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Africa Leadership Forum
Africa Women’s Forum
Third International Conference
on
"Women and Conflict Management in Africa"

Keynote speech
by
Angela E.V. King
Assistant Secretary-General
Special Adviser on Gender Issues and
Advancement of Women

22 January 2001

Your Excellency, Madame Specioza Kazibwe, Vice-President of Uganda
Your Excellency, Minister of Women and Family Matters, Madame Nezzhia Zerrouk
Excellencies,
Chair and Leaders of the Africa Leadership Forum,
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured to be here today, to give the keynote address at this International Conference on Women and Conflict Management in Africa and to renew our common efforts to empower women and bring lasting peace to Africa. At the outset, I would like to pay tribute to the people and Government of Tunisia for hosting this Conference and for the generous hospitality extended to all of us. I would like to pay a special tribute to you, Madame Chairperson, for your unstinting commitment to the ideals of gender equality and the advancement of women known widely both in Tunisia and in the United Nations arena. I also wish to take this opportunity to thank His Excellency Dr. Mario Da Graca Machungo, Chairman of the Africa Leadership Forum and former Prime Minister of Mozambique, and Mr. Ayodele Aderinwale, Executive Director of Africa Leadership Forum and other organizers of the Conference for the invitation and warm reception.

I am particularly conscious that our host, the Africa Leadership Forum, has long advocated the importance of women’s empowerment and security in creating a culture of gender equality in conflict management. The Forum was amongst the first to engage in a frank and wide-ranging discussion on practical links between peace, women’s leadership and gender equality. The presence of so many distinguished personalities gathered here under the auspices of the Third Africa Women’s Forum is yet another example of the strong commitment and desire to ensure that African women are in a position to contribute in a substantial way to international efforts to bring about peace and stability on this conflict-ridden continent.

I believe it is most appropriate that the third International Conference of the African Leadership Forum in this new twenty-first century offers us such an invaluable opportunity to focus on the critical issues of womens’ leadership in conflict management and to turn words into action. The positive trends in the latter part of last year in Africa are the first steps towards the resolution of numerous conflicts in the African region. In Somalia, a transitional Government, the first since the Horn of Africa dissolved into crisis in 1991, was formally inaugurated. Ethiopia and Eritrea ended their two-year border war in an agreement signed last month in Algeria.

The focus today is on women as actors and not merely victims of conflict and on women’s leadership in conflict management. I would first like to set out what I see to be the challenges of conflict management and women’s leadership in Africa, then provide illustrations of some of the strategies currently in place for effective conflict prevention and management by women. And then, I will highlight the work of the United Nations in promoting women’s role as actors in peace making.

CONFLICTS IN AFRICA

Over the past few decades Africa has probably suffered more from armed conflict than any other continent. Between 1960 and 1998, there were 32 wars in Africa, seven million lives were lost and over nine million people became refugees, returnees or displaced. In 1996 alone, 14 out of the 53 countries of Africa were afflicted by armed conflicts, accounting for more than half of all war-related deaths world-wide. The crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone has involved a dozen or so States and over 50 million people of the Great Lakes region. This is not a record of which the continent can be proud.

The consequences of these conflicts have seriously undermined Africa’s efforts to ensure long-term stability, prosperity, human rights and gender equality for its peoples. As a direct result, the quest for socio-economic development and strengthening of African economies has been undermined. For example, the 17-year old civil war in Sudan, has resulted in more than two million dead and at least five million displaced. It has brought starvation and extreme poverty to the Sudanese people. Ethiopia and Eritrea diverted an estimated 80 per cent of their national budgets to augment their defence in a war claiming at least 400,000 lives. They now face famine and destroyed livelihoods for millions of their citizens, in particular the most vulnerable and affected - women and children.

Conflicts have changed in nature. Interstate conflicts have given way to internal civil wars whose main victims are civilian populations. The tragic Rwandan genocide in 1994 will forever remain one of the darkest pages in African history. The new types of conflicts no longer aim at defeating the opponent’s armies but at inflicting pain and humiliation on civilians by destroying their identity and sense of community. They erode institutions that provide a basis for the sustainability of African societies and undermine societal values replacing them with institutionalized violence. Women become specific targets. Rape, forced pregnancies, sexual slavery and assault have also become deliberate instruments of war. Such instruments destroy the bonds which hold communities together.

These realities make the issues of gender equality and human rights particularly salient features of conflict management. It is therefore vital that attempts at managing violent ethnic conflicts or preventing them, must bring women into the process at an early stage as contributors and active participants in all stages of conflict management.

