From where I stand: “It is crucial that our voices, as women, are not overlooked in mediation and peace.”

Cosette Nakhle, 49, is a social worker and Head of the Local Development Bureau at the municipality of Chiyah tasked with carrying out community activities and projects.

Trained with UN Women and its partners the Center for Professional Mediation (CPM), at the University of Saint-Joseph and International Alert, she has made it her mission to bring peace to her community through mediation. In fall 2022, together with three other women, she has led on the establishment of a local mediation initiative in Chiyah – an area located on the old demarcation line during Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) – to actively involve youth as agents of change to build peace in their communities.

Cosette Nakhle ©Lauren Rooney

“As long as I can remember, I have been passionate about social work. At just eight years old, the seeds were sown when I joined the youth group of the apostolic movement in my local parish and later the “Mouvement International d’ Apostolat des Enfants” (MIDADE). With these two community groups, I have started to take on responsibilities in community projects targeting kids and youth. As I grew older, my responsibilities within these groups increased, and my skills to listen, care and deliver for members of my community continued to develop.

At 14 years old, during the civil war alongside the Society of House of Providence “ Maison de la Providence”, I was managing people my age within a local kids summer camp in Hadat, Mount Lebanon, to deliver on support activities which involved categorizing and distributing medicines, clothing, food items and conducting surveys and statistics on the needs of people. By the time I reached 18, I had already taken on the responsibility of managing my first summer camp. People around me saw how my personality aligned with social work, and their encouragement motivated me to pursue a career in this field by obtaining a teaching master’s in social work I dove into my social work career headfirst and quickly fell in love with it. The impact it had on my life was profound. Today, I am privileged to hold the position of Head of the Local Development Bureau at the municipality of Chiyah, after being employed there as a social work specialist since 2011.

Following the 2006 Lebanon War[1]  I collaborated with UNDP on development projects conducted with municipalities. In 2021, the Center for Professional Mediation (CPM), at the University of Saint-Joseph reached out to me and I was selected following a competency interview to undertake a series of trainings on mediation and subsequently launch a local mediation initiative in my community, as part of a project supported by UN Women*.

After I completed the 9-month trainings, I was joined by three other trained women mediators to plan for a local mediation initiative in collaboration with CPM. I saw this as an opportunity to actively contribute to building peace in my community and grabbed it with both hands. We specifically chose to implement it in Chiyah due to existing tensions in the area that was one of the main battlegrounds during the civil conflict and the negative public stereotypes that are still associated with it and circulated by media. After undertaking a series of consultations and mapping within Chiyah, we established a youth mediation initiative, with the primary objective of creating a safe space for dialogue and interaction among young women and men.

Eventually, the initiative brought together 15 young people (15-20 years old) from different sides, backgrounds, denominations, organizations, and areas of Chiyah involved in social work.

As women, we spearheaded the efforts, and led on four sessions, 3 hours each, focusing on positive communication, conflict management, and self-awareness including ways to accept each other and to avert conflicts despite differences.

During the first session, breaking down divisions took time, but as the session progressed, we were amazed by the youth’s growing interaction and willingness to share.  In this safe space they freely expressed themselves, shared personal and emotional experiences. Witnessing their newfound ease in expression filled me with pride.

Participants not only became more open and expressive, but also recognized and relayed the positive impact within their own homes and communities. The youth proved themselves as agents of change, eager to make a difference in the environments they had grown up in, by expanding the work to schools and organisations. The young participants are still showing up regularly and participating in joint projects when invited. We noticed that many people are open to change.

Mediation, to me, means building peace in a peaceful way. Through the initiative, I have come to recognize the key elements that mediating requires – neutrality, active listening, objectivity, and a deep understanding of the complexities inherent in conflicts, at both the community and individual level.

Moving forward, the success of engaging youth and building trust lies in our ability to listen and understand them. As a social worker, mediator, and advocate for community engagement, I am committed to ensuring that the voices of the youth are heard, and their aspirations realized. I hope we can continue this journey of empowerment, peace, and positive transformation in Chiyah and beyond.

I believe that what sets women apart in the realm of mediation is their ability to bridge divides, foster trust, and genuinely listen and care. Women’s roles as mediators and peace builders are invaluable when it comes to resolving conflicts, preventing them, and rebuilding trust within communities. It is crucial that our voices, as women, are not overlooked in this vital work.”

*Cosette is one of 240 local women mediators who are actively leading on community mediation initiatives across Lebanon, under the ‘Women Peace and Security in the Arab States Phase III’ project, led in partnership with implementing partners, the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), the Université Saint Joseph Centre for Professional Mediation, and International Alert, generously supported by the Government of Finland.

[1] The 2006 Lebanon war lasted for 33 days and claimed 1,149 lives in the country.