The African Union vs. Women, Peace and Security

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In November 2005, the African Union (AU) Protocol of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa came into force. This Protocol provides a legal framework committing African leaders to the principles of gender equity and sets out key protection mechanism for African Women.

The document further seeks to address violations of African women’s rights, outlines a framework for the protection of women in armed conflict.

Thus far, 15 African states have ratified the protocol: Benin, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, Gambia, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal and Togo.

The protocol builds on efforts to promote the participation of women in decision-making and gender equity at the level of African institutions over the last five years, through such instruments as the AU’s 2004 Heads of State solemn Declaration on Gender Equity in Africa.

This declaration commits AU members to ensure full and effective participation and representation of women in peace process, including the prevention, resolution and management of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

The rationale for this stipulation is the understanding that, where women are visible in decision-making roles, their issues and concerns can be mainstreamed into policies and programs.

Significantly, resolution 1325 represents an official endorsement by the UN Security Council of the inclusion of civil society in peace process and the implementation of peace agreements.

The resolution pledges that UN missions will consult with local and international women’s groups during peacekeeping efforts. For example, the Liberian Women’s Network (WIPNET) was called by the UN mission in 2004 to assist during the country’s time of crisis. Women’s activism prior to and during peace negotiations can thus provide a platform for the increased participation of women in post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

The relevance of women in peacekeeping initiatives on the continent has been increasingly apparent in recent years. Here in Liberia for example, women were markedly involved in the effort to end the country’s civil war. In 2003, a campaigned entitled “Mass Action for Peace” incorporated women from many sectors of Liberia, ranging from those in displaced camps, to churches and NGOs. Adopting the slogan “We want Peace; No More War,” these women who always dressed in white, became a constant presence on the streets on Monrovia.

As support for this initiative became acknowledged, women were later able to talk to then President Charles Taylor. Members of the group demanded an unconditional ceasefire, dialogue for a negotiated settlement and an external intervention force. When peace talk started, Liberian women were able to make their presence felt with the support of the Women in Peace-building Network (of the West Africa Network for Peace building, WANEP) and the Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MARWOPNET).

During the negotiation process, these organizations held a parallel meeting of women who put forth “The Golden Tulip Declaration of Liberian Women Attending the Peace Talks” in August 2003. The declaration identified the recommendations of Resolution 1325 for the incorporation of a gender perspective into peace keeping and participation of women in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction.

Grassroots women’s groups have also shown ingenuity in advocating their inclusion in peace processes. Women have used song and dance peacefully to demonstrate for inclusion in these processes.

With regard to the involvement of women in peace process on the continent, it was recommended that civil society and women’s groups are included from the outset. Financial and human resources need to be made available to support the efforts of women to be included in peace processes. Many women make personal and public sacrifices to challenge systems that have negative attitudes towards the leadership of women.

Dissemination strategies also need to be extended to inform women of their rights as enshrined in resolution 1325. Such strategies must be “user-friendly” through further translation into local languages.

Finally, for resolution 1325 ultimately to be successful, gender considerations must inform all African peace and security policies, post conflict reconstruction, justice and development programs nationally and internationally.

Support is required to maintain and increase the solidarity and morale of women peace activist under such circumstances.

 Documents for this story were provided by the Center for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa.

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