Thursday, January 10, 2008

Women need more representation on Peace Councils

Women need more representation on Peace Councils

Daily Graphic, Thursday, January 10, 2008. Page 11 (Women’s World)

Becky Adda-Dontoh

Mr. Kofi Annan, a former United Nations Secretary General, was quoted to have said that “In war torn societies, women often keep societies going. They maintain the social fabric. They replace dislocated social services and tend the sick and the wounded. As a result women are often the prime advocates of peace. We must ensure that women are enabled to play a full part in peace negotiations, in peace processes, in peace missions.”

Women constitute more than 50 per cent of Ghana’s population, it is therefore imperative that they are empowered to participate fully and equally in all peace processes in the country if Ghana is to enjoy durable and sustainable peace. Moreover, women and children are the worst affected during violent conflicts, and it is women who deal with the practical problems of conflicts like reorganising families, businesses and social relationships.

Some people even argue that women are natural peacemakers due to their nurturing instincts. This is however debatable, and there are examples, stories of women who were as brutal as men in chopping of limbs during the Sierra Leonean civil war. Both men and women have capacities for peace and violence, so women must be equal participants, and be enabled to do so when it comes to peace building, conflict transformation and post-violence reconstruction initiatives.

The United Nations affirms this need in October 200 through the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on Women, War and Security which “urges representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflict.”

It is in this light that this writer finds it worrying that women are grossly underrepresented on the National Peace Council, and seven Regional Peace Advisory Councils which have so far been inaugurated as part of the country’s National Architecture for Peace framework, and in fact on many other peace committees and mission in the country.

The National Architecture for Peace in Ghana is a laudable national infrastructure for peace building and conflict transformations. It has been designed by the government and other stakeholders with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and is being managed by the Ministry of Interior. The broad policy of the National Architecture for Peace “is to enable and facilitate the development of mechanisms for co-operation among all stakeholders in peace building in Ghana.”

This is to be done “by promoting co-operative problem solving to conflicts and by institutionalising the processes of response to conflicts to produce outcomes that lead to conflict transformation, social, political and religions reconciliation and transformative dialogues.”

The National Peace Council and the Regional and District Peace Advisory councils are structure being established to promote peace at the various levels, as well as create and facilitate space for dialogue between conflicting parties, as part of the National Architecture for Peace framework.

The framework also makes provision for the appointment of Regional Peace Promotion Officers to facilitate Peace Architecture processes at the regional level. It is the composition of these councils and the appointment of the Peace Promotion officers that give me cause for concern. The compositions and appointments did not give “due regard to gender” as explicitly stated in the Ministry of Interior Policy document on the National Architecture for Peace. So far, the National Peace Council and the Western, Eastern, Volta, Northern, Brong Ahafo, Upper East and West Regional Councils have been inaugurated and are functional.

The composition is as follows: the National Peace Council comprise eight men and one women, the Upper East Regional Peace Council has 16 men and five women and the Northern Regional Peace Council has 25 men and three women. The rest are Western Regional Peace Council- 13 men, two women, Volta Regional Peace Council – 11 men, one woman, Eastern Regional Peace Council -11 men, three women, Upper West Regional Peace Council -11 men, three women. Brong Ahafo Regional Peace Council – 10 men, one woman and Regional Peace Promotion Officers –seven men, one woman.

It is clear from the above statistics that women are grossly underrepresented on these councils, and this is bound to negatively impact on the activities of the councils and the National Architecture for Peace.

Women have different needs and aspirations from men, both in times of peace and war, and conflict affects them differently. They are therefore better placed to negeotiate and make provisions for their own needs.

When I raised the issue with a male colleague, all he could say was, “who should ensure that women play an equal and full role?” So I simply said officialdom and women themselves.

This was the week of recent violent clashes in Bawku so I added that; those who put together the team lead by the Regional Minister that visited Bawku to assess the security situation are some of the officials responsible for ensuring that women participate actively in such processes. Did anyone who watched the visit on television see a woman on the official team that disembarked from the helicopter in Bawku?

I also said; whoever constituted the National Reconciliation Commission, whoever nominated members of the team working with the Three Eminent Chiefs working to resolve the Dagbon Crisis, whoever constituted the Alavanyo/Nkonya Mediation Committee, whoever appointed the Teleku-Bokazo and Anwia Crisis Fact Findaing Committee, are all responsible for ensuring that women are represented equally on such bodies.

What kind of peace will we be building if we ignore the needs of the majority of the population? When we exclude women or under-represent them? This will amount to building peace for a minority of the population, and that kind of peace will definitely not be durable. More so, we will be denying the peace processes of the unique qualities that women have. Surely, it is not for nothing that our elder symbolically take a break to go and consult the proverbial ‘old lady’ when the going gets tough during serious consultation and decision-making forums in Akan and Ga communities. It is in the acknowledgement of the wisdom of the old lady and by inference women that they do so. Women working shoulder to shoulder with men can enrich structures and processes of the National Architecture for Peace.

In view of UNSCR 1325 and the many good reasons why women should be full and equal participants in all peace building and conflict transformation processes, the composition of the National, Regional and District Peace Councils should be reviewed by the Ministry of Interior and the Councils themselves to ensure that women are fully integrated at all levels of the National Architecture for Peace.

To quote Judy El Bushra, a consultant on gender and armed conflict, “While UNSCR 1325 unlocks the door for women, they themselves will have to push it open.”

While calling on the government and other stakeholders to ensure the mainstreaming of gender in the National Architecture for Peace and other peace processes, women themselves have a responsibility to acquire knowledge and build their capacities. This will enable them take up the challenge and take their rightful place, equally as men on negotiation tables, in mediation and at policy level to contribute their quota towards durable peace for our country in particular and for the world in general.

The writer is a Peace and Gender Advocate and President of Mothers for Active Non-Violence.

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