Akol Ketty is a woman leader and a testament to women’s ability to build peace and influence change against all odds.
When we first met Akol in August 2019, she had served as a Community Mobiliser, Facilitator, Councilor and most recently as the Vice Chairperson in Kapelebyong District Local Government. She had first hand experience of the limitations women experience as they seek to take leadership or to address the issues that make elections violent and undemocratic.
“Women are often discouraged from taking on leadership positions, they always receive negative comments from men and fellow women saying they cannot stand for some positions because they are earmarked for men. Women are also denied participation in political processes by their husbands, who often think that women will be exposed to other men. Women in my community could not balance home and leadership roles. They had no confidence to speak in public,” Akol recounts.
“I used to see conflicts happening in my community but I was silent about it because I didn’t know I had the power to influence change and contribute to peace Janet Ayoo Kelly declares.
Janet Ayoo Kelly, aged 28 years is a first time refugee living in Maaji III refugee settlement, Adjumani district in West Nile, Uganda. In July 2016, she fled her hometown, Magwi in South Sudan with her first child who was 2 years old at the time.
However, the situation upon arriving in Uganda was very difficult. “We left all the resources we had worked hard to gain and fled with nothing I had hoped to settle down and rebuild my life”she recalls. She is part of a group that makes bed sheets and tablecloths a source of income for their families. Janet is also now the secretary for the Adjumani Women Peace Mediators Network.
In December 2019, Janet was one of 156 women leaders from Kotido, Yumbe and Adjumani districts trained on peacebuilding and reconciliation by the Peace Centre with the support of UN Women. Following the training, the women leaders formed Women Peace Mediators Networks.
In Maaji III refugee settlement, the women peace mediators developed a community action plan to ensure their participation in peace building right from their homes to the wider community. Since then, women peace mediators have identified, reported and mediated 300 conflict incidents including conflict between refugee and host communities and gender-based violence specifically early marriages that led to withdrawal of girls from schools.
In February 2020, the women peace mediators met again in Nyumanzi settlement to discuss their peacebuilding efforts and learn from experiences in Adjumani, Yumbe and Kotido. Janet learnt of the work that her fellow peace mediators were doing in their communities . She was touched by their stories such as the case involving a young girl form a poor family whose father was forcing her to get married to an elderly rich man who lives in America. The mediators engaged the girl’s family, who abandoned the idea and asked the women to pay for her school fees since they wanted her in school. The women peace mediators then referred the girl to an organization for a scholarship.
Janet also recalls the stories from Kotido where women were mediating large scale conflicts., the The women peace mediators had convened 14 peace dialogues resolve the conflict characterised by rampant cattle raids, illegal guns owned by civilians, food insecurity, sexual and gender based violence against women and girls.
On 10th May 2020, a small disagreement among five Nuer and Dinka youth in Maaji II refugee settlement escalated into a violent tribal conflict leaving two young men dead. Janet was spurred to action.
“As women peace mediators we realized that the situation was getting out of hand. The situation was very tense, with women and children running up and down. Immediately we gathered together to agree on what to do. We informed the Peace Centre who guided us. We then made a phone call to the refugee settlement commandant asking him urgently to call the police to intervene” Janet recounts.
The Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Refugee Desk Office, and District Police Commander immediately responded by deploying police to calm the situation. Janet and the other women peace mediators also took further action.“We rescued the children from the two families who were being attacked for having started the fights and kept them in a safe place“Together with other leaders in Maaji we continued comforting the family that had lost their son and the one whose son was missing and later found dead. We convinced the families not to get involved in the fight and keep away from revenge as it would only cause more harm”she narrates.
Twelve days later, on 22nd May 2020 The Peace Centre convened a peace mediation dialogue in Maaji with key leaders including the RDC, District chairperson LC 5, District Vice Chairperson LC 5, District Peace Committee, Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR, Lutheran World Federation, Refugee Law Project, Religious, Cultural, political leaders and the Adjumani women peace mediators. The dialogue discussed the conflict situation, identified the triggers and agreed on specific actions to take to ensure conflict indicators are reported to the police and other duty bearers before they escalate.
