The African Union must recognise women’s role in peacebuilding

The African Union (AU) Post-conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) policy framework turned 15 in November 2021, offering the perfect opportunity to reflect on its stance on women in peace processes.  

While the framework recognises women's importance in post-conflict reconstruction and development, their involvement in peace processes on the continent is mainly driven by two other structures. One is the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 (2000), which calls for more equal and comprehensive involvement of women in peace processes. The other is the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and Rights of Women in Africa (2003), or Maputo Protocol.

The AU has declared gender equality and mainstreaming normative and policy imperatives, especially in peace and security structures and processes. The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC)'s 987th meeting on 22 March 2021 reiterated the imperative of women's inclusion in conflict prevention, peacemaking, negotiations, agreements and peace support operations. This would ensure that women's needs and security are addressed and comply with AU and universal frameworks on rights and equality.

Yet, over the last 15 years, African women's role in building sustainable peace frameworks has been based on the work of local networks. Women have addressed insecurity and conflict in their countries, arguably with little use of the PCRD framework to connect disparate efforts at sustaining peace. Instead, as the PCRD framework states, women's tendency to solidarity occurred organically. The framework could, however, make a difference in how African women approach peacebuilding.

The framework is not gender-blind, but it is not well known publicly. It remains a high-level AU structure with little connection to women's organisations, unlike UNSCR 1325, which is localised and speaks directly to the daily realities of African women. Taking cues from other frameworks, the AU should popularise the PCRD framework among its own gender structures, such as the Directorate of Women, Youth and Gender.

Over the PCRD framework’s 15 years, women's role in peacebuilding has been restricted to local networks

Through lobbying of African women civil society and AU gender offices, the Maputo Protocol, for example, has become one of few AU instruments widely accepted and popular across the continent. The protocol is ratified in 41 African states and is legally binding. Using a similar lobbying and sustained engagement approach, the PCRD framework could be a 'go-to roadmap' for women's engagement in peace processes.

Women's role in community level mediation

Women's role in building sustainable peace is often relegated to the private domain and disarticulated local processes. It is not part of formalised peace processes and is often confined to track 3 mediation. Women have been instrumental in building social capital in communities, where they have demonstrated that they are influential in peacebuilding, especially in motivating communities to participate in peace talks. The Palave peace huts in Liberia are an example of sustained peace.

While the local setting is important for engaging women in peacebuilding, the challenge in most post-conflict areas is reconnecting communities and streamlining women's role to rebuild social capital. Women have proved invaluable in building these networks.

Women-led community-based organisations are uniquely placed for robust, inclusive and vigilant approaches, Femmes Africa Solidarite (FAS) a prime example. FAS is a crucial continental role-player in peacebuilding, significantly amplifying the voices of African women internationally as well. It promotes women's prevention, management and resolution of conflict initiatives. The AU could streamline these activities with PCRD processes by partnering with FAS through meetings or training. More importantly, the work of women's networks could inform the development of innovative PCRD processes.

FemWise-Africa: a wise move?

To promote women's involvement in peace processes, the AU in 2014 created an association of women in mediation. This led to the Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation (FemWise-Africa), established in 2017. Although FemWise focuses primarily on unleashing women's leadership potential at community track 3 level, it should enhance their participation in track 1 mediation. This will ensure that they are not only seen as community mediators but are represented in peace negotiations and plan implementation.

Women are influential in peacebuilding, especially in motivating communities to participate in peace talks   

Women are under-represented in negotiations and implementation due not to lack of capacity but to lack of power and access. Patriarchy continues to exclude them from formal processes, while cultural perceptions entrench this. Women's networks consolidate women's experiences and ease access to mediation processes. 

The PCRD framework could enable FemWise-Africa to demand greater inclusivity from their governments. With the framework as an entry point, a more comprehensive and integrated approach could be taken to implement measures to enhance women's participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution.  

Overlooked or excluded

Most gender frameworks in Africa have a reporting mechanism. UNSCR 1325 implementation in Africa is tracked through the Continental Results Framework. The PCRD report to the PSC should highlight achievements and provide more nuanced reporting on gender-sensitive implementation.

The report submitted to the PSC in September 2020 mentions only the importance of women in sustaining peace. There is not much on what they do or how they contribute to PCRD initiatives. Gender-blind reporting means that women are, at best, overlooked in the implementation of peacebuilding processes and, at worst, excluded.

The PCRD framework should be mainstreamed in gender processes and mechanisms to track progress

While there is growing recognition of the importance of gender on the agenda, women's participation in formal peace processes remains unfulfilled. The AU has done well in adding gender and women issues to peace processes, but the PCRD framework should be mainstreamed in gender processes and a progress-tracking mechanism introduced.

The continent has 30 national action plans for the implementation of UNSCR 1325. The framework could include a section on implementing these plans, thus reinforcing its position as a normative framework underpinning women's peacebuilding initiatives. While it rightly placed development and reconstruction as one process, with gender crosscutting, in the last 15 years, women have shown that they contribute to building peace. It is a disservice that their contributions are not highlighted more in PCRD reporting.

The AU's peacebuilding architecture needs to better articulate the role of women and their contributions to peace processes to ensure that building and planning for sustainable peace is inclusive. Local initiatives in which women are involved should influence the new framework or process that will come out of the review.

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