Mary Okumu is a U.N. consultant on gender issues who is active in promoting women’s roles in peace making. She's also the executive director of “El Taller,” a human rights group working in East Africa that plays an active role in mediation, conflict resolution, health education and survival skills.
As part of her work, Okumu helps train Sudanese women living in refugee camps in Kenya and Sudan. Okumu said the training includes developing an understanding of conflict situations they’re involved in and the human rights issues within those situations, in addition to learning how to survive and to meet their family’s needs.
Okumu said as part of the training she explains that women do not have to be victims and war spectators and that they can do something to protect themselves while caring for their families. She said she teaches them “how to value one another, how to value respect, and also to understand the root causes of war.”
She said the training has effectively expanded civil society’s participation in negotiating peace. She said it’s taken four years, but women who’ve been trained are now part of the inter-tribal conflict negotiating process in Sudan.
Okumu said these women, from both northern and southern Sudan, were in Washington recently to plead for an investigation of human rights atrocities in Sudan and that the women were able to undertake this effort because of the training they’ve received.
She said women are also serving as parliamentarians and government ministers.
Okumu said she has submitted an affirmative action plan for women to the government. She said her proposal has a 50/50 chance of being passed into law, and if that happens, it will mean more leverage for women. She added that Parliament is looking for new constituencies, “and so we said we will give you the new constituencies if you give us affirmative action for women, so it’s a tradeoff.”