(This post was originally published for IFTF’s Future Now blog)
Women are doing a lot of work to create equality and peace throughout Africa, not to mention the rest of the world. What’s more, as women come together to fight for peace they cross political, religious, tribal, and clan lines that are often used as tools to perpetuate war. In Liberia Christian and Muslim women got together for the first time in the country’s history when they stood up and demanded peace. Somalia’s 6th clan is a crosscut of all clans representing all Somali women.
As women continue to insert themselves into peace movements and prove themselves as not just valuable but necessary components in peacekeeping efforts and post conflict rebuilding, perhaps we’ll begin to see a more resilient and safer world. The UN Security Council established resolution 1325 in 2000 to address—for the first time ever—womens’ roles in peacekeeping efforts.
How do we create a resilient world in a time of increasing turmoil from climate change to financial collapses? Make sure 100 percent of the population is involved in the problem solving process.
Of late there has been an increasing interest in documenting how war affects women, the often “forgotten” victims of wars they did not themselves choose to partake in. Most likely sparked by the increase in fighting in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the last couple of years, there are an endless amount of orgs and news agency diverting efforts to documenting the strife that women are going through in the DRC. From an Op-Ed by Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times called Orphaned, Raped and Ignored. to a 60 Minutes report titled War against Women. The Use of Rape as a Weapon in Congo’s Civil War.
These are attention-grabbing topics. What’s less so? Talking about all that women have done to create and maintain peace. Few reporters will gain access to the first page by writing about how women actually work to bring about peace and rebuild their countries. Washington Post reporter Anthony Faiola however, doesn’t seem to care. In an interview with Cheryl Corley on NPR on May 19, 2008 Faiola talked about his trip to Rwanda and how women are fairing on as entrepreneurs. While there, Rwandans told Faiola that during, and after, the genocide women seemed to have more fortitude than men. Women seemed better at moving past their experiences during the genocide, while men seemed crippled in the aftereffects.
To counteract some of the disappointing coverage of women’s role in peace and post conflict-rebuilding movements I’d like to point out some of the most interesting and inspiring steps women have taken to create or maintain peace within Africa.
Liberia suffered a long and damaging civil war until about 2003. Few people know the role women played in ushering in peace and then rebuilding Liberia. After years of seemingly endless fighting a group of ordinary women got together to pray for peace. For the first time in the country’s history Muslim and Christian women joined together for a common cause. Armed with white t-shirts and their voices the women sang and prayed in a city square for days trying to get the attention of President Taylor. Eventually they got that, and managed to get both Taylor and the rebel leader to agree to peace talks. As the talks began in Ghana a contingency of women flew to Ghana and sat outside the peace talks. As the talks fell apart the women continued influencing the outcome of the peace talks—even though they weren’t invited as official members—by barricading the men into the negotiating the room and threatening to get naked once the men came out to see what was happening. Voluntary nudity from an older mother-like figure in Liberia is the greatest of offenses. The women threatened the men by saying if they did not finish in two weeks, they will bring thousands of women to the talks. Two weeks later the peace talks concluded. Once the war ended the women of Liberia continued their work by campaigning and getting Liberians to register to vote. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was later elected as the first female head of state in an African nation. The documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell tells this very moving story. The survey shown below is taken from the Pray the Devil Back to Hell website and highlights how letter we know about women’s role in ushering in Liberian peace.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is currently the poster child for the helpless female victims of war. As mentioned early, one doesn’t have to look far to learn about the unimaginably terrible things women, and men, are enduring on a daily basis in many areas of the DRC. What we are not hearing about is how women have fought to be a part of the peace talks, to be a part of the government, and to be a respected part of society with an equal voice. And as usual, these women are not doing it by force, by taking up arms and causing more grief. Congolese women have taken an example from Rwanda and began to form self-help groups in the early 2000’s in churches to provide support networks for each other and lay the foundation for a more cohesive civil society. Congolese women went from having zero female representatives at the 1999 peace talks to filling 10 percent of the seats in a 2002 Inter-Congolese Dialogue aimed at post-war reconciliation and national social and political stability. Later in 2003 Article 51 was added to the transitional constitution to ensure women’s participation in the transition. During a referendum in 2005, 51 percent of the electorate was female. Although war has since returned to Eastern Congo, women continue to do their part.
Somalia and the 6th clan: the conflict in Somalia is very complex and difficult to understand. Its political system is very different from our western concept of democracy and cannot be bent to meet our expectations of what democracy should be. Somalia needs to find it’s own version that blends modern democracy and traditional political structures. The Somali government is traditionally made up of 5 clans. National government is then comprised of representatives from these 5 clans. These representatives of course, have always been male. The 6th clan, founded by Asha Haji Elmi is a pan-Somali women’s clan. Cutting across all clan lines the 6th clan brings a fresh perspective to Somalia and Somali peace movements. In 2002, Asha led a group of women to the Somali Peace and Reconciliation conference in Eldoret, Kenya. There, the 6th clan was officially recognized, and women representatives were allowed to officially participate in the discussions. The 6th clan also managed to the get the Transitional Federal Government to adopt a quota of 12 percent of the 275 seats in its parliament to be occupied by women. Although to date they only have about 8 percent, they have begun to make their voices heard.
Rwanda has been very effective in their post conflict rebuilding. President Kagame has taken great steps towards long-term success in Rwanda from drafting actionable plans to move away from a dependency on aid to making English an official language—alongside French and traditional Kinyarwanda—and the main language of their education system to ensure Rwanda’s global business success. But perhaps more importantly, in 2003 the new constitution outlawed gender discrimination and made it legal for women to own land and gain property through inheritance. As a result we are seeing a huge increase in female business owners. Riding the waves of post conflict reform, Rwandan women took the opportunity to assert themselves in new ways. Rwanda has the highest percentage of female legislatures in their congress in the world and Rwanda’s cabinet is 37 percent female. Girls make up half of the student population as opposed to 1 in every 9 students prior to the war. And women are being seen as a formidable economic force, heading 42 percent of enterprises. I wonder what percentage of enterprises in the US are lead by women.