-driven political movement, which is helping to strengthen resilience across the country. A major theme of her presentation was the necessity to engender disaster risk reduction and response. She highlighted the challenge of missing data and the danger of making gendered assumptions about community behavior in disaster risk reduction, which can inadvertently reinforce discriminatory socio-cultural norms. She called for better interrogation of the impact of and community response to natural disasters so we can see whether socio-cultural norms and expectations impact on women and men’s vulnerability and/or engagement. Both Ms. Diop and Professor Bradshaw emphasized the ability for local communities to drive forward meaningful community-level political change, after a dramatic and transformative event.

Drawing on 50 years of experience, Jan Peterson discussed the power of participation and democratic practice in local communities and in local politics. She cited the example of Hurricane Sandy, where local communities were at the front-line of the response. She also invited a colleague from the Philippines to speak. Jocas, a grassroots women’s leader, explained her work mobilizing local organizations to build community resilience. Her organization was amongst one of the first responders in Typhoon Haiyan. In spite of these positive example, Jan expressed concern that a modern shift to professionalism and privatization was increasingly excluding people for politics and governance, and/or resulting in tokenistic consultation rather than meaningful participation.

Eduarda La Rocque attempted to dispel the notion of increasingly exclusive governance by presenting efforts underway in the city of Rio de Janeiro to actively engage local communities in urban planning and development. She showed a video on a range of local projects, being led by City Hall’s Social Program, such as Empresa Bacana, which attempts to legalize petty trade and local merchant activities in one poor area of the city, creating jobs and boosting local income. Other activities include an effort to map informal communities and the development of software, such as phone apps, which enables the community to monitor the quality of local facilities and services.

TG03 2

Sanam Anderlini concluded the presentations by returning to the theme of conflict and crisis. She also considered the intersection between gender and assumed responsibility during insecurity or crisis, but rather focused on men- who form the majority of those involved in conflict. She highlighted the links between militarization and equality of opportunity.  She challenged us to consider why extremism is on the rise; giving people an alternative concept of their rights and entitlements and exploiting their insecurities, including oppressive gendered expectations. Like the preceding speakers, she called for a long-term shift towards a more inclusive society, key to which is access to basic jobs, for everyone.

TG03 at ICSDPDuring the ensuing floor discussion, audience and panelists discussed key elements of inclusion, applicable to multiple environments, such as communication platforms, a clear vision of an inclusive society, safe spaces for community mobilization, and so on. The panelists were asked how they could amplify their message, to reach beyond their immediate spheres of influence.

Ms. Diop discussed the benefits of mentoring and mobilizing younger generations. Ms. Peterson called for an evolution in the women’s movement; which must not attempt to reflect the movements of the ‘70s. Women’s community movements and local organizations are affecting change on a huge scale. We need to become more effective at showcasing their success.