Africa: 'There Can Be No Empowerment Without Peace; and No Peace Without Gender Equality'

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1 April 2020

Johannesburg — The women and young peacebuilders' agenda cannot be siloed from the gender equality agenda.

This was the key message from the UN ambassadors Ghanshyam Bhandari of Nepal, Xolisa Mabhongo of South Africa and Victoria Sulimani of Sierra Leone who co-sponsored the online roundtable discussion Beijing+25: Where are the Women and Youth Peacebuilders?

Some countries, mostly in the African continent have been racked by conflict over the past decades leaving women and girls in these countries most vulnerable to gender-based violence and needing special protection measures. African women continue to face widespread poverty. Despite all the hardships women have made significant strides in the political arena over the years and continue to successfully promoting policies that advance their rights.

Ambassador Victoria Sulimani of Sierra Leone said the effect of the armed conflict and other forms of conflict on women is clearly highlighted as the critical area of concern under the gender declaration and platform for action and therefore the need for the inclusion of this very important agenda in to the Beijing +25 generation equality forum.

"Sierra Leone is a post-conflict country, a country that has seen women at the forefront of building peace and addressing humanitarian emergencies, including the Ebola crisis in 2014. Sierra Leone joined member states that were ready to implement resolution 2035 soon after its adoption by adopting its national plan, Sierra Leone was among the first four countries in Africa and first 17 in the world, since then we have remained the champions of this Agenda. We have witnessed first hand young people that were brainwashed during our 11 year senseless civil war to unleash mayhem to their own people because they lacked the right education," Sulimani said.

South Africa's Ambassador Xolisa Mabhongo said the role of women and youth in peace and security is part of South Africa's legacy because women and youth played a huge role in political transition that led to a democratic South Africa. "After the country gained its democracy the new government created policies that enabled women and youth to play an even more important role in the peacebuilding and development process."

The UN's Generation Equality Forum's core group set up a task force to identify specific actions that can strengthen Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) integration into the Generational Equality Forum (GEF) process, announced Sarah Hendriks, UN Women's Director of Policy, Programme, Intergovernmental division, UN Women. The task force identified four possible modalities for WPS and YPS integration and conducted consultations with the civil society, from which two options emerged as the most viable: a stand-alone Action Coalition, or a "hybrid" mechanism, which, for now, has been termed a WPS compact.

An advocacy paper was also launched during the discussion, a document which explores the nexus between the gender equality agenda, WPS and YPS agendas, and presents actionable recommendations for the achievement of lasting gender equality for all – with an inclusive peace as its pre-requisite.

Presenting the semantic area number four of the launched paper, Walaa M. Ahmed focused on the three areas which are poverty eradication, social protection and social services.

"The theme focuses on several key points such as the impact of poverty and conflict on vulnerable communities which results in preventing women and youth to have equal access to opportunities which are protection and economic opportunities. Armed conflicts and resulting forced displacements and humanitarian emergencies have gendered impact on women on girls to have equal access to basic rights that provide the essential and appropriate protection system such as education, health care, maternity care, food and security, employment, political representation and participation in decision making."

Walaa M. Ahmed is the Director and Founder of Better World Organization for Community Development, a humanitarian and non-governmental organization established on 24th May 2017 in Kurdistan, Iraq. It works to advocate for peace and coexistence in the community and improve social, psychosocial and economic situation of people.

While the UN and other aid organisations continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need in countries affected by conflict, continued attacks on facilities in those areas often prevent the delivery of crucial services.

Young women across the world continue to lead efforts within their communities to prevent the outbreak of such violent conflict, and work hard to build peaceful communities, yet most interventions by governments targeting youth and women leave them out. A number of young women from different regions were asked why they think it is important for young women to be involved and to be part of the Beijing +25 and generation equality forum.

"In a country such as South Sudan where young women are navigating through a post-war culture and also fighting against stereotypes, negative cultural norms, places where they are segregated from decision making, political participation and in education among others, women still actively stand and come and fight for equality, they still actively put themselves on the line to try and achieve peace and security in their communities.

"I believe that it is an injustice for the very people who are working to make sure that the vision of the Beijing +25 and the virsion of the other policies such as UNSCR 2250 should come to life are not included and recognized", said Elizabeth Bininya, a young activist working with the EVE Organization for Women Development in South Sudan.

The EVE organization was established in August 13, 2005, it began as an idea from South Sudanese women that graduated from various Sudanese Universities in Khartoum who felt frustrated by the situation of women and came together to transform the lives of others.

Bininya said these young women are working with limited information and when they are excluded in important forums they are further limited from gaining information needed for their empowerment to help uplift their communities.

Speaking on integrating the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 at the local level, Victoria Cabrera Balleza emphasized the importance of documenting success stories in engaging men and boys so they can be replicated. Balleza is the Chief Executive Officer, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; Women and Peace and Security. This resolution was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on October 31, 2000, after recalling resolutions 1261, 1265, 1296, and 1314. The resolution acknowledged the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls.

"Woman and girls through civil society organisations are key factors in advocating for human rights in their communities to raise awareness on stigma and all kind of violence. Women's organisations also help other women achieve economic empowerment and independence through income generating initiatives and savings associations", said Burundian Seconde Nyanzobe, the Advocacy Program Officer at Fountain-ISOKO, an NGO Working on Women and Youth for Peace and Security in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

"Today women and youth have limited access to funds, jeopardising the need for ongoing advocacy for sustainable peace and development. The regionalisation of the ethnic groups in the great lakes region of Africa remains a threat to women and youth well being in the region," Nyanzobe said.

The key message of the launched paper is that "Women and youth's full, equal, and meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and security—including all formal and informal processes—is a human right. It must be promoted and safeguarded".

One of the recommendations is that United Nations member states should ensure equal and uninhibited access to natural resources for women, youth, and other  historically marginalized groups across age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identities, and socio-economic class.

This conversation organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) on behalf of the civil society-led Beijing +25 WPS and Youth, and YPS Action Coalition comes as countries commemorate the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action's 25th anniversary, a week-long conference with representatives of 189 governments and over 30, 000 non-governmental activists from around the world that took place in September 1995 for urgent action that was needed to ensure greater equality and opportunities for empowerment of all women, everywhere.

This declaration has been described by the UN as the world's most progressive blueprint for advancing gender equality worldwide. Since the Beijing Conference countries have put in place laws that have helped advance women and girl's rights, even though gaps in the implementation of legal protection and lack of access to essential services remains a challenge for women globally.

Yes, more still needs to be done to advance women and youth's rights to participate in issues affecting them especially in countries where there is conflict and inequality, it is however evident from the young women and youth that participated in this discussion that such programmes for peace has had a tangible impact on the lives of not only the young women and girls but their communities.

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