Africa: Cameroonian Women Awarded German-Africa Prize 2023

1 December 2023

The Africa Prize is awarded by the non-partisan German Africa Foundation to Africans selected by a jury for their commitment to democracy, peace, human rights, economic development, science, arts, culture, or society.

The 1st National Women's Convention for Peace in Cameroon, an umbrella group with nearly 80 member organizations, received the German Africa Prize 2023 for promoting dialogue and peace and encouraging negotiations to end the Anglophone crisis.

"This prize means a lot, and it means more work because if we have been recognized with this award, we need to move and continue serving our communities," Sally Mboumien, one of the recipients, told DW in Berlin.

Mboumien is from the northwest region of Cameroon where separatists have been fighting to create an autonomous state since 2016.

At least 6,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the International Crisis Group. The United Nations estimates that over 700,000 people have been displaced. Human rights groups have accused both sides of abuses.

Who are the winners?

Mboumien is the founder and executive director of the organization Common Action for Gender Development (COMAGEND), which works to realize women's and girls' rights to sexual and reproductive health.

Her organization also supports young girls by providing them space to speak openly about issues directly affecting them, like productive health.

Esther Omam has worked in development cooperation and humanitarian aid in Cameroon for over 20 years. Among other things, she has worked for the United Nations and held leading positions in civil society organizations.

Omam is currently the director of the non-governmental organization Reach Out Cameroon and a member of the Council of the Wise of the Women's Peace Platform.

Marthe Wandou has been committed to the fight for women's and children's rights for over 30 years and is one of the laureates of the Right Livelihood Award 2021. In their acceptance speech, the recipients vowed to respond to governance issues affecting their communities.

"We are going to encourage more girls and women not to look at their sexuality as a setback but rather something that should empower them to serve their communities."

A reward for resilience

"Women's work is usually difficult because of the polemics around what it entails. Therefore, the award is a recognition of the efforts Cameroonian women have been deploying when responding to the multiple crises in our communities," Mboumien told DW.

German Bundestag Vice President Katrin Göring-Eckardt has praised the work that the 1st National Women's Convention for Peace in Cameroon has been undertaking since the onset of the Cameroon crisis.

"The award is a recognition of your commitment to promote peace in your country, Cameroon," Göring-Eckardt told the Cameroonian women while handing over the prize at a ceremony in Berlin on November 30,

"Today you receive the prize, and I want to thank you for your resilience despite the ongoing conflict in your country and the hardships that you endure."

In an interview with DW, German Africa Foundation Secretary General Sabine Odhiambo said: "The jury decided to award this year's German Africa Prize to the 1st National Women's Convention for Peace for its significant contribution to conflict resolution in four different regions of the country."

Women left with 'more responsibilities'

Mboumien, the prizewinner from the northwest region, told DW what it is like for women in the English-speaking part of Cameroon.

"The women in Bamenda normally do subsistence farming and party trade to feed their families. As a result of the conflict, the women have gained more responsibilities and therefore have multiple roles to play," she said.

Women in the region often face gender-based violence.

"Because part of war dynamics is to show supremacy, the women in conflict regions are often molested by warring parties," Mboumien told DW.

Mboumien's organization supports and encourages young women to speak openly about issues that affect them directly.

"We try to push these women to bring their voices into spaces where discussions are taking place and discuss their sexuality. And, reproductive health rights can be respected because we realize it is a core issue that they need to be addressing if they are to attain their full potential," she said.

"At the moment, I encourage young girls to engage municipal authorities so they can extend health services to their communities, especially the family planning units and the use of contraception in the country."

A history of awarding excellence

In their acceptance speech, the German-Africa Prize 2023 recipients vowed to respond to governance issues affecting their communities: "We are going to encourage more girls and women not to look at their sexuality as a setback but rather something that should empower them to serve their communities."

Past recipients of the German-Africa Prize include Sikhulile Moyo and Tulio de Oliveira, two scientists in South Africa who discovered the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Daniel Bekele, head of Ethiopia's Human Rights Commission, won the prize in 2021 for championing human rights at the peak of the war between Ethiopian forces backed by Eritrean soldiers and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

In 2020, Somali-Canadian peace activist Ilwad Elman was awarded the prize for her project to reintegrate child soldiers and civil war orphans back into Somali society.

The German Africa Foundation has been committed to strengthening relations between Germany and Africa for 45 years.

Edited by: Benita van Eyssen

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