Peace Is Possible with Refugee Women in the Lead

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.

Now and the Future Gender Equality, Peace and Security in a COVID-19 World- Uganda

The Peace Centre with the support of Womankind Worldwide and Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS) undertook a research in Uganda to better understand the context-specific and global gender, peace and security impacts of COVID-19 and develop policy and programming responses which account for the impact of COVID-19.

The findings indicate the gendered effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable and marginalised groups in the urban, rural and refugee settlement contexts. The findings highlight the impact of the pandemic on the community, especially on women’s and girls’ roles, responsibilities, needs and livelihoods. They also highlight gender-based violence (GBV), as well as how these different groups of women and girls are coping with the crisis.

Reviving the Women, Peace and Security Agenda- 2019 Annual Report

This report looks back into the year and describes what we have accomplished with our Partners. The Peace Centre contributed to enhancing the expertise of women leaders to participate in peace processes in Burundi, DRC, Nepal, South Sudan and Uganda through the Feminist Leadership Institute on Peace and Security, learning exchanges and mentorship support. Making information available for women to influence decision-making in peace processes in Uganda and South Sudan. Claiming space and influencing Peace Processes at all levels and in promoting the holistic wellbeing of women, we continue working with support groups of women living with HIV and AIDS in post-conflict North-eastern Uganda to support their access to sustainable livelihood
opportunities.

Monthly District Peace Committee Meetings in Kotido, Yumbe and Adjumani

From 19th to 25th June 2020, The Peace Centre facilitated the meeting of District Peace Committee meetings that had a total of 142 (42 females and 100 males) participants. The meetings provided platforms where Women Peace Mediators presented women peace and security concerns including; the impact of COVID 19 on women, increasing conflicts in the project districts that called for the safety of women and girls, spaces for women’s participation in peacebuilding, peace meetings and complete disarmament, protection of the unprotected kraals, tracking and recovery of stolen animals, need to resume peace initiatives since the Warriors took advantage of the lockdown and conflicts escalated.

Read More “Monthly District Peace Committee Meetings in Kotido, Yumbe and Adjumani”

Voices of Refugee Women on COVID-19 in Uganda.

Uganda currently hosts over 1.4million refugees and asylum seekers under her open-door policy according to Uganda Comprehensive Refugee Portal. 82% of them are women and children and approximately 61.8% of all refugees are from South Sudan. COVID-19 has forced a lot of changes to the world we live in. Refugees already far away from home, are having to cope with lockdown restrictions, food reductions amidst the pandemic. They face immense and unique challenges that make some communities more vulnerable to infectious diseases – from living in close quarters to lack of clean water for handwashing.  This pandemic, therefore, presents a worrying situation for the refugees in Uganda as the country is under lockdown; social distancing is almost impossible, food distribution and access to necessities such as health care are curtailed by the movement restrictions resulting from the lockdown and evening curfews hence worsening the pre-existing challenges in settlements.

“Covid 19 lockdowns and quarantines seem to be reducing crime rates outside. But inside- at home- increased rates of domestic abuse are a reminder of another kind of global pandemic; violence against women and children.” – Mona Elthaway

As COVID-19 threatens refugee settlements around the world, it is becoming more urgent to listen to the voices of women to better understand their needs and coping strategies during this period. Listen to our mini-podcast series that gives you a brief look in the world of the refugee women coping and surviving COVID-19 in Nyumanzi and Bidibidi settlements in Uganda here

 

Women’s Leadership in Peacebuilding in the Great Lakes region of Africa: A Regional Convening Report

Global Fund for Women and the Women’s International Peace Centre convened women human rights activists and organizations from Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda working to build peace, end sexual and gender-based violence, and combat the negative impact of the extractive industry on peace and women’s rights.

In the space, we assessed the progress and gaps in the women, peace, and security agenda in the region and defined a creative common vision and agenda for feminist peacebuilding.

This report highlights the discussions during the Regional Convening on Women’s Leadership in Peacebuilding in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

African Union WGDD Specialised Technical Committee on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (STC on GEWE) Meeting on the Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality

On 29th April, The Peace Centre as a member of the Gender Is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) Steering Committee took part in the virtual meeting of the STC on GEWE convened by the AU Women Gender and Development Directorate to define the African Union Guidelines on Gender-Responsive Responses to COVID-19. The webinar brought together 195 participants and leaders of the African Union, Gender Ministers, UN Women Country Offices and Women’s Rights Organizations in the Continent under the theme “COVID 19 Response and Recovery- a Gendered Framework”. The webinar was co-chaired by UN women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Chairperson of the African Union Specialized Technical Committee on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Beatrice Lomeya Atilite.

The webinar focused on briefing Ministers in charge of Gender and Women Affairs on guidelines being defined by the African Union to ensure national responses to the pandemic are gender-responsive as well as to discuss support required by the Ministers to enhance on-going national responses. The presentation by GIMAC focused on highlighting the responses of women and women’s rights organisations in addition to sharing recommendations including the importance of centering women’s leadership, of gender-responsive resourcing, addressing the crisis of gender-based violence and the need for attention to conflict-affected contexts among others.

