In the run up to International Women’s Day (8 March), we have been highlighting how the UN and its Department of Political Affairs (DPA) work to include women’s participation and a gender perspective in their peace and security work (see our previous stories here and here). This time, we look at the impact of the gender/women, peace and security agenda at the regional level, speaking to Annie Dumont, Gender Affairs Officer in the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA).
What is your role as a Gender Officer in your Special Political Mission and what are your main tasks?
Annie Dumont: In the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa, UNOCA, I’m part of the Political Section, which also includes a Human Rights Officer. Our main task is to support the preventive diplomacy mandate of the Special Representative and advice on regional security trends, conflict prevention and mediation, the fight against terrorism, armed groups, maritime piracy, trafficking of illicit substances and other connected themes. We also work closely with the Economic Commission for Central African States (ECCAS), our main partner. In this context, I advise on the role women play (or could play) in preventing and mitigating conflicts, fighting radicalization of the youth, their participation in governance and peacebuilding activities and also on how the political discourse must take into account the priorities of women in conflict or post-conflict societies.
More specifically, as a Gender Affairs Officer working from a regional perspective includes establishing or strengthening already existing networks of women working on peace and security issues. If I may give an example, in 2017 we facilitated the establishment of a network of women of the media working for peace and security (FEPPSAC – Femmes des Presses pour la Paix et la Sécurité en Afrique Centrale). We brought together two dozen women representing the media (written media, audiovisual, radio, TV and online media as well) who had already a little bit of experience on peace and security issues, even if minor. During a capacity building workshop in Yaoundé, Cameroon, they were trained on resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The workshop allowed to strengthen their understanding of that resolution and to discuss ways to increase the visibility of issues affecting women as well as the necessity to advocate for greater participation of women in peace negotiations, denouncing sexual violence and improving women’s representation in governance.
This was quite successful, in the sense that participants, mainly women in the media from nine countries of the Central Africa, took that message to heart, established different channels on social media and implemented local initiatives as well. They have launched a YouTube channel and an online magazine, where they interview Ministers in charge of gender affairs and different experts in their respective countries. For instance, they have interviewed Catherine Samba-Panza, the former President of the transition in the Central African Republic (CAR) and an advocate for Resolution 1325. They also cover the main developments in the region affecting peace and security and what those mean for women.
Another interesting initiative that we are planning for 2018 is the establishment of a network of women peace negotiators, which already exists in several regions of the world, but not in Central Africa. So again, the idea is to bring together women from the subregion, who have experience at a higher level in terms of participation in peace negotiations and who, given their profile and their longstanding practice in politics, especially in post-conflict countries, can train, motivate, mobilize, and most importantly, advocate for a greater role of women in peace negotiations.
In all our activities, we pay attention to the regional perspective by working closely with ECCAS and by creating opportunities as well as spaces to exchange good practices, examples from other countries, share tips or experiences in order to enhance the capacity of civil society to play a greater role in peace and security issues. [Ed. Note: In August 2017, UNOCA organized at its headquarters in Libreville a sub-regional workshop on gender mainstreaming in early warning and conflict prevention in Central Africa, which provided to ECCAS useful tools aimed at reinforcing the capacity of its early-warning mechanism (MARAC). During the workshop, the Special Representative and Head of UNOCA, François Louncény Fall, urged MARAC to put in place “strategies for consulting and involving women at both national and subregional levels to fully utilize them as a resource for effective conflict prevention”. He reiterated the availability of UNOCA to continue providing the necessary support to ECCAS.]
How is including women in peace processes actually done? How do you increase participation and inclusion?
It’s not easy, and I think what is key and most important is to give space for women to participate at the grassroot level and the local level first, because no woman will become a minister or be elected/appointed to a high-ranking position, such as Mediator, if she has insufficient experience in political leadership. The most effective way to support women’s participation in peace processes is to support and recognize their contributions at the local and grassroots level, all the way to the national and international scene. Given the right opportunities, women will know how to take their place and make their voices heard. No organization, nor the establishment of quotas, will do it for them, although it can support it. But it’s important that we recognize the contributions of women, that we stand with them and ensure that they have equal opportunities to participate in public life. Only then will women become truly included in political affairs and have opportunities to influence processes that directly affect them.
What’s the greatest opportunity for your office and DPA in this field? And what’s the greatest challenge?
Given the state of affairs in Central Africa at the moment – numerous ongoing armed or social conflicts, the breaking down of social cohesion, and the fast deterioration of the security environment observed in the last few years – we are now at a crossroad. This is an opportunity for the UN to step up its conflict prevention and resolution initiatives and demonstrate its commitment to inclusive, durable peacemaking by promoting the participation of women in these processes. Most regions of the world already have solid and formalized networks of female mediators, women peacebuilders, etc., basically women working at various levels to promote women’s rights and their participation in decision making and governance on peace and security issues. But in Central Africa, it’s not quite the case – civil society is generally weak and lacks resources and organization to have a meaningful impact. As a result, I think there are a lot of opportunities to further support the work of women peacemakers.
It’s also one of the only regions, or maybe the only region, which doesn’t have a Regional Action Plan for the implementation of resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This is one of the activities that UNOCA and ECCAS are pushing for in 2018: The development and adoption of a Regional Action Plan, which will determine general priorities for all the countries of the region to adhere to and which, we hope, would then encourage those currently without a National Plan to develop their own – which can be tailored to the specific situation on the ground for each of them. At present, about half the countries of Central Africa have a National Action Plan for the implementation of resolution 1325 (Angola, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, CAR). I think, that tool, but more importantly the advocacy surrounding the adoption of the Regional Action Plan, is a great opportunity to push for increased participation of women in peace negotiations. When we look at the last peace agreement in the Central African Republic, in which the UN only had a marginal role, very few women participated. The same with the ceasefire agreement in the Pool Region of the Republic of Congo, in which the UN was not directly involved: No woman played an active role. These are just two recent examples, but I believe that with more advocacy we can really get people to gain a better understanding of why it’s important for women to participate and contribute to peace agreements, conflict prevention and mediation.
What would you like to say to people who do not think that this is a priority?
It’s very simple. Women make up half of the population and you cannot have any peace agreement, socio-economic development, nor any tangible progress as a society if you exclude large proportions of your population. Half of the population is composed of women, but the same applies to ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, people living with a handicap, refugees and displaced populations, who are also too often excluded from peace negotiations and decision-making processes. And yet they are often the very ones at the forefront of armed conflicts. All parties affected need to be involved, otherwise it cannot be inclusive, and if it’s not inclusive, it won’t be durable, credible nor meaningful.
Title Picture: Bangui National Forum, Central African Republic, 2015. UN Photo/Catianne Tijerina