Bringing African Women's Voices to the Table

Women's participation in government and decision making is central to peacebuilding.

Dec 10, 2019

Experts at the Global Gender Summit all agreed that women’s participation is central to building lasting peace and conflict resolution.

Leaders from government, international institutions, academia, the private sector, and civil society met in Kigali, Rwanda between November 25 and 27th for the biennial Global Gender Summit according to the Inter Press Service. The summit was organized by the multilateral development banks and was held for the first time in Africa.

With the theme of "Unpacking constraints to gender equality” the statements of many of the African leaders reflected the under-representation of women in decision-making roles, and the necessity to bring more female voices to the table.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda opened the event and acknowledged that while the wheels have been set in motion, changes are necessary as more institutions should be taking part in reducing gender inequality.

“We got it from the beginning that there is a lot of work to do…made investments to ensure that women are at the center of development. We are making sure that narrowing this gender gap is everyone’s responsibility,” Kagame said in his opening remarks.

In Africa, 70 percent of the women are excluded financially and there is a huge $42 billion financing gap between men and women. This is something that needs to be changed for there to be gender parity.

Rwanda –  surprisingly – has the highest female representation in parliament in the world- with 61 percent female parliamentarians and close to 50 percent ministerial roles. Similarly, Ethiopia boasts 50 percent female representation in both parliament and ministerial roles according to Inter Press Service .

At the summit, Africa’s only female president, Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia said, “There is good momentum for women and African women, but the work has just started… There is no template to follow…we (women) can deliver, but we can deliver differently.”

While women have entered many parts of the political arena, there is still a gaping hole regarding who is brought to discussions, when, and to what circles.

This is practically critical in the realm of peacebuilding and conflict resolution especially since women have been carrying a significant burden from conflict and have been traditionally left out of the peace-building discussions according to Relief Web

The Summit’s plenary session regarding conflict resolution spoke boldly about women’s presence being needed in peacebuilding.

“Africa needs to silence the guns. We need to develop our own action plans, not waiting for donor organizations and development partners,” said Bineta Diop, the African Union’s Special Envoy on women, peace and security. “Most of the time we don’t look at what fuels the conflicts. We need to invite women to the table of discussions and negotiations.”

Government representatives from  Côte d'Ivoire and Rwanda told the session how they were able to empower and include women into post-conflict peace processes. Africa is home to one-third of the global refugee population and that affects women and children the most.  

Côte d'Ivoire’s special advisor on gender Euphrasie Kouassi Yao specified that, "If we want Africa to be at peace, women must be empowered. And as we move towards elections next year, we are preparing women to be ambassadors of peace. It is about getting all women involved and empowered, from rural, urban, and even those in the diaspora."

Other speakers talked about the need for women at all stages of a project’s development and implementation. According to Kouassi Yao Côte d'Ivoire’s action plan is particularly successful as it is the first that was developed independent of donor agencies (and therefore most grounded to the real needs and ideas of the locals).

Fatima Zohra Karadja of the Panel of Eminent Persons of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) had a more specific request. She explained that women have already played significant roles in conflict relief.  “Women end up taking up the responsibility of coming up with strategies to rebuild what has been destroyed. We just need society to recognize this and enshrine it,” she said.

Statements at the summit asserted that the time has come to intentionally and strategically empower women of all backgrounds to be at the center of the discussions, and not just behind the scenes.

“A smarter world must invest in women and girls. Let’s be smart, and let’s be wise. Women are the best investment any society can make,” said Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank in the session.

When we empower women, we take all their knowledge, compassion, and experience passed down from generation to generation, wrap it into development strategies, and turn it into the policies that bring about social change.

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.