On a quiet evening when the cricket choir was in chorus and the moon was hiding behind dark clouds, a group of armed men entered a community out of the blue and ordered almost everybody to the community square.
The gun men entered almost every house and unleashed unspeakable horror – women were raped while feeble old men and women who pleaded to be left alone were dragged on ground.
With their husbands fleeing, women and children were left to their fate as the gun men sexually abused even minors and physically assaulted those who showed the least sign of resistance.
The raid lasted more than an hour before the attackers withdrew.
The whole episode was a reprisal attack as a month before, two men from the attacked village (A) had allegedly raped and killed a woman from the neighbouring village (B). A piece of cloth associated with village A was found in the grip of the dead woman, probably from a violent struggle.
Although it was reported to the police, no one was arrested. Men from village B swore to get their revenge and they did in the most wicked and atrocious way.
Women from village A advised their men to visit village B to apologise for the incident but it was brushed off as a sign of weakness as no man from the village had been identified as the perpetrator.
But not long afterwards, the women became victims of a conflict they never started.
Three days after the incident, the police rounded up dozens of youth from village B and also invited the chiefs and elders from both sides for peace talks, but ironically, no woman was part of the two parties.
While this may be fictional, it fits the bill of the ills of conflict prevention and resolution (UNSCR1325 or WPS) that the UN Security Council in October 2000 adopted. It purpose was to specifically addresses gender-based issues.
According to experts, the lack of gender equality hinders conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction while sexualised violence remains a cruel reality in almost all conflicts around the world with survivors of sexual violence receiving little or no psycho-social care, counselling and health care.
More than a landmark, the resolution was conceived in Africa, led by Namibia with the support of African stakeholders and eventually gathered steam in New York, where it was passed.
With prodding from the United Nations and other partners, countries in the world began to nurture the new baby. The general consensus is that at 20, the child should be an influential power behind women, giving them voice and place at the table of conflict prevention and resolution.
But when peace, security and gender advocates gathered at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Centre in Accra to celebrate and assess the progress, lessons as well as threats facing their 20-year old WSP, they all agreed that governments need to go beyond motivational talk and action plans.
Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas,the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), set the tone of the conversation during the gathering of experts and stakeholders at a symposium organised by the Women, Peace and Security Institute (WSPI) of KAIPTC which was established as a semi-autonomous Institute within the Centre in 2010.
In a speech that diagnosed challenges confronting the implementation of the resolution, he said weak resource mobilisation and the non-allocation of state resources to national action plans, as well as delays in the implementation of the plans were some of the major obstacles.
But also made an instructive statement on the value of offering women chairs at the table of peace.
“Women’s meaningful participation is vital to help de-escalate disputes, prevent conflicts and promote lasting and inclusive peace.
“Women’s meaningful participation in peace processes requires women to be able to participate in all stages of these processes,” he said at the 20th-anniversary celebrations of the declaration of the resolution that has amplified the role of women in prevention and resolution of conflicts,” he said.
With the UN cheerleading the progress of the WSP through affirmative actions, the Regional Director of UN Women, Mrs Oulimata Sarr, celebrated the success chalked over the last two decades including quota law in many countries.
Over the past two decades, the WPS agenda has birthed some landmarks, despite the challenges that continue to persist with its implementation.
Through the implementation of the resolution, the number of women in peacekeeping operations has increased. The number of female personnel deployed in the peacekeeping service remains low. At the end of 2018, only 4% of the military components of missions were women. United Nations-led initiatives tripled the figure to 13.4% in 2019.
That is not all. Gender perspective has been integrated in peacekeeping operations; there is also an increase in preventing and responding to serious misconduct by peacekeeping personnel; and trafficking.
Mrs Sarr said, “The United Nations has also made a great leap forward by increasing the number of women in strategic positions in terms of representation in the countries of the region,” she said.
But like her peers, she believes more than ever, the issues of women need attention given the complexities that COVID-19 adds to conflicts, including those triggered by electoral violence.”
While expressing fears about widening inequalities that weigh down women, she also found light at the end of the tunnel.
“All actors in the region who work in the area of peace are trying to find answers to these challenges, and women are part of the answer.Their extended hand only needs to be reached out by these actors.
“Theircommitment, their numerical strength, their influence at the family and community level, and their peace skills acquired over time through various training courses are their greatest assets. But above all, the power of love and truth,” she explained.
