The first-time women’s participation in peace processes was formally recognized was during the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995. The conference led to the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which notably, drew specific attention to the issue of women and armed conflicts, stating that: “while entire communities suffer consequences of armed conflict and terrorism, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society and their sex.”1
How the pandemic will redefine the role of women in the peace and security context is still not clear. However, what #COVID19 has not been able to do is to disrupt the commitment of African civil society to the #WPSagenda #1325 @pravinamlTweet
The conflicts of this time and the peace efforts across Africa from Beijing in 1995 to UNSCR 1325 in 2000, witnessed women civil society movement shape this space with practices that included popularising the disproportionate impact of conflict on women, emphasizing the sexual and gender-based impacts on women and girls, and highlighting how conflicts redefined new gender roles for women. At the same time civil society promoted women’s agency and activism for peace in Africa, and a host of innovative practices began to emerge.
The Mano River Union Women Network for Peace (MARWOPNET) remains a solid example of how women from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea collaborated to mobilise women and actively engage for peace. This occurred as the continent was grappling with the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In East Africa, women from Burundi were convened by UNIFEM and civil society, and adopted a declaration for peace whose main recommendations were integrated into the peace agreement (2000).
Two continental level initiatives bear testimony to the resilience of civil society. First is the convening of the 36th Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) Pre-Summit Meeting and the second is the Continental Dialogue of leading Women, Peace and Security civil society organisations.
Gender is My Agenda Campaign
Africa’s premier biannual continental gathering of women’s rights organisations, young women, youth and international non-governmental organisations was convened by ACCORD for its 36th Pre-Summit Meeting in October 2020. GIMAC was determined not to allow COVID-19 disrupt its 36th GIMAC Pre-Summit, and virtually brought together more than 200 delegates from more than 20 countries across Africa, representing the African Union, United Nations, diplomatic missions, development partners, civil society, representatives from media, academia, women and youth.
This GIMAC meeting was organized around 6 thematic clusters, namely: Governance, Peace and Security; Human Rights; Health; Education; and Economic Empowerment. This year’s deliberations aimed to identify gaps, provide recommendations, and offer a space for strategic engagement with organs of the African Union, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), and key stakeholders.
In the Peace and Security and Governance cluster, successes of the WPS agenda over the last 20 years revealed several trends. The progress in institutionalizing the WPS agenda, such as the appointment of the Office of the Special Envoy (OSE) on Women, Peace and Security and the establishment of the Bureau of the OSE; the adoption of Regional Action Plans by some RECs/RMs including ICGLR, IGAD, ECOWAS and SADC; the adoption of National Action Plans (NAPs) on UNSCR 1325 – Africa is the continent with the highest percentage of NAPs. Currently, 30 out of 55 AU member states have adopted National Action Plans on UNSCR 1325 – and the participation of women in peacebuilding and conflict mitigation processes, for example the Women’s Network for Peace and Dialogue in Burundi and the peace processes in South Sudan also included women in Track I and II.
What was clear from the deliberations is that despite these successes, the Women, Peace and Security agenda still face many challenges. Some of these challenges include: poor implementation of legal and policy frameworks; the protracted nature of conflicts; new emerging threats to peace and security; the persistence of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV); entrenched discriminatory gender norms; limited participation of women in peace processes and decision-making and under-representation of women and youth in politics. Within the Peace and Security cluster a concrete recommendation wasto implement, in full, the AU instruments for promoting the role of women in silencing the guns.
Civil Society’s Perspectives of African Women’s Participation
The online continental dialogue titled, “20 years of African Women’s Participation in Women, Peace and Security: Civil Society Perspectives,” was jointly hosted by 11 civil society organisations across Africa, including: Human Sciences Research Council; Africa Institute of South Africa; Women’s International Peace Centre; Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS); South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID); West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP); African Women in Dialogue (AfWID); African Leadership Centre; Institute for Security Studies (ISS); Training for Peace (TfP); ACCORD; as well as the South Africa Department of Science and Innovation.
The dialogue convened to hear women’s voices and perspectives on progress and challenges since the adoption of UNSCR 1325 twenty years ago, and to chart new paths for peace and security for women in Africa. The meeting focused on four themes: prevention and protection, mediation, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. What was clear from the consultations was that it can’t be business as usual – and the next ten/twenty years has to be different for the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Transformative change to the conditions women and girls experience in conflict must be at the center of the agenda going forward. The evolving nature of conflict and its unpredictability must help contextualise appropriate responses.
Adapting to the new virtual context, these two continental civil society events pursued frank dialogue on: What have we made progress on? What programming and practices have and have not worked? How will the next 10/20 years define the WPS space? How has the disruption of the COVID-19 context altered the context? Where are the opportunities to advance the WPS agenda in the COVID-19 context and beyond? What is clear from these two experiences is that civil society will remain in the vanguard of the women, peace and security agenda, including in Africa. Civil society has proven to be resilient against the kind of disruption caused by COVID-19. Despite many challenges and trials, civil society was still able to convene and meet, celebrate achievements and rally around new goals and milestones for the future of the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
Pravina Makan-Lakha is the Advisor: Women Peace & Security at ACCORD, and a General Manager.
- See Beijing Declaration and Platform, Fourth World Conference on Women (September 1995) Available at https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/pdf/BDPfA%20E.pdf.