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Cameroonian Women Say They Are Underrepresented in Peace Talks

Map of Cameroon
Map of Cameroon

In Cameroon, hundreds of women are protesting what they say is their underrepresentation in the country's efforts at peace, despite making up more than half the population. Women say they are most affected by the separatist conflict in Cameroon’s western regions as well as by Boko Haram terrorism on the border with Nigeria.

In a song now referred to as their anthem, Cameroonian women ask to be given a greater opportunity to contribute to peacemaking and development.

The women chanted the song several times Tuesday in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, as part of activities connected to the United Nations International Day of Peace, observed on September 21.

The government says similar protests took place in the towns of Bamenda, Buea and Maroua.

Among the protesters was Muma Bih Yvonne, co-founder of the Cameroon Women's Peace Movement. Mumah says women are underrepresented in the central African state’s efforts to establish peace in troubled spots.

"The major national dialogue was held. When we took statistics, the representation of women was less than 15 percent. We recommend the continuing of dialogue until we have the sustainable peace that we all dream of."

Cameroon's anglophone rebels want to create a breakaway state they call Ambazonia, separate from Cameroon's French-speaking majority. The U.N. says the rebel conflict has killed more than 3,300 people and displaced more than a half-million since fighting broke out in 2017.

Cameroon organized what was called a major national dialogue in 2019 in hopes of resolving the separatist conflict in its two English-speaking western regions.
The women say the conflict continues in part because their voices were not heard at the dialogue.

The women on Monday also launched what they call the first-ever Women's Negotiations for Peace in Cameroon.

Sonkeng Rachel, one of the organizers, says in crisis situations, women who are always considered by their communities as mothers of humanity, positive influencers and people having high moral standards, integrity and discipline should be given opportunities to speak. Sonkeng says fighters and government troops should immediately call a cease-fire before having a dialogue among themselves for sustainable peace to return to Cameroon.

Sonkeng said women will meet with both fighters and government troops to negotiate an end to the separatist crisis in Cameroon's western regions as part of the new peace initiative.

Sonkeng said women have proven that they can be the main peace negotiators because females provide humanitarian needs to affected populations, including wounded soldiers and fighters.

She said while men flee or are involved in armed battles, women educate fighters and government troops on the necessity of building peace.

The women's peace initiative is supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a nonprofit body funded by the German government.

The foundation’s representative in Cameroon, Nina Netzer, says the more women are included in official negotiations and in peace treaties and peace accords, the likelier it is for Cameroon to have sustainable agreements.

"If any kind of continuous dialogue and negotiations are coming up, it is very important to have at least 50 percent of women negotiators because they can build bridges in between different actors, bridges in between government and non-state armed groups. Women have achieved crucial milestones."

In February, the International Crisis Group reported that Cameroonian women and children have suffered disproportionately in the separatist conflict.

The conflict, which began in 2017, has claimed more than 3,300 lives and displaced over 750,000 people according to the U.N.

Meanwhile, the Boko Haram conflict, which started 13 years ago in northeast Nigeria, has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced two million across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

The Cameroonian government says it has taken note of the women’s plight but did not explain how it intends to address the issue.