With ECOWAS being the sub-regional body with the most action plans on the WSP as 14 out of 16 countries developed blueprints to close the gender gap in conflict prevention and management, the sub-region’s Commissioner of Social Affairs and Gender, Dr Siga Fatima Jagne, still had some lamentations.
“Women and girls continue to remain the most vulnerable and most-at-risk populations. Despite the modest progress made and all the existing mechanisms as well as international, continental and regional laws endorsed by most Member States in favor of women and girls, they continue to remain in worsening state of insecurity and some facing existential threats.
They say life begins at 40, so Dr Jagne is hoping an additional 20 years should clear the bottlenecks as she said, “…the next 20 years of UNSCR 1325 will be more productive and impactful for both women and men and that the refocusing of attention on women’s role and contribution in peace building will change the narrative and outcome to a more peaceful world.”
For the Norwegian Ambassador Ghana, Mr Gunnar Holm, the starting point to empowering women should be that they should be recognised as key actors.
“If the agenda has been set and the delegations decided before women are invited, inclusion will be all the more difficult later. We have many examples of that.
“Women peacebuilders and human rights defenders are increasingly harassed and threatened, subject to violence and often killed. It goes without saying – this is unacceptable. It is a huge human rights problem, and a huge problem for peace and security efforts,” he said to cheers.
When the German Ambassador to Ghana took his turn, he concentrated on efforts the European country is making in Ghana to build the capacity of women in peace and security.
For instance, 15senior women leaders from different Ghanaian security agencies, are attending the first phase of the “Women`s Leadership Development Programme”, and by the end of 2020, almost 100 Ghanaian women will have completed this program and have enhanced their competencies and technical skills to excel in the security sector, the Ambassador said.
But that is not all. German support for KAIPTC is also hinged on gender balance. In 2019, 31% of KAIPTC`s course participants were female.
But it is not limited to Ghana.
“In West Africa and the Sahel region, Germany has aided UN Women to support WPS-related activities. In Mali, grants fostered for example the development of peace huts, so-called Woye Siffa, to promote women’s involvement in peacebuilding and social cohesion,” the Ambassador said while pledging more the years ahead.
The Commandant of the KAIPTC, Major-General Francis Ofori, while acknowledging the contributions of the WSP paid glowing tributes to the WPSI which had been leading the implementation of the resolution in Ghana and other parts of the continent.
Among other things, the institute has participated, facilitated and organized several workshops, dialogue and capacity building sessions with policymakers, security agencies, lawmakers and politicians on various components of the UNSCR 1325.
“WPSI continues to strive through diverse ways to contribute and ensure full implementation of the WPS Agenda across the globe,” he added.
As efforts at the international, regional and national level grow, many of the participants have a high sense of optimism that there would be enough capacity at the local level in districts and communities to involve women in preventing or dealing with the myriad of challenges holding back the implementation of UNSCR 1325.
But it would take deliberate, measured and consistent effort on the part of governments, civil society to achieve the aims of the WSP.
Cheers to 20 years!!!
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About the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre:
The Ghana Ministry of Defence (MoD) established the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in 1998 and commissioned it in 2004. The purpose was to build upon and share Ghana’s five decades of internationally acclaimed experience and competence in peace operations with other states in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region and the rest of Africa. This was in recognition of the need for training military, police and civilian men and women to meet the changing demands of multidimensional peace operations. The Centre is one of the three (3) Peacekeeping Training Centres of Excellence mandated by the ECOWAS to offer training in peacekeeping and peace support operations (PSO) in Africa.
The Centre delivers training courses in three thematic areas; Peace Support Operations, Conflict Management and Peace and Security Studies and also runs Masters and PhD programmes in same. The KAIPTC has a world-class research department that undertakes research in the thematic areas in Peace and Security. Located in Accra, Ghana, the KAIPTC is an internationally recognised institution and has to date trained and tutored over 21, 496 participants and students since its inception.
KAIPTC is a gender-sensitive organisation and committed to gender equality. Following the launch of its gender policy in 2014, the Centre has mainstreamed gender into its policies and programmes, and integrates same in its focal areas, namely training, research and postgraduate education. The Centre has developed a Sexual Harassment policy and fully oriented employees on same. It has also provided a Nursing and Childcare Centre and instituted a paternity leave policy, all with the aim to create a conducive work environment at KAIPTC.