A joint blog by Lena Elhibir and Sarah Phillips
For those of us who don’t live in areas of violent conflict, we experience war via the media. On April 11th, 2018, Peace Direct was delighted to partner with Spectrum Media and the War Stories Peace Stories team for the War Stories Peace Stories Symposium in New York: a day of inspiring discussion on the role of the media in covering conflict and peace.
Bringing together local peacebuilders, journalists and researchers, the event discussed how the depiction of peace and conflict can better reflect, represent and involve those who experience it first-hand. Throughout the day we heard from inspiring panellists who discussed how we can better include the voices of ordinary women and men in the discussion on conflict and raise the potential of ‘peace reporting’ by focussing not on the problems, but on those who are offering solutions to violent conflict.
A unifying message of the day was that local people who are directly impacted by violent conflict in the world are the experts on the problems they face, the solutions that their communities need, and it is these voices that need to be amplified. We are keen to continue the conversation of how stories of peacebuilding and non-violence can have the same impact and attraction as the drama of war.
Peace Reporting: a force for change
The Symposium gave local peacebuilders a platform to tell their peacebuilding stories, and we heard from Saba Ismail, Kessy Ekomo-Soignet, and Quscondy Abdulshafi who shared their stories of tackling violent conflict and building peace and resilience in their communities in Pakistan, CAR and Sudan.
Everyone working for peace has a story to tell, which is an important reminder of how words can change hearts and minds, and lead to shaping policy and perception.
By reflecting on what ‘peace reporting’ would look like, and the potential it would carry, the Symposium invited participants to reflect on how we can create the appetite for reporting on stories of peace, in a responsible and inclusive way. With pressure in today’s media environment to prioritise drama and speed over depth and continuity, this is no easy feat.
‘Peace Reporting’, therefore, would encompass stories that are useful, are human and raise the potential of looking at solutions, not at problems. One panel reflected that sensitivity to what people living in conflict are trying to achieve through their everyday lives can avoid resigning conflict reporting to a ‘hopeless story’, by instead painting peace through the forgiveness, resistance and persistence demonstrated by honouring local perspectives. It is attention to the minor details and nuances of the ordinary women and men who are building peace around the world, that make up the societal fabric that conflict, and therefore peace, is woven with.
Women’s Stories, Women’s Voices
One of the most inspiring panels during the Symposium centred around the importance of including women’s voices in how conflict and peace is covered. We see an absence of women in negotiation processes and in newsrooms globally, and war reporting has typically been considered as ‘no job for a woman’. What’s more, the stories of local female reporters are often sidelined, for the oftentimes, translated version of events by international female reporters, which is an intersection that must equally be critically considered in this wider conversation. There is therefore a pressing need to include stories from all women, about women, at the centre of the debate. This is not because we should, but because the stories, and the actions they depict, are worthy, compelling, and successful. When women are economically and socially empowered, families are healthier and safer. When women’s voices are included in peace processes, conflict resolution is more likely.
Organisations like Centre Résolution Conflits and FOCHI, Peace Direct’s local partners in DR Congo, support women affected by war, to improve female participation in community decision making and leadership, as well as providing them with loans to set up businesses and earn a steady income to support their families. The same goes for Envision Zimbabwe Women’s Trust, working to counter the causes of domestic violence and violence against women through training and awareness raising. The list could, and does go on, and shows how women are essential in holding parties accountable for the implementation of peacebuilding processes once agreed. When women are included in the discussion on peacebuilding, they broaden the scope of what is discussed.
Including local women’s voices in stories of peacebuilding is therefore not only a way to demonstrate how peacebuilding initiatives that are women-led are successful, but also to make sure that reporting on global affairs, and the way they affect how political, economic and military decisions are made, are informed by the views of all segments of the population.
Continuing the conversation
As well as giving the floor to local peacebuilders, the Symposium demonstrated the capacity local reporters have to report internationally on internal conflict. It attracted a large number of these local reporters among its participants, who are inevitably better-placed to report on local conflicts. Leading provider of humanitarian news and analysis, IRIN, were impressively vocal on the day regarding their commissioning of local freelance reporters for their stories; a move that could be better actioned across the industry.
The Symposium showed us many ways in which we can change the way we think about conflict, and how it is represented in the media, but also highlighted vital steps to still be taken. It reminded us that in order for peace reporting to be a force for change, to truly ’paint what’s possible,’ then we need to include all perspectives in the debate.
We would like to thank The Stanley Foundation and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting who were key partners for the event, which was also supported by Humanity United, the Carnegie Corporation, the Compton Foundation, and the Jubitz Family Foundation.
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