The book, Women and Peacebuilding in Africa, (edited by Ladan Affi, Liv Tønnessen and Aili Tripp) looks at the cost of women’s exclusion and the strategies for inclusion of women in peace talks, peacebuilding, and political representation at all levels in countries affected by war in Africa. This book features cutting edge research by scholars and peace activists from Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Algeria, and Nigeria, in addition to scholars from Norway and the US. It is based on original fieldwork in five countries wrestling with armed conflict and the threat of Islamist extremism. The book is premised on the notion that, like conflict, peacebuilding is gendered. This has profound implications for women’s status and possible inclusion in peacebuilding and political decision-making processes and ultimately for the success of peace initiatives.
In this collection we examine three major questions: 1) How have women engaged in unrecognized forms of peacebuilding and what are the contributions and limitations of these forms of peacebuilding? 2) What are the consequences of women’s inclusion and exclusion in post conflict governance arrangements? 3) In what ways is the struggle for women’s rights and political representation a key battleground and to what extent do women activists serve as a counterforce to conservative Islamist and Salafist extremism?
Although our book speaks to debates in the scholarly literature regarding women and peacebuilding, these are far from academic questions for us. And although our book is a broad investigation into women’s experiences, the issues we tackle are very personal to us. Most of the authors and many of the participants in workshops informing the book project had direct experience with conflict and peacebuilding. One of our authors, Maina Yahi, is from Chibok, in northern Nigeria. Three of his cousins were among the 276 girls abducted by Boko Haram on April 14, 2014, and one is still in captivity. Another cousin who was released had to stop her schooling and get married because her father had died while she was in captivity, and she could no longer pay her school fees and support herself.
The family still feels the trauma for the one in captivity, Jinkai (the Hausa word for Mercy), and her siblings constantly ask about her. As Yahi explained, “Up to now the insurgents are attacking the Chibok community. Just in October 2021, they attacked three communities in Chibok. They are still active with their abductions, especially of Christians and security personnel, on the road from Maiduguri to Damaturu. They either kill you instantly or take you away. Sometimes they let you go.” Yahi’s co-authors on the chapter on northern Nigeria, Hauwa Biu and Ayesha Imam, have been leaders of the BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights organization that works with women directly affected by the conflict. Biu is based in Maduiguri.
Jackline Nasiwa worked closely with our project, attending our workshops and providing feedback on chapters. As a youth, Nasiwa narrowly escaped forced conscription into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, lived as a refugee in northern Uganda, and after finishing her law degree at Makerere University in Uganda, was forced as a young woman to take care of her extended family when her father died. When the war in South Sudan broke out in 2013, Nasiwa’s family was once again displaced. She decided then to make civic engagement her life’s mission. She became involved in the 2011 independence referendum and served as a National Democratic Institute Constitutional Advisor, helping the Constitutional Review Commission in their consultations with grassroots populations.
Frustrated by the limitations of international organizations, Nasiwa formed her own Center for Inclusive Governance, Political Peace and Justice that works directly with women’s groups in peacebuilding. She was heavily involved in pressing fighters to continue the 2018 Addis Ababa peace talks and advocating for a resolution to the conflict between warring parties in South Sudan. Today, she mentors women, builds networks and works with the Women’s Monthly Forum to amplify women’s voices and organize protests. Her life’s work has been engaging in the kinds of activities we described in the book, including informal strategies of peacebuilding, building bridges across differences, and uplifting other women.
Samia Al Nagar, one of the authors of a chapter on Sudan in the book, has not only published extensively on women and conflict in Sudan, she is active in Women of Sudanese Civic and Political Groups, MANSAM, a women’s organization established during the 2019 Sudanese revolution. It is made up of eight women’s organizations, 18 civil society organizations, two youth groups and individuals. One of its goals is parity in women’s political representation, equality in law and in sports. It has been particularly active in demanding that women participate as equals in the transition. They were active pressing for gender equality in the new Sudanese constitution.
There is very little research that has been conducted on women’s informal or unrecognized peacebuilding strategies. There has been almost no comparative analysis. In our edited volume, we look at the impact of grassroots movements for peace and how these strategies influence women’s formal participation in peace negotiations, particularly in the cases of South Sudan and northern Nigeria.
We also look at questions of inclusion and exclusion in postconflict governance, examining the cases of Algeria and Somalia, where women have experienced both gains and difficulties in being incorporated into postconflict governance structures. The study looks at the implications of women’s representation for mediating bases for conflict in society and as a key arena of resistance to militant extremism.
Our third area of investigation examines women’s legal rights as a site of contestation. Very little attention is paid to countercurrents that are pushing against conservative religious influences in the area of women’s rights. We shine a spotlight on these efforts by women’s organizations, especially in the case of Sudan.
This guest post was written by Aili Mari Tripp, Wangari Maathai Professor of Political Science and Gender & Women’s Studies.