Children of War, Women of Peace

   •    March 8, 2013

This article by Philister Baya Lawiri is cross posted on The Elders.

Sudan, once the largest nation is Africa, recently split into two. This separation was the result of over five decades of war. I was a child of war. I personally know the bitter experiences of loss and displacement. I wish I could say we have attained peace, but we have not. Within and between both of our nations we are facing many challenges. As women from both countries we are deeply concerned.

On International Women’s Day, I want to highlight one crucial element that has been missing from all the peace negotiations, cooperation agreements and efforts to implement them: the participation of women. After separation we have two new countries, and we need a new approach. Women are tired of being excluded – it is time for us to participate in peace negotiations and governance.

Women: Excluded from the Peace Process

In 2000, while Sudan was still in the midst of civil war, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325: this recognized that around the world, peace and security cannot be achieved unless women participate in peace processes. Yet the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement – and all the agreements since signed between Sudan and South Sudan – have been drafted without the presence of women.

Despite being excluded, women in Sudan and South Sudan have a history of working together across conflict lines to make peaceful coexistence possible. During the decades of civil war, we were never formally invited into the peace talks – but we showed up anyway. We lobbied our leaders to end the war.

Since South Sudan’s secession, we have continued to cooperate across the border even though it is difficult for us to meet in person. In January I travelled to Addis Ababa to meet 19 of my sisters from Sudan and South Sudan – members of the Coalition of Women Leaders supported by the Institute for Inclusive Security – to review the recent Cooperation Agreements signed by our two countries’ leaders in September 2012.

The signing of these agreements, a major success, was meant to normalise relations between our countries, on issues like the Sudan-South Sudan border, citizens’ nationality, trade and particularly oil. But since then, the signatories have not taken one step to implement the accords. Talks are stalled, and meanwhile our people continue to suffer. We see ongoing violence and militarisation. Increasing numbers of refugees and displaced people in both countries is creating a desperate humanitarian crisis.

Yusuf Batil refugee camp in South Sudan, July 2012

We wanted to take our recommendations to the senior mediators and negotiators who had gathered in Addis for the biannual African Union (AU) Summit. Our message was this: as women, we are tired. We are tired of the ongoing conditionalities being imposed every time our leaders come to the negotiating table. We are exhausted by the continued lack of information about what is happening and how decisions are being made in the peace process. Most of all, we are deeply concerned about the near complete absence of women in these talks.

We told our leaders and the AU officials, enough is enough.

An Opportunity for Women?

Although there is a real danger that Sudan and South Sudan will return to war, let me share a little hope. There is a rich opportunity for women now to contribute to peace. Because the Cooperation Agreements signed in September last year have not been implemented, there are still many entry points for women to engage in the process.

There are several bodies tasked with implementation. This is a chance for women in civil society to be consulted on the mandates of these bodies. More than that, women should be appointed as chairs to committees; they should serve as technical experts, observers and advisors.

This is the message we brought to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) overseeing the peace process. While in Addis we met with former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Chair of the Panel, as well as members Pierre Buyoya and Abdulsalami Abubakar, former presidents of Burundi and Nigeria respectively. We specifically recommended that the AUHIP create a consultative taskforce of women to guarantee our engagement – and to ensure the voices of those being impacted most by the agreements make their way to the high-level talks.

Philister Baya Lawiri (centre, back row) meets members of the AUHIP, together with fellow members of the Coalition of Women Leaders. Addis Ababa, January 2013. Photo: Institute for Inclusive Security.

Our hearts leapt when President Mbeki agreed that there is a need for such a taskforce. He said that the time for it is ripe and that his advisers would begin working with our group the very next day to give effect to the idea. It was a fantastic result for us. We still have much work to do – our recommendation has not been formally acted on. But we have created space for our voices and we will continue to add them, invited or not, to the discussions that determine the direction of our nations.

This is a challenging time for relations between Sudan and South Sudan, and for the future of my young state. We will only achieve a lasting peace if women, at last, can be part and parcel of the process.

In this video from the Institute of Inclusive Security, Philister Baya Lawiri and other South Sudanese women leaders from government and civil society discuss women’s participation in South Sudan’s development.

At age ten, Philister Baya Lawiri walked with her family for 35 days through the forests of southern Sudan to escape violence. She traces her desire to build peace to her years as a refugee in Uganda and as a displaced person in Khartoum. Today she chairs South Sudan’s Civil Service Commission, promoting democratic values within the country’s newly formed government. Read Philister’s full bio on the Inclusive Security website.

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