By Diana Oroma
“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.
The Peace Centre was excited to be hosting a 3-day exchange visit with 40 women peacebuilders from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan & Uganda, living as refugees in Uganda to reflect on the past 20 years of implementing the Women Peace Security agenda.
This was in line with the 20th anniversary for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, it is widely acknowledged as a significant year for driving progress and pushing for gains in implementing the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda. 2020 is also the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is significant for the WPS agenda with its prioritisation of women and armed conflict as a critical area of concern for gender
equality and women’s empowerment. It is a critical year to reflect on progress, setbacks, challenges and opportunities to advance the women, peace and security agenda, and to leverage the anniversary to accelerate implementation of key commitments and WPS frameworks.
The exchange visit ensured that the peace builders had recap on UNSCR resolution 1325 and the Uganda National Action Plan(NAP). We discussed the desired outcomes of the NAP and how women can participate in monitoring UNSCR 1325 at different levels. The exchange visit also entailed group presentations discussing challenges faced by women in conflict-affected areas and what recommendations they have to address the gaps.
On the status of implementation of the #UNSCR1325 in refugee settlements and within host communities the challenges have been highlighted as; High levels of physical and psychological gender based violence, limited access to reproductive health services. And refugee women and girls within settlements are continually excluded from formal peace processes and are under-represented within peace or security committee structures
Despite making tangible change in the communities, the contributions of refugee women and grassroots women peace builders are not recognized or made visible. The 3 day visit also included the peacebuilders sharing their reflections on Implementation of UNSCR 1325; Participation, Prevention, Protection relief and recovery with the African Union Special Envoy Bineta Diopo. The women peace builders therefore urged Madam Bineta Diopto to consider and amplify their recommendations as; a need to call for all governments and development partners to create a protective environment for women and girls affected by conflict.
Violent conflict across Africa and its disproportionate impact on young
women and girls shines a light on their usual marginalization and vulnerabilities, often exacerbated during times of instability.
In a bid to understand and respond to young women’s specific experiences of conflict across Africa’s hotspots, UNSCR 2242 invited actors to track the gender focus of aid contributions and urges the redoubling of efforts to integrate women’s needs and gender perspectives in all work in order to address deficits. As such, Isis-WICCE sought to capture the experiences of South Sudanese refugee young women and girls living in Uganda while assessing the extent to which their gender-specific needs are addressed.
This is document contains ;
- experiences of South Sudanese refugee girls and young women in Uganda,
- the recommendations intended to inform policy and programming in humanitarian settings and serve as the basis for provision of urgent assistance based on identified need.
- South Sudanese refugee girls’ experiences of war
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