November was an important month for women. The insecurity in South Sudan, Sudan, and Central African Republic has lead women to mobilize and take action towards establishing peace. However, there are missed opportunities and concerns with the current initiatives that can be and should be rectified.
In Sudan, as investigations continue into the allegations of mass rape of 200 women in Tabit, North Darfur, African Union/United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) organized “Global Open Day forum bringing together more than 140 women representing the five states of Darfur to discuss the role of women in peace”. It was meant to reinvigorate efforts at implementing Resolution 1325. However, an important part of the resolution, which stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, seems to have been largely ignored.
Yet, the timing for having such a discussion could not be more perfect: the Sudanese government and the rebel groups have begun their peace talks to discuss possible solutions to the current conflict. The conflict started back in 2003, when four rebels groups accused the government of discrimination, negligence, and marginalization. Since then, several attempts at bringing peace through peace talks have failed. However, one of the rebel groups did sign a cease fire agreement with the government back in 2006. Unfortunately, thus far, no focused efforts have been made to include women in the peace talks. Therefore, Global Open Day forum could have been an excellent opportunity to bring Resolution 1325 to life and brainstorm different ways of involving women in the peace talks. Unfortunately, it did not seem to have an extensive discussion on the topic or produce a concrete plan of action for involving women in the peace talks. This missed opportunity should be rectified by the UNAMID by connecting civil women’s organization with the Government and ensuring that their voices and concerns in regards to the conflict are heard and that they are involved in the peace talks.
In addition, in Central African Republic in the town of Zemio, hundreds of women have marched topless to protest sectarian violence that has killed and displaced thousands of people. This tactic is similar to the one employed by the women in South Sudan in October, who decided to deny sex to their husbands. Both conflicts have lasted close to a year, killed and displaced thousands of people, and bred hatred, violence, and a vicious cycle of revenge and retaliation between different communities; yet, thus far, the conflicts have been largely ignored by the international community. In both cases, the strife between the rebel groups and the government have completed sidelined the needs of people, especially women. Critics have remarked that, by themselves, the tactics are unlikely to persuade the warring sides to put down their arms and truly commit to peace talks. Although this is most likely true, both tactics succeeded in attracting some media attention. Further similar initiatives on the part of the women can bring more media attention to the conflict and incite action from the international community. Only with the support of the international community can women in these countries achieve enough leverage to commit the warring parties to peace and ensure that they involve women in the peace process.
Margaryta Yakovenko is a recent graduate from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. She specializes in peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and security sector reform. She recently completed an internship with Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada.