During the 20th anniversary year of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, yet another milestone is reached.
The significance of 2015 continently and globally in the drive for women’s empowerment and the achievement of gender equality provides a useful backdrop to assess efforts to use mainstreaming as a tool to bring gender into the equation within peacekeeping and peace and security frameworks in Africa.
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nation’s (UN’s) Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, aimed at achieving greater equality and opportunities for women, and the 15th anniversary of the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women peace and security. The obligation to promote the participation of women in all aspects of peace processes is codified in international human rights and humanitarian law (ACCORD Policy and Practice Brief No.25: 2013). This is a central part of UNSCRs 1325 (2000), 1889 (2010), and 1960 (2010), as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), and the Beijing Platform for Action (1995). The Beijing event with its almost 50 000 men and women representing 189 governments and 2 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) represents the tipping point, when gender equality and women’s empowerment issues finally gained prominence and momentum within the UN.
This month, another milestone was reached when 193 countries agreed to a set of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), replacing the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and incorporating strong components on women and gender. At continental level we are at the midpoint of the African Women’s Decade which aims to accelerate the implementation of gender equality and women empowerment commitments; and just over a decade ago the African Union (AU) adopted a Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, calling for the implementation of gender parity in the AU and at national level, the protection of women against violence and discrimination, and the ratification by member states of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Over the last few decades it has become apparent that supporting women’s capacities to actually participate in peace processes is a crucial part of their advancement and ability to contribute to peace, development and security. Women’s potential as mediators has however not yet been extensively tapped, and organisations at multi-lateral, regional and national level engaged in peacemaking need to increase support for both women’s capacity to participate in peace processes and their actual participation (ACCORD: 2013). Women remain largely marginalised from participating in mediation in conflicts in Africa, yet their participation increases the inclusiveness, relevance, implementation and indeed the sustainability of such agreements and subsequent peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction of the country. Women’s representation within mediation teams and the number and frequency of consultations between mediation teams and women’s groups have at least been increasing at grassroots levels (ACCORD Conflict Trends 2013/2). What is needed is active and equitable participation in peace processes at much higher levels.
Similarly, within peacekeeping, the emerging view is that the inclusion of gender perspectives is central to the continued credibility of peacekeeping operations, and to the achievement of sustainable peace and security. Thanks to the extensive efforts of many stakeholders over recent years, the relevance of addressing gender issues in peacekeeping is no longer in question. It is increasingly the norm for planners to include gender dimensions in peacekeeping operations whether civilian, military or police. Some studies have attempted to highlight the benefits of women as uniformed peacekeepers.
The experience at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) is that at regional level in Africa, practical efforts are being made to focus on gender in line with AU commitments. In 2013, ACCORD contributed to the launch of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD’s) gender milestones and trained women from the IGAD region in conflict prevention, management and resolution. In 2014, ACCORD conducted training for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Peacekeeping Training Centre in understanding gender issues in peace support operations; and trained women from the Republic of Sudan, the Republic of South Sudan and various countries in the Great Lakes region on mediation and peacebuilding for IGAD’s Mediation Support Unit. In 2015 ACCORD has signed Memoranda of Understanding with both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) that will include elements of gender mainstreaming.
Achievements by the UN in its peace operations work include the institutionalisation of gender mainstreaming with gender focal points and units at headquarter and field levels; a UN system-wide goal of ensuring gender equality in representation; deployment of all-female police units in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and Liberia; gender training for military, police and civilian peacekeeping personnel; and incorporation of gender perspectives in planning and programme budgets.
The AU too has also demonstrated increasing commitment to mainstreaming gender (V. Gounden: 2013), as reflected in the AU’s Constitutive Act; the Women and Gender Development Directorate; the Gender Policy; the Gender Training Manual for peace support operations; and gender offices in missions in Darfur, Mali and Somalia. Nonetheless, successful implementation of UNSCR 1325 in peace operations remains limited and inconsistent. There is need for further reflection on the central role of gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping operations in Africa to increase operational effectiveness.
The field has advanced in the last few decades. Before 2000 there was less reported analysis by international actors engaged in humanitarian and peacebuilding processes of how conflict impacts women and men differently. As a result, the perception of women as victims of conflict rather than agents of change had become embedded in societies and organisations. Now a normative framework has been built and policies at strategic level are slowly being translated into actual implementation. Change is accelerating. ACCORD is honoured to be contributing to these efforts.
An abridged version of this piece appeared in the Mail and Guardian Online on 28 August 2015. ACCORD is a non-governmental organisation working throughout Africa to bring creative solutions to the challenges posed by conflict on the continent. ACCORD’s primary aim is to influence political developments by bringing conflict resolution, dialogue and institutional development to the forefront as alternatives to armed violence and protracted conflict. For more information on ACCORD’s work, please contact Wolfe Braude, Communications Manager, at email@example.com.