The article you are about to read was excerpted from "Africa Recovery", a journal which the PARC Women
Empowerment Desk got recently from the United Nations Department of Public Information.

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" The Hutu women of Busoro, near the Burundi capital,
Bujumbra, are separated from their Tutsi neighbours in
Musaga village by little more than a dirt road and the
country's bitter civil conflict. For years that were
barrier enough as the fighting ebbed and flowed around
them. Over time, the sound of gunfire echoing through
the green hills became almost routine and the absence
of the men, off to war or gone in search of jobs, came
to seem normal. It was the screaming of the wounded
that was hardest to take -- that and the fear that
knotted the stomach even after the guns and the cries
fell silent.

Until one day, it simply became too much to endure.
With fires still burning the latest battle, the women
of Musaga collected what food and clothing they could
for victims in Busoro.  Then they marched to the local
government office, where they rallied with their
sisters from Busoro to demand an end to the killing.
The Tutsi and Hutu women clasped hands to sing "Give
us peace. Give us peace now!"

They sang together for hours before making their
separate dangerous ways back home. And although the
war continued, something important had changed. The
road that divided them now connected them and through
their local peace group, Twishakara amahoro ("we want
to have peace"), the women of the villages have worked
to keep the connection strong.

This is just one of many examples of African women
acting locally, often spontaneously, to assist the
victims of war and reach across battle lines in
pursuit of peace. It is peacemaking at the village
level, where Africa's increasingly internal conflicts
are fought and often the first step towards
reconciliation in communities shattered by the hatred
and devastation of war.

But by the contributions of women peacemakers in
Africa, from Somalia to South Africa have gone largely
unnoticed. Dismissed by governments and rebel
movements who consider making war and peace to be
men's work--and often relegated to the role of
"victim" by well-intentioned diplomats and aid
agencies--women have had to fight their own battles
for a seat at the peace table. "Women have played a
leadership role in the cause of peace," UN Development
Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Executive Director Noeleen
Heyzedr told the UN Security Council last year "But
their efforts have not been recognised, supported or
rewarded."

Those efforts received a major boost on 31 October
2000, when the Council adopted Resolution 1325,
formally recognizing women's special vulnerability
during wartime and calling for their "equal
participation and full involvement" in peacemaking.
Writing on the second anniversary of the resolution,
former Liberian Finance Minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
and the former Defence Minister of Finland, Ms
Elisabeth Rehn, described 1325 as a "watershed
political framework" for women engaged in peace and
security work". "Even in the most unlikely of places
women are organizing on the basis of Resolution 1325",
they continued, "It has given legitimacy to a long
history of women's peace activity."

But if Resolution 1325 has strengthened African
women's claims to a seat at the peace table, it has
not removed the formidable political culture and
economic obstacles to their full participation as
peacemakers or as citizens. The recent experiences of
women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in
the Mano River Union (MRU) countries of Liberia,
Sierra-Leone and Guinea, illustrate the barriers women
still face in making their voices heard and how they
have organized to overcome them.

Congolese women seize an opportunity.
Despite determined efforts by women in the DRC to
participate in diplomatic initiatives aimed at ending
the country's devastating conflict, they were almost
entirely excluded from negotiations leading up to the
1999 Lusaka peace agreement and the implementation
talks that followed. It was not until late January
2002, with talks between the parties set to open in
Sun City, South Africa, that the Congolese government
and its rebel adversaries, at the urging of the UN and
the mediator, former Botswana president Sir Ketumile
Masire, agreed to add a few more women to their
delegations. It was the slimmest of openings, but the
women resolved to take full advantage.

On 15 February, women from across the DRC, including
representatives from the warring parties, government
and civil society, gathered in Nairobi under the
auspices of UNIFEM and a Geneva-based non-governmental
organization, Femmes Africa Solidarite (FAS) to forge
a common position in advance of the negotiations,
known as the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, "We knew what
we had to be together for the men to hear what we had
to say, "Ms Aningina Bibiane, a Congolese peace
activist, told Africa Recovery. During four years of
fighting "there have been a lot of killings and rapes
and other human rights violations among civilians,
particularly women and children. Women are the
principal victims, that is why we had to stand up."

