Africa: Peacebuilding Needs More Women, Youth – What's Holding Them Back?

Cape Town — AllAfrica’s Silence The Guns series focuses on peacebuilding on the continent. Today we take a closer look at the role of women and youth in peacebuilding in Africa. There’s no question that the role of women and youth in building peace is extremely valuable, and supporting them to play a part in society is a step in the right direction. Today allAfrica’s Mantsadi Sepheka (MS) unpacks these issues with Foundation for Security and Development in Africa’s Program and Research Manager Theodora Williams Anti, and Erasmus Migyikra Ndemole from the West Africa Centre for Peace in Ghana.
First, I just want to welcome you both to all Africa’s Silence The Guns series, where we focus on peacebuilding on the continent. I am Mantsadi Sepheka from allAfrica. And today we take a closer look at the role of women and youth in peacebuilding in Africa. So there is no question that the role of women and youth in peacebuilding is extremely valuable, and by empowering and supporting both the youth and women to play a part in society is of course a step in the right direction. One such organisation that has been supporting women empowerment is the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa (Fosda). So Fosda’s goal is to help in youth development, woman empowerment and peace and security. It started as a dream by a group of Africans in the UK in the late 80s and 90s. The foundation’s Theodora Williams Anti is joining us today. She is a peace and security expert and has 15 years’ experience with expertise in development, and project management, and holds a Masters in Political Science from the University of Ghana. Welcome Theodora to allAfrica’s Silence The Guns series. Thank you very much. So, before we get to what your foundation does to support women, can you give us your thoughts on the importance of woman playing a role in peacebuilding and conflict resolution?
Theodora Williams Anti
Okay, thank you very much. And let me just say I’m very happy to be here today, and sharing our story with allAfrica. I think that women participation in peace and security is not only important, it’s actually a right. And it’s crucial. When you look at the narrative women, women across especially in Africa, most African countries, you see that we have more women than men, women are taking over more than 50% of the population in most African countries. And so, it is it is crucial that the voices of women and the representation of women is seen at every level of decision making, and more especially in peace and security. Looking at the turbulent region we find ourselves in, and when you look at the statistics, you see that women are normally and the downside when it comes to conflict issues, women suffer more, women suffer more in times, in terms of conflict, there is more violence against women. During conflicts, women and girls are mostly used as weapons of war. We have women being raped during conflicts in most countries, as we have seen in Liberia, and Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa and Africa in general. And so, the role of women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution is actually crucial and has been denied for a long time. Since 1946, where we had the CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) the call for women participation has been ongoing, but as a continent as a region, we have not heeded to that call very much. And so we continue to see very low representation of women and peacebuilding persists even at the local level, I am sure as we go deeper into this meeting levels, women are not there at the decision making table at the peacemaking table. And so I think this call is long overdue, and is important and it’s crucial.
MS: Absolutely agreed. Now, your foundation has done a lot to to focus on gender equality. So tell us more about what you’re doing to promote gender equality within your foundation.
Theodora Williams Anti
Okay, so like you have mentioned, I work with the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa. We are based here in Accra, Ghana, and we work across some countries in West Africa. For now, we don’t do the whole of Africa, but we do West Africa more, and focus in peace and security has been towards reducing the proliferation of small arms in Africa. But we have also realised that different groupings and different sects of community and society plays a very, very crucial role in our growth in our NGO and aim of reducing the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and also generally promoting peace. insecurity. And we found women as one of those very crucial grouping of society that is that plays a very important role in that. And we have women as mothers, women as wives, women as sisters. And women as even though even though it’s not generally acknowledged by women are mostly breadwinners in most in most societies, and most communities in our countries, and so women crucial roles when it comes to building peace and conflict resolution. So we have focused on women, we first had a project we called Arms for Development, and that that projects actually used the role that women play in society, to get men to, to get men to, if you’d like. To go, the word has escaped me.
