Gaborone — SADC, has through its Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs, launched a network for women prison officers with the view to effectively harness the competencies that they bring into correctional services.
Launching the network on May 15, the organ's director Mr Jorge Cardoso said its establishment was one of the regional bloc's ways of acknowledging the importance of women's equal participation and full involvement in all the efforts geared towards maintenance and promotion of peace and security in the region.
Mr Cardoso said the move would add to continuing efforts by SADC to realise the ideals of the 2008 Protocol on Gender and Development which provided for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination against women and the attainment of gender equality through the development and implementation of gender responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects.
He said the network was decided upon in 2011 in facilitation of the SADC Protocol on Gender and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 with the intention of ensuring gender parity with regard to recruitment, retention and advancement of female officers in corrections and prisons services in member states.
One of the goals, he said, was to achieve 30 per cent representation in recruitment and promotion of women officers to managerial positions as well as their training and deployment in peacekeeping.
"The women's network is therefore a platform for coordination and monitoring of these greater ideals," he said adding that the network would be tasked with influencing reforms and advocate for compliance to the resolution 1325, the African Union Gender Policy and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development," he said.
Mr Cardoso said though the network's focus would be advancing the interests of women prisons officers, the value of the role played by their male counterparts needed not be downplayed.
"Focusing on women without including men can be counter-productive. In this regard, I can only implore the network to study and see how best men can be included in their activities and operations so that there can be an exchange of complementary qualities," he explained.
From the SADC Secretariat Gender Unit, Dr Joseph Pitso decried the poor involvement of women in peace processes and security operations.
Dr Pitso said the systematic exclusion of women from key decision-making platforms had disadvantaged generations and generations of women.
He indicated that 24 major peace processes comprised a mere eight per cent of the negotiators, with no women having been at any point appointed lead mediators in UN peace talks.
"The number of women participating in peace keeping operations and peace negotiations is still low. Between 1990 and 2017 only eight per cent of peace negotiators were women," he said.
Hailing the establishment of the network, Botswana Prisons Service Deputy Commissioner, Ms Keneilwe Bogosing said the organ would enhance efforts to propel female prisons officers forward.
Ms Bogosing observed that while traditionally women prison officers were viewed as incapable of performing certain duties, the 21st century officer was generally believed to be competent though some skepticism remained.
Thus, she noted that network would not only help address such myths but would also help in bringing to light and addressing the challenges faced by female prisons officers such as harassment by male colleagues and inmates.
Sharing experiences from a similar network for the police, Botswana Police Service Senior Assistant Commissioner Ms Wilheminah Petje said the Southern African Region Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) Women's Network, stressed the importance of having in place a network that would specifically speak to issues pertaining to female officers.
Ms Petje indicated that the police network for women officers had since inception registered some notable achievements such as an increased enrolment of women in the police service.
She said while there remained room for more to be done , the little that had been achieved provided hope that the ideal was achievable.
Further, Ms Petje said women officers had also begun to be given tasks and responsibilities that had hitherto been the preserve of males citing dog handlers who were previously only men.
Ms Martha Ngoma-Sinkamba of the Zambia Correctional Service said the Prisons Women's Network was borne out of the realisation that very few women held decision-making positions in the defence and security wings, which she said compromised effective and efficient management in the sector.
The network was therefore important as the views, interests and needs of women were as important as those of men for the realisation of the region's development agenda, she said adding that peace could not be guaranteed and sustained unless men and women were equal and active participants in formulating political, economic and social policies necessary for sustainable development.
The inclusion of women at all levels of command in peace-building and peace-making efforts enhanced the legitimacy of the military and security sector, said Ngoma-Sinkamba.