During the mediation dialogue, the women peace mediators identified the dark hot spots where the violent youth were hiding such as the banana plantation which was acting as their habitat. Janet and the mediators also made specific demands. “We wrote to the Office of the Prime Minister requesting for security lights in the settlement blocks where the youths were hiding to chase and beat women moving to access the health centre at night. I was personally affected by this. I gave birth on the way because I was afraid to pass at the dark spot alone at night when labor started. The lights were installed” she shares.
The women peace mediators continued their work in a follow up mediation dialogue w on 1st July 2020 where conflict early warning indicators were presented to the leaders for redress.
“For sustainable peace in the settlement we continued to engage with the youth and their families by encouraging them to keep calm and sensitizing them about the consequences of violent actions to their lives and families”, Janet narrates. She explains how the work of the women peace mediators brought positive changes, “we continued to monitor conflict early warning indicators and shared with the leaders for their action. For example some youth were spotted in the evenings with walking sticks. Others were seen holding isolated meetings in the local languages. Each tribe stopped their members from crossing where the other tribes live, which kept people in fear. “I am celebrating my breakthrough because of the hard work. I believe that peace is possible with women at the lead. I am now seeing friendship being nurtured again between the Nuer and Dinka youths. They have started having friendly football matches again.
“My skills have doubled. I can now analyze the conflicts and participate in peace building more effectively. I used to see conflicts happening in my community but I was silent about it because I didn’t know I had the power to influence change and contribute to peace,” Janet says, reflecting on her growth as a leader and a peace builder. I am very grateful to the Peace Centre and UN Women for the skills I obtained. I’m proud to be a peace mediator in my community” says Janet.
To strengthen the leadership capacity and influence of local women leaders and women groups across refugee settlements and host communities The Peace Centre conducted a SASA Together! Start Phase Training of Trainers for 30 women leaders selected from Agojo Refugee Settlement and Ciforo sub-county in November 2020.
Martine Kaliza Mirindi is an alumna of the 2013/14 Leadership Institute promoting women’s and girls’ rights and advocating for peaceful resolution of conflicts in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is the founder of Women for Democracy and Fight against Violence (WDFV), is very passionate about serving and defending the rights of the most vulnerable. Martine holds an Advanced Degree in Law, specializing in Private and Judicial law from Université Ouverte/CIDP-Nord –Kivu completed in 2007 Martine intends to join political leadership to apply her innovative ideas for the common good of the people of the DRC. She is also passionate about a number of things including love, nature, music, drama, dance.
Martine, the Natural Leader
“I am passionate about feminist leadership and often I think for me it was inborn because even in our family, there is no decision that can be taken without my say. This applies to my work as well as in all the associations and groups where I belong, I am always chosen as a leader. I believed that the institute would help me to gain sufficient knowledge and the necessary tools on leadership.”
Participating in the 2013/14 Leadership Institute on Peace Building and Human Security
Martine chose to take part in the institute in order to enhance her leadership and peace building skills but also understand the experiences of other women leaders. The institute lived up to her expectations and she readily lists some of the key lessons that are maki a difference in her work.
“I clearly understood, what it means to be a leader, how one becomes a leaders and ways to overcome our challenges as women leaders. The facilitators positively impacted my time with the institute.We always had to give feedback about what we had learnt during the training and mine was always positive feedback. It was quite a good interaction because it strengthened both the young women and senior members of civil society organizations in the training.“
Following the training, Martine was able to work out different strategies in order to succeed even in small things that she often neglected but were very important for the community. She raised awareness among women who were not formally educated, to get them involved in public life at the grassroots level. Martine replicated her institute experience and focused on strengthening the women’s leadership skills for the benefit of the community.
Challenges of Women’s Leadership
Despite her passion and drive, Martine talks about the challenges demoralizing women peace builders. She mentions stigma, the lack of meaningful progress in the fight to promote women’s rights, and some men who are opposed to the common cause of women’s empowerment.
“In order to overcome these challenges, we have been organizing meetings among women themselves as well as those with men in order to discuss and share knowledge on themes about women’s rights advancement. It has helped a lot in bringing cohesion and harmony as well as leading to some men to be part of the women’s cause.”
