Africa: Progress, and Challenges to Women, Peace and Security Agenda Brought to Light – Part 1

Cape Town — Between the Covid-19 pandemic, regional conflicts, aggravated sexual and gender-based violence, as well as continuous economic hardship, the women of Africa face hardships that require a combination of education, government intervention and societal readjustment. These were some of the sentiments of the third day of the African Forum on Women Peace and Security.

AU Special Envoy on Women Peace & Security Bineta Diop moderated the panel. The co-convenor of the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) and f ounder of Femmes Africa Solidarité welcomed the progress made over the previous two days’ worth of discussions where participants were grouped and tasked with having a dialogue on various issues – the findings of which were presented on the panel of the third day.

“I’m sure that the pillars of the Women, Peace and Security agenda have been covered in each of the sessions,” Diop said at the panel’s opening.

In Part 1, allAfrica’s Andre van Wyk summarises the findings of the working groups who participated in the three days of discussions. Click here to read Part 2.

Scaling up actions to end sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)

Eight speakers presented their findings to the panel, starting with Shuvai Nyoni, Executive Director of the African Leadership Centre in Nairobi, Kenya: “We looked at a number of areas. The first thing we looked at was the landscape and key features of sexual and gender-based violence across the continent,” Nyoni said. Progress and its impediments were also discussed along with transformative opportunities in the landscape of SGBV, and possible priority actions.

“In terms of the landscape, what came out of our discussions was, of course, Covid-19,” Nyoni said. The pandemic’s impact was noted by its effect on Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in data was also analysed along with the challenges of implementing legal frameworks, which, Nyoni said, was due to inadequate budgeting. Legal frameworks need to be priorities because they are key to dealing with SGBV in the long term and in sustainable ways, she said. Several participants touched on the availability of services and facilities for survivors of SGBV.

Notes were also made with regards to progress seen in the adoption of national action plans by countries according to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which acknowledges the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls. ‘”It was pointed out that countries that have not adopted these national action plans, there is a lot of work that remains to be done,” Nyoni went on to say.

Nyoni said the need for transformative investments in the key areas of education and capacity building, and supporting mechanisms and initiatives in communities that already exist were important as opposed to investing in or starting new ones. Senegal was noted as an example of this.

Nyoni identified four recommendations to address SGBV. “This first is services, the second, resources. The third, prevention and protection and the fourth will be response,” Nyoni said. “One of the key recommendations that came out was that participants felt that by 2025, we can make progress in this area. There was a call for us to pay attention to forensic evidence when it comes to SGBV. There is a need to ensure capability and capacity, to collect, collate and store forensic evidence,” Nyoni said, adding that there was a need to pay attention to investigation capacities for SGBV, particularly in remote communities.

Nyoni emphasised the need for psychosocial support and services next. “There is a need to invest in training personnel that can provide psychosocial support for survivors of SGBV.” The next area requiring attention was the need for medicolegal services. “One suggestion was that all of these should be housed under one roof where possible, especially in more remote areas,” Nyomi said.

Nyomi said careful investment and allocation of resources is key.  Citing an example from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Congolese Women’s Fund invested in leadership training for young women. “I think the DRC example shows how funds could be allocated in other countries that would have specific focus on SGBV,” Nyomi said. Community work was also emphasised as an area of key focus where investment in grassroots and community-led organisations would go a long way in facilitating change.

Working with young men was also cited as an important focus. “Young men are often categorised as perpetrators of SGBV, but there were many examples of older men like uncles and fathers who have perpetrated SGBV against their own relatives,” Nyomi said.

Pointing to The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which built up a robust reputation in dealing with SGBV, Nyomi said there is a need to leverage that knowledge and must be documented as part of Africa’s own contribution to responding to SGBV.

The establishment of GBV-free zones in South African communities was also a concept that should be replicated across the continent. “Having that in communities, places that are considered GBV-free zones, and what needs to be put in those spaces so that women and girls know they are safe and protected from violence in SGBV nature.”

As a group, women with disabilities, Nyomi said, lack support, particularly those who live in conflict zones. “There is a need to invest in safety and security measures for women and girls with disabilities, or people with disabilities because, as we know, SGBV also affects men.”

Concluding her presentation, Nyomi discussed response and the focus on capacity building. She emphasised that judicial services along with leadership training for youth as well as traditional and religious authorities could assist in this regard.

Parliamentarians and other authorities with a duty to protect civilians would also fall into this category, Nyomi said. Reparations and rehabilitation in the form of restoring the livelihoods of survivors of SGBV and facilitating long-term healing is also required, she added.

Communications from the African Union was also recommended, Nyoni said. This includes the use of information and communications technology (ICT) but also more traditional communication like community radio top transmit programming on SGBV.

