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Beyond Victimhood: Women's Peacebuilding in Sudan, Congo and Uganda

©2006 Crisis Group - International Crisis Group

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Beyond Victimhood: Women's Peacebuilding in Sudan, Congo and Uganda
Africa Report N•112
28 June 2006


Peacebuilding cannot succeed if half the population is excluded from the process. Crisis Group's research in Sudan, Congo (DRC) and Uganda suggests that peace agreements, post-conflict reconstruction, and governance do better when women are involved. Women make a difference, in part because they adopt a more inclusive approach toward security and address key social and economic issues that would otherwise be ignored. But in all three countries, as different as each is, they remain marginalised in formal processes and under-represented in the security sector as a whole. Governments and the international community must do much more to support women peace activists.

The scale of discrimination and violence against women in each armed conflict ¼Ā" and the impunity with which it continues to be committed ¼Ā" remain the central obstacles to expanding the good work being done by women peacebuilders. The international community speaks a great deal about including women in formal peace-making processes and recognising their peacebuilding contributions but fails to do so in a systematic, meaningful way. Advances have been made in understanding the links between gender, development, human rights, peace, security and justice. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 reaffirmed the role of women in preventing and resolving conflicts and mandates UN member states to take steps to increase women's participation in decision-making. However, endemic discrimination and sexual violence are significant barriers to achieving Resolution 1325's goal of inclusivity.

The stereotype of "women as only victims" should not be reinforced. An array of women's organisations and women leaders are doing remarkable work in each of the three countries, under difficult circumstances. The daily struggle for survival greatly limits the numbers who have become peace activists but their potential is significant. Because those who are courageous and capable enough to involve themselves as catalysts in peacebuilding are an endangered minority, they should be safeguarded and strengthened with funding, training and inclusion in assessment missions and other decision-making mechanisms that shape fundamental questions of security.

Properly supported, women's peace movements can affect large sectors of the population and be a powerful force for reducing violence and building democratic and participatory public institutions, particularly in the post-conflict period. Their organisations should be identified at the outset of peacemaking processes and helped to work within broader peace initiatives and to communicate their messages to both national leaders and the international community.

The role of Sudanese women varies by region. Though women contribute prominently to peacebuilding through civil society, they were largely excluded from both the North-South and Darfur peace negotiations. Two pressing issues for women peace activists are the return of refugees and the internally displaced, and increasing women's capacity to enter the democratisation processes set in motion this past year. Neither the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement nor the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement provide guarantees for women's participation in the implementation processes. Women are under-represented at national and local levels, and even stated commitments to their participation in formal government structures have not been fulfilled.

Congolese women have registered and voted in impressive numbers and secured commitments on paper for greater roles in governance. However, in practice they remain badly under-represented and violence against them, often rape, is widespread and committed with impunity. Without greater political representation and more robust efforts to deal with the flood of weapons and militias that make the East highly unstable, women will continue to suffer disproportionately from the impacts of this conflict, and their potential as peacebuilders will not be fully achieved.

Though the situation is far from ideal, Uganda has by far the most advanced, articulate and organised women's peace movement of the three countries ¼Ā" one whose basic principles can be replicated. The model that has evolved there relies on autonomy, including to some extent in funding, which makes its organisations both more independent and sustainable. It relies on networking to share common experiences among disparate regions and offer practical training for conflict resolution and trauma counselling both within families and in wider community and inter-community disputes ¼Ā" an approach with a proven success rate in reducing violence. With careful consultation, a commitment to learn lessons and a strong budgetary mechanism, and if leadership remains with the women who have created it, it could serve as the basis for a women's regional peace initiative.


To the Sudanese Government of National Unity and the Government of South Sudan:

1.  Fulfil stated commitments to women's participation in all formal government structures.

2.  Ensure at least 25 per cent women's participation in implementation of all phases of the Darfur Peace Agreement, including the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation, aiming for targets similar to those set in Southern Sudan.

3.  Extend land ownership to women and include women in all resource-sharing discussions, including those governing land and oil.

4.  Establish a fund within the Multi-Donor Trust Fund to train women to participate in the security sector and government, and include women's organisations in the Fund's management and disbursement of monies.

5.  Develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to prepare women for political roles as the country moves toward elections.

