Africa: Challenges, Progress in Women, Peace and Security Agenda Brought to Light - Part 2

(file photo).
16 November 2020

Cape Town — Between the Covid-19 pandemic, regional conflicts, aggravated sexual and gender-based violence, as well as continuous economic hardship, women of Africa face hardships that require a combination of education, government intervention and male and societal readjustment. These were some of the summaries of the third and last day of the African Forum on Women Peace and Security.

In Part 2, allAfrica's Andre van Wyk summarises the remaining findings of the working groups who participated in the Forum's discussions. Click here to read Part 1.

Preventive diplomacy and mediation

Pravina Makan-Lakha, General Manager of Operations at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), was the fifth speaker to present the findings of her working group, one that was represented by a variety of countries including Uganda, Cameroon, Senegal, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Mali, Burundi, South Africa, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and the diaspora.

"Participants brought their insights from those roles they play in preventive diplomacy and mediation," Makan-Lakha said before moving on to reflections of her working group. "The main point is that the gaps and implementation of the normative gains of the WPS agenda cannot remain, and this refers to women's inclusion in peace processes with emphasis on women's meaningful leadership and mediation," Makan-Lakha said.

The second deliberation of Makan-Lakh's working group related to the disconnect of processes within countries where the adoption of the national action plan does not translate to all sectors, citing an example. "When a political crisis hits a country, it affects and drives further the gaps in the implementation of policy commitments and implementation plans and agendas," Makan-Lakha said. "We have been too polite, as another point, about the long struggles - and the group was very radical on this point - about gender inequality and our experience with mediation practice."

Makan-Lakha's next point related to the systemic and institutionalised challenges women have to navigate under patriarchal power structures. Citing the feminist agenda, human security the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact, Makan-Lakha shared a set of recommendations made by her working group. "This first recommendation, we said, was that it was important to build a culture of peace through our actions going forward using technology, media and the time for new messaging driven by urgency," Makan-Lakha said.

"Inculcate a mindset change for women, peace and security that makes it not a women's issue but a human rights issue, one across the continent and the globe" Makan-Lakha added. The second point the Makan-Lakha's working group recommended was the need for stronger alliance building and linking the WPS agenda to the global peace and security order.

The group's third recommendation was strengthening the role of grassroots women and links between them and those at a continental level.

The group's fourth recommendation was redefining and making egalitarian the power relation between women peacebuilders, informal and intergovernmental structures, civil society, grassroots women and demontstrate the feminist way of power with, not power over.

Makan-Lakha then discussed the group's fifth recommendation which was the maximisation of existing hard-won advances. "For example, like FemWise-Africa, drive government commitments to women's conflict prevention and mediation efforts," Makan-Lakha said.

The engagement of men was Makan-Lakha's group's sixth point. "Utilise men's power as insiders to drive implementation gaps. We have identified across our reviews, and to make them accountable to the feminist movement if they claim to be champions," Makan-Lakha said.

The group's final recommendation was a redesign of the peace table. "The peace table must be owned and led by women," Makan-Lakha sai said in conclusion.

 The participation of women in peacekeeping operations

Gloria Jaase-Nkundanyirazo, Women and Child Protection Officer for African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), was the next speaker to present the findings of her working group regarding women's role in peacekeeping missions within the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

Jaase-Nkundanyirazo explained that some of the roles female peacekeepers engage include enemy engagement, combat support like nurses and doctors, and individual police officers (IPOs). "We also have our female peacekeepers supported by AMISOM civilian technical resource persons to be at the frontline of combating conflict-related SGBV," Jaase said.

She posed the question of how can female peacekeepers be seen participating in peacekeeping work, and not just considered as a theoretical form of assistance compared to their male counterparts. "There are measures that AMISOM has put in place to ensure the participation of women. This starts right from their deployment to make sure there is an inclusion of women to participate in those areas I mentioned. AMISOM is equipped with gender officers and human rights protection officers who offer guidance to the head of a mission in ensuring gender mainstreaming in all these activities," Jaase-Nkundanyirazo said.

The establishment of female engagement teams was her next focus. "They are specifically made of female-only personnel - both police and military. The reason why we did this is because, as I mentioned before, there are areas where AMISOM operates alone and there are no humanitarian aid workers and these places are not conducive for civilian staff," she explained. Here the female-only teams act as first responders, Jaase-Nkundanyirazo said, for addressing SGBV and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and issues of child protection.