During four days of debate the women found that,
however, deep their differences, they shared an
overriding desire for peace, a broad commitment to the
Lusaka accord and, significantly, a common
determination to remove constitutional and legislative
obstacles to women's equality after the war. On 19
February, with advice from a respected African "wise
woman", former Liberian president Ruth Perry, the
delegates issued a joint declaration and programme of
action calling for an immediate cease-fire, the
inclusion of women and their concerns in all aspects
of the peace process and adoption of a 30 per cent
quota for women at all levels of government in any
final settlement. The women also announced the
formation of pan-Congolese women's caucus in Sun City
to support the peace process and lobby for their full
participation.

But with only 40 women among 340 delegates to the
formal talks, an early challenge for the women was to
find ways to increase their influence. Numbers are
important, explained Ms Bineta Diop, FAS president and
secretary-general of the African Women on Peace and
Development, a pan-African body established by the
Organization of African Unity (now the African Union)
and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Without a
critical mass of women at the table, "they are
just like a toy in the men's structure. If there is
one woman among 30 men who also have a different
agenda, how can that woman deliver?" In any case, she
noted, the mere presence of a woman does not guarantee
that she will represent the interests of women
generally. "But when you have a group of women, you
will see them differently, because the process is no
longer male-dominated.

Speaking as sisters and mothers:
To strengthen the caucus, therefore, an additional 33
women, including Ms Diop, Mrs. Perry, Ms Bibiane and
other representatives of Congolese civil society,
joined the women's caucus as advisers. Although
excluded from the formal discussions. Ms Bibiane noted
the advisers played important roles in supplying the
women delegates and acting as the eyes and ears of
ordinary people back home. "We used a strong press
strategy to keep pressure on the parties and inform
the Congolese people of what was happening. We
prepared technical documents and position papers for
the women delegates to use in the meetings and met
with delegation leaders to try to be part of the
decision making."

The presence of caucus members in the deliberations
allowed the women to closely monitor progress and
adjust their tactics to respond to deadlocks and new
developments. When disputes threatened cancellation of
the negotiations. Ms Diop recalled the women
threatened to denounce the parties back home. "They
told the men that if they went home without peace, the
people would beat them," she laughed. "The men knew
the women were in touch with the grassroots.

They also made sure the men knew the women were
watching. As negotiators entered the conference hall
ach morning they were greeted by groups of women who
called them by name and handed them the "thought of
the day" - a photocopied sheet with a Congolese
proverb or slogan selected to respond to the issues
under discussion. The handouts ranged from such gentle
generalities as "J'aime le Congo" (I love Congo) to
demands for progress in specific issues, but they all
served to remind the parties of the expectations back
home.

In general, the caucus chose to avoid confrontations
with the men -- a tactical decision dictated by its
small numbers and its ad-hoc and informal status. If
the caucus was to have an impact on the process, it
was necessary to establish and maintain good relations
with the men who resented actions that appeared to
challenge traditional gender roles and who had only
reluctantly agreed to the modest increase in female
delegates.

"At first, the men were hostile," Ms Bibiane
acknowledged "because there was this group of women
entering 'their' source. But we approached them in a
way that made them feel secure. In African culture the
woman is your mother. The woman is your wife and
sister. If your mother or sister is talking to you,
you have to listen. We did not demonise the men or try
to take their place."



Tradition and Culture:
The women found creative ways to use tradition and
culture to enhance their influence. On 8 March,
International Women's Day, the caucus was invited to
address a plenary meeting of the formal talks. Instead
of giving a speech, the women staged a play that
dramatised the suffering of women and children in war
and concluded with an impassioned appeal for peace.
The performance was effective, Ms Diop said, precisely
because it presented the women in familiar roles.
"Even the toughest rebels were crying and asking, "How
can the women see us like this? Are the women really
suffering this much?" It showed the men that women
were not pursuing partisan political objectives, she
noted, but instead expressed the broad public desire
for peace.

In the end, however, final agreement eluded the
parties at Sun City despite progress on many issues.
As the meeting adjourned, the women's caucus blocked
the doorway and announced to reporters that delegates
would have to remain in the meeting hall until peace
was agreed. It was a short lived gesture of civil
disobedience, but demonstrated the willingness of the
women to use more aggressive tactics and step outside
traditional roles when circumstances required.