But we use the role women pray to get men to hand over their weapons in the northern region of Ghana, which is one of the most conflict-prone areas in Ghana. And so in Yendi, which was the head office, or the headquarters of the Dagbon conflict, if you like, and that is northern Ghana, we started a project called Arms for Development, where we empowered women economically. We understood that when women are empowered, especially economically, especially when their businesses are flourishing, they have a stronger voice. And they are able to they have a say in community. And they are able to convince their men to hand over their weapons and and reduce the tensions in community. And so we started working with women. And if we have a bit of time, I can describe the situation for you. In the northern region, where men are the heads of the family, and the owners of the land, and other main farmers, normally a small portion, or the the outer layers of the land are given to the women to farm groundnut and beans, while the men do the huge ones, like the yams, and then the root crops. And so the women farm the beans, and then the groundnuts. And when they do that, they the money they get, they use that to take care of their children, buy them school uniforms, get them food to school and things that the guests most woman is that they are able to use to take care of their home. And so we said okay, then why don’t we help women in this business and help them market their goods better, help them to flourish more in their businesses, and by so doing, they become more independent financially, and are able to talk to their men are able to participate more in decision making. So we’re talking to the leaders, the traditional leaders and giving more women more space also in the community.
And so we did this both ways. And we built, we were able to get them they suggested ways that we can support them. So for one, we built a way a storehouse for them. And that is in Adibo. We built a storehouse for them where they can store their goods and their beans and their groundnuts when they farm because that’s one of their biggest problems. Another committee wanted a corn mill. And we did that for them. And they were able to enhance their businesses and, and be able to trade better and make more money and become more independent. And to that we got more men own enough or giving up their arms to the police just to according to the goal of the project Arms for Development. And so that’s taught us how crucial women in peacebuilding processes when they are giving the voice when they are empowered. And we have also learned that we need both political and economic empowerment to get women voices stronger. You can’t have it either way. Political empowerment without the economic empowerment does not work. We tried it and it was difficult. So both have To move hand in hand, because women need the political will to be able to voice out. So that’s just one of the things we do with women.
The other one is enhancing their political empowerment. We have supported women to contact for parliamentary elections, national parliamentary elections, and also local assembly elections. And we continue to support them. For that recently, we are also on a project that will help women gain more technical skills in conflict resolution, mediation, negotiation, and things like that, just according to the UN Women, only 10% of women are found in peace negotiation processes. And so we don’t want to hear what we normally hear that that women are not there, that women don’t have the capacity, that women don’t have the skills. And so we are working to ensure that women have the skills have the capacity to be represented on conflict, resolution and peacemaking, decision-making tables, we want the women to be at the table, and we are doing everything possible to support them, to bring them there, both from the economic side of view, the technical side of view, the political side of view, and enhancing their capacity generally. So that’s what we’ve been doing so far.
MS: Well, that’s truly amazing. But the 10% is a very, very low number at this stage, but I’m sure with much conversation, it’ll keep it will, it will rise eventually. But, of course, empowering the youth is just as important. As empowering woman, I know you’ve got a youth development enhancement programme that you offer is just as intense as as the woman’s programme.
Theodora Williams Anti
Yes, it’s as intense. So we understand that women, the demographics of women and youth are different. So the African Union definition of youth, young people are people within the ages of 15 and 35, both male and female. And so most young people should be in school, roughly by the age of 25 and below, and they would have completed or had their first degree. But we have a situation where a lot of young people drop out from the secondary school level, and have only a few going out to the tertiary level, not just in Ghana, but across. So our project, we’ve done several projects, to push young people. That is youth peace and security. And I think I mentioned earlier, but to get both young people and women participate in security issues, you have to work hard to include them in decision making, in general, and that is where you can get them also participating equally in peace and security issues.
And that’s what we are doing with a woman and and also with a youth. So with a youth interest. Young people have their their needs, many and most of their needs are tailored towards employment. And so getting them to be interested in governance issue is quite tough, and yet is crucial for them to be to participate in governance and also peace and security because they also have a role to play when you look at the terrain, normally is the young people who are the war funds in conflict. Normally the young people between the ages of 15 and 35, the young people and so it’s very, very, very important that we reach them now and get them to use their energies constructively. Most West African countries have this youth bulge issue. But the Asian Tigers have been able to turn around this youthful issue into different dividends.
