Women at the forefront of peace and security

The Director for the Unity Program at the Foundation,Professor Ikaweba Bunting.PHOTO|WOMAN MAGAZINE

What you need to know:

The Director for the Unity Program at the Foundation, Professor Ikaweba Bunting speaks to us on the importance of putting women at the centre of peace and security work in Tanzania.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, with indications that despite progress in some areas, more efforts are needed to create meaningful opportunities for women.

According to analyses by the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation on the peace and security situation in Africa, there is need to increase women’s influence in peace and security leadership and strengthen the protection of women and children against various forms of violence. The Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation has partnered with UN Women to advocate for the development of a National Action Plan for the implementation of the Resolution 1325.

The Director for the Unity Program at the Foundation, Professor Ikaweba Bunting speaks to us on the importance of putting women at the centre of peace and security work in Tanzania.

Q: Why is it important for Tanzania to have in place a Resolution 1325 Action Plan?

An Action Plan will operationalize the Resolution and strengthen ongoing efforts to ensure equal participation of women in peace and security leadership. The instrument recognizes the importance of women’s inclusion in all socio-cultural activities for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

We should keep in mind that the absence of war in any country does not necessarily mean there is peace and security.

In Tanzania, we still have levels of violence that are unacceptable; such as gender-based violence; structural and criminal violence; as well as socio-cultural practices and attitudes that are harmful to women and children. At the just concluded consultative meeting we held in December last year, one of the participants, a female senior army officer who has worked in peacekeeping operations cautioned against framing gender-based violence exclusively on rape and war but to have a broader understanding of other forms of violence affecting women in countries such as Tanzania.

Similarly, I would add that security is also defined in a much wider context of human development, including livelihood and food security, shelter, access to health care, environmental protection and other wellbeing and social security factors.

The Resolution is not inward-looking and therefore its implementation will focus on Tanzanian society and importantly acknowledge and build upon the international role that Tanzanian women play in support of peace operations through organizations such as the United Nations and the African Union.

As you know, Tanzania shares borders with some countries that are in conflict, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and provides support for human protection through the refugee camps as well as peacekeeping troops. These roles make the formulation of the Action Plan imperative to enable capacity building and expanded participation of women, alongside mainstreaming gender in all peace and security related activities.

We are happy that the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania already has in place the National Plan of Action to end Violence against Women and Children, which can be strengthened from the context of promoting women’s efforts in peace and security.

Q: Tanzania has a legacy as a leader on issues of peace and security through the role played by President Julius Nyerere in supporting the attainment of independence in the Southern African region. Do you think there has been a shift in Tanzania’s position towards its contribution to Peace Leadership in Africa?

Mwalimu Nyerere pursued peace through justice for all as he believed that conditions of injustice and inequality were the root causes of conflict and gender-based violence. Therefore, at the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation, we recognize that globally there is still economic and social injustice that contributes to conflict in many African countries.

There is need to strengthen Peace Leadership in Africa, in terms of having governments, local communities, women and organizations to lead and drive the peace, security and governance agenda at different levels.

I think Tanzania can help support that leadership role by building upon its national legacy of peace and stability. However, we need to look at the context today.

Some years ago, I was working in emergencies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. The conflict in the Great Lakes region placed a lot of pressure on Tanzania, which each month received thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries. Some politicians and emergency relief workers in countries in conflict referred to Tanzania as the ‘super-power’ of receiving refugees. But today we can’t say the same. There is an apparent shift due to the new political and economic dynamics across the region.

However, Tanzania has a good peace foundation and all that we need are new strategies and models of peace leadership to reinvigorate our efforts.

Q: Why is it is important for women to participate meaningfully in peace initiatives within the context of Africa and specifically Tanzania and what are the barriers for women?

To quote the former UN Women Under-Secretary General Michelle Bachelet “Wherever there is conflict, women must be part of the solution”. We need women to lead and be part of the processes. It is not about counting the number of women in positions of influence but it’s because “Women Count”.

Recurring conflicts in some countries in Africa and how that threatens stability of the whole region, makes it important for us to have women and men working together.

The reality is that, we need women at various levels including at the grassroots, intermediate as well as in high-level peace talks and peace treaty implementation. We need coordination, organizing and solutions to come from the bottom-up and led by women. That bottom begins with the economically and socially marginalized households in villages and the urban communities. This inclusive approach is so important because if we look at conflicts in countries such as South Sudan and Somalia, women and children suffer the most. Therefore, when we silence them and stifle their influence in spaces where decisions are made, we disempower them and ironically also, we cripple our collective ability as nations to come up with strategies and actions that can effectively address the multiplicity of needs of women, children and men.

Africa has done fairly well in the implementation of some of its inclusive approaches seeking to promote women in decision making positions such as in political and governance structures. However, we still have a lot of work to do to achieve gender parity in other areas still dominated by men. We can promote women through increased investment in their education and technology and creating enabling environments for equal access to resources, participation and opportunities.

In the areas of peace, security and governance, there is need to remove structural barriers entrenched in the socio and cultural norms that impede women’s power and influence. Interventions include developing gender sensitive systems, policies and laws that can revitalize the values and ideals of gender equality and help to create space for women to recover their power.

When women recover their power, they can exercise their full potential as central figures in all social, cultural and economic interaction in strategic and sustainable processes.

In fact, African women, including women in Tanzania have solutions to problems their communities face. The daily wellbeing of countless families surviving on less than $1.00 per day are dependent on the innovative and creative solutions devised by women.

What is missing for Africa to benefit more from women are strong platforms of support and socio-cultural space for their ideas, their survival tenacity to resonate at the higher levels and render powerful influence in policy formulation. It is imperative that we create national platforms for women to formally discuss challenges and solutions for problems in their communities for their contributions to be included in the design of national programmes.

Q : Africa is home to some of the most influential women who occupy powerful positions, in your opinion, how can women leverage on this to create opportunities for other women in the area of peace leadership?

Influential women should use their positions to create opportunities for other women in decision making positions.

I would like to appreciate the role that women’s rights organization play together with international organizations such as UN Women in advocating for the inclusion of women in all sectors. Their strategies are working as we are beginning to see how they are influencing women in leadership positions becoming the voice that speaks on behalf of marginalised women.

I think these kinds of partnerships enable collective strategies and actions are important as they enable innovations that can break down the barriers that negatively affect the participation of women in decision making.

The backlash on why women’s empowerment is real and can affect financing for gender equality. This situation demands women at the top to work with other women to influence change of attitude at various levels.

What role can men play to support increased leadership and participation of women in issues of peace and security?

I feel strongly that men must be activists in support of the rejuvenation of women’s power and their primordial centrality in creating social stability, peace and prosperity. If we sincerely want to see a prosperous, united and peaceful Africa, as men we must recognize the fact that women are innovators and support efforts to advance gender equality. Those without a voice, we must be at the forefront of creating the space for them to express and realize their power and ingenuity!

There is a lot we can learn from women, for example, despite the economic realities of the global economic order that exponentially exploit women, they remain resilient and perpetually innovating and creating solutions to problems.

This is enough evidence that our very survival as well as the realization of our collective hopes and aspirations are dependent on women’s full and unfettered leadership in national, Pan African and global agendas.

Every son, brother, nephew and husband is aware that women are capable, powerful and essential! Men must dispel themselves of the concocted, socially constructed notions that define them otherwise. We must be the champions that lead in support of our women to rise to power and deconstruct the attitudes, policies and structures that oppress them.