Women have played a significant role in recent peace processes throughout West Africa. For example, in Liberia of 2003, it was the ‘Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace’, which made its voice heard and helped end the war. In Mali of today, women groups are highly engaged in the national reform process. Research has shown that the participation of women in decision-making and women groups’ contributions to the substance of peace negotiations are drastically increasing the chances for sustainable peace. It was against this background, that the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung continued its series of Abuja Debates on September 2nd, 2014, this time focusing on ‘Women in Peacebuilding in West Africa’.
The debate provided a platform for representatives of civil society, high-ranking officials as well as politicians and academics to exchange informally. The panel comprised technical expertise, experience from the field, and perspectives from UN initiatives, regional organisations and local CSOs. Chaired by Mrs Fatima Kyari Mohammed (Senior Advisor to the Vice President, ECOWAS Commission and Senior Expert at West Africa Conflict and Security Consulting -WACAS), the panel featured Dr Sintiki Tarfa UGBE (Director of Gender, Youth, CSO and Drug Control Directorate), Dr Abdou Lat GUEYE (Director Early Warning), both from the ECOWAS, Ms Bridget Usifo OSAKWE (Project Manager WIPNET/WANEP Nigeria) and Dr Otive IGBUZOR (Member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders).
The event was launched by a welcome address by Mr Felix Henkel (Regional Coordinator, FES West Africa), who laid the ground for the discussion in pointing out the significant role women can play in peace processes. He also stressed the need to change the discourse from the victimisation to the leadership of women in peacebuilding contexts.
In the ensuing discussion, panellists argued that women had a unique understanding of their communities and were thus ‘natural peacemakers’. African social structures, which are mainly patriarchal in nature, however, hindered the emancipation of women in peacebuilding and in society at large. The panellists highlighted the need for the de-construction of traditional value systems, and saw education as an entry point for creating more equality between men and women in West African societies. ECOWAS and CSO representatives pointed towards a gap between official policies and resolutions on the one hand, and their implementation on the other. In fact, the constructive potential of women in peacebuilding and in society at large could only be unleashed, if values and structures of representation in decision-making were changed, for example by establishing gender quotas, once peace has been reached.