Trained in conflict resolution, Beyond peace Founder has worked in direct support of Track I talks (as a member of the International Contact Group for the peace talks on Mindanao) and in numerous other dialogue processes and support to transitions and to civil society and women’s groups, such as the National Dialogue in Yemen. Today at Beyond peace she continues this support work to conflict affected countries and societies in transition.
We support efforts to increase women’s participation in peace building, through advocacy, direct support to dialogue processes and by building women’s capacities.
Why and how support women’s participation?
When I arrived in Cameroon in August 2018, women, as in many African countries, were very visible at work, in the shops, in the families, keeping together a country plagued by corruption, violence, weak governance and outdated patriarchal institutions. But they were invisible from the political arena. Even at the Ministry for Women’s empowerment, my interlocutor was a man. At the UN Women where I worked, the discourse was about protecting “women and children”, pushing women in the same category as children, into one group of victims deprived of any form of agency, objects of our assistance. I felt that the objective was not to transform the outdated, patriarchal and corrupt institutions; but to please the government and seduce the donors. Merely talking about the anglophone crisis was taboo.
The causes of the anglophone crisis include discrimination, perceived lack of opportunities but also the arrogance from the Centre. The initial, non-violent claims by anglophone lawyers and teachers was met with contempt and repression. At the UN, we organised our meetings with civil society in Yaounde, not in the conflict-affected Northwest and Southwest regions. How were we to know who is doing a real job on the ground? I wanted to show respect and go and listen to the anglophone women in their turf and in their own terms. In spite of warnings from the top UN peace adviser (“You can be kicked out of the country; there’s not much to see/do in Buea anyway; if I was you I wouldn’t go”), I travelled to Buea.
On my way, I stopped in Douala where I met with Cardinal Tumi, the Lead Convenor of the Anglophone conference, the only peace initiative on the table. We had a long discussion. He spoke of the upcoming Conference. I asked him: “Should only men represent the anglophone point of view?” He marked a pause. After a few minutes he admitted: “It never came up; we never thought of it”. During that initial meeting, he accepted to include women and put me in touch with Conference organiser Dr Simon Munzu. “You have great women”, was my line. “They are not coming to clap. They will have something to say. If you accept this, we will do our share; we will prepare them”. They accepted. I travelled to Buea with these good news in my pocket.
There, I met wonderful, skilful, courageous and articulate women. All women present were civil society leaders, and most of them had elected to join their efforts under a new umbrella organisation, the South West/North West Women’s Task Force -SNWOT. I was impressed by all of them, particularly the SNWOT leader Esther Njomo Omam Njomo. This was the week preceding the pre-electoral shutdown announced by the armed groups. And here, these women, most of whom were hosting IDPs and had to organise reserves for the coming days, had braved the security situation, had put aside their very real daily worries, and came to the meeting I had called for. That meant high commitment, and it also meant respect for the international institutions. Oh God! I hoped we wouldn’t fail them.
With the women in Buea on 19 September 2018.
They gave me a very good briefing on what was going on in the conflict-affected area. I realised that they were the women who can change the paradigm in Cameroon. They had the energy, the deep understanding of the crisis and the courage. When I told them that they were going to participate in the Anglophone Conference, they were thrilled. “We didn’t know we could join” they said. I was appalled to see once more that very capable women didn’t feel they were authorised to contribute. We agreed to work together to prepare their participation.
My intention (and my mission with the UN Women) was to make women count in peace and security issues in Cameroon, beyond this conference. My approach was three-pronged:
- advocate for their participation in any decision concerning the country (with the authorities, the Convenors of the anglophone conference, the diplomats in Yaounde, the UN etc). Bring to Cameroon women with high visibility like Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee or negotiators from the Northern Ireland conflict, to showcase the added-value of women’s contributions.
- provide them with technical skills (on peace processes, mediation, agenda-drafting, comparative learning) so they could make more effective contributions to these fora
- give them visibility (bring them along to high level meetings, have them invited to regional or international fora)
A lot of good energy and sharing during the Douala workshop in November 2018. Experts Agus Wandi and Webster Zambara joined me to co-facilitate. It was a very successful event.
