— The U.N. Working Group for Women, Peace and Securit
y in West Africa says women are drastically under-represented in peace-building activities in the region. The U.N. working group met with representatives of 50 international aid and human rights groups to figure out how to make women’s voices a priority when it comes to making and keeping the peace in the region.
U.N. Women says women disproportionately “bear the brunt” of war and conflict in West Africa but are often excluded from peacemaking processes.
The agency says women account for less than eight percent of participants in peace talks, and that less than three percent of the people actually signing peace agreements are women.
Josephine Odera is the regional director for U.N. Women in West Africa. "Women are important in the peace processes of Africa because they hold the communities together," she explained. "And often, when there is a conflict, they’re the ones left behind, or having to run away with the children. But as more peace processes have been conducted on the continent, we have realized that women’s voices are absent from such processes."
Odera said this absence means that issues like sexual violence and the well-being of children are not getting enough attention when it comes to conflict prevention and post-conflict resolution.
The United Nations created the Working Group for Women, Peace and Security in West Africa in 2009.
The group says they are trying to get member countries to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions 1325 and 1820, which call for increased female participation in decision-making at all levels and an end to conflict-related sexual violence and impunity for such crimes.
The deputy regional representative for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in West Africa, Benjamin Hounton, said these resolutions don’t just apply to conflict. They also apply to domestic family codes, many of which do not currently meet the U.N. standards for gender equality.
"You have many discriminatory provisions in our domestic law[s]. We say that the family code is applying for everybody, but in reality, the family code is not protecting the rights of all women… When you say the man is the chief of the family, that has many consequences for the women in the region. It has many consequences for the enjoyment of their rights," Hounton stated.
The U.N. working group says 11 of the 16 member countries in West Africa have developed national action plans to implement the U.N. Security Council resolutions, but more concrete actions need to be taken to make sure women’s voices are heard, especially when it comes to preventing and dealing with conflict.