Promoting peace through women’s leadership and political participation: testimonies from the Sahel – World

This article was written jointly by the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and the UNDP Regional Program for Africa.

The rationale for women’s participation in peace and development in Africa is undeniable. In fact, there is growing evidence and increased recognition of how intergenerational women leaders are shaping the continent and promoting a culture of peace, especially in fragile settings.

In the Sahel, a vast semi-arid region spanning more than 10 countries and serving as the border between North Africa and the southern tropics, women play a central role in the economy, accounting for almost 80% of agricultural labor in the Sahel.[1] as well as directing the informal sector. However, Sahelian women are often extremely marginalized.

Laws and policies that regulate formal institutions, as well as socio-cultural gender norms in the informal sector, continue to limit women’s power of self-determination in the economic and political arena. Socio-cultural factors hinder women’s equal participation in leadership positions and positions of authority in their communities.

Women in the Sahel are often victims of discriminatory cultural practices and beliefs that further reinforce existing gender inequalities. They also frequently face gender-based violence at home, including forced marriages, physical and sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.

Women are excluded from education and literacy, their roles being reduced or confined to domestic responsibilities. In Mali and Burkina Faso, it is estimated that one in three women has never been to school or has only been to school for one year.[2] The low number of women enrolled in secondary education, compared to men, further widens the gender gap at higher levels of education. As a result, the proportion of women in decision-making positions remains very limited.

These inequalities have further been aggravated by natural and man-made crises. Climate change, for example, is a growing threat to agricultural activities with the loss of financial income, especially for women in the sector. Repeated shocks, including droughts and floods, have disrupted livelihoods.

For decades, the Sahel region has served as a battleground for surrounding conflicts and is currently plagued by terrorism and violent extremism. Girls and young women are particularly affected by these crises. Widespread violence has destroyed schools and made attending them unsafe, depriving adolescent girls of their basic rights and freedoms.

The situation has led to massive displacements. The central Sahel has recorded one of the fastest growing displacement crises, with nearly 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and 850,000 refugees fleeing across borders as they move from one conflict to another.[3]

In addition to the negative impact on health, livelihoods and food security, the region now faces the additional challenge of COVID-19, which is putting pressure on already fragile health infrastructure and worsening the humanitarian emergency.

There is good news though, Sahelian women are forming informal groups and networks at local and national levels to increase their voice in national debates and create space for political participation. This strengthening of resilience in defiance of conflict and political instability was possible thanks to an innovative 3-month project entitled “Building an inclusive post-COVID-19 recovery, crisis transitions and governance reforms in the Sahel and in Ivory Coast-Phase I” .

Implemented by the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) in partnership with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and UNDP, this initiative works in Mali, Burkina Faso , Niger and Côte d’Ivoire to advocate for responsible citizen-state relations. and increased participation in governance systems at local and national levels.

Building on existing women’s networks, four National Women’s Coalitions (NWC), each represented by 30 women leaders, were formed in the four countries to advocate for the inclusive participation of Sahelian women in political processes at all levels. .

Women of all ages come together to bridge the generation gap and work collectively to address issues affecting their peace and security. 11 collaborative platforms have been created by NWCs to provide opportunities for young women and girls to tap into the expertise and experiences of older women.

As one young Nigerian woman points out: “I’ve worked alongside smart, older female fighters and I’m going to follow in their footsteps so I can do what they do, if not more.” Marie Chitou, Niger

Bridging the intergenerational gap is fundamental to strategically engaging with younger generations, who make up approximately 60% of the continent’s total population. Young people play an increasingly important role in their communities. Thus, a deliberate effort was made to ensure that the 120 women leaders selected for the NOCs represented a cross-generational mix in urban and rural areas.

Thinking about this strategy, Raaya Issoufou Nadiaa youth leader from Niger, “It was the first time I was treated so well, there was no difference between us and the older women. I felt like I belonged in the process and that we (young and less young) were of equal worth.”

Through the project, more than 120 NOC women have been equipped with the skills to successfully engage key stakeholders, including state actors and traditional and community authorities, to secure commitments for the inclusion of women. women in governance structures.

Collaboration platforms between NOCs and community women’s groups have also helped amplify their voice in the discourse on governance, peace and security. Building on this momentum, phase 2 of the UNDP-WANEP-ECOWAS project was launched in November 2021 to consolidate the achievements of phase 1.

A key initiative of this new phase is the introduction of the Women of Influence Portal (WIP), which will allow women’s coalitions to assess their work and track progress in reporting on women, peace and security ( WPS) in accordance with continental results. Frame Pillars (CRF). Phase 2 will also focus on expanding inclusive approaches to WPS planning, implementation and evaluation by fostering collaborative platforms between state and non-state actors, as well as strengthening systems. for women’s inclusive psychosocial and economic recovery.

The intergenerational leadership of women can play a decisive role in sustaining peace in the Sahel. Despite the challenges facing the region, women are increasingly showing determination and commitment to action to foster peace and protect their communities.

[1] HRC (2021). Milestone as violence in the Sahel displaces 2 million people internally Retrieved from https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2021/1/600a92e4125/grim-milestone-sahel-violence -displaces-2-million-inside-countries.html. Accessed July 22, 2021.

[2] Sahel Alliance (2020). Meeting the challenge of women’s empowerment in the Sahel retrieved from https://www.alliance-sahel.org/en/news/women-empowerment-sahel/. Accessed July 22, 2021.

[3] PLAN (2020). Sahel crisis: Girls pushed to the brink by violence and trauma. Retrieved from https://plan-international.org/news/2020-06-18-sahel-crisis-girls-pushed-brink-violence-and-trauma. Accessed July 22, 2021.

Mara R. Wilmoth