6.  Stop the support that still goes from within the National Congress Party and the army to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda; act with the Ugandan government to protect female abductees who escape the LRA and are detained by the Sudanese army and give them appropriate protection as mandated by the Geneva Convention.

7.  Amend the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act (2006) to conform to international law, including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998).

8.  Educate police and medical personnel to handle rape cases correctly and implement the Amended Circular (2005), which allows women to seek medical care without first filing Criminal Form Eight.

9.  Ensure that disarmament and demobilisation programs cover women who will be left behind when the army deploys north, and when the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) deploys south pursuant to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

To the Government of Congo:

10.  Establish commissions to apply and monitor measures related to women in the new constitution, especially Article 15 on the elimination of sexual violence, and promote equal opportunities for women.

11.  Include promotion of women's rights in the job description of all ministers, not only the ministry for women and the family.

12.  Strengthen the justice system by promoting reforms to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence, give legal aid to victims and establish special police and prosecutorial units to investigate sexual crimes.

To the Government of Uganda:

13.  Immediately enact and provide funding for laws related to domestic relations, sexual offences, succession and domestic violence to protect the rights of women and children in the family and educate the population about those laws.

14.  Support Betty Bigombe's efforts to mediate the conflict with the LRA, work with Sudanese authorities to assist abducted girls and women who escape the LRA in southern Sudan and develop a strategy for cooperation with the Congolese government to eliminate LRA bases in eastern Congo.

15.  Support communities to implement healing and reconciliation processes in conflict areas and build the capacity of female and male leaders to manage traumatised returnees, as stated in Article 9 of the Amnesty Act (2000); complement that law by strengthening the demobilisation and reintegration process, including by protecting returnees and giving the full resettlement packages promised.

To the Governments of all Three Countries and Other Members of the International Community:

On Human Security

16.  Consult with local women to design, implement and monitor budgets, policies and programs to enhance the effectiveness of state spending to promote women's rights.

17.  Make education and training accessible to women and girls living in unstable environments and offer women training in leadership, management, finance, land tenure, communication, peace and security to promote their entry into state institutions, particularly those in charge of security.

18.  End impunity for sexual violence and exploitation, whether by husbands, family members, officials, or military or police personnel, and establish special police and prosecutor units that include women, trained to investigate and help prosecute crimes of sexual and domestic violence.

On Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) and Small Arms

19.  Ensure that DDR programs take into account the different needs of female and male ex-combatants, combatant associates and dependents by including women on demobilisation design committees, and empower women to lobby and assist in reintegration efforts by providing them with access to resources and training.

On Security Sector and Judicial Reform and Justice

20.  Implement laws to end impunity for rape and sexual assault by punishing perpetrators and facilitating survivors' access to timely and appropriate judicial support and redress, and encourage the International Criminal Court, when investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan, Congo and Uganda, to prosecute gender-based violence, which has been ruled a crime against humanity.

21.  Open police and military recruitment to women, ensure parity in all training, including weapons handling, and institute recruitment and training programs and policies, including quota systems, to promote women police and army officers into senior positions.

22.  Establish cooperative forums for police and women peacemakers, particularly in rural areas where police services rarely exist, and in camps for internally displaced persons; train women peace activists to record and report on crimes such as domestic violence, rape, illicit weapons and other security-related issues; and protect women informants, witnesses and survivors from harassment, intimidation and violence.

On Reproductive Health Care

23.  Support government health institutions to provide healthcare for women in conflict and high-violence zones and to offer free treatment in cases of sexual violence.

24.  Combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, which is exacerbated by armed conflict, by offering voluntary counselling, testing and anti-retroviral treatment; prioritise health education and counselling on sexual violence to help overcome the stigmatisation, exclusion and abandonment of rape survivors, especially those who are HIV positive.

On Regional and Cross-Border Security

25.  Facilitate women's participation in regional and cross-border peacebuilding forums, such as the Amani Forum in the Great Lakes region, especially with regard to LRA incursions; assist community-based organisations working to return women abducted across borders and coordinate these efforts with the UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan and Congo and Betty Bigombe's mediation efforts in Uganda.

On Legal Rights

26.  Ensure the primacy of laws that honour and protect women's rights over customary law and other traditional practices and guarantee the enforcement of those laws; include men in discussions on promoting women's rights.

Nairobi/Brussels, 28 June 2006

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