Vulnerabilities and Challenges of Women in Conflict Situations and Their Role in Building Democratic Governance: some points of discussion

womens-dConsidering that most recent conflicts were actually civil wars, civilians pay the biggest price. The cost is even close to 90%, most of victims being women and children[1].  If conflicts have some serious consequences on communities as a whole, women and girls are more affected because of their social status and their gender. Rape, forced pregnancy or sterilization and sexual slavery were often used in several countries as war weapons.

It is therefore important to protect women and girls during wars and conflict. But, to draw a long term strategy, it is important to think of strategies to include women and girls in preventing and resolving conflicts. Considering their important roles in African communities, we need to address the specific roles to be played by women in building democratic governance on the Continent.   

loi marteau         « An existing regulatory framework to address the issue »

Several international instruments protect the women and girls. In Africa, The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, to control of their reproductive health, and an end to female genital mutilation. This protocol is somehow a consequence of Article 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which calls on all States Parties to eliminate every discrimination against women and to ensure the protection of the rights of women as stipulated in international declarations and conventions. Considering this article, African States are committed to protect women using the international regulatory framework. The main challenge then is implementation! Eleven years later, 36 of the 54 members of the African Union (AU) States are now parties to the Protocol, a rate of ratification which is a real victory for those who have continually mobilized in this direction[2].

Resolution 1325 adopted in 2000 by the Security Council reaffirms the need to “implement fully international humanitarian and human rights laws that protects the rights of women and girls during and after conflicts. About gender-based crimes, African States decided at Maputo to “enact and enforce laws to prohibit all forms of violence against women including unwanted or forced sex whether the violence takes place in private or public”. Gender-based crimes fall under the jurisdiction of international criminal Courts. For instance, the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (‚ICTY‛) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (‚ICTR‛) both included rape as a crime against humanity. The International Criminal Court Statute in article 6 (Genocide), article 7 (crime against humanity) and article 8 (war crimes) set clearly the path toward prosecution against people committing Gender-based crimes.  

Women and girls are to be protected, especially during armed conflict. It is obvious that they face great challenges and are more vulnerable. What we need to focus on is how we ensure that women and girls fully participate in building democratic governance and help preventing conflicts or silencing guns in Africa.

Yes, women can make a big difference!

We can hardly think of silencing guns in Africa without thinking about women’s contribution. On every level of the African communities, you can find women playing a decisive role.

Basically, what do we need to do to foster women’s contribution? Here are some ideas:

-Adopt a gender perspective when addressing conflict resolution and peace building (E.g. Res. 1325): women do have specific needs after conflicts because they represent targets when conflicts are happening. Considering that most soldiers are men, women are most of the time the one to rebuild and consolidate familial entities. Without their commitment, it is hardly possible to reach a lasting peace and successfully reconstruct.

-Considering their particular needs and challenges, women’s voices need to be fully heard during the decision-making process. The principle of participation, which is one of the bases of democracy, has to be fully applied in this regard.

-Women-oriented organizations in Africa need to develop specific programs to build women capacity to make them able to participate to public debate and be politically educated. Regional programs can help to have a broader picture of women challenges within REC’s. It is a key step to develop a continental strategy for women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace building.

-Education represents a key for peace promotion and giving an alternative to young girls. Unfortunately, a lot of girls are left out of school or without minimum education. African States programs need to put an emphasis on girls’ education. For women, alphabetization programs need to be launched, with peace promotion in the curricula.

If we want to silence guns in Africa by 2020, gender issues are to be taken seriously and fully addressed.

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