In the context of International Women’s Day (8 March), we have been speaking to women active in UN peace operations in the field (see our previous stories here and here and here). For the last interview of this series, we spoke to Nene Bah, gender adviser at the Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region. She is working on making sure that women are included in the discussions regarding peace and security in the Great Lakes, and especially the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region of Africa.
What does the gender adviser do in your office?
Nene Bah: My role as a gender adviser in the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region is to advise the Special Envoy on how to integrate gender into the strategy of the office and ensure political advocacy and gender mainstreaming is central to the activities of the office. In doing so, we also need to make sure that we work very closely with our partners, both from the region and the wider international community. My role is to strengthen the network of gender advocates, gather the various stakeholders around our mandate and align our work with regional stakeholders. In today’s context of shrinking political space for women we need to promote Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in accordance with Security Council resolution 1325.
How does one actually include women in peace processes?
It is important to first understand the context that we are working in. In February 2013, eleven member states signed the Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region of Africa, with a further two joining January 2014. The framework aims to help “address the root causes of conflict and put an end to recurring cycles of violence” where women and children are largest victims of conflict. The Framework Agreement has two governance mechanisms, the Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM) of Heads of State and Government and a Technical Support Committee (TSC). As much as these governance structures endeavor to address gender issues, the leaders have to-date not designated women regional representatives to be part of these governance structures to take an active role in engaging on WPS issues. On assuming his appointment, the Special Envoy Said Djinnit recognized the need to strengthen the governance mechanisms on WPS matters and has advocated to bring on board women representatives at the level of the ROM to be part of the decision-making process. Recently, he has been able, in consultation with his African Union (AU) co-chairs and TSC members, to include International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) women’s forum representatives to a field trip to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to assess the situation of ex-combatants and their dependents encamped in the eastern DRC to facilitate their repatriation to their country of origin. This visit led to a decision of the ROM to encourage the UN, the AU, ICGLR and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to give further consideration to gender issues, including bringing on board new members, such as the AU FemWise and other senior gender advocates/scholars. In recent weeks this has involved a meeting convened by the Special Envoy of the Advisory Board of the Women’s Platform for the PSC Framework to agree and advance joint strategies on women’s political participation.
The Advisory Board was set up by the previous Special Envoy, Mrs Mary Robinson, to strengthen women’s organizations and empower them to contribute to confidence-building through cross-border economic and peace-building efforts. In the implementation of our mandate one of the challenges that we continue to face confidence-building between member states. The Office of the Special Enjoy supports the mobilization of resources, working with the Global Fund for Women, and allocates funds to grassroot organizations in Burundi, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. Unfortunately, these initiatives have lacked visibility, but we are gradually addressing this issue and our hope is that the signatory member states recognize the role of these organizations and further supports them.
I am a firm believer that women can only play a very positive role within these political processes and that it is so important that they are heard, and their role recognized, and I am pleased that Heads of State and Government are taking up this call for women’s inclusion. It is also important that the region remains engaged in the DRC, because the DRC is central to the stability process in the Great Lakes region. Our call is that regional bodies, in their political engagements on the ongoing democratic processes, places increased emphasis on gender issues.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity in this field?
We have to recognize the role of regional organizations, and in this context, we must operate as one entity to achieve results, particularly when it comes to women, peace and security. Without this approach the reality is that we are unlikely to achieve much, particularly in advancing WPS. It is therefore critically important that we see regional organizations as key partners that we need to recognize and work with. We should not shy away from extending our hands and embracing them, to tell them that we are there to support them and work with them. Security Council resolution 2098 states that “the UN Security Council calls on the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General in coordination with the Special Representative for the DRC, to lead, coordinate and assist the implementation of national and regional commitments under the PSC framework, including through the establishment of benchmarks and appropriate follow-up measures.” We therefore need to play that lead role in a collaborative manner, by also embracing the vision of others. The AU, ICGLR and SADC remain key partners in this work.
As to the greatest challenge we face, that would be the multiplicity of actors and the threat posed by the increasing number of non-state armed actors, each with their own agenda across a vast region with an abundance of natural resources, continues to have a major impact on communities. This, recently, has resulted in an increased number of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees, with women and children the most affected, and reinforces the need for greater coherency at regional and international levels.
Why is this work such a priority?
I would say that without a truly balanced gender perspective that recognizes women make up over 50 per cent of the world’s population we will not be able to move forward in advancing the sustainable development goals and Vision 2030. We must also recognize the centrality of youth and the role of civil society in general, which are components that have to be associated in all of our conversations.
Title picture: Women carry placards with messages of peace during Secretary-General visit to Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe