Women in the Great Lakes region will no longer watch from the sidelines as their countries are torn apart by conflicts. They are determined to stake their place at peace negotiation tables.
At a recent meeting in Nairobi, the Advisory Board of the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, better known as the Women's Platform, discussed strategies of realising women's goal. The meeting was convened by the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Said Djinnit.
Mr Djinnit is the successor of former Irish prime minister and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who had a passion for the involvement of women in peace processes.
As special envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region -- between March 2013 to July 2014 -- Mrs Robinson was tasked with bolstering the implementation of the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region in an accord signed by 11 African countries in February 2014.
The Nairobi meeting coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Platform, whose core countries are DR Congo, Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda.
A special feature of the meeting was inclusion of grassroots women from countries that are most affected by conflict. This is in line with the UN Security Council Resolution of October 31, 2000 that seeks greater involvement of women at all levels of decision-making in matters war and peace.
Absence of women in peace talks creates inequality, which can fuel conflict. That is why women must be involved at every stage of efforts to rebuild societies and ensure that experiences, knowledge and the needs of half of the population are considered.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose country's legislature is a global model of gender equity, is the current African Union chairperson. This gives him special clout to champion women's cause.
Zambia's President Edgar Lungu is the AU champion for youth and employment creation, while Uganda's Yoweri Museveni is the natural resources champion.
"We will convene the ministers of gender, and maybe even justice, who will sign a communiqué and recommendations to the heads of state during the Security Summit meeting scheduled for October," Mr Djinnit said.
AU bosses come together in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, every year to review the peace, security and co-operation framework agreement and that is where a section of participants at the Nairobi meeting headed to present their demands and engage the heads of state.
Mr Djinnit co-chaired the recent meeting with former Ugandan vice-president Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe.
Dr Kazibwe and former Central Africa Republic president Catherine Samba-Panza are co-presidents of the steering committee of FemWise-Africa -- an AU outfit that was formed when it became evident that women were making little headway in playing active roles in their quest for peace.
"We've been doing things the same way and the results are not encouraging," Dr Kazibwe said.
Dr Kazibwe expressed frustration at the regional conflicts.
"We've been deploying mediators and special envoys, monitoring elections, but the people do not have the capacity to know that things have changed from state security to human security," she said.
Lack of resources is a major handicap to realising women's agenda, with peace initiatives currently being funded by the UN and the Global Fund for Women.
Budgetary allocations for furthering women's involvement in peace mediation efforts are an issue. Although they should be funded by national governments, they tend to get short shrift.
Between June 2014 and June 2016, the Women's Platform raised $1,400,000 for women's grassroots and community organisations in DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. The Platform has so far supported 80 initiatives and activities in focal countries.
However, AU gender ministers can present a joint budget to the UN and other funders like the World Bank. This requires approval from regional finance ministers, who, in turn, need their presidents' backing. Once the presidents buy into the idea of involving women, it becomes easier to convene a finance ministers' pledging conference.
Mr Djinnit will be hoping that AU presidents' approve the new thrust to involve them in supporting women in their peacemakers' role.
"We, the UN, will definitely join forces to back the initiative financially and organisationally," he said.
FemWise-Africa rolled out its activities last December with the accreditation of 500 women peace mediators under the theme, Silencing the Guns by 2020. It's mandated to mediate and promote cross-border co-operation in the region.
The Nairobi meeting noted that while focus remained on the DR Congo, the security situation was equally dire in the Central Africa Republic and in South Sudan.
It is for this reason that involving heads of state is considered critical to achieving durable solutions to conflict in the Great Lakes region through women's involvement.