This plan worked brilliantly because:
– These women were competent and dedicated and they had a true leader who helped us organise complicated events in a difficult political environment
– They had their own disagreements, but unlike most of their male counterparts who were obsessed with power and personal gains, they were happy to discuss the core issues and look for solutions to the crisis
– They just needed someone to believe in them and that was my role. My status of a consultant protected me in a way, because I could take risks
– I had by then built a solid network of contacts and many allies and friends helped me. We also benefited from a context where most donors and diplomats lacked ideas and initiatives about this crisis and we filled the vacuum. SNWOT became the only show in town. They supported us.
The Anglophone Conference was not authorised by the government. But Esther and her group did not need anymore an invitation. During a workshop I organised for them, they established a plan of action and they started running their own activities. In a very daring move, they successfully organised a press Conference in Yaounde, the Centre of power. They articulated their own agenda.
Today, 14 May, Esther Njomo the Reach Out Director and SNWOT leader gave a briefing to the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon (to watch the briefing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gkBht8pWSU)
True to her own self, she did not make it a personal victory. “I am here to talk on behalf of those women, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters who have lost it all to the crisis. Those who are trapped in the bushes, in the forests because they lost everything they could hold onto”, she said.
At the end of her very precise and compelling speech, she launched an appeal for the cessation of hostilities and for dialogue.
“ It is time for us to silencing the guns
It is time for us to start talking”
What are the lessons from this story?
Lesson #1: If you believe in women and give them a chance, you won’t be disappointed.
Lesson #2: you only risk a career move, they are risking their lives daily. Be courageous!
Lesson #3: We need to improve the protection of women human rights defenders.
The first meeting in Buea, w
On behalf of NGO Concern Worldwide, Beyond peace Cynthia Petrigh and Arsène Gassi conducted a field research in 3 provinces of the Central African Republic (CAR) in February 2018, in order to better understand conflict and gender dynamics in these regions as well as how communities cope with disaster.
After surveying the 3 sous-Préfectures in Ombella M’poko and Lobaye, we ran a strategic workshop for the NGO expatriate and national staff and produced a contextual analysis, a strategy document and programmatic recommendations in view of integrating Gender, Peacebuilding and DRR.
Unsurprisingly, in the surveyed provinces as in other parts of the conflict affected country, poverty, sever gender inequalities, conflict, poor access to education as well as the inconducive mining environment were found to be hampering communities’ development. At the same time, these communities experience a relative level of calm, or negative peace. While this is mainly due to the current control by one armed group only, it can provide the space for a transformative intervention. The question of the return of the Muslims inhabitants is still pending, as are the prospects for women’s participation.
We wish Concern team full success in their 5-year programme aiming at enhancing communities resilience to disasters and conflict and fighting gender-based violence. This ambitious project complements other interventions in the region (WASH, Food for work, etc). The agency is well-placed to successfully implement this project, which could become a model for other regions in CAR.
In October 2017, we participated on behalf of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and in collaboration with the Toledo international Centre for Peace (CiTPAX) and the Spanish MOFA, in the training: “Mediation and conflict resolution from a gender perspective” for women from Albania, Bosnia, Egypt, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Spain and Tunisia and involved in mediation efforts in their countries.
At the invitation of People’s College in Patani, Thailand, we conducted a 4-day visit in the Deep South in December 2016 in order to meet with civil society, academics and security sector involved in the peace efforts for the region. The highlight of the visit was the Conference held at Prince of Songkla University on the theme of Monitoring, which focused on the comparative case study of Mindanao, Philippines. We would like to express our gratitude to People’s College and all the personalities met for their excellent hospitality and for the quality of the conversations we had.
At the invitation of the UNSSC, Cynthia Petrigh from Beyond peace co-facilitated a training workshop on conflict analysis for the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in April 2016 and another training workshop on conflict analysis for the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in May. Participants were introduced to the main conflict analysis tools, and used them to reflect on some of the root causes of the conflicts they are confronted with, the different peace and security actors as well as the opportunities for peace in both situations.
Beyond peace was contacted by Burkina Faso’s “Balai Citoyen” for support in organizing the nonviolent transition from Blaise Compaoré’s regime to a democratic one. A specific request was expressed for training on international norms and standards, for CSOs and the security sector. While studying partnerships and funding possibilities we are accompanying this group in its democratic transition.