Martine has several plans and dreams for African women, for instance, giving them the opportunity to design projects and receive support to meet the needs of vulnerable people. She hopes to use all she has learned from various trainings to contribute to enriching women’s work.
“I have attended several training sessions at the national level in Kinshasa, at the provincial level in Nord Kivu and South Kivu as well as on the international level in Burundi, Rwanda, Thailand and Uganda. The trainings focused on advocacy, electoral processes, gender-based violence, UNSCR 1325, civic education, gender and elections, restorative justice, gender and protection, leadership and gender mainstreaming in projects.“
Advice to Younger Women Leaders
Martine advises, “In order to be able to participate in the decision making processes, join non-violent movements, women groups or political parties. Engage in entrepreneurship so as to economically empower yourself as a young leaders. Consider attending the Leadership Institute.”
In closing, Martine highlights the importance of solidarity among women as critical to promoting gender equality in professional life and in day to day activities.
What is your role at Women’s International Peace Centre ?
I’m a Project Assistant and Focal Point for South Sudan at Women’s International Peace Centre. It is an exciting job as I engage with many people that share our vision as an organization. The young enthusiastic women are the most exciting because we have mutual dreams and goals for the women and girls of South Sudan.
I’m the go-to person for news updates on South Sudan especially those in line with women, peace and security.
What led you to this career?
I grew up in a foreign country and never got experience from my country, South Sudan. I listened to grievances of my people and this was motivation enough for me to build myself to be of influence to humanitarian interventions, policy formulation and implementation. I have also read a number of books and articles urging young people to pay attention to politics and policies. This is the only way our livelihoods will not be legislated out of existence. This is why I chose governance and international relations.
What’s one professional skill you are currently working on?
I am working on building my conflict resolution and peacebuilding skills. My aim is to become one of the experts and strategists seeking to realize lasting global peace.
What’s your go-to productivity trick?
I watch documentaries related to the work I do which ignites my motivation. These are usually sad documentaries on conflict and post-conflict situations because of the long conflicts in South Sudan. This reminds me of the urgency and need to get the work done now.
Music is also helpful especially preparing a playlist to match the work I’m about to do. In addition to that, I inform those around me about the work that I need to do so that they hold me accountable for what is not done. These have been quite helpful and I would recommend that we explore what works for us to be productive at all times. Let’s not forget the in-between 5-10 minute breaks with fruits and nuts.
How has COVID-19 affected you or what have you learnt about the importance of our work during this time?
From anxiety to panic to acceptance. The coronavirus disease has affected my personal and work routines. It is exasperating to believe that 2020 was going to be a great year not only for me but women working for peace and security. With the closure of borders and restrictions put in place, there has been a negative impact on sources of livelihood and other existential activities. Sexual violence and gender-based violence continues to prevail even through the pandemic. This is a lesson learnt for feminist organisations. We must continue to strive to provide physiological needs, protection and legal services to women and girls across the world.
What energizes you at work?
Believe it or not, I like organizing materials. A new set of pens, notebooks or sticky notes always renew my motivation to do my work. In addition to this, I like collective or communal work where we have to work together to achieve an objective. It is always exciting to get ideas from colleagues. The happy hour that prioritizes wellness at The Centre is another powerful energizer that encourages us to relax and have discussions that are not work-related. This helps us to relax and resume work with fresh and optimistic minds.
The one thing that surprised me about working at the centre was wide-ranging nature of women, peace and security(WPS). Before I joined the Peace Centre, I never imagined how broad the WPS agenda is. I am learning and I love it. It has created a community of women that I can rely on to increase my knowledge and skills and further transform my attitude as a young woman professional.
What is a work-related accomplishment that you’re really proud of?
Being able to take the lead in creating a platform for 20 South Sudanese young women has been a bonus in my work-related accomplishments collection. This group that is called Young Women Leading for Peace has got enthusiastic brave and talented young women that are working to contribute to sustainable peace in South Sudan.
If you could snap your fingers and become an expert in something, what would it be?
I would really love to become an expert in conflict resolution, building peace and leading a country with accountability and legitimacy. This is driven from the passion I have to exist and live peacefully with others in a nurturing and fair environment. Imagine having robust skills, attitude and knowledge to bring sustainable peace in the world. We need this expertise now more than ever now.