The female-only teams also, according to Jaase, engage with women's organisations at local level to inform them of political activity like coming elections and other issues that may concern women in terms of peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

Jaase-Nkundanyirazo also spoke of AMISOM's creation of 'gender-desks' in all of Somalia's police stations. "These are meant to monitor protection issues in terms of domestic violence and SGBV, as well as any reported cases of CRSV," she said. These are then supervised by AMISOM gender coordinators across the country who then work in tandem with female IPOs.

And concluded by saying that  AMISOM scaled up efforts to work together with the Somali government by working together in a number of areas including the eradication of child soldier recruitment and the prevention of violent extremism.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

Amina Helal, Women, Peace and Security Program Associate at the Cairo International Center for Peace, shared her group's findings on the impact of the global novel coronavirus outbreak on WPS efforts in Africa.

Helal began by summarising her group's key discussion points. "This year presents an opportune time for discussing the impact of Covid-19 on the WPS agenda given that 2020 marls the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council 1325," she said.

"Covid-19 is, of course, a magnifier of pre-existing inequalities," Helal went on to say. The outbreak, according to Helal, marked increased rates of GBV. However, it also presented an opportunity for women to play a greater role in mediation and peace processes. Helal said her group also discussed women at the grassroots and community level have been playing important roles in the WPS agenda as peacebuilders and by having roles in the Covid-19 response.

Helal explained the group's focus on what she said were three of the four pillars of the WPS agenda, starting with prevention. "Lockdowns have increased the rate of violence. They also increased poverty and gender inequality at large," she said. "We also talked about protection, so food insecurity risks that have been exacerbated by the pandemic."

Services to reproductive health also faced risks due to the pandemic, Helal said. "This has caused huge problems for women, especially women in conflict areas," said Helal. The final pillar of women's participation saw discussion centred on how even with Covid-19, the gender imbalance in peacekeeping and mediation efforts remained the same way before the virus's arrival on the continent.

The role of traditional and social media during the pandemic was highlighted as well. "This helped by putting women's issues, GBV, and gender inequality at the centre of attention," said Helal. "It's very important to build on this for the WPS agenda," she added.

Moving on to her group's recommendations, Helal said national action plans were important but supplemented this by giving importance to the national level of expertise needed in dealing with Covid-19. "There's also a need for a greater focus on women and other stakeholders like men and boys to be part of the WPS agenda and to work with women's organisations to realise better results in this regard," Helal said.

Lockdowns have affected women at multiple levels beyond health, Helal went on to say. "Women have been affected economically as breadwinners of their families. This is important to highlight in the recommendations as we already discussed women as victims of GBV and other sociopolitical aspects but, economically speaking, women have been facing brutal conditions during the crisis," Helal said, adding that, during the pandemic, women have also played a pivotal role in building community resilience.

Civil society's role in silencing guns across Africa during 2020

The final speaker to present their working group's findings to the panel was Nontobeko Gcabashe, programme officer on peacebuilding and local and national capacities for peace at ACCORD. Gcabashe also took the opportunity to share progress made under the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC). "GIMAC is a network of over 55 civil society organisations promoting gender equality and accountability for women's rights, Gcabashe said. "At its recent bi-annual gathering of women's rights organisations, stakeholders aimed to promote the rights of African women and girls in the African Union's processes," she said.

Gcabashe said that under the AU's 2020 theme of recognising and amplifying women's and girls' agency to silence the guns in Africa, GIMAC convened its 36th virtual consultative meeting deliberating how to identify gaps, provide recommendations and offer space for strategic engagement for key stakeholders. "GIMAC's dialogues and engagements are convened around six thematic clusters," she added. "These include peace and security, governance, human rights, education, health and economic empowerment."

According to Gcabashe, GIMAC's discussions ensured that youth participation was emphasised and mainstreamed across the six thematic areas. The body also called for several recommendations, Gcabashe, noted. "GIMAC calls for the full implementation of AU instruments to promote the role of women in silencing the guns, to promote the meaningful and effective implementation of national action plans, enforce gender parity in peace processes,  conflict mitigation processes and also address the underrepresentation of women in politics," she said.

"We further support the AU roadmap on silencing the guns and call for the involvement and inclusion of refugees in all efforts of silencing the guns in Africa," Gcabashe, added, concluding by saying that GIMAC called for the disarmament and proliferation of small arms, addressing the socio political impact of Covid-19 on the continent and providing resources and financial inclusion to support women.

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