Conflict in Africa has become the tune of the day; as you read this, over 10 African countries are having either conflict, armed struggle for civil unrest and countless others are recovering from conflict. During conflict, women, girls and children are most affected majorly because they are not usually recruited in the armed struggle; they are key caretakers of the family and therefore very vulnerable. Their contribution during and after conflict is very crucial and they shouldn’t be excluded in any peace building processes initiated by Governments, NGOs or Peace Coalitions.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 urges countries “to ensure increased representation of women at all decision making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict” and this is because women peace builders bring on different perspectives and priorities to men in the peace building process and their role in re-establishing the social fabric in the aftermath of conflict is vital.
Women & girls must be included in the peace building processes because they contribute to at least half or more than half of every society and are the key care takers of the family. A family is the smallest but yet strongest component of the nation therefore if this aspect is excluded in post conflict planning & peace building efforts, ultimate peace, healing, recovery& reconciliation may never be attained.
Unfortunately as seen in the current situation in most countries in Africa, women are held back by the various traditional gender roles and are more prone to being victims of rape ( such as in Rwanda, South Sudan), fleeing and sexual exploitation during conflict. In Uganda for example at Bidi Bidi Refugee camp in Yumbe District one of the largest refugee camps in the world; women, girls & children constitute the largest number of refugees registered, That is why in many post conflict & peace building processes, you will find that women and girls are only participating as victims of the conflict yet what victims contribute is very trivial in peace building processes.
Success stories of women in conflict resolution have been registered in countries like Liberia where women and girls gather around in peace huts to mediate and resolve community disputes that would have rather resulted into bigger conflict. The presence of women peace keepers on peace missions like AMISOM in Somalia has also contributed to registered decrease of sexual and gender based violence in the unstable country. In Haiti for example The United Nations Bangladesh peacekeeping contingent is entirely comprised of women and they have contributed a great deal in fighting against gender based discrimination and violence in the country.
In Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, there was a major shift in gender roles because very many women were left widows and had to take up roles of men as they were the new heads of families. During the Gacaca courts for example, women took up roles of being judges yet previously such roles were reserved for the wise elders (men) of the society & women did well in ensuring that justice was served. Further, because women are “less afraid of breaking down, crying in public or showing strong emotion,” they contribute to a more conducive atmosphere for genuine sharing, reconciliation & forgiveness.
In 1993 Mrs. Betty Bigombe initiated an idea of having dialogue / peace talks with Joseph Kony & in 2004 she successfully led a coalition of Ugandans into the jungles of Northern Uganda and South Sudan for peace talks with Joseph Kony the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Even though the peace talks did not immediately cease war, they contributed a great deal in bringing peace to Northern Uganda. Dialogue is a powerful tool in peace building. Women at the forefront of peace & Security could be the solution to world peace.
Women & girls lets stand up and be active agents of peace & security in our societies. We may not have the resources but preach peace starting from your family or the neighbors since the nature of most conflicts in Africa arises due to cultural/ethnic differences & stereotyping. Plant seeds of peace. Write, speak, you will be heard and you will change the world.
I call upon African Leaders to ensure that there’s enough women representation in the designing and implementation of post conflict resolution & peace building activities. There is need to break these cultural barriers that hinder active participation of women in these processes because at the end of it all, they are the most affected in the aftermath of conflict. Governments should also ensure that there’s justice for all the heinous crimes committed against women in wars & should also put in place strong fully functioning measures for the protection of women and girls rights in conflict areas because I believe that justice is the ultimate foundation of peace.
As a country Uganda and as a continent Africa, we should invest in our women and girls to be peace builders.
The writer is a Global Peace Ambassador and Programs Officer, Policy Advocacy at Youth Aid Africa and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org