WOMEN’S STRATEGIES

The reality is women are part of the process and this is increasingly being recognised beyond the confines of the continent. Starting from grassroots activities including humanitarian assistance, demobilization and disarmament, child and health care, hostage exchange, and using traditional African conflict management approaches such as abantu, and the peace tent, women’s organizations in Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mali, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and the Sudan have grown in strength and legitimacy. They have extended their roles to a wider political agenda. Indeed, these grassroots activities often serve as catalysts that motivate others to mobilize and enter the struggle for peace.

Drawing on shared values of security and women coming together around shared concerns over getting wells and schools, community health, nutrition and care of children and the elderly, women engage in confidence-building programmes across communities and play a key role in fostering reconciliation both during conflict and after. Women’s networks mobilize women across party lines and are sometimes able to build consensus around peace proposals. They are amongst the strongest advocates of transparent and accountable governance. In addition, they increasingly create national coalitions and international networks for peace and democracy, building blocks for future sustainable peace and gender equality.

In the years leading to the 1994 elections, women in South Africa formed a strong National Women’s Coalition that cut across racial, political and social lines and was instrumental in sustaining the peace accord and in the drafting a democratic Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This coalition also assisted in setting the 30 per cent quota for women in all parties in parliament,. I want to make a personal tribute to Patience Pashe of AWCPD who in the struggle headed the Alexandra Peace Accord Committee and worked closely with the United Nations Observer Mission to South Africa, of which I was Chief. Last year, in Eritrea women mobilized other women to hold mass demonstrations, including in Asmara, to bring about an end to the war with Ethiopia. In Sierra Leone, the Women’s Forum, a network of women’s organizations and groups, raised public awareness of the Lomé Peace Accord and demanded greater involvement in the work of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. In replicating the national peace process at the local level, women in Mali played a key role in building bridges across society and in encouraging militants from both sides to engage in a constructive dialogue on implementation of the National Pact of 1992. Following a long struggle of Somali women for peace and democratization, including bringing warlords to the peace table, the Somalia Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Arta, Djibouti in 2000, included women but not yet as equal partners in the peace negotiations. In July 2000 Burundian women from all sides of the conflict demanded gender parity in the Arusha peace process facilitated by the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Several of the women’s demands were incorporated in the final document. These are only a very few of the strategies women have used effectively. Much more documentation and dissemination is needed.

The experiences of women have shown that, despite their successes, particularly in grassroots mobilization and campaigning, women continue to be marginalized and ignored. The challenges they face are manifold. They seek peace for their communities. They seek peace that is rooted in social justice and freedom. And at the same time, they are struggling for gender equality against long-term structural factors, which reinforce social and gender inequalities and inhibit women’s leadership potential.

To me, there are three major challenges that women and societies face in the struggle for women to take their rightful place at the peace table.

First, women are poorly represented at higher levels of decision-making. Of the 146 Heads of State and Government who attended the 2000 Millennium Summit, at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, only four were women and none of these came from Africa (Latvia, Finland, New Zealand and Bangladesh). Measures such as proportional representation, quotas, and a percentage of women on lists of candidates successfully used in Tanzania and South Africa, for example, will enable women to move ahead numerically, and transform parliamentary agendas. But merely having more women in positions of power is not enough. Women’s participation in all levels of government is crucial and must become an accepted feature of public life.

To meet this first challenge, current power structures have to recognize that by denying women the right to be part of the decision making process, they are denying true democracy and the more comprehensive political agenda which it introduces. Political parties must allocate adequate resources and training for women candidates.

A second challenge is gender-based violence against women. This persists and deepens in most countries of the world. Violence against women during armed conflict continues to be a major problem. Civilian casualties, most of them women and children, account today for 90 per cent of war-related deaths. Although the statutes and rules of the International Criminal Tribunals on the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and now of Sierra Leone, and of the International Criminal Court include rape as a crime against humanity, and sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and other forms of sexual violence, respect and protection of women’s rights by all governments is needed. We cannot rest until there are adequate laws to deal with these crimes and until the military, judiciary and the police are sensitized to the nature and effect of gender based violence.

To meet this challenge, the people of Africa and this Leadership Forum must advocate and promote the Campaign of Zero Tolerance to Violence Against Women launched by the special session of the General Assembly, Gender Equality, Development and Peace in the Twenty-first Century in its manifesto of 9 June, 2000.

Perhaps, the most insidious barrier to women’s equal participation in decision-making and leadership, however, is persistent stereotypical attitudes towards the respective gender roles of women and men. This constitutes the third challenge.

To break the cycle of violence and discrimination against women it is vital to change these attitudes both within formal government and within society and both on the part of men and among women themselves. Without a voice in decision-making, women have no access to resources. Without access to resources and to the institutions which shape social norms and attitudes, women will continue to be marginalized. To sustain these efforts and to change attitudes, women need support networks and the support of the international community.

