Africans Mobilize for Women, Peace, and Security

   •    August 1, 2014

More than 120 men and women from 16 African countries convened in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss creative approaches to increasing the role of women in creating sustainable peace.

Nairobi, Kenya – Activists in the West African nation of Guinea have adapted old proverbs to explain why women should be leaders in peace and security. In Sierra Leone, chiefdoms help advance that goal through messages on tribal radio stations. Liberia translated the UN Resolution on women, peace and security into simplified language, with color illustrations.

These were among the creative approaches shared at a three–day symposium in Nairobi that drew more than 120 women and men from 16 African countries, all of them working to give women a bigger role in solving conflicts and sustaining peace. The July 22–25 gathering was cohosted by the Washington–based The Institute for Inclusive Security, the University of Nairobi, and the Dutch NGO Cordaid.

The delegates included government officials as well as leaders of civil society and nonprofit groups that are working to implement United Nations Resolution 1325. That UN declaration, adopted in October 2000, affirms that women are not just victims of war, but are in fact agents of peace, and should be decision–makers on security issues.

Nearly 15 years after the resolution was adopted, only 46 of the 193 UN member states have adopted strategies to bring Resolution 1325 to life.

Africa is a leader in this movement, accounting for 13 of those 46 National Action Plans–second in number only to Europe. So it was fitting that Africa hosted this first regional symposium to energize countries that have national action plans, and to inspire those that have yet to enact one. Three days of conversation barely skimmed the surface of all these delegations had to share and to learn.

Still, some participants acknowledged that many countries with such plans often struggle to make real progress –and to measure and evaluate the results. Technical capacity and financing remain significant barriers to effective implementation across the board. Delegates shared frustrations and traded tips over how to generate political will to move faster and further in giving women decision–making roles.

One key theme of the workshops was that data is vital to demonstrate results of national action plans and that monitoring and evaluation needs to be built into every plan. Zsuzsanna Lippai, monitoring and evaluation manager for The Institute for Inclusive Security, compared the challenge to a World Cup soccer match. The aim should not be simply actions or outputs, she said – the equivalent of kicking the ball or even taking shots. Rather, the emphasis should be on outcomes and impact. In this analogy, winning the game is the desired outcome – but the impact lies in making millions of fans happy.


Animated conversations at the symposium focused on generating political will and financing and measuring the impact of National Action Plans for UNSCR 1325.

The Institute for Inclusive Security introduced participants to its forthcoming Monitoring and Evaluation Guide, meant to serve as a toolkit for countries with national action plans to measure their effectiveness. There’s clearly an appetite for stronger M&E that’s focused on outcomes and impact rather than activities and the guide will help countries respond to the essential challenge: how do you demonstrate that women’s inclusion creates lasting stability?

The guide will be revised regularly and will be available for reference on Inclusive Security’s “virtual learning portal” for developing and improving national action plans. The portal is scheduled to go live later this summer.

Delegates shared some innovative methods for explaining the UN