22 September 2017

Lesotho: Women Should Play Active Role in Resolving Conflict

opinion

"Wherever there is conflict, women must be part of the solution."

This statement was said by the then Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, Dr Michelle Bachelet during a high level United Nations Peace and Security Forum held in New York in 2013.

A renowned academic whose many specialities include Military Strategy, Dr Bachelet understood the gendered face of conflicts and the importance of including women in their management and resolution.

Now the president of Chile, Dr Bachelet's words continue to rally women in many troubled parts of the globe to be active participants in finding lasting solutions to different conflicts and social upheavals that are increasingly becoming the norm.

In countries such as Lesotho, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Central African Republic, Rwanda and Nigeria, just to name but a few, such conflict and instability has affected women in different ways.

This gendered face of strife has become even more gruesome in countries such as South Sudan where images of displaced women and children are as heartrending and hauntingly familiar in their replication in many other parts of the globe.

Yet in-spite of such tribulations, women pressure groups continue to fight for a place at the negotiating table where the plight and fate of their members is being discussed more often than not, by male-dominated panels of so-called experts.

In Mali, for instance, women have gone even further by taking a bold stand against a conflict that has systematically robbed them of their loved ones. The women have made a difference through demonstrating a valuable perspective on conflict resolution and peace building through the employment of advocacy strategies and promoting sustained dialogue on constructing peace.

This shows that women can do more to ensure lasting peace provided inclusive structures comprising political, economic and social, are developed, in addition to building their capacity to develop strategies for dealing with conflict.

However, for some reasons, the steam of pressure by women in most African countries affected by conflict usually dies down once they have succeeded to influence peace-negotiations.

By so doing they fail to benefit from opportunities to strengthen their movements as advocates of peace also acting as early warning regulators that support conflict preventive initiatives and to participate further in the long-term implementation of conflict resolution agreements to ensure real sustainable peace.

In 2000, the Security Council of the United Nations adopted the resolution (1325) on Women and Peace and Security to reaffirm the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace- negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian-response and in post-conflict reconstruction.

This resolution stresses the importance of women's equal participation and full involvement of their efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. The resolution urges Governments and international organisations involved in peace building and conflict resolution to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security initiatives.

Unfortunately, only a few countries, mainly outside Africa, are prioritising the implementation of Resolution 1325, having taken the first basic steps of setting up Subcommittees on Women and the Promotion of Peace and Security to set guidelines and formulate measures to promote the rights of women, protect them from violence and ensure they enjoy the peace and security.

However, leaving out women in high-level peace-talks, national conflict-management and resolution processes means matters regarding how the conflict affects women and men differently will not be strong enough to support sustainable solutions.

Weak and unsustainable conflict-resolutions and peace treaties have resulted in recurring conflicts in countries such as Lesotho, Burundi, South Sudan, CAR and Mozambique. Lack of inclusivity, including mainstreaming gender in conflict management processes is one of the major factors attributed to weaknesses of some of these settlements.

Women are known to speak out about issues that affect the wellbeing of their families and their country and therefore ensuring them the space to also participate can indeed improve the diverse business of conflict management and resolution.

Speaking at the same Peace and Security Forum held in New York, Italian Ambassador Cesare Maria Ragaglini praised women as formidable negotiators, mediators and peace-builders.

Although similar sentiments have been echoed in many other high-level peace-building platforms, most Governments in Africa and international bodies such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, have not shifted from the norm of rarely nominating women to lead key peace and conflict resolution processes.

Women are hardly visible as chief mediators, conflict management and resolution coordinators, heads of political, peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions and protection advisers to peacekeeping missions, which presents a serious protection gap.

One of the critical keys to removing the obstacles that impede or limit women's full participation in conflict management and peacebuilding is the development of gender-sensitive systems, including policies and laws that can empower women and women's civil society organizations for more strategic and sustainable actions.

Africa has done fairly well in attracting women to participate in high level politics but sadly, very few demonstrate the stamina and vision beyond constitutional duty to champion complex conflict resolution negotiations and peace-building.

Engaging Women's groups to provide support, capacity building and awareness building of the importance of women in politics to stretch themselves to conflict management and resolution, and monitoring implementation in post conflict eras will create a key entry point for more women to see the need to tackle peace building and conflict management and resolution issues.

Conflict resolution and peace-building are political in their context and therefore demand political plots for smooth and smart engagements. African women are full of ideas and solutions but what they need going forward are connections and strong political will for their support and penetration into international networks to strategically export their ideas where they can be sharpened and repackaged for utilization back home. Understanding the dynamics of what is happening in their communities alone and conversing informally solutions at markets while selling vegetables, sadly confines promising women on the periphery of the actions and promotes a lack of confidence and visibility in high level conflict resolution and transformation processes.

While some women may understand the need to formalise their ideas and activities for an impact at national level, financial challenges and lack of connections to back-up their intended actions have also proved to limit their involvement. In such cases, international actors could help through providing conditional support that only backs conflict resolutions and peace processes that include women, particularly those respected for their impeccable management approach.

Women civic organisations and politicians can also lobby for the support of women seeking to continue strengthening peace and to act as early warning watchdogs.

On the other hand, women in influential positions are critical in creating opportunities for their fellow women and using existing conflict resolution opportunities to establish their political strongholds.

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