And we have to be able to do that, we have to be able to use the creativity, the potentials, the energy of young people to build our countries rather than turn them around to destroy. And so our interest right from the beginning has been to work with young people to turn their creativity and all their energy into more positive activities or more positive interests, to their various countries, and that’s why we started our youth in governance project, which, which basically build the capacity of young people in governance issues, getting them interested in governance issues. So at that time, we’re doing a lot of debates. Across secondary schools, we formed that peace clubs in for in secondary schools, just to get young people to start thinking about development, leadership, and things like that. And we have moved a step further, where we have, we are looking at both students as youth in school and youth out of school. And we have facilitated the formation of National Youth networks, Regional Youth Networks, because they are young people, they are able to come together in groupings. And so we are encouraging young people to form groups at the community level at the regional levels or constituency levels, just from groups so that you can have a say, and a voice in governance issues.
And then we are putting them together as networks to be able to strengthen those voices in decision making, especially in decision that concerns young people. So we move a bit further into policy advocacy issues, and youth employment, we’ve been advocating for governments to create the right environments for young people’s businesses and entrepreneurship projects. So young people who, below the ages of 35, who start businesses are not paying tax now in Ghana. We also want to look at those policies and see if they are being implemented, and young people are not being cheated. We have AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) now, we are educating young people about the AfCFTA and how young people can take advantage of it.
And we are looking at young people’s participation in education, governance processes, because we have realised that in realise that education is seeing as, as something for older people, the professors and the doctors and young people who really, really are the the key. Our key in education now, I’m not participating very effectively in the governance of education in our countries. And so our focus is to get young people’s voices and their concerns in education sector, head. And we think that’s one of the ways to improve education outcome, then we are also building a capacity on conflict management, conflict resolution, sending them into their communities as peace activist peace ambassadors, and especially in conflict prone areas, and where there are peers educating their fellow youth and and dissuading them from being lured by politicians and reckless, reckless leaders into all sorts of activities that bring chaos and conflict into our communities.
So we are using all sorts of approaches into getting young people to be part of both governance and peace and security. We are working very well and very much with the UN Peace and Security 20 to 44, the Youth Peace and Security Resolution, we seek to get more young people participating in peace and security issues, and of course, the EU AGENDA 2060. We are also very much aware of that and pushing the objectives of that getting more young people in. Currently, we have a project we’ve started called the Daakye Youth Leadership projects, which is seeking to train youth leaders and preparing leaders for tomorrow. Not just today, but preparing the right ethical leadership for Ghana, for Africa tomorrow. And so we are started doing that now. And we hope that in some few years when we have the current crops of young people taking up leadership positions, some of the things we see now and complain about would change significantly.
MS: That’s truly amazing work you’re doing with the youth. And it sounds like it’s going to be quite beneficial for the young people to be empowered by becoming peacebuilders. We now welcome Erasmus Migikra Ndomale from the West Africa Centre for Peace. He is a social worker and child protection advisor, and founding member of the West African Centre for Peace Studies in Ghana. Erasmus welcome. And please talk us to, talk to us rather about the importance of of youth development in the area of peacebuilding, just generally speaking, and can you expand on your thoughts of how to encourage more young people to immerse themselves in the area of peacebuilding?
Erasmus Ndemole Migyikra
Thank you Mantsadi for having me on your programme, we believe that the youth must first be encouraged to understand the importance of peace for their future and consequences of conflict, which can stop or hamper their future. Because if they indulge into conflict, it will hamper their future. So we need to encourage them to understand and be able to go alongside with it so that we’ll have a peaceful Africa. Also, we think the youth must realise that their future depends on the sustainable peace and security. The future relies on that. So they have to be very careful and be able to match that. We also believe that the youth must deliberately and consciously contribute to the promotion of peace and conflict resolution. As in they have to be agents and ambassadors to peace. They need to be ambassadors, because the future lies in their hands, they have to become ambassadors to themselves and to the population as general. We also believe that they have to do the deliberate effort must be made to improve to involve the youth in mediation, prevent preventive peace mechanisms and post conflict reconstruction endeavours. If you look at, if you listen to Theodora, you’ll see that Liberia, Sierra Leone and other places are post-conflict situations. So they have to have that in their hands as well. And they should know that development can only be taking place in peace environment, or what we are talking about. Some countries are peaceful … it means that we need peace before they can have those kind of development. So we try to work alongside with the youth so that they make sure that they understand that, for instance, Ghana and other places that we have project to make sure that development continues.
