DAKAR (TrustLaw) – Institutions involved in brokering peace talks in West Africa must include women in mediation exercises if they are to achieve effective conflict resolution, activists say.
The United Nations entity for women’s empowerment (U.N. Women) and some peace and security networks in the region have been organising a regional programme on mediation for 32 West African women to create a pool of mediators that could be used by the African Union (A.U.) and the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS).
Three experts – Josephine Odera, the regional head of U.N. Women in West Africa, Yasmin Louise Sooka, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights, and Emmanuel Bombande, co-founder and executive director of the West African Network for Peace-building (WANEP) – talked to TrustLaw about the importance of involving women in conflict resolution and mediation activities in the region.
Yasmin Louise Sooka: “It is people who have been involved in a conflict as protagonists and perpetrators (of violence) who are usually involved in mediation. When these people sit it’s all about stopping the guns and they talk about forgetting the atrocities committed claiming that it’s all part of war. But we need to move beyond that and address the way in which the war was conducted.
Whether we like it or not the way conflicts take place in our region is not conventional; they are often an army on the one side fighting militia on the other and in that kind of warfare it is often women who seem to be victimised and suffer the most violation.
The guys who sit at the peace talks don’t often put those issues on the table and they don’t look at the question of how war is affecting women and men disproportionately and that is why it is important to have that reflection. One way is to have women at the negotiating table as well.
I think it has been proven over time that if you have women there they raise many of the underlying questions that are at the root of the conflict. I think that is that is the added value that women can bring. They can raise some of the underlying issues which men tend to gloss over and impunity is one of them.”
Josephine Odera: “If women are there (in mediation processes) we expect that issues that relate to women’s priorities in the post-conflict era would be taken on board. For instance, on the issue of demobilisation the focus during negotiations is mostly on those that had arms, with little consideration that there were the women who were in the movement and who were moving with the men and who, also, need attention in the post-conflict era. Often we find that they (women) are neglected.
When the war is over and people are trying to maintain peace and build new structures for the post-conflict era … issues such as women’s health concerns that have arisen from the conflict period are not given priority. The negotiators talk of re-building hospitals but they hardly talk of specific facilities and specialities such as those to handle women who have suffered violations during the war. With women in the negotiations such issues would also be raised.”
Emmanuel Bombande: “It is does not matter the quality of a mediation process if the agreement that emerges does not come to the level of all the people in a particular country or community – implementation will be very difficult. If women are at the forefront, you are sure they would engage effectively with the population on the ground. The potential for peace increases the more women are involved. By often leaving out women, we are leaving out a significant component of the population that can lead to the implementation of peace-building efforts.
Women’s roles as procreators also make them builders and therefore when people talk about peace and look at mediation women in our West African context look at it in the long term, they talk about it in terms of their children’s future. However if you do not bring the women to understand this role that they have, they could easily be brought in to deepen the polarisation and make the healing process after conflicts even harder.”