Who is Brigid Inder, OBE
Brigid is a peacebuilder, advocate and mediator who provides advice and training to organisations in armed conflict and post-conflict situations. She is also developing a practice in her home country of Aotearoa-New Zealand providing mediation and reconciliation services. With a long career in the not-for-profit sector in several countries, most recently Brigid led an international women’s human rights organization that worked on international justice issues with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and with communities and countries experiencing armed conflict in east, central and north Africa. She is a recognized pioneer in the gender justice field.
Brigid joined MBBI in 2021 after being inspired, like many others, by Ken Cloke and by wanting to be a part of a conscious, caring and creative community of peacebuilders and mediators.
Brigid recalls being interested in humanitarian issues from a young age and was part of forming a student Red Cross group within her primary school at around 8 years of age. She was inspired by hearing someone from the local Red Cross office speak at her school about the work of the organization in conflict situations including in Cambodia, Vietnam and Lebanon. “Hearing about these conflicts and the stories of those impacted by them made an impression on me.”
Beginnings of Brigid’s Mediation Career
Before becoming involved in peacebuilding and mediation, Brigid had a long career as a feminist activist and advocate for gender equality and justice that started in the community development field working with young people and other marginalized communities in a southern city of Aotearoa-New Zealand. Brigid explains that this foundational experience has inspired her work over the past 35 years to “always ensure a safe platform for the voices often ignored or silenced, to listen to those with a lived experience of the issues being addressed, and to recognize the agency, aspiration and leadership within local communities.”
Over the years, she was involved in advising and advocating on gender issues with governments during UN negotiations on global policy agreements. This included the Earth Summit, thePopulation and Development Conference and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing Conference), as well as the Special Session on the Rights of Children. She also participated in the Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Human Rights Council where amongst other issues she advocated for responses to human rights violations around the world including the recognition of violence, discrimination and rights-related issues affecting LGBTQI communities globally.
“Advocacy is in my DNA. It has always felt deeply instinctive. I realize now that many of the aspects that are intuitive to me around advocacy are similar to the components required for mediation– building rapport, creating a mutual and reciprocal space of trust and trustworthiness, and exploring ways to generate solutions to complex and challenging issues, with the opportunity to be innovative and creative. The process is inherently collaborative. The difference of course with mediation is that it also often involves people who are distressed or possibly traumatised by conflict and I love the potential for reconciliation and healing embodied within mediation and peacebuilding processes.”
Between 2004-2017, Brigid was the co-founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, that worked closely with the ICC, the first permanent court established to address international crimes. The organization’s work with the ICC included successfully advocating for the Court to investigate and prosecute sexual and gender-based crimes as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In addition to working with the ICC, the organization also worked with communities most affected by the conflicts and situations under investigation by the Court. This included working in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, Libya, the Central African Republic and Kenya, amongst other countries.
“We developed long-term partnerships with local NGOs and networks, often led by women, that recognized and elevated their expertise and leadership and co-created programs that reflected their concerns and priorities.” In her view, genuine collaboration and deep awareness of the local context are essential. “We felt that it was important for the integrity and authenticity of the organization and our work, that our efforts were grounded in the realities and cultural contexts of those experiencing armed conflicts and that these communities were involved in the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of the strategies and programs we embarked upon together.”
Brigid says that “it was a privilege to bear witness and provide support for people as they were going through the worst experiences of their lives. It was both harrowing and humbling.” With Brigid’s vision, the organization was involved in several peacebuilding and reconciliation initiatives where they worked with former child soldiers and young women who had been abducted by militia groups many of whom returned to their families with children born as a result of rape. They also worked with community organizations, faith and civic leaders and tribal elders.
‘Mediation Writ Large’
“For communities experiencing inter-generational conflict, opportunities for restoring relationships and relieving suffering are invaluable. Public expressions of reconciliation are really important which is why we supported family-based mediation initiatives, launched a Peace Path with the co-operation of tribal leaders in northern Uganda and designed a two-week residential Institute, The Wamare Institute, focusing on healing, life-skills and training for young women formerly abducted by the LRA. These were small projects compared to the scale of the harm but they made a difference and created opportunities for those involved.”
Brigid says that their involvement in formal peace processes specifically in Uganda, Sudan and eastern DRC was intense work. “This was mediation writ large.” She explains that this included: monitoring and critiquing peace agreements from a gender perspective; providing training for parties to formal peace talks; working with mediation teams; advocating for the participation of women in the peace process and training a team of advocates who were ready to engage when the opportunity arose; and working with parties and advocating for their ongoing commitment to the peace process including adhering to the terms of the ceasefire agreements and their inclusion of community and gender-perspectives within their negotiation positions.
“Creating trust-based relationships with the community, the chief mediator, the parties and key negotiators enabled us to help create communication channels for parties to explore possible options before these were brought to the negotiation table. It also ensured a direct line between women advocates and the parties so that there was a sense of motivation and accountability for the progress of the talks. We invested a lot of time in supporting parties to stay committed to the talks. Some members threatened to walk out many times and the teams were often on the brink of imploding due to the pressure, the lack of internal agreement, and the misinformation campaign around the peace process.” Brigid believes that “without constructive interventions, conflict simply breeds more conflict.”
She has studied nonviolent communication (nvc) and compassionate listening and believes that these methodologies complement and enhance the mediation process. She says that NVC encourages direct communication and open-hearted dialogue. “If we can replace assumptions, characterizations and personalized attacks with genuine inquiries, curiosity and understanding, then the underlying needs and experiences of both/all parties are easier to surface and identify. There is never a single narrative when it comes to conflict and harm. Mediation and NVC create the space for empathy to emerge and for deeper resolutions to be possible.” Brigid suggests that in the end “ in an increasingly polarized world, our willingness and ability to connect with each other may be more important than the diversity of our opinions.”
She is currently completing training in tikanga-based Māori mediation that draws on indigenous worldview and conflict-resolution principles regarding relationships and connection, and the restoration of balance, dignity and well-being. She has also studied complexity theory and the fourfold pathway for healing developed by Mpho Tutu and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu whom Brigid met several times during the course of her work in the international justice field. Combined with her experience in armed conflicts, she says that she is learning to weave these tools within mediation and peacebuilding processes.
Brigid shares her deep appreciation and thanks to Yousra Hasona for interviewing her, and to Ben Lutz for helping to publish this article.
Article by Yousra Hasona, MBBI Writer