Relief and recovery, and the role of women refugees and IDPs in restoring peace in communities

The next speaker was Verlaine-Diane Soobroydoo, Policy Advisor to the African Women’s Network for Women, Peace, and Security and  Coordinator of AWLN. The impact of Covid-19 was a primary focus of Soobroydoo’s group. “We also looked at the peace, security and development aspect to answer the challenges posed by the question of refugees,” Soobroydoo said. Policy and political leadership was also discussed, along with recommendations linking peace and security as it relates to women.

The dehumanisation of refugees was also discussed. “Some of the recommendations were to look at bolstering our access to data to be able to identify refugees’ capacities. Very often one of the main outcomes of the discussion was that we look at refugees as non-human; they somehow lose their humanity, so the discussion really focussed on reaffirming their humanity,” Soobroydoo said.

Soobroydoo said the mapping of refugees’ existing skills and ensuring education, particularly those of women, would allow employment opportunities. “National policies should also enable them to access land and be better integrated,” Soobroydoo added.

The next point recommendation, Soobroydoo said, was to accelerate actions to ensure that women refugees are part of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325. “Part of that was to look at how national action plans can consider issues of IDPs and refugees with a clear objective to hold countries accountable on delivering for that agenda,” Soobroydoo said.

Another one of the main recommendations regarding refugees and IDPs was their understanding of major international legislation. “We also need to translate Resolution 1325 into local languages so that women refugees and IDPs can easily access the documents,” said Soobroydoo.

The next recommendation Soobroydoo mentioned was related to policy and that governments commit to Resolution 1325. “By supporting the work of refugee women, governments must ensure we have a 50% representation of refugee women in decision making and prioritise their needs at the local level,” Soobroydoo said.

Soobroydoo’s final point on policy and political leadership was linking the humanitarian and development agenda. “We have seen that peace and humanitarian actions on the ground have very often lacked the development nexus, we recognised the big divide between the development and humanitarian communities,” Soobroydoo said. To solve this, Soobroydoo recommended bringing the African Union and refugees – refugee women in particular –  together with other major stakeholders like the World Bank and the African Development Bank to build the necessary ecosystems to ensure progress.

Soobroydoo discussed means on how to build durable solutions for refugees and allow them to return to their countries of origin or integrate locally among host communities. “Some key areas of focus moving forward recommended by our group were to continue the African Union Commission campaign to silence the guns in Africa, and to ensure that we have the participation of women refugees to end conflict across the continent.”

“As 2020 ends, the theme of silencing the guns in Africa does not end there, we must continue beyond 2020,” Soobroydoo said. Countries of refugees’ origins need to be more closely involved in the identification process, Soobroydoo said, particularly with regard to working with refugees’ host countries. “Refugees need to be well integrated and have access to their basic human rights.”

The role of youth and media in building peace in Africa

Karabo Mokgonyana, African Union Youth Peace Ambassador, was the next speaker to bring her findings to the panel. Discussing the role of youth and media and their role in peacebuilding in Africa, Mokgonyana said the intersection between the youth, peace and security agenda is young women and can do so through advocacy programs. “Women and youth are more than capable of advancing the peace and security agenda on this continent,” Mokgonyana said.

With regard to the role of the media, Mokgonyana said the production and distribution of negative fake news had to be addressed through a means of media verification. “We need to have verification methods regarding all the news that is presented, and this can be done through capacity building of journalists,” Mokgonyana said.

Speaking on the media industry as a whole, Mokgonyana recommended support through resource mobilisation, protection of journalists’ identities and their independence.

She added that creative means of pushing the women, peace and security agenda using podcasts, infographics and storytelling that has the ability to gain large reach would ensure mass interest.

Mokgonyana then spoke on the reinvention of traditional media. “The existence of a digital divide on the continent means mainstream digital media is not accessible to all so we need to redefine the value and content production of traditional media so that we can achieve maximum reach into our communities,” Mokgonyana said.

Collaboration with women, peace and security organisations was also needed, Mokgonyana said, particularly from media organisations that chose to specialise in advancing communication in the women, peace and security agenda. “We need to see more of a linkage so that communication is effective and co-ordinated,” Mokgonyana said.

Raising awareness and capacity among youth was also a focal point for Mokgonyana, specifically within the context of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250. The resolution is a thematic one that deals with the topic of youth from an international peace and security perspective and recognises youth’s efforts in peace building while providing a set of guidelines upon which policies and programs will be developed by member states, the United Nations and civil society.

The participation of youth within peace processes and programs related to prevention and peacebuilding was Mokgonyana’s next recommendation. “This can be done by getting organisations and regional bodies to create opportunities to collaborate with youth networks on peace and security,” Mokgonyana said.

Mokgonyana also spoke on advancing accountability, awareness, and creativity through campaigns, both offline and online. “Young people have been heavily engaged in campaigning online and offline and much more support needs to be afforded to these activities,” Mokgonyana said.

Mokgonyana also stressed the need for support for grassroots youth activism. “Young people on the ground really need institutional support, they need resources. They need to be involved in decision making that impacts the work that they do, and we need to really advance and push for a lot of the institutions that are responsible for peace and security work to involve young people and to support them,” Mokgonyana said.