“Like any epidemic, COVID-19 accentuates the inequalities and discrimination of vulnerable groups. The confinement and the social distancing can transform the haven of peace, which must be the home, into a place at high risk of violation of human rights and particularly the rights of women. We must, therefore, together ensure that this situation does not become the breeding ground for the propensity of violence against women. The fight against impunity, respect for dignity, equality and solidarity must be the cardinal values in the gender approach against Covid19.”- Beatrice Lomeya Atilite

The Gender Ministers’ also had an opportunity to share how their countries are responding, sharing some of the strategies as;

  • Having a gender analysis of COVID-19 impact to inform response,
  • Ensuring intersectionality.
  • Ensuring COVID-19 data is disaggregated by gender.
  • Increasing awareness of the population on COVID-19, ensure the message is in different languages.
  • Working with the private and public sector to raise awareness and plan response.
  • Paying attention to existing health issues in the population – malaria, infant mortality, and maternal mortality and HIV infection. Among others

A representative of GIMAC during the meeting presented CSOs response strategies to COVID-19. The meeting aimed to share work done, to discuss key lessons learned and good practices in ensuring gender-responsive COVID response and adopt a regional framework for mainstreaming gender in COVID response in Africa. This came to a close with the Gender Ministers adopting a gender transformative framework for response to COVID-19 in Africa to address the various difficulties facing women and girls in Africa in relation to the pandemic.

The Role and Prospects of Women Refugees in the South Sudan Peace Process.


25th to 26th FEBRUARY 2020; ADJUMANI – UGANDA

As part of its strategic goal to increase women’s participation in peacebuilding, the Peace Centre held a conference in form of an interdisciplinary dialogue that brought different actors together to engage with South Sudan women and girls refugees in Uganda.

The conference aimed to provide a platform for women refugees and other actors to access information on the progress of the peace processes in South Sudan and design strategies for continued incorporation of their voices and presence. It also provided an opportunity for women to share their experience in peacebuilding, learn from best practices, plan to address Women, Peace and Security concerns such as under-representation of women in defining and delivery of humanitarian-development services, shortage of specific measures and mechanisms to facilitate women’s sustained participation in the peace processes and accountability for gender-responsiveness.

This promoted women’s effective participation in decision making relating to the consolidation of peace and humanitarian assistance as well as contributed to closing real and perceived gaps between often-isolated local women (including refugee women) and larger national level women’s rights organizations engaged in advocacy on key peacebuilding processes hence facilitating connections between the refugee women and other counterparts supporting the engendering of the implementation of the peace agreement and related transitional processes in South Sudan.

The Conference convened  100 Participants including; Women Peace Mediators from Refugee Settlements in Yumbe, Adjumani and Kotido, Civil Society Leaders engaged in peace processes in South Sudan, The Peace Centre Staff, UN Women, Local Governments, Office of the Prime Minister,  UNHCR, Implementing partners and aimed to achieve the following objectives:

•             To provide a platform for refugee women to understand and receive updates on the peacebuilding processes in South Sudan

•             To link the refugee women with other women involved in advocacy towards engendering the peace processes in South Sudan 

•             To ignite women’s ability to participate in the formal and informal peacebuilding processes right from the refugee settlement for sustainable peace in South Sudan. 

The conference was a major success as it had the following outcomes:

  1. An outcome document that presents the recommendations of the refugee women to the Government of National Unity of South Sudan and the Government of Uganda was developed.
  2. During the conference, even though our focus was on informing the refugees of the ongoing peace process(es), there was a lot of conversation on their return back home, the conference received a report from the Office of the Prime Minister on the number of refugees arriving in Uganda currently, and this was explained as fear of the outcome of the recently sworn-in Transitional Government in South Sudan. Based on this the women demanded for specific actions relating to their return including a ceasefire and disarmament.
  3. Improved Relationship between refugees from Yumbe and Adjumani through networking.  Most of the participants were joyful about the conference as they made new friends and were able to see the ones they hadn’t seen in a while
  4. Increased understanding on the peace building processes in South Sudan and the role of women in Peace building with Presentations from;
    Betty Sunday from Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO South Sudan who opened up on the context of the South Sudan peace process.
  • Jackline Nasiwa, Executive Director Centre for Inclusive Governance Peace and Justice (CIGPJ) gave a review of the transitions in South Sudan from 2013 to date, the role of women in peace processes and updates on the peace process; government being dissolved and appointment of 5 Vice Presidents, one being a woman.  She also encouraged the women to organize themselves and be hopeful for peace in South Sudan
  • Last but not least Dr Ronald Kalyango explained research findings on the implementing the revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) from a gender perspective. From this, he was able to discuss the barriers to women’s participation in security sector reforms such as; resistance to women in military and societal borders by prescribing child care to women which holds them back.
  • As a way forward, he listed recommendations like ensuring gender responsive budgeting, setting guidelines on how the government will encourage women participation in elections and supporting affirmative action for women participating in all institutions and processes. All this set the stage for a productive and involved discussion about the South Sudan peace process.

