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Where are the women?

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Yvette Cheson, the establishment Coordinator of 

Angie Brooks International Centre in Liberia shares a word with participants during a high level conference to discuss the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1325 in Kenya at KICC 

recently.Photo: Kenyan Woman Correspondent

Africa and other war torn countries come together to support Kenya in ratifying resolution 1325

When the United Nations adopted Security Resolution 1325 in October 2000, the need to have women at the table of peace and security decision making processes was urgent.

This realisation was inspired by the fact that women, though the greatest victims of conflict, were never included in decision making processes geared towards, conflict prevention, reconciliation and peace building.

Although a significantly high  number of women have suffered violence in Kenya, historically, they have continuously been marginalised from peace processes, yet these are the women who, during conflict, bear the burden, not only of losing their husbands and sons, but also of taking care of those who have been injured and taking charge of the humanitarian process.

Even in situations where they have been physically and sexually violated, women do  not stop to recuperate, they remain on their feet, take charge of making things better. Although statistics have made it clear that both men and women experience and respond to conflict in different ways and in varying degrees, not enough countries in Africa, historically prone to conflict, incorporate a gender perspective in peace building processes.

Resolution

In a move towards the right direction, in 2000, the United Nations Security Council called for the adoption of a gender perspective that included the special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction. This was the first formal and legal document from the United Nations Security Council that required parties in a conflict to respect women’s rights and to support their participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction.

Today only 35 countries globally have developed national action plans on Resolution 1325 and out of these only eight are from Africa.

Kenya is working towards being the ninth country as it develops its NAP which started in 2010 with the nomination of a steering committee in a multi-sectoral approach. It is hoped that the document will be launched before the year ends.

According to Winnie Lichuma, chair The National Gender and Equality Commission, country specific context must be taken into consideration while developing a National Action Plan because even though policies and legislations exist, they are fragmented.

Strategy

“Kenya’s National Action Plan will come with an implementation matrix,” said Lichuma. She noted: “Attention has been paid to rural women because they are at high risk of being violated.”

The women will be disaggregated because they are not homogenous. Those to be taken into consideration include the elderly, disabled and youth.

“Kenya’s framework will check government commitment to gender equality,” Lichuma told a Practitioners Conference dubbed Best Practices: Women, Peace and Security Interventions that was held in Nairobi recently. Delegates were drawn from Africa, particularly countries that have experienced conflict that included Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia, Senegal and beyond, such as Afghanistan.

“We are eager to learn from all experiences and take stock on progress to understand how to face challenges,” Lichuma told representatives of the countries from Africa and Finland that have already ratified Resolution 1325 within their National Action Plans.

Ownership

Lichuma reiterated the fact that it was not possible to have women making decisions over peace and security if they are not within the political decision making spectrum.

“The challenge is in realising the gender equality principle in political  participation,” she said. Lichuma noted: “Attempts are being made to find a solution on how to make affirmative action possible at national and county assemblies.”

Lichuma echoed the sentiments of the Finnish ambassador to Kenya Sofie From-Emmersberger who reiterated that gender equality in the current dispensation is of utmost urgency.

“It is important to ensure women’s participation and that they are able to run on equal terms with men,” From-Emmersberger.

According to Atsango Chesoni, Executive Director Kenya Human Rights Commission, women’s participation is a process and “we should ensure that they are sure of their participation and what is expected of them when they enter these spaces”.

Atsango noted: “If Resolution 1325 is different from national security, it is important to mainstream it within the national security strategy.”

These same thoughts were shared by Nduta Kweheria, a programme officer with the Kenya Human Rights Commission when she said that it is important to have women in decision making as a strategy of getting them into security and enhancing peace.

“Lack of women in decision making at high level is likely to affect the way security is handled,” noted Kweheria. “Resolution 1325 should be implemented to ensure that women’s voices are heard at the highest level,” Kweheria reiterated. She added: “When discussing security issues, people sitting around the tables should be at least 50 per cent women.”

