“We can no longer afford to minimize or ignore the contributions of women and girls to all stages of conflict resolution, peacemaking, peace-building, peacekeeping and reconstruction processes. Sustainable peace will not be achieved without the full and equal participation of women and men.” Kofi Annan (former Secretary General of the United Nations)
Over the last ten years, Shalom-SCCRR has empowered 6,706 women with knowledge, skills and techniques in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. These women become strategic resource persons in leading different peacebuilding initiatives at the local level. In 2019 alone, Shalom-SCCRR trained 219 community facilitators (CFs) of whom 52 were women. The CFs support Shalom-SCCRR’s conflict transformation and peacebuilding initiatives at the grassroots level in Shalom-SCCRR project locations in Samburu, Isiolo, Marsabit, Turkana, West Pokot, Tana River counties, Ilemi Triangle (Kenya-Ethiopia-South Sudan interface), Kisumu-Nandi border, Nakuru rural areas and Nairobi informal settlements.
Since the foundation of Shalom-SCCRR, huge emphasis has been laid on quality training of women in conflict transformation and peacebuilding at various levels; and offering mentorship and guidance to women in pursuit of their academic excellence. It is important to note that all the women working for Shalom-SCCRR are highly skilled and qualified with each having attained a Master’s degree in peace studies and international relations and are aiming at advancing their studies. A substantial number of women have joined Shalom-SCCRR in the recent years that has reflected its interest in achieving gender parity among its highly qualified staff.
Shalom-SCCRR has been original and consistent in its methodology of working with women which is based on upholding women from a different class, age, religion, and ethnic group as protagonists and actors rather than victims. This methodology emphasizes their involvement in all stages in the conflict transformation post-conflict peace process: the planning, implementation, and reconstruction stages at local, national, and regional levels.
Gender is a highly significant dimension in peacebuilding. Conflict is a gendered activity. Women are affected and respond differently to conflicts. Violence negatively affects women’s general well-being and prevents them from fully participating in society. Women are constantly targeted during violent conflicts where they are either injured, abused or killed. It is therefore important to incorporate them in conflict transformation post-conflict peace processes as they bear the brunt of conflict. Consequently, for conflict resolution and reconstruction processes to be successful they must be involved at every stage.
Against the background that women constitute more than 50% of the population in Kenya, Shalom-SCCRR has over the years focused on initiatives that have at the core-platforms and forums that strengthen the capacity of women to participate in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. These women are given ‘safe spaces’ to engage in grassroots and informal peacebuilding initiatives where they take up leadership roles during dialogue, negotiation and mediation forums, train other illiterate women at the grassroots level on precepts in peacebuilding, initiate socio-economic initiatives among women among others.
For instance, in Tuum (Samburu) and Parkati (Turkana), Samburu County, we have groups of dedicated women who assisted in the peace process between the two conflicting ethnic communities. These women were also in the forefront in ensuring that there was the resumption of inter-communal economic activities enhanced by a joint market for trading in the area. In Suguta MarMar, after engagement with Shalom-SCCRR on skills in negotiation, the women participated in influencing the dynamics of the peace negotiations-among three major ethnic communities that had irreconcilable differences over communal land in the town center.
Shalom-SCCRR has also been supporting girl child education through building live-in (boarding) facilities that protect the girls from hazards such as: rape when having to walk long distances home; early marriages; and harmful cultural practices (FGM). Shalom-SCCRR also supplies learning materials to girl schools thus increasing the chances of progress in the lives of the young girls. Eventually, girls are able to read and write which empowers them to take up leadership and decision-making roles in school, community and later in the political domains. In 2019, for instance, Shalom-SCCRR provided sanitary towels to 600 girls in Garissa and boarding amenities to school-going girls in Marsabit, Northern Kenya. Consequently this minimized absenteeism, reduced early marriages and drop-out cases, reduced embarrassment and psychological trauma, increased self-esteem and fostered better grades among the girls.
It is worth noting that Shalom-SCCRR has established frameworks that promote synergy in different conflict-stricken zones among women at the grassroots, middle level, and top-level leadership in the society. This is evident in Kisumu-Nandi border where the local administration has a large number of women who are part of Shalom-SCCRR key influential stakeholder group that is occasionally equipped with knowledge and analytical skills in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. These leaders assist the women representatives from the grassroots level in implementing peacebuilding initiatives at the local level.