Establishment of District Peace Committees in 6 project districts


The Peace Centre in partnership with the Conflict Early Warning and Early Response Unit (CEWERU) held meetings on 12th, 13th, 18th ,20th and 24th February, in Arua, Kapelebyong Kassanda, Kotido, Yumbe and Adjumani Districts respectively to establish District Peace Committees. This was with the support and guidance of the Resident District Commissioners, who are the Heads of security and the representatives of the President in the Districts.
The meetings aimed at increasing the understanding of members on the roles and responsibilities of the District Peace Committees, which includes to strengthen collaborative partnership between the District Peace Committees, Monitors, and Analysts and developing of action plans for convening meetings by the committees.


“Conflict mediation and resolution is key for peaceful electoral processes. Am happy that The Peace Centre has established a structure to respond to early warning incidences. I pledge to work with all stakeholders including the recently trained women that will act as violence monitors. This committee will handle issues of land, violence, human rights and electoral conflicts.” Hajj Ziad Kaleme- LC5 Kassanda District Local Government.


A total of 141 women were inaugurated as peace committee members (78 men and 63 women); (Arua – 17 men & 6 women); (Kapelebyong – 7 men & 7 women); (Kassanda – 12 men & 6 women); (Kotido 19 men & 19 women); (Yumbe 11 men & 14 women); (Adjumani 12 men & 11 women). The District Peace Committee members include: Resident District Commissioners, Local Council V Chairpersons, Resident State Attorneys; District Police Commanders; District Internal Security Officers; Military; Speakers; Officers in Charge of Prisons; District Information Officers; District Community Development Officers; representatives of the Electoral Commission; Office of the Prime Minister; Uganda Human Rights Commission; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); National Women’s Council -Women representatives; Youths representatives; Religious, Cultural & Kraal leaders; Representatives of Civil Society Organisations, Chairpersons of respective Sub-County Peace committees; and Regional Internal Security Officers.

As a result, six (6) District Peace Committees were established and trained.
It is expected that all the six districts will hold monthly meetings commencing end of March, 2020 to receive update on early warning conflict/violence incidents and follow up reported cases to address the issues and document outcomes.

“The committee will help bridge the gap between district local government and the citizens. It will provide instant response to the citizens”. RDC Arua


The training has increased understanding on roles and responsibilities of the District Peace Committees among the Peace Committee members and leaders and also strengthened collaborative partnership between the District Peace Committees, Monitors, Analysts and the Peace Centre.


South Sudan Young Women Leaders’ Exchange Visit to Uganda.

This week saw phase two of the Training on Advocacy, Gender and Peace Building implemented when 5 young women leaders from South Sudan came to Uganda as part of a 3-day learning visit from 10th to 12th February 2020. This was planned for a more immersive learning experience with women leaders and women’s rights organizations within Uganda’s women’s movement. Women’s International Peace Centre (WIPC) which hosted the girls, is partnering with the Centre of Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice (CIGPJ) to strengthen young women’s capacity to participate in and influence peace processes and their outcomes from a gender perspective in South Sudan.

The visit was part of the plan of equipping Young Women to Participate in and Influence Peace Processes and Post-Conflict Governance and aimed at;

  1. Facilitating an exchange of information, experiences, strategies and solidarity between the young women in South Sudan and a diversity of women and women’s rights organizations in Uganda. This was accomplished with interactions with the Peace Centre and a session on Personal and Professional Leadership and Growth – Rita Atukwasa Executive Director, Institute for Social Transformation
  2. Exposing the trained young women leaders to models and positive examples of young women’s leadership and efforts to influence policies, programs and structures in post-conflict context and this was achieved with the help of the women in leadership symposium organized by Akina Mama wa Afrika
  3. And strengthening their personal leadership skills which was possible through interactions like experience sharing from young leaders by Rachel Wanyana and a session facilitated by Harriet Nabukeera Musoke on recognizing self-worth and the importance of having a vision as a young leader

“ Words cannot explain how much I enjoyed my time in Uganda and how the training empowered, mentored, inspired, molded and capacitated me.” Arek Malek; one of the 5 young women leaders shared about her visit.

This comes after a previous training in Juba where 25 women aged between 22 and 35 were trained on advocacy and collective action to advance the women, peace and security agenda. At the end of which, participants created an informal network dubbed ‘Young Women Leading for Peace’ composed 4 working groups and produced 4 work plans for their engagement with key decision-makers and mechanisms on issues of young women in governance and in the coming Transitional Government of National Unity (TGONU), the formation of states/boundaries, security (including DDRR, security sector reform and SGBV) and legislative review processes. The 5 young women leaders (and 1 sign language interpreter) represented the 25 members of the 4 groups.
The women left motivated, with a pack of lessons and ready to share all they’ve learnt in Juba.

Atim Caroline one of the participants with a hearing impairment mentioned that she had been encouraged “I learnt that it is important to keep your target and goal in mind but I also need to allow yourself to make mistakes as it’s the normal learning experience”

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