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Renowned Peace Negotiator Irene Santiago Joins Kroc School Class

Friday, May 1, 2020

begin quoteMy peers and I spent an entire class talking to one of the most influential negotiators in the world.

The following post was contributed by Kay Wilson, a Master’s in Conflict Management and Resolution student at the Kroc School.


Peace Nogotiator Irene Santiago (second row, second from right), speaks during a recent International Negotiations class.

When I started my International Negotiations class this semester at the Kroc School, I was excited. I knew this class would teach me valuable skills that would equip me to be even more effective as a peacebuilder. After all, I’m at the Kroc School to study conflict resolution, and I know that most conflicts are resolved by some form of negotiation. Regardless of where I go after graduate school, I’m confident that negotiation skills will be very useful.

But I also worried a little bit. Despite the prevalence and importance of negotiations, women only make up 13% of all peace negotiators worldwide. I had seen the exclusion of women play out in my own experiences with negotiations. While working on labor negotiations, I saw men dominate the conversations. Even when women were included, they were often sidelined. I knew from this experience that women are frequently undervalued in the negotiation process. Even though I was excited to learn negotiation skills, I worried about implementing them in the real world.

Connecting With a Leading Woman Peacebuilder

All of this was in the back of my mind when my professor, Michael Fryer, announced that Irene Santiago would be joining us for class. Irene is a peace negotiator from the Philippines. She is a notable feminist and human rights champion, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She is also the only woman in the world to be both a member of a peace negotiating panel and chair of a body implementing a peace agreement. 

Before Irene visited our class, I was already familiar with her work. As part of our curriculum, we had studied her role in negotiating the peace agreement in the Philippines. Her vocal support for including more women in peace negotiations interested me greatly, as did her tips for women negotiators. I had even written about her work in a paper earlier this semester. 

Needless to say, I was thrilled that she would be speaking with us. Under normal circumstances, she might not have been able to join our class, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic (and Professor Fryer’s quick thinking to request time with her while shelter-in-place orders are still in effect), she was available to video-call in via Zoom. My peers and I spent an entire class talking to one of the most influential negotiators in the world. I was able to ask her questions and hear firsthand stories about the complicated dynamics of peace negotiations. There are so many things I will remember about that conversation, but a few stand out that I will remember long after I’ve left the Kroc School.

3 Lessons From Irene Santiago

1) Sit Beside, Not Behind

Irene highlighted that women’s voices are already essential to peace negotiations. Men with power frequently rely on women for ideas and advice because they know how much value women can add to the peacebuilding process. Women are already doing peace work all over the world, whether it be in their own homes or on the global stage. Currently, they are just being excluded from the positions of power involved in this work. When this dynamic emerged for Irene, she told the men that relied on her, “I’m not going to sit behind you, I’m going to sit beside you.” She recognized her value and knew she deserved a seat at the table.

2) Anticipate Problems, Prepare Solutions

Once you’re at the peace negotiation table, the fight to be taken seriously is not over. When women are included in peace negotiations, they are often marginalized. Specifically, men often perceive their involvement merely as a “gender expert”. This limited view of their role can lead to women’s exclusion from important parts of the negotiation. 

Irene had advice for this situation. She says that negotiators should try to anticipate problems in the negotiation and have solutions prepared. When you are an expert on the problem at hand, it’s much more difficult to exclude you. When Irene was negotiating in the Philippines, she knew that cease-fires are often the first step in a peace negotiation,so she became an expert on cease-fires. This established her value to the other negotiators early in the process.

3) Get Influence, Give Influence

The last lesson I’ll take away from my conversation with Irene is that once you finally have influence in a negotiation, you have to remember to listen to those that do not. The key to a lasting peace settlement is to include as many perspectives as possible in the process. It is not enough just to listen to the elites at the negotiation table – lasting peace requires there to be many tables with a range of perspectives represented. Irene acknowledged that this level of participation may be messy, but blood on the floor is messier. The only way to create sustainable peace is to listen.

The three lessons I learned from Irene were unbelievably valuable. I’m sure they will serve me well as I advance my career. Talking to Irene also showed me that women can succeed as peace negotiators. Even in the face of adversity, women like Irene are having an incredible impact all over the world. 

Interested in gaining new skills that will help you advance your peacebuilding career? Explore the Kroc School's graduate programs.

Want to follow in Irene Santiago's footsteps and participate in the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice's Women PeaceMakers Fellowship? Learn more and apply now. APPLICATION DEADLINE: Monday, June 1, 2020 by 11.59pm (GMT-7)

Contact:

Justin Prugh
jprugh@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-7573

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