August 4th, 2010 in Kenya: Women have a role to play…
In my country Kenya, we had general elections in 2007. The Presidential results were rigged (by both sides, I believe) and so violence broke out in the early months of 2008. Some of the reasons for this are the rigging of results but some of the causes were and still are more deep rooted: in our history, economic, political and social, among others. Once some form of agreement was arrived at (with the help of international intervention) to end the violence, we ended up with a coalition government and the promise to implement a number of reforms. One of the promises was to give Kenyans a new constitution. August 4th is here and we are voting to decide whether we will have a new constitution or will keep the old one. Counting of votes is going on as I write this.
A lot of campaigning has been done by those 'for' (Green) and 'against' (Red) the referendum. I do not have the time to explain all the 'for' and 'against' debates here. However, due to the lessons learned from the experiences of violence in early 2008, many Kenyans have been very proactive in working toward encouraging people to vote the constitution referendum peacefully. More and more, we are recognizing that the exclusion of women in peacebuilding processes in our nations and communities is costing us a lot. Learning from the example of women of South Africa, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, and Liberian women (see 'Pray the Devil Back to Hell'), we KNOW women have a critical role to play in peacebuilding in Africa and we want to be proactive about it. In addition, we want our governments to recognize that it is time the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 - the international framework that calls for the inclusion of women in peace and security processes - became a reality in our frontiers.
We hope the referendum results will be received peacefully by all Kenyans. And then we will move on to preparing for 2012 by working toward preparing people to not only vote peacefully during the 2012 general elections, but to keep the peace before and after the election – and this time around, we are ensuring women play a visible role. Since the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 it has become clear that women and women’s organizations and civil society networks are an important facet in making peacebuilding more effective and sustainable in local set-ups. Few in Kenya, however know about the Resolution. Through partnerships, women’s networks and coalitions are positioning themselves to effectively channel multiple voices and concerns to the highest levels of Government and international policymaking on the need to adopt and integrate the Resolution in our governance and legal instruments.
Kenyan women remain largely excluded from peace and security processes despite their efforts in preserving social order and educating for peace at the grassroots; lobbying and advocacy for the equitable distribution of resources at the national level and despite international policies which explicitly call for women’s involvement in decision making at national and international levels. This marginalization hinders efforts to build sustainable peace and stable communities in Kenya. Moreover, when women are excluded, the differential impact of the decisions on men and women is not fully understood, women’s rights are not overtly addressed while their recommendations are excluded from final agreements.
Excuses given for the exclusion of women include: cultural norms where gender inequality and exclusion is embedded in local culture; women leaders are “elites” and not representative of the broad population; and women are not involved in the fighting and so should not be involved in peacemaking. Women sometimes show reluctance to engage directly in decision making and peace processes or succumb to pressures and withdraw due to factors such as: ignorance, socialization, lack of advocacy skills, and resistance from men who do not understand the need for inclusion of women.
To overcome these obstacles, International Peace Initiatives (IPI) in partnership with a group of four women-led peacebuilding organizations in Kenya came together to form Women Waging Peace Kenya (WWP-Kenya), an organization that is taking strategic action by leading a campaign to advance UNSCR 1325. Our goal is to work toward partnering with other peace actors and our government to ensure integration of the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in governance and legal instruments in Kenya. Indeed our government has started the process of creating a National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325.
Getting women and women’s perspectives is recognized globally as a critical necessity in the lead-up to formal talks, peacebuilding and institution-building. Taking lessons from women’s peacemaking initiatives that have transformed Liberia, Rwanda and Uganda, women from other parts of Africa are taking on more and more leadership in agitating for an end to violence against women and children in times of war and peace as well as demanding the respect for women’s human rights in general, in their countries. In addition, women are showing up more and more to participate in conflict transformation initiatives in their communities and calling leaders to accountability when law and order breaks down. Kenyan women are no exemption.
At International Peace Initiatives (IPI: www.ipeacei.org) we have created a program I am calling "Pre-empting election violence in Kenya in 2012." The goal is to work with women as mentors and partners with youth in peacebuilding around Kenya. Youth were paid to wreck havoc on people in 2008, and so we are hoping this program will build understanding among them so that they see their role in building, instead of destroying their country. Pre-Emptying 2012 is an initiative of Kenyan women organizing for peace before, during and after the 2012 general elections. The goal of this proposed intervention is to craft a strategy to ensure that violence does not break out before, during and after the general elections. Women’s organizations and youth groups, including men interested in peace in Kenya, will be gathered and trained on how to read signs of danger and how to counter them. In addition, they will be expected to go to their constituencies to train other community members on how to intervene in situations where people try to create trouble. I am looking forward to seeing the results we will bring for peace in our country with this initiative.
Right now I am at Stanford University undertaking a Summer Fellowship that I won, called the Draper Hills Summer Fellowship on Democracy and Development (July 24-August 13, 2010). We have Fellows from virtually every part of the world (25 were selected from a total of 500 applicants). It is a wonderful program with awesome professors and speakers. I am enjoying every bit of it although it is very intensive. However, what we are learning is incredibly useful for building working democracies where we come from. The best part of it is that they do not tell us what to do, they raise critical issues to think about and it is up to us to figure ways to contextualize within the diverse and complex situations in our countries. It has been a great learning experience.
Now I have to go and do more readings.
Hope this finds you all well. Thank you all for your kind remarks about our work with women and children in Kenya. I wish you all the best with your work too, wherever you are in the world. I believe that each one of us is here for a purpose and each one of us finds the Light within us that lights the path to that purpose.
Founder & President, International Peace Initiatives (IPI)