MS: Thank you so much, Erasmus. You are listening to the allAfrica Silence The Guns podcast series on peacebuilding on the continent. And we are in conversation with Theodora Williams Anti from the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa, and Erasmus Migikra Ndomole from the West African Centre for Peace. So let’s touch on the continuous challenges your organizations have in peacebuilding in general, and what help you need to help or assist in combating these challenges. Let’s start with you, Erasmus. Yes, you can continue.
Erasmus Ndemole Migyikra
Thank you again. Remember, this funding is becoming an issue coupled with the Covid situation. Therefore, funding is a major problem to implement peace and justice activities within our continent, Africa. Also, conflict keeps emerging. And therefore we make it difficult and unpredictable to address them with a lay down strategy. There is no laid down strategy. So we have different kinds of conflict. For instance, places that I’ve worked in my life which is a conflict prone areas. They have different type of conflict, for cattle reading, political conflict, in that clan conflict and all these so they met in a multi fold or different ways. Another challenge is access to policymakers and it’s difficult to reach out to them and to discuss even issues with them become issues. So these are some of the challenges that NGOs face because whether Sometimes there is bribery between the policymakers and what they call it, civil society from thinking they want to take their rules or something. So it becomes a challenge. And sometime, even to meet them to make discussion. Most of them continue to give excuses and other things, which is hampering the job of civil society in the peace conflict front.
MS: Theodora. The challenges you face? I know you mentioned some in the beginning. Are there others that are just quite difficult at the stage?
Theodora Williams Anti
Yeah, I think Erasmus has mentioned that the funding challenge, so there is no, let me just reiterate it again. And for Silencing The Guns, which is an EU projects, I think that the EU should encourage member states to support to support civil societies more, we need local support, as Africans and West Africans, and yeah, we need local support. I think we continue to look outside our continent for support. But if states can support us more, in all our work, they agree that CSOs are able to reach the grassroots better. And so I think that at this stage is important for African states to begin to support African CSOs and the citizenry in general. So funding is a big problem. For us. Young people, like I mentioned earlier, their needs are different. And that’s why it’s very easy to find young people are at the forefront of conflicts, especially political violence, which is very common in in West Africa, whenever there is elections, that we are all sitting on tentacles, because we never know where to turn. And most politicians use young people to perpetrate all kinds of violence against their opponents. And so and so it’s it is this is driven by the need of bread and butter by young people, by the need for employment by young people. And if young people are gainfully employed, I am sure that we will, we will have less and less of such violence in our communities. Most young people who are following politicians, what we normally call here in Ghana, as foot soldiers, political party foot soldiers or vigilantes are doing that, because they don’t have any proper jobs. They follow them for the hope of employments when they come into power. And so employment, unemployment of youth is a key challenge, also, and African states must begin to sit up and address that. So these are, for me, the challenges, funding and expectations of young people and even of women in some of these projects turn out to be a challenge. And of course, infrastructure, moving around, is always a big challenge.
MS: Funding and unemployment seem to be the two biggest ones for your organization’s and I’m sure many NGOs who do the kind of work you do. What would it take to get the right amount of funding, um, to be able to function and, you know, for peace to be seen as something that is a common goal, so to speak.
