Women in Action: A Look at Women in Track 1 and Track 2 Diplomacy
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
By Vaishnavi Pallapothu
Image Source: GIWPS Georgetown
Diplomacy is one of the most important forms of negotiation, communication, exchange and means of international relations between states. Track One diplomacy is a formal form of diplomacy that involves official government processes and interactions between diplomats, ambassadors and foreign ministries of different states. This type of diplomacy is considered the primary tool for peace and security matters between state actors as it influences the structures of political power. Track I processes can also bring in more support to a cause in terms of recognition, international legitimacy and resources (both financial and human capital).
Track Two diplomacy, on the other hand, is also known as ‘backchannel diplomacy’ as it involves various nongovernmental interactions between groups and individuals outside of official government channels and power structures.  It must be emphasised that Track II diplomacy is not a substitute for Track I diplomacy, but rather a supplement, as it can often circumvent the constraints imposed on foreign ministry members and include groups that are otherwise excluded from the negotiation table, such as grassroots leaders.
Despite being the primary diplomatic pathway and the most formal one, Track I diplomacy has considerable shortcomings. First, as it operates within the highest echelons of power – among states -, it can easily be corrupted by thirst for power and motivations other than bringing about peace or justice. Moreover, as it is a form of top-down diplomacy, it tends to be exclusionary of marginalised actors and stakeholders. Because of this Track I diplomacy can even be a “liability to durable peace, rather than a facilitative tool”.  Next, because of the bureaucratic nature of diplomatic missions under Track I, they can be shut down in the event of wars or conflicts, which can be counter-productive as those are the times when such inter-state discussions are needed the most. Official high-level diplomatic negotiations tend to take long periods of time to deliver tangible outcomes and consultations between leaders can often be delayed or stymied because of impasses. 
Women, Peace and Security Agenda and Diplomacy
The Women, Peace and Security Agenda is an apt example of both Track I and Track II diplomacy methods in action. Ranging from informal advocacy and meetings to formal negotiations, the WPS demonstrates the capability of the two pathways to work together in synchronisation. Within this space, Track I processes include UN-led peace negotiations and formulations of Resolutions under the United Nations Security Council. “Track II is the “variety of nongovernmental and unofficial forms of conflict resolution activities between the representatives of adversarial groups that aim at de-escalating conflict, improving communication and understanding between the parties, and developing new ideas to be used in the official peace processes.” The various means used include intergroup dialogues, training, interactive conflict resolution, peace education and problem-solving workshops. 
The Resolutions that make up the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the negotiations that took place to enable their crystallisation, make them stand out from traditional processes in international diplomacy. From identifying problem areas, drafting texts and resolutions, serving as intermediaries during negotiations and redrafting language in the Resolutions, women’s civil society organisations played pivotal roles in setting the WPS agenda and bringing it to the highest rungs of the United Nations – the Security Council. While women remain heavily underrepresented in the male-dominated official Track I streams of peace processes, Track II pathways have held space for women to meaningfully engage with peacebuilding and conflict-resolution efforts.
Track II Diplomacy in Action
Within the second track, the involved parties are generally uninhibited by political or constitutional powers or motives and are, therefore, committed to bringing about a peace agreement. The efforts of Leymah Gbowee and the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) in Liberia, in 2003 during the civil war, are testament to this. Gbowee led Track II initiatives prior to Track I negotiations by meeting with the warring parties. They also put immense pressure on officials involved in formal talks, urging the parties to reach an agreement. Ultimately, their engagement proved to be critical to not only reach a peace agreement but also ensure that is signed, implemented and carried through. Track II diplomacy, in this sense, can be effective not only during the conflict but in the post-conflict rebuilding measures as well. After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement saw the light of the day in Liberia, WIPNET continued to “raise awareness about the agreement, assist in the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process and the electoral preparations”. 
Women are often found in higher numbers in Track II processes for two primary reasons: i) women are considered to be “less threatening” to warring parties/rebel groups and ii) women’s authority and expertise on ground due to the closeness in their communities makes them more suitable to devise appropriate solutions.  This was the case in Burundian Civil War, where victims felt that “women mediators understand them better than traditional figures of conflict-resolution, who are mainly men”.  Women involved in peacebuilding processes may themselves opt to remain outside of the formal Track I framework and instead choose to put pressure or serve as mediators, as in Liberia. In Afghanistan, women leaders opened dialogue with Taliban groups, appealed on shared Islamic values and presented the case for women’s rights within the Islamic framework. 
There have also been examples of women involved in Track II processes using their positions to build their legitimacy as effective peace negotiators and mediators. They may also use this space to network with stakeholders, hone their skills, gain experience and leverage their efforts to gain entry into Track I processes and call for more women’s inclusion in the same. In Colombia, during the latest rounds of peace processes (2012-2016), civil society women involved in Track II processes advocated for the inclusion of women and LGBTI people during negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Their inclusion in Track II initiatives culminated with the mainstreaming of gender perspectives, increased representation for gender and sexual minorities and overall, a more inclusive negotiation table. 
As the number of actors in the Track II space have proliferated in recent decades, it is worth noting that neither of the pathways can work in isolation. Mediators, international organisations, civil society efforts and state diplomats work together and in tandem in peace processes. Greater participation of women, people from LGBTI groups and those from marginalised communities in Track II processes has proven to not only increase the gender sensitivity of peace agreements, build more robust interface between the local communities and global leaders, but also led to more sustainable peace as they assure needs of the ones at the centre of the conflict are taken into consideration.
1. J. Mapendere, (2006), Track One and a Half Diplomacy and the Complementarity of Tracks, Culture of Peace Online Journal, 2(1), 66-81, https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/TrackOneandaHalfDiplomacy_Mapendere.pdf
2. A. Christien, (2020, February), Advancing Women’s Participation in Track II Peace Processes: Good and emerging practices, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security Policy Brief, https://giwps.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Good-Practices-for-Womens-Involvement-in-Track-II.pdf
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4. UN Women, (2016, January 25), Women mediators promote peace in Burundi, UN Women, https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2016/1/women-mediators-promote-peace-in-burundi
5. P.L. Kakar, (2019, February 7), How can we negotiate with the Taliban? Afghan women know, United Nations Institute of Peace, https://www.usip.org/publications/2019/02/how-can-we-negotiate-taliban-afghan-women-know
6. J.A. Cóbar, (2020, November), Strategies for including women’s and LGBTI groups in the Colombian Peace Process, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/bp_2011_inclusion_in_colombia_peace_process_1.pdf