What energizes you outside of work?
Shopping. Be it clothes, tiny necklaces, home décor, perfumes or food for my myself and my loved ones. Music is another powerful energizer. I don’t want to imagine a world without music. If I have many errands and chores waiting for me, I usually lose the interest to do them but with music, anything is possible.
What is one book or moment that changed you, and why?
Evening Primroseby Kopana Matlwa. From the beginning of the book, I knew it was going to change me. It highlighted the vital role of love and acceptance of oneself and others. I recommend it to everyone.
What is one of your favorite memories from the past year?
Definitely my graduation day. I felt many things. I was nervous but mostly excited. I finally saw myself a step closer to becoming Dr. Juan, for the thrill of it and because Dr. looks great attached my name. I had obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Governance and International Relations with honours. I think the best gift to give every child is education. Education coupled with life skills nurture us, build us and expose us to all that life offers.
What advice would you give to women interested in working to advancethe women, peace and security agenda?
I would advise them to be as committed and consistent as possible. Read and build intellect. Self-care is important. You have to take care of yourself so that you take care of others. It is a great field and we should all be part of it.
Pikyiko Eunice Jacob is one of the young women who have gone through the Peace Centre’s leadership training. She is a South Sudanese young woman leader currently working with Crown The Woman- South Sudan as a project officer. Crown the woman- South Sudan is a women-founded and women-led nonprofit. It is a non-governmental, non-political, humanitarian and national grassroots organization that aims at empowering girls and women to ensure they harness their potential and contribute to nation building economically, socially and politically.
Eunice describes herself as a hard worker and a good listener who is trying to do her work to the best of her abilities.
“I love to learn new things, because the world keeps changing and I’m inquisitive by nature, I tend to ask questions so I can learn.” she says.
Eunice’s first interaction with the centre was when she attended a workshop/ mentorship session in November of 2019 in South Sudan. She shared her passion for working on women issues and trying to find ways to empower them. “The Peace Center made me realize that this was an achievable goal and my capacity was built during the mentor-ship session.”
Her realization was further built on when a group of young South Sudanese women were chosen as representatives visiting Uganda to learn and share experiences with The Peace Centre. Here Eunice was taken through practical ways in which she could become a better leader and was also able to draw up a vision board for her next 5 years. “I relate to The Peace Centre because they are empowering young women, helping them realize their passions and figure out how to achieve them. “
Eunice remarks that her journey with Women International Peace Center has been the best journey so far of her life so far. It’s not only been engaging but has also been very empowering. It helped her build her capacity, especially as a public speaker. Although she admits that she’s not exactly where she is and she is always working towards the one hundred per cent stance. She’s sure that with the continuous support of The Peace Centre she will be able to convey information with the confidence she previously lacked.
“Before working with The Peace Centre I was just a young woman that had a lot of dreams and aspirations but didn’t know how to put my point across. My dreams were big with no way of execution, However, with the centre’s help I was able to identify the different ways I can make a change in my community, how to present myself and it has broadened my thinking capacity, and how to adapt in my community.”
Her experience at the peace centre helped her realize that “you don’t have to wait to graduate to become a leader or have a leadership role”, “being a leader is not about your age, experience or qualifications. It is a calling.
When asked about her stance on feminism she replies, “I was not a strong feminist before but with the various conversations and books I have read about feminism, I have realized that we women should fight for our rights in the community be it small or big, to have equal opportunities. I have also learnt that I can’t effectively do my work if I’m not looking after myself or exercising wellness.
In November 2016, Isis-WICCE held conversations with South Sudan refugee women and girls
in the West Nile sub-region, to contribute to the national review and design of Uganda’s third
UNSCR1325 NAP. Their stories revealed experiences of psychological and physical trauma;
continued risk of sexual violence such as rape and early marriage; limited access to personal
hygiene necessities including sanitary pads; low-quality education; exclusion from meetings or
decision making; and in the case of female household heads, limited access to land to grow
crops in addition to insufficient food rations. Hear directly from Safa, Tabisa, Yom, Arual, Kuei,
Regina, Amalia and Sadia – SouthSudan Refugee Young Women Peace Security_