Kweheria observed that any security problem in Kenya would impact the whole region.

This was seen in the post-election violence of 2007-2008 when Kenya was in turmoil and the spill over effect could be felt across the East Africa region. The National Gender and Equality Commission is working to negotiate with political parties to offer women active positions that will give them visibility and ensure that even if the elections do not meet the scope, then many women will be nominated to meet the target.

Amila Ward from Liberia noted that the best solution for Kenya is that the women should not just sit there if they want to succeed in Resolution 1325. “Exert pressure and organise yourselves as you cannot succeed if you are divided,” Ward advised. She added: “Women must be neutral and confident and they will then be able to succeed on this.”

Lillian Bwire of Rural Women Peace Link noted that Resolution 1325 in conflict prevention has made tremendous inroads because women have supported conflict resolution and peace processes. “If women stand up and go for it somebody will listen to them and bring their agenda on board,” observed Bwire. She noted that Rural Women Peace Link has been interpreting the resolution to government functionaries such as chiefs and District Commissioners to allow women participate in security meetings.

They have also involved community elders and traditional spiritual leaders. “Involving community leaders, who are the custodians of culture has helped because the women have made sure they have bought into their agenda,” said Bwire. She noted: “The leaders and spiritual leaders help in ensuring quick acceptance and dissemination of information to the community.”

Scenario

According to Yasmin Jusu Sherrif from Sierra Leone, women around the world and in Africa were already living 1325 before it was adopted in 2000.

“The women of West Africa noticed the transnational nature of conflict. It was there across Sierra Leone, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Ivory Coast,” said Sherrif, a member of the Mano River Women Peace Link. “These countries were linked with conflict and one could not withhold peace without the other taking it.”

Sherrif reiterated that conflict is messy and in protecting women there was need to look at all the faces.

Inclusion

“Participation and prevention are the best forms of protection. Women contribute by helping other women in conflict into safety by moving them out of danger,” Sherrif observed. She noted that women work for peace and security beyond their natural borders and this is why the women of West Africa, coming from countries through which Mano River traverses came together to ensure that peace came to the region.

Coming together has been seen in Rwanda where women have decided to move post genocide. Rwanda today tops the world with having the highest number of women in Parliament after President Paul Kagame made a conscious effort to empower women.

According to Mary Balikinge of Rwanda Women Network, women must be assertive so their capacity is seen to be growing. However, she noted that the capacity to influence is still lacking.

“Women need to be strategic as they engage in every context in a way they will be practical and not networking as usual,” said Balikinge.

Continuous process

She reiterated that Resolution 1325 is an ongoing process that must taken seriously and women must engage with it. “Have networks that will ensure women take action when it is required and create space that will allow them to engage at national level,” observed Balikinge.

The same thoughts were echoed by Selline Korir of Rural Women Peace Link who noted that women must show olidarity for women in conflict by creating a mass movement that cannot be ignored. “Women have to be the voice of those who are unable to speak because they are in conflict,” reiterated Korir.  She noted: “A conflict in any country is a conflict for the whole continent.”

Ruth Ochieng of ISIS-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange said Uganda succeeded in Resolution 1325 because the women’s movement was connected.

She stressed that women must connect with embassies because they can open doors in a diplomatic way.

Advocacy

Amila Ward of Mano River Women Peace Link Liberia said engaging Resolution 1325 is important and civil society organisations need to engage parliamentarians so that they can understand what it is all about.

“Grassroots women and men must be engaged. Men should be gender sensitised to be part of this process,” noted Ward. She added: Give the process a male face so you are able to work as a team and have the men educating women.”

According to Korir, women are not in the business of peace building because it is a job, they are in it because it is a responsibility.

Sherrif noted that it was important women participated in elections because they can be voters, candidates or even observes. “This is important in terms of protecting women’s rights,” she said.

 


 

This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Issue 31

 

 

 
Author of this article: Jane Godia

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