African Women: Nothing About Us, Without Us

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[Courageous Women Waging Peace]

Today is International Women's Day (IWD).
IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.
The renewed focus and empowerment of women has been one of the most positive recent developments - with a significant growth globally of movements placing women at the center of conflict resolution and peace building.
Lina Zedriga Abuku is the Uganda Country Manager for UN Resolution 1325, which recognizes the role of women as stakeholders in peace building and conflict resolution. Her advocacy for women is enshrined in a phrase, which emerged from the movement for women's inclusion in Uganda: "Nothing about us, without us."
I spoke with Ms. Zedriga, who is Uganda-based, by telephone. Ms. Zedriga spoke about the role of women in conflict resolution, the multi-faceted role women play in peace building and women-led efforts to reform the donor-funded Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for Northern Uganda. Ms. Zedriga is a former judge, and mother of eight. She was associate director of the Center for Conflict Management and Peace Studies at Gulu University. A widower, Ms. Zedriga's husband, an opposition-party politician, "disappeared" years ago. She discusses the role of women in Uganda, their marginalization, and those trying to leave the government operated internment camps referred to as IDPs. In 2005 The World Health Organization rpeorted that more than 1,000 excess deaths of civilians occurred in these government operated camps, supposedly set up to protect people from Lords Resistance Army rebels.

BSN: Can you speak about the concept of women as stakeholders and the role of women in conflict resolution? How can women be included in this process?
Zedriga: In terms right now of the Northern Uganda conflict, the 22 years plus conflict, women had been left out completely in the process, even the Juba peace process until we came together under a caucus, under the Uganda Women's Network for Peace. And then we were able to have an advocacy campaign, and ... we also had some women go to Juba. Then in terms of the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, it was done without any consultation at the grassroots level, and as such, it does not, this document, the three-years recovery document, does not reflect the suffering of women in the armed conflict and their initiatives.
My argument is that one, the women are stakeholders. They are not victims of conflict. So, we are working now together with the religious organizations and the cultural institutions to make sure that women are systematically included ... in the peace process.
Then two, the war was fought in the women's bodies. In terms of the rape, in terms of the sexual enslavement, in terms of the abductions and unwanted pregnancies-these are very critical too. Women were excluded in the peace processes, until we came together, then we had advocacy groups, and then we involved them. We had a lot of meetings, campaigns, demands.
Then three, the Peace Recovery and Development Plan still does not include women's concerns. It is totally absent. So why this continual exclusion of women? And when women are reflected, we are reflected as victims, not as stakeholders. It has continued.
So, then, we came up with the slogan, that if that is the case, because we were so much excluded-even the simplest packages do not take into consideration the suffering of women-the critical concerns of women in terms of development. Women are referred to as victims, as people who have suffered-as if we have nothing to offer!We have a lot to offer, we are critical stakeholders, and we have said "Nothing about us, without us," because, if there is anything without us, it excludes the women's concerns. This is very critical.
So, we are now engendering the Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP). It was put on hold, because of a critique that I did. A one-and-a-half pager. We have come together under the umbrella organization of the Uganda Women's Coalition for Peace, hosted by the Uganda Women's Network and then ISIS-WICCE (Isis-Women's International Cross Cultural Exchange) to do one, documentation two, advocacy and three engage and inform the Office of the Prime Minister, the political heads, the religious heads.
I just want to make sure that the women at the grassroots do not consider themselves as victims. They are the driving force in this peace process. So they are the critical stakeholders. And how do I do it? I do it by mentoring, because I am a war widow. Two, by going to the communities, where we have debates for the women, to air out their views in terms of their definition of peace, their definition of the recovery, their definition of the return, and then we work with the media organizations, and it is aired live. So it has given the women the force, and the self-confidence.
We are also doing a training for leadership, where we are fortifying and building the confidence of the grassroots women-even those who cannot read and write-they are very good leaders. So we are now identifying them and having them lineup through the Forum for Women and Democracy, to come up with a lineup for those who are going to run for critical offices, political offices.