Theodora Williams Anti
Yes, so I mentioned earlier, that if African governments begin to find African CSOs that’s, that may help and begin to release that challenge or relieve us of that challenge a bit more. If we begin to raise funds inwardly or internally, rather than always looking outward for funds. And if Africans begin to even individually state organisation industry, businesses begin to invest a bit more in peacebuilding at the country level, at the regional level, that will go a long way to support the kind of work we do. And so, I think we are getting to the stage where we should all want to, we should all want to contribute to that piece that we want to enjoy and a piece that we want to see as individuals, as individuals and as organisations, industry, businesses, corporates, Africa, we should begin to intentionally invest in the peace. Normally for the international partners we have when if conflict hasn’t broken out, or they don’t see the need to, to invest. Unless it’s burning hot like it’s burning in Sudan now, unless it’s burning hot, you don’t see help. And we don’t want to wait for it to burn. We want to be able to keep working, because conflicts will always be with us. As human beings, we will always have conflict. And so we want to be able to be working with communities and be working on the seeming conflicts and keep keep the conflicts low and don’t allow them to erupt into violence before we start finding that. Before we start firefighting. We want to be able to do that. And I think if we are well resourced, we will hardly see any violence, violent conflict on our continent, we should be able to invest in our peace and nip the violence in the bud. Conflict, will always always be with us. But how do we nip the violence in the bud? That’s where investments come. I don’t want to call it funding, I want to call it investments and resources. We need to be able to do that.
MS: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head there. It’s not funding, it needs to be investment – investing in the people, the youth, the women mostly so that the violence can come to an end. As you rightfully said, conflict will be with us for some time. You are listening to the allAfrica Silence The Guns podcast series on peacebuilding on the continent. And we are in conversation with Theodora Williams Anti from the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa, and Erasmus Migikra Ndomole from the West African Centre for Peace, Erasmus, um, in your opinion, how is the future looking for youth in the area of peacebuilding on the continent? Is it positive?
Erasmus Ndemole Migyikra
Well, thank you once again. We believe that there is no general succession plan stipulated by the various constitutions across the continent. The other factors such as unemployment and non inclusion in the governance and leadership rule, in many countries in Africa is the issue. For example, it can be found in our electoral system, where the leadership or people in the realm of affairs are mostly population within the ages of 50, 70s and above, leaving the youth out completely. And the youth are the future of the country. When you put them in the 60s, 70s and above, into the realm of affairs, then we going to have issue. So we should look at that in the continent, and make sure that the youth are also giving voice in politics. It is also a waste in the case of young women who aspired who aspire to have their voice heard in governance issues. For the future of the youth to be bright, there must be conscious and deliberate effort of empowering them to take over from the current group of leaders who are mostly elderlu. So it’s just one of our challenges in Africa.
We need to make sure that this old folks go out and we put young ones in. Look at what is happening in Sudan for instance. The old folks want to continue remaining. Look at what happened in Guinea, Mali, and other places recently, you see that they say emphasis has to be seen and then somebody is 80 years he has to be on retirement. Now he’s in politics. These are some of the challenges we are seeing and moving the youth away from their responsibility. And when the youth are not working, if the youth are not getting to engage in their own affairs, most of them become idle, and they pick arms with a little … what-do-you-call-it a spark, they pick (up) arms, encouragement they pick arms, even if you give them just $1 they will pick arms. It becomes an issues in the continent. Thank you.
MS: You’re quite right. I think the issue of not giving the youth space to, to be active in politics is an issue globally, mostly on the continent. Theodora, with what do you have accomplished thus far in empowering women – what do you believe the future looks like for women in peacebuilding on the continent? Is it a positive one? I mean, you’ve done a lot of work with your organisation.
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Theodora Williams Anti
Yes, it’s positive because we are not sleeping on our horse. As positive because more and more young, more and more women are getting educated. More and more women are getting literate, more and more women are getting their capacity enhanced. And so yes, we hope to see more women and I think in the past few years, we have seen more women in leadership roles. We see more women in the Parliament, which is an inspiration to all Africa. All Africa, Parliament’s and leadership and women agency is growing. And so our voices are getting heard more and more and so it’s positive. We hope that we’ll see more women at the front of of peacebuilding and conflict resolution as we educate more women train more women to the capacity of women, and enhance the economic economic capacity of women, as we advocate for and achieve affirmative actions and get more women in decision building. And also as we get more men, more men understand the need for women participation, we are not calling for equality, we are calling for equity. Yes. And so as we get more men begin to understand the need for women participation in governance processes and also in peace building. The future hopefully is bright, it will be it may be slow. But we will eventually get there. For now at least we are looking for 30% of women representation, just 30%. Everyone are doing over 60% that’s great. But I’m on the average, we are looking for 30%. And it’s possible. We believe it’s possible. So the future is bright for women.
