Peace and security remains non-negotiable for Africa’s women
Author: Jane Godia
Published: Kenyan Women
As the world marks 20 years since the Fourth International women’s meeting was held in Beijing China in 1995, the role and state of women has continued to change but with new and emerging challenges.
While the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action had 12 critical areas that spelled the road map to gender equality and women’s empowerment, the question of peace and security for the women of Africa remains critical.
In 1995, the 12 areas of critical concern that were raised in Beijing included the issue of women and armed conflict. The importance of an environment that maintains world peace and promotes and protects human rights, democracy and the peaceful settlement of disputes, in accordance with the principles of non-threat or use of force against territorial integrity or political independence and of respect for sovereignty as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, was noted as an important factor for the advancement of women.
A meeting held by the Urgent Action Fund-Africa (UAF-Africa) for African women leaders from across the continent in Nairobi and supported by the Ford Foundation East Africa regional office reiterated that peace and security remains a non-negotiable item in the post 2015 development agenda.
Graced by high profile women who included Mama Gertrude Mongella who was the face of Africa during the Beijing conference, it was noted that the issue of peace and security remains non-negotiable in the discussions involving Africa and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
“Peace and security remains a top agenda for the African woman and it is not negotiable. Nothing can happen for the African woman if there is no peace and security,” notes Mongella.
According to Mongella, if you look at history of nations, people prospered at historic times when they had the most peace because people are settled, they can think and make innovations, travel, trade and enjoy life.
“In Africa, peace and security is non-negotiable today because we do not know who is going to be a displaced person. Today even if you put up structures of education and health, they can be destroyed in a matter of weeks and months. People build up structures of settlement which can be destroyed within a very short time,” says Mongella. She explains: “Even with their farms they can find themselves in a pathetic food shortage because of conflict. Due to conflict even traveling becomes challenge.”
According to Mongella, who was the United Nations Secretary General of the Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing: “You cannot talk about women’s empowerment in times of conflict. Women are the most vulnerable when you talk about peace and security.”
Mongella notes that in traditional warfare, men went out to fight and finish. However, she says today things are different; Women have been made part of the victims in order to weaken the enemy, they kill, rape and mistreat women.
“When there are chaos and conflict, whether armed or otherwise, women become targets. Women are victims and endangered. Their rights are more violated,” she says.
According to Mongella: “African women have a role to play and should make sure that they work for peace and security. Peace does not exist in a vacuum. I do not believe that any country which does not have peace can have sustainable development.”
However, there are other factors that make women part of the conflict. Look at political conflicts when we are part of the competitors, we divide ourselves according in political parties regardless of the suffering which is going to occur. Women should rise above the political divide. If we play the political games, we are not going win.
Women, peace movements, women’s organisations, women should take the issue of peace and security during elections their agenda.
These sentiments are supported by Ruth Ochieng Ojiambo, Executive director of the Isis-Women International Cross-Cultural Exchange (ISIS-WICCE) in Kampala.
According to Ojiambo, women’s role in peace and security is critical. “Our role is to transform the whole connotation of peace and security and positioning that whole mechanism to respond to human security.” Ojiambo says: “At the moment the way peace and security is rolled out, it is not centred on human peace.”
According to Ojiambo, peace and security is instead centred to control power and money and is all about a specific class of individuals and this is why it is not making sense to the kind of peace the rural woman is looking for.
“In working to ensure peace for Africa, we must bring it from the global process and centre it to the local level,” says Ojiambo. She adds: “We should as women, be able to receive our basic rights because peace and security is about women being listened to and their thoughts being incorporated into decisions.”
According to Ojiambo, peace and security is about safety of humanity. She reiterates that the role is of women in peace and security in Africa is to transform the present architecture, which is not focusing on human security and concentrating so much on power money and control so that Africa can see a genuine peace dispensation that is pro-people, for the people, so that Africa can really rise again.
“Peace and security remains non-negotiable in the post-2015 development agenda because it remains important for Africa,” says Ojiambo. “Africa relies on peace if it is to catch up with other continents given the kind of destruction, militarism and militarisation.”
She notes: “There is no way that we can ever see Africa get out of the doldrums we are in because it is only peace that will enable women and men with the body, mind and spirit, with the attitude of devolvement, with the health body that can makes us devolve.”
Ojiambo explains: “If we take peace as a crosscutting issue for Africa, we would actually be killing the entire continent and that would be absurd for our identity.”
In Africa, 29 out of 54 countries have either gone through conflict or have been in conflict. Kenya has not been spared. While the country has experienced various stages of ethnic clashes, the post- election violence of 2007 was the climax where over 1,300 people lost their lives and over 300,000 were displaced. During this period women were killed and or raped, and several suffered the trauma of watching their husbands being killed.