To meet this challenge, the media throughout Africa must play a key role in highlighting good practices in gender equality and where women in peace succeed. Women themselves must be prepared to work together in a joint sisterhood covering the continent to gain recognition as a solid force not only as individuals in order to participate in peace missions, drawing up peace accords and rebuilding communities.

At the international level, the special session of the General Assembly on Beijing+5 held in June 2000 showed a remarkable consensus on the need for increased political leadership of women. It reviewed commitments made by governments with regard to protection of women in armed conflicts, support for women’s capacity building and political empowerment and proposed concrete actions for diverse actors. In this way, it ensured the way toward full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, including its critical areas on armed conflict and political decision-making. However, political will on the part of all African leaders and governing structures to implementing these goals nationally, is also essential.

ACTIONS BY THE UNITED NATIONS

Within the United Nations, gender is increasingly becoming a core concern in conflict management. We have learnt that failure to address gender at the outset not only tacitly endorses the exclusion of women, but compromises outcomes and their sustainability. The United Nations is developing new gender sensitive policies and approaches and has taken on an important role in the follow-up to the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women and Beijing+5.

The main United Nations body responsible for international peace and security – the Security Council - issued a statement on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2000, which represents a quantum leap forward in bringing gender perspectives to the fore in relation to peace and security. Members of the Council, for the first time, called for the full participation of women in power structures dealing with armed conflict. Later under the Presidency of the Foreign Minister of Namibia, the Security Council held its historic open debate on 24 and 25 October 2000 on women, peace and security. Building on the Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Plan of Action on Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations (May 2000), the Security Council adopted its first resolution ever on women and conflict management stressing the importance of women's equal participation with men and their full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. It called on Member States to increase women’s role throughout peace support operations as military, civilian police and above all, as heads of peace-keeping missions.

Many United Nations organizations,(agencies, funds, programmes and departments) play a key role in supporting women in different aspects of their conflict management activities by providing political and financial support, (including for research). In addition to the work of the Departments of Peace-keeping Operations [(DPKO), Department of] Political Affairs [(DPA), Office of the Coordinator of] Humanitarian Affairs [(OCHA) and Department for] Disarmament Affairs (DDA), special mention should be made of the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), [the Office of the High Commissioner for] Human Rights, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) and UNESCO Culture for Peace Programmes. UNDP, UNIFEM and UNCHS should also be credited with pioneering work at the national and grassroots level. Good practices have been identified, studied and published, including the study (by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Women and Post-Conflict Reconstruction. Capacity building for leadership and governance led by UNDP and UNIFEM has greatly facilitated women’s ability to play constructive roles at the national level.

These entities are all part of a recently formed Task Force on Women and Peace and Security which I chair (to strengthen collaboration in this critical area). We are currently collaborating together to prepare the study requested by the Security Council on 31 October on the impact of armed conflict on women.

Madame Chairperson,

Peace cannot be imposed from outside. Outsiders can help to draw up agreements and bring former adversaries to the negotiation table. A cease-fire may be declared and United Nations or Regional peacekeepers may be sent to monitor and keep control. But real peace, the bonds of trust and confidence, holding families and communities together, cannot be recreated overnight. It must be built on the interrelation of social and cultural norms and values in accordance with international human rights instruments and democratic principles. It takes time and patience. It requires the involvement of all sectors of society in the process.

There can be no peace without gender equality and no sustainable people-centred development without both peace and equality. Managing conflicts and rebuilding societies are no longer the exclusive preserve of men. We cannot exclude half the world’s resources from participating in the peace process. Without equal and fair participation of women in conflict management and decision-making we will never achieve the vision of a world free of the scourge of war, poverty and gender discrimination outlined in 1945 by the Founding Fathers and Mothers of the United Nations Charter.

What gives me confidence today is that African women are themselves more engaged than ever in taking hold of their own destiny and in finding solutions to their countries’ problems. What gives me even more confidence is that African women, using African institutions, including this Leadership Forum, have developed a momentum which has won recognition outside of Africa. These movements were impelled by regional preparatory conferences such as those in Dakar in 1994, and in Addis Ababa and Zanzibar in 1999. From these were formed the OAU/ECA African Women’s Committee on Peace and Development whose President is Ms. Speciosa Wandire Kazibwe, Vice-President of Uganda whom we honour here today. Countless other grassroots non-governmental organizations have also emerged. Women have focused on curbing the proliferations of small arms, on disarming child soldiers, the return of refugees and the protection of children.

The international community, including the United Nations, has the opportunity to support and complement these efforts to achieve success in ensuring peace and prosperity in Africa in this new century.

Madame Chairperson, as we leave this session of the African Leadership Forum on Wednesday, let us all pledge to take the rich concept of the African Women’s Peace Tent with us and make it a reality for the future generations on this Continent.

I wish you all a productive outcome of this historic Forum. Thank you, Madame Chairperson.  

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