BSN: What is UN Security Resolution 1325?
Zedriga: You know in the year 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed a landmark resolution. Resolution 1325, says one-for the first time ever the United Nations acknowledged the disproportionate effects of war and armed conflict on women, at the United Nations Security Council level. They have acknowledged that.
Then two, it calls on state parties, and parties to armed conflict, to take into serious consideration civilians, especially women. And then three, it calls on the state parties to include women in peacekeeping, peace building and recognize women's efforts in peace processes at all the levels.
When Kofi Annan was giving a brief to the UN Security Council when he was still the Secretary General, he did state that efforts to resolve conflicts will not succeed unless we involve those who are most affected, including and especially when women ... he was giving a report to the Security Council about women's peace initiatives in armed conflict situations, the gender dynamics and the gender roles that's changed, how women, really are the fabric of peace building and to keep the society together during armed conflict.
And yes, when it comes to negotiating peace, these women are nowhere, it is all men, men, men, and therefore, they do not have sustainable peace!
So, we must make sure that these provisions of the Security Council, in terms of including women in all processes, especially DDR, is really adhered to. And it is not easy, because for example in Uganda, we do not have the actual plan!

BSN: How is it going to be implemented?
Zedriga: One of the things we did so far- I organized in June last year a meeting for Parliamentarians in Northern Uganda, just a basic introduction to the principles of UN Resolution 1325. So they came back and they wrote an advocacy policy brief for the Speaker of Parliament, so now at least they have taken it up at that level.
Then at the District level, the women leaders have understood the principles of 1325, and they are now demanding for their space in leadership positions. So, we need to encourage and build more of this in terms of exchange visits, in terms of learning from other jurisdictions, for example Rwanda excelled in UN 1325.
So if we can organize for example, like 10 women from the armed conflict districts and then they go. Exchange visits are very, very good. They open the eyes.

BSN: In terms of conflict resolution, what do you see as the primary role of women? What is the most crucial role that women play?
Zedriga: You know-women play multi-faceted roles, by the way we are socialized from babyhood. You are socialized to be one, tolerant, to be patient, to be considerate-society trains us like that, by the way. So then, our crucial role-the women's crucial role then-one, they are one of the best mediators. Very good mediators! Whether this woman has gone to school or not-she is trained. Across all societies and cultures ... So, then what we can do is to document these experiences, upgrade them, because they are there in all of these cultures.
Specifically in Northern Uganda, we now need to upgrade this in view of the PRDP. Transitional Justice, right now they are pushing it. Some of the cultural leaders and some of the religious leaders are pushing for the mato oput, which is the cultural method, so the women in that cultural aspect are totally excluded. Then, what we need to now do is to engage, engage with these cultural leaders and say, this is 2009, women are very critical. We share the documented experiences of women peace builders in northern Uganda. They need to know these things, and they need to bring the women on board.
We initiated that with the Acholi cultural institutions, I have a report, which you can even Google my name ... So we identified the political actors right now, that is the cultural institutions, the religious institutions and the political institutions. Then we do a small analysis of what is the percentage of women in the critical decision making offices-they are not there. Then, we come up with a policy briefing and a demanding note-then they will listen, because I know, they have done it before. So we need to put these women into critical offices, they must go there.

BSN: What are the specific issues that women need to have addressed? What are the most urgent issues?
Zedriga: The most urgent issues for these women, one, is in terms of protection. They are returning to the communities and they are a target by the thugs, by the criminals, because they are women ... most of the men are remaining in the IDPs and the satellite camps. So we need to sensitize, to demand, and to also to train the protection mechanisms like the police and so on.
So we need protection, and then two the traditional justice issues. We need these women to have a forum where one, they can come and be listened to. They have various disputes, they have various injustices that they have experienced.
They have these experiences of rape, defilement, what... that has happened to them. We now need a forum where they can tell their story as women. And then, they will be able to come up with what is it in terms of traditional justice. Do they want to go through the formal process of the court, or is it just that they want to demand for an apology. Because they actually, the various women, have the answers to exactly what they need to be done.

(The Second Part of this interview will be published tomorrow)

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