The recent plane crash in the Marsabit District of Kenya in which fourteen of our must senior government officials perished while on a peace making mission serves to illustrate that women have continued to be marginalized in conflict resolution ventures; all the fourteen passengers were men.
This is not surprising at all, considering that men occupy 90% of senior government positions; and the affirmative action is yet to reach our august house. It is well documented that even at international forums, women have continued to be locked out from the negotiation table when peace accords and agreements are being made.
This puts to nonsense the various declarations (Windhoek Declaration); plan for actions (Nambia Plan of Action of Mainstreaming Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations) and legal frameworks ( UN Security Resolution 1325 (2000) which lay down intrinsic details to be followed to ensure gender mainstreaming in peace processes.
The reality on the ground is that what the right hand gives, the left takes away, albeit inadvertently. A good example is the UN Security Resolution 1509 that created the UN Mission to Liberia (UNMIL). One of the mandates of the mission was to ensure that it paid particular attention to vulnerable groups such as ‘refugees, returning refugees, returning persons, women, children, and demobilized child solders’. (
This scenario has been replicated in other UN peace missions all over Africa. It is said that everywhere in the world, men make war and men make peace. Women on the other hand sit on the side lines and wait.
Here in Africa, so long as women fine tune their expected role of ‘vulnerable victims of war’ everybody will be happy; the war mongers watching from vantage spots behind battle lines for cease fire offers to start pouring in; the international press who are only too happy to shoot and beam sorry images; and a fatigued international humanitarian machinery.
Once the ball is set rolling, American dollars and peace negotiators will pour in from all corners of the globe and before long the war monger is catapulted from being a rebel without a cause to the revered title of ‘peace maker’. He will be flown into neutral grounds and booked into five star hotels as peace talks continue for months on end; in the meantime, women will be given food aid.
Meetings with government officials will be called in which village elders (all men) will be invited. Settlements in form of goats, sheep and cows will be reached and everybody will be happy.
With everything settled and agreed on, the peace makers will be flown back home in army helicopters and a group of transported and jubilant women will be waiting to receive him with song and dance.
If truth be told, not many women participate in these peace talks; the assumption being that they are not equipped with sufficient negotiation skills to maneuver their way around a predominantly masculine environment.
For a courageous woman who may want to join the peace talks at the grass root level, her venture will prove to be a Herculean task. She will find cultural prejudices and gender role stereotyping coming in to thwart her noble cause. First she will be viewed as a stranger to the community whose alliance may lie elsewhere.
Secondly she is assigned a role where her value is that of natural care giver and nurturer who must be shackled to the private domain of communal life; she cannot transcend the cultural dichotomy and ascend into the public domain which is a reserve for men.
Even the odd militant woman activist will learn that gaining entry into the negotiation room is no guarantee that she will have a voice, vote or even a seat on the negotiation table.
Whatever settlements are reached after these peace talks do not translate into gains for many women; the ugly scars of war and trauma continue to haunt them.