5 Keys to Peace: Lessons from Women in Sudan & South Sudan

   •    April 23, 2013

Philister Baya, Chair of the South Sudan Civil Service Commission, reads through the nine Cooperative Agreements. The agreements were signed between Sudan and South Sudan in September 2012 but haven’t been implemented.

I recently returned from Addis Ababa where The Institute for Inclusive Security convened a diverse group of 20 women from Sudan and South Sudan during the African Union Summit. Both countries signed peace accords in September 2012. Until very recently, virtually nothing had been done to implement the agreements. Women have been largely absent from the process. The recent signing of a new agreement on the timeline for implementation was no exception. Peace won’t endure if the undeniable value and intellectual capacities of half the population are left out.

In Addis, the women leaders delivered airtight messages to senior officials about why and how women should be central in decision making. In a joint statement they proposed several concrete actions that should be taken by the governments of Sudan and South Sudan, the African Union, the UN, and other actors.

While their recommendations encourage actions by these entities, the women leaders also reflected on their own preparations. Together we identified several keys – relevant to women leaders everywhere – for getting to the table and contributing fully to the conversation and course for change.

1. Women must lobby from the top down AND, especially, the bottom up

Facilitators and other actors in the talks have promoted inclusion and consultation to the parties before without much impact. Control of the process resides primarily in the hands of the parties, thus they are the most critical entry point.

Allies for women’s inclusion are present in both parties, and these individuals must be leveraged. Without pressure from civil society to broaden the substance of the talks, there will be no traction. Women must reach out to the parties, as well as to their communities and grassroots networks, to be effective conduits of information.

2. Women must add undeniable value to the process

Because the talks between Sudan and South Sudan are some of the most closed to date, access is tricky. Women must work together with a unified voice and be knowledgeable about the technical and interpersonal aspects of the talks.

Recommendations must be informed by what is happening inside the peace process and must propose relevant, constructive interventions. Building relationships with senior decision makers, from negotiation teams to facilitators, will strengthen the possibility of gaining long-term allies down the road.

Women leaders from Sudan and South Sudan stand proudly together inside the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On the sidelines of the AU Summit in January 2013 they advocated rigorously for more women to be present in the negotiations between their two countries.

3. Women must show up ready and able

Women, as with any marginalized group, must surpass standards of excellence and be prepared, confident, on message, and ready to engage with senior decision makers. Inclusion is a right AND a responsibility. Strength and certainty outshine supplication. Women shouldn’t ask but demand to be present.

4. Women must be flexible and persistent

Time and again, we received information about the complexity of the long-running negotiations process and the agreements it recently yielded. Each time we adjusted our interventions to reflect the nuance.

Peace is a process, dynamic and ever changing. Effective advocacy must occur in conjunction with the peace process and constantly adapt to new information. The importance of building long-term relationships with groups engaged in the process shouldn’t be overlooked, as these relationship yield access to information and other key actors.

5. We must all illuminate the meaning of ‘gender’

The term “gender” is used ubiquitously to promote the inclusion of women, but the words “women” and “gender” shouldn’t be used interchangeably. We must offer substantive evidence about how including women is more than just a moral obligation.

Similarly, referring to “women’s issues” implies that there are issues that apply uniquely and only to women in isolation and don’t impact others. This isn’t true. Gender-based violence and early marriage, to name a few, are issues that expose the social strata in a society and adversely impact families and communities.

Farah Council is the program manager for The Institute for Inclusive Security’s work in South Sudan and Sudan. She leads the organization’s efforts to advance the inclusion of women in the ongoing transition processes in and between both countries.

Children of War, Women of Peace

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