Congo-Kinshasa: Action for Peacekeeping - ''i Try to Awaken Humanity in Every Person'' Says Pétronille Vaweka

Denis Kadima, president of the national election commission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CENI) announcing results of the elections on December 31, 2023.

Women are often shut out of conflict resolution processes the world over, despite clear and growing evidence that their engagement improves the likelihood of reaching peace agreements and the chances those agreements will be sustainable. But in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Pétronille Vaweka has not accepted exclusion.

Pétronille is one of the country's few female peace mediators. Growing up in the province of Ituri, a volatile region rich in natural resources but teeming with armed groups, she witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of the conflict in eastern DRC, particularly on women and children. She decided to talk with the armed groups to help stop the violence.

''The desire to cultivate peace has always pushed me to reach out to people, including armed groups... I know what they do, but we have no other choice than to approach them. I try to awaken humanity in every person,'' she says.

She has consistently lent her voice to silence the guns. Her proactive engagement as the only female mediator in the Inter-Congolese dialogue contributed to the Sun City Agreement in 2003 that ended four years of deadly conflict. That same year, she was elected president of the Ituri Special Interim Assembly with the mission to stop ongoing inter-ethnic conflict in the province.

Her work has earned her recognition as the U.S. Institute of Peace's 2023 Women Building Peace Award Recipient, and highlights what can be accomplished with women's meaningful participation and representation at peace tables. ''Women, as victims [of the conflict], have a unique approach to peace,'' she argues. However, ''[they] have been neglected'' in the peace process. ''When agreements are being signed... women are absent.'' This is why UN peacekeeping has made supporting women's engagement a top priority. ''The ultimate objective... is to create the conditions for political solutions and sustainable peace. We can only achieve this when women are meaningfully engaged,'' said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations.

A view of the United Nation's interactive photographic exhibition 'Peace Begins with Her' featuring portraits of women peacebuilders and peacekeepers. The exhibit, held outside of United Nations Headquarters in New York, paid tribute to women's contribution to peace. Pétronille Vaweka is pictured on the top right. (Photo: Camilla Stamp)

Pétronille has made it a priority, too, sharing her skills and experiences to empower younger generations of women. After the conflict reignited in eastern DRC in August 2022, she launched the ''Women Committed to Peace in Africa Centre'' (FEPA, under its French acronym) in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. With support from the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO, the group helps train a network of 100 women in negotiation techniques, mediation, and conflict management, and it's helping drive change. During a round of regional peace talks in December 2022, women represented 40 percent of the participants among civil society and community representatives, and 30 percent of the facilitation teams.

Despite this positive trend, there is more work to be done in the DRC and globally. Women engaging in peace talks still face resistance and even threats of violence, but Pétronille is not likely to be deterred.

''When faced with danger, a woman doesn't retreat; she moves forward!'' Pétronille concludes.

Women, Peace and Security is a key area of the Action for the Peacekeeping agenda and its implementation strategy A4P+, which seeks to enhance accountability to our peacekeepers. Supporting women's full, equal, and meaningful participation in peace and political processes is central to enhancing operational effectiveness in peacekeeping and sustaining peace.

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