"Building peace means self-empowerment"

War and conflict have always been unjust: Diplomatic decisions are made at a political level, but the consequences are felt by the civilian population. Local peacebuilding approaches aims to reverse this dynamic and strengthen peace processes through local activism.

Philipp Nagels
Rebecca Topakian; Peace Direct
April 02, 2024
Reading time
8 minutes

It feels like we are living in particularly violent times as the number of conflicts and wars seemingly increases from year to year. But is this, in fact, true? Even more importantly: How can peace be better promoted going forward? "The level of global violence has been declining since 1945", explains Dylan Mathews, CEO of the peace organisation Peace Direct, "but this is starting to change." In 2023, the world has become less peaceful for the ninth year in a row. According to the Global Peace Index 2023 (an analysis by the Australian think tank Institute for Economics and Peace), more people died in armed conflicts in 2023 than at any time since 1994. Moreover, many of the conflicts no longer take place between countries, but within them. In the past, peacebuilding was primarily about diplomacy and peace agreements at the highest political level, says Mathews. "Today, we need a different form of peacebuilding. We need to involve the local population."

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Peace Direct

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Local peacebuilding is promoted by Peace Direct all over the world. Locals are experts on the conflicts affecting their communities and only they know what is needed to create lasting peace. Supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Peace Direct is committed to ensuring that these local peacebuilders have the resources they need to make peace a reality.

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Focusing on the local and the global for peace

"Local peacebuilding" is the name given to this approach. The idea: The people who are most affected by conflict are best suited to resolve them. In a sense, peace should grow from below and not be imposed from above. With this decolonial approach, Peace Direct has been supporting local peace builders around the world since 2003. The organisation is currently working with partners in 14 highly conflict-affected countries, including Pakistan, Eastern Sudan, and Myanmar. Peace Direct has been funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung since 2021. "In some cases, the situation in these countries is so dangerous that most international aid organisations have left. Local peacebuilding then remains the only option - and it should always be the first option", says Mathews.

"Local peacebuilding is sometimes the only option - but it should always be the first option."

Quote fromDylan Mathews, CEO Peace Direct

Peace Direct is based in London and does not operate any country offices, as is usually the case in peace and development work. Setting up projects, flying out a team and making a quick, demonstrable impact on site - that's not exactly how things work here. Instead, Dylan Mathews and his team aim to be allies of local peacebuilders, says the CEO. Peace Direct supports selected individuals, networks, and organizations with aid funds, knowledge, and training. The aim is always to put local people in the best possible position to create sustainable peace themselves.



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The Robert Bosch Stiftung supports sustainable peace through long-term funding in conflict regions. Together with local partners, the foundation initiates inclusive peace processes and the implementation of projects on the ground. The exchange between academics and practitioners is promoted worldwide to bring local approaches to peace into relevant debates.

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Reducing historical conflicts in Eastern Europe

As part of the global "Peace Starts Here" campaign, Peace Direct is supporting ten local peace promoters from around the world. One of the participants is Lida Minasyan from Yerevan, Armenia. According to Minasyan, the aim here is to build bridges - between her home country and neighbouring Azerbaijan, and between Armenians who have been displaced from the embattled region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Following a major military offensive by Azerbaijan, more than 100,000 of these people fled to Armenia; "an ethnic cleansing", says the peace activist.

View of a table with folders and notepads. Two women are sitting at the table
Lida Minasyan talks to her colleagues in the peace organization.

The borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been closed for decades. "This has created a lot of mutual hostility and demonization," explains Minasyan. How can bridge-building and dialogue succeed in this historical context?

Mediating feminist peace processes

One approach is community-based peacebuilding, which focuses on specific social groups such as women from border communities, displaced women, youth, etc. Lida Minasyan also has a clear vision of how peace can be achieved in her region: Only a "feminist peace", a peace that takes everyone's needs into account, can be sustainable. The 31-year-old is a co-founder of Women's Agenda, an Armenian organization that supports women in promoting peace. Minasyan has been committed to women's rights since she was 18 and has studied human rights and entrepreneurship. The year 2020, when the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh flared up again, was a turning point for her. "I had a strong feeling that I had to focus on feminist peace and take action for a better future", she recalls. Together with Knarik Mkrtchyan she founded the feminist NGO. Minasyan sees the violent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as a reflection of the patriarchal structures and norms that also characterise Armenian society. "We need to address toxic masculinity if we want to achieve sustainable peace."

Gayane Hambardzumyan talks to her colleagues
Lida Minasyan looks at her smartphone while her laptop lies open on her desk behind her.
Lida Minasyan joins two women from her network for an exchange today

With Women's Agenda, Minasyan and Mkrtchyan are building a network of local women peacebuilders with various backgrounds. It currently consists of around 40 women who act as multipliers in various population groups, for example, through dialogue formats - including with Azerbaijani women, if possible. The women often meet in a small building in the Baghramyan district of the Armenian capital. The architecture of the Soviet era is framed by a mountainous panorama with snow-covered peaks. The yellow-painted rooms are not only used for peace-related activities, but also for joint handicraft sessions and events. Liza Matevosyan and Gayane Hambardzumyan are two of the women Lida Minasyan often encounters here.

"My whole life is defined by conflict and peace, because I have lived my whole life in conflict and I strive for peace."

Quote fromLida Minasyan

Together, the peace promoters are developing new narratives around conflict, peace, and a feminist peace agenda. Each of the women brings her own personal story to the table. In addition, Women's Agenda offers seminars for further training in negotiation processes. "Women make up half of the population, but are excluded from formal peace negotiations. That makes no sense", says Minasyan.

"For me, making peace means self-empowerment, because it has helped me to understand the other side of the conflict and to think more openly."

Quote fromLiza Matevosyan

A global UN-Study from 2015 shows that peace is more sustainable when women are involved at various levels of the peace-making process. "It's usually the women who guide their families to safe accommodation and look after everyone while the men fight", says Minasyan in the interview. And yet, women are not fully engaged in crisis management and decision-making in areas related to security. But they must be, explains the peace activist.

"In everything I do, my view of the world is shaped by peace and the process of creating peace."

Quote fromGayane Hambardzumyan

How close are we to a peaceful future?

Currently, the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan are negotiating a peace agreement. In order for thisagreement to be effective, we need to build bridges between the Armenian and Azerbaijani populations, too. The process is very fragile and complex, which worries Lida Minasyan. At the same time, she is optimistic: "I am full of hope that the conflict will be resolved and that we will live in peace."

Many people on a demonstration, a woman in the foreground holds up a cardboard sign
The dossier on the topic


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We are faced with urgent problems relating to the concept of justice: the wealth divide, global inequality, access to education, and climate justice. These require a fair distribution of resources, intergenerational justice, equal opportunities, and a fair distribution of environmental burdens. Justice shapes us and influences our decisions. Read here how we promote projects to achieve societal justice.

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Dylan Mathews from Peace Direct is also positive about the future, despite the increasing number of global conflicts: "We believe that another world is possible." It is easy to become depressed by the constant stream of negative news on social media. Peace is possible - with imagination, the right investments and the necessary perseverance. According to Mathews, "The bravest and most inspiring people I have met in the world have been peacebuilders."
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