UN officials and civil society push for female inclusion in Congo peace building
Displaced Women in northeast DRC’s North Kivu province. Photo credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti
On July 25, the United Nations Security Council urged "full and prompt" implementation of previous agreements in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region. At the meeting, Mary Robinson, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, discussed the importance of incorporating women into peace building efforts.
With more than 5.4 million dead since the outbreak of war in 1998 and 6.4 million people currently in need of emergency aid, the body condemned attacks by the March 23 Movement (M23) and other armed groups as well as mass rapes in the region.
Think about that death toll. It is the worst since the World War II and the world has, by and large ignored it. We owe the people of the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, it is time for the world to pay the bill. The price isn't very high but the cost to us of not paying the bill is our humanity. Six and a half million people need our help they only want what we have security be it food, physical safety, or justice.
Robinson also underscored the importance of adopting "zero tolerance of gender-based violence" in the Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework, a plan signed on February 24 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that aims to protect the civilian population and establish peace in the region.
Since the signing of the Framework, increased efforts have been made by civil society groups and UN officials such as Robinson to create an "inclusive peace dialogue" aimed at incorporating women and other minority groups into peace building efforts. With an average of four Congolese women raped every five minutes, women are often the most affected by the conflict yet are the most isolated from discussion.
Think about that. That is 1152 rapes per day. Annually 420,489 rapes. And the world has tolerated this. We have allowed rape to become a weapon used against civilians.
"Women are critical in this 'inclusive peace dialogue' not only because they are 50 percent of the population but also because they bear the brunt of the conflict. They are active peace builders and they are the mediators and facilitators in conflict resolutions efforts," explains Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, International Coordinator for the Global Network of Women Peace builders (GNWP), to MediaGlobal News.
At a July 23 panel discussion titled "Women's Messages for Action in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region," global representatives, including Cabrera-Balleza, aimed to discuss developments in issues facing the DRC and draw attention to the "alarming rates of conflict-related sexual violence" in the region.
The discussion, sponsored by The Permanent Missions of Australia and Uruguay to the UN, as well as non-profits GNWP and Amnesty International, also worked to update the panel on two fundamental updates in female inclusion efforts: the April "Women's Peace Dialogue" in Kinshasa, DRC, as well as the July regional conference on "women, peace, and development" in Bujumbura, Burundi, spearheaded by Special Envoy Robinson and civil society actors.
According to Cabrera-Balleza, while the April Women's Peace Dialogue was proceeding in Kinshasa, a mass rape of 200 women occurred in Eastern Congo's "Province Orientale."
She noted that at the Dialogue, two Congolese ministers conceded that the government had completely lost control of certain portions of the country, like "Province Orientale." Therefore, it is important to support civil society efforts in the region to continue development projects and fill the void.
What is even worse is that Kinshasa has also lost control of the Congolese Army ( FARDC ) in those provinces who along with the armed rebels such as M23, FDLR and numerous others are committing these rapes .
An inclusive peace dialogue "has not been convened until today because of the fragmentation among various sectors in the country and within each sector, within government agencies and even within civil society," Cabrera-Balleza tells MediaGlobal News.
The "Kinshasa Call to Action," created at the Women's Peace Dialogue, listed demands directed toward the DRC government, African Union member states, and signatories of the PSC framework in regards to female protection.
The July Bujumbura regional conference, on the other hand, created an action plan for the implementation of the PSC Framework. The meeting united more than 100 female civil society leaders and eventually led to the adoption of the plan by Burundi, DRC, and Rwanda.
Rwanda. I am so sick and tired of the constant cynicism of that regime. Much of the instability in the the Eastern DR Congo can be laid at Kigali's feet.
In addition to developing a "road map" for women's engagement and inclusion in peace initiatives, the July conference established the "Donor's Group," which commits to accessible funding toward women's projects in the Great Lakes region.
After participating at the July Conference, Rosine Sori-Coulibaly, UN Resident Coordinator and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Burundi, expressed that "it was a very fruitful meeting."
"Women were happy to see that the Special Envoy was taking the contributions of women very seriously. They have come up with concrete actions that can be undertaken in terms of gender based violence," Sori-Coulibaly tells MediaGlobal News.
She continued that it is important to incorporate women in the dialogue because "women are often left out although they are the ones most affected by conflict."
Although recent additions of women into government have occurred, there remains a "wide institutional gap in terms of governments' leadership in adapting laws" and "gender parity in access to public institutions," explains Elsie Effange-Mbella, Senior Gender Advisor at the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO)'s Office of Gender Affairs, to MediaGlobal News.
Women account for about half of the population and 60 percent of the work force but currently, women's representation in government is only 16 percent, added Effange-Mbella.
The government of DRC sent a delegation to the Bujumbura conference, where they helped create a "communication platform" as well as a donor-funding program in order to support female involvement in the implementation of the PSC Framework.
MONUSCO held a debriefing on the Bujumbura conference on August 5, explains Effange-Mbella, where female political leaders were honored and women's groups united to urge more girls to join the army.
Regardless of these attempts, GNWP's Cabrera-Balleza, in a statement to MediaGlobal News, criticized MONUSCO's role in empowering women amidst conflict and claims that more should be done in terms of monitoring.
In terms of "advancing" the women's rights agenda, "MONUSCO has not performed well," Cabrera-Balleza tells MediaGlobal News.
Going forward, Cabrera-Balleza underscores, it is important to monitor what mechanisms MONUSCO will implement that will "guarantee women civil society representation" and that they provide more "concrete support" for female survivors of sexual violence.
This past week Special Envoy Robinson highlighted that in 20 years of "killings, rape, destruction, and displacement," women have "suffered most."
"Women's voices should not only be heard because they are the victims of the war. Their active participation in peace efforts is essential because they are the most effective peace builders," continued Robinson. "I believe they are the region's best hope for building lasting peace."
My fear is that this will be ignored. Talk fests are unfortunately common when it comes to the DR Congo.