The recent global Covid-19 crisis has taken a foothold in urban and rural areas, where we are seeing greater complexity of violence against women. So far experiences from the outbreaks shows that the pandemic exacerbate existing inequalities, including those based on gender, age, economic status and ability. The stark socio-economic inequalities is and will continue to place the most vulnerable groups of women at an even higher risk of violence.
Shalom-SCCRR women are showing exemplary strength as they combat Covid-19 within their communities. Between January and March 2020, Shalom-SCCRR trained 967 women in peacebuilding skills and techniques. These women have so far managed to engage an additional 3000 women in peacebuilding initiatives at the grassroots level across our project areas. These women have come up with different initiatives that continue to create and support sustainable peace during this unprecedented times of Covid-19 pandemic.
Firstly, the Shalom-SCCRR women, who are also community health volunteers (CHVs), have been sensitizing the local communities on how to contain and prevent the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic is highlighting the barriers that exist for marginalized groups—including women—to access such information, and since they are on the ground often experiencing these barriers, they have directed their energies to helping local populations protect themselves.
Secondly, Shalom-SCCRR women are also playing the role of mediators by informing local and national governments about the needs of vulnerable populations at the grassroots level, such as refugees and displaced persons. Consequently ensuring that these authorities make public spaces safe them throughout different stages of the pandemic.
Thirdly, grassroots communities are facing economic fallouts attributed to the pandemic. The fallout is disproportionately affecting informal women-dominated industries. Shalom-SCCRR women are at the forefront of addressing these challenges by supporting and teaching other women on how to make affordable products that are necessary during this time, like soap and sanitizers. By doing this, they are already working towards the post-pandemic rebuilding process in a way that promotes the equitable distribution of resources and power. Additionally, these grassroots efforts by Shalom-SCCRR women are providing crucial soft security in a time when the pandemic threatens to destabilize conflict zones, thus strengthening national capacities for sustainable peace and development.
However, there is need to consistently support women’s participation in conflict transformation and peacebuilding despite patriarchal socio-cultural stereotypes placed on women such as strict division of labor that act as obstacles to the peace process. It is not enough to increase the participation of women in conflict transformation and peacebuilding processes, but it’s essential to consider also the impact of gender inequalities that acts as a major obstacle to women participating in conflict transformation and peacebuilding.
Furthermore, gender based violence and lack of respect for women’s human rights-especially during violent conflicts-are frequently mentioned as major problem affecting women participation in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. This is often evidence in post-traumatic stress disorder. Therefore, there is need to be sensitive and design initiatives that respond appropriately to the needs of women and issues of post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is also critical to have a comprehensive approach that seeks to address the increase of violence against women during COVID-19 through accelerated and concerted efforts of different key conflict transformation actors in the society. This is particularly enhanced by Shalom-SCCRR’s data collection and analysis providing in-depth understanding of the magnitude, nature and consequences of violence against women. On this basis Shalom-SCCRR not only strengthens its advocacy component for women’s dignity and rights but also general awareness and capacity to address the risk factors that drive the violence in the context of COVID-19.
Shalom-SCCRR needs resources to further promote and develop the role of women in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. This is essential for the empowerment of women with analytical skills and peacebuilding techniques. COVID-19 is already testing us in ways that we have never previously experienced, providing emotional and economic shocks that we are struggling to rise above. The violence that is emerging now as a dark feature of this pandemic is a mirror and a challenge to our resilience and shared humanity. Africa and the world need to actualize the huge potential that women can contribute to sustain peace and development. Women are indispensable. Speaking for Shalom-SCCRR organizational structure, we are an expanding group of women bringing sustainable peace and development to deprived zones of conflicts. The onus is on all of us to contribute to the task. We must not only survive the coronavirus, but emerge renewed, with women as a powerful force at the centre of recovery. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. Let us seize the moment. As women we can make a tremendous contribution.
By Joyce Wamae Kamau, MA, Program Manager (Peacebuilding & Development, Urban Settlements Program).
Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation
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