MS: That’s good to hear. Erasmus, back to you. Now, your center’s main goal is to help build lasting peace and justice in Africa in general. So again, back to challenges, but this time, the challenges and influencing policymakers, where’s the struggle there?
Erasmus Ndemole Migyikra
Yeah. Looking at it, the role of NGOs to large extent this advisory and complementary to government effort. So it is therefore difficult to compare government to implement a particular idea being proposed by NGOs. So the NGO sector when we propose to government, they become issue. So it’s one of the difficulties that we go through. We only use advocacy as a tool to present our concept which is also a challenge for us. Another challenge is perceptions of government that most NGOs are externally funded and are therefore agents who are ready to implement the ideas of the their paymasters. So the government, most of them happy that own. We are living by agenda. There is a debate strongly going on in Ghana, now on gay and lesbianship, LGBT, for instance. So they are saying that all these people are doing it because of the interests of the funders. So these are things that make our work a bit also difficult, on that, NGOs that are always in the media space, are sometimes seen as a leader of the opposition and therefore Kingley monitored and suspected those, now that we are on the media, and all these things. You can imagine the opposition that government will see that you to be an opposition, but not being the forefront of the government. But we have to do this to be able to make them make sure that politicians do the right thing. This what I can say.
MS: Thank you so much. Thank you, both of you. As we wrap up, just your final thoughts on what’s the most pressing peacebuilding matter on the continent and what do you feel needs to be done? Theodora, we can start with you.
Theodora Williams Anti
Okay, thank you. Once again, I think so both AU, Ecowas, SADC and all the regional blocs, I am sure I know for sure. AU has the ECOWAS conflict prevention framework. I know AU has a similar structure, which Silencing The Guns forms parts of, so we have all these policies, structures, conventions across and of course, we have the UN resolution 1325, 2244, and so many other resolutions internationally, nationally, regionally, and all that. We think that if if we put our minds to all those things, that we’ve spent a lot of money to come up with all these conventions, all these policies, that we spend so much money if we put our minds to it and invest in their implementation. invests in realising the goals and objectives of these of these conventions. It will go a long way to promote peace and security in West Africa. I know for sure that the ECOWAS convention, the ACPF, the convention framework for conflict prevention, says a lot about women participation and also says a lot about youth participation, says a lot about working on the structural causes of conflicts which unemployment is key. And so if we invest and work on implementing all these policies, silencing the guns and engaging people, putting young people and women at the forefront, we are taking a bold step into assuring peace and security. Like I said earlier, conflict will always be with us. But it’s the violence we want to prevent. And so I urge all the regional blocks and states to invest in in promoting peace and security in our countries, implementing all these conventions that we spend a lot of money putting together, developing, and giving women and young people a chance in the processes.
MS: Thank you so much. Erasmus, your final thoughts on? Yeah.
Erasmus Ndemole Migyikra
We believe that there is not a single method or direct method to read. Being a professional lawyer, I would say we should also look at the Justice, which also given the emphasis to justice aspect of it, of peace, compensate peace with that Justice might not hold. Also, let’s look at our own traditional way of resolving conflicts. If we remember we had a Ubuntu system that worked for some people. Let’s look at the chacha system that worked in Rwanda during the crisis and other methods that we in a peacebuilding arena to research into that because almost every tradition, custom, clans have their own way of resolving conflict. And if we have all these things, let’s tap into that. Then we add these conventions and other things that Theodora was mentioning, to make sure that it’s support in line so that people understand that, as Africans, this is how we do our things, so that we’ll be able to also use our own mechanism, document them, and use them perfectly to suit peace methods. Thank you.
MS: Absolutely agreed Erasmus. Thank you. So you’ve been listening to the allAfrica Silence The Guns series on peacebuilding on the continent. We were in conversation with experts from the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa, and the West Africa Centre for Peace. Thank you to both our experts for taking the time to elaborate on the role of women and youth and peacebuilding on the continent.
AllAfrica is grateful to the Carnegie Corporation of New York for supporting our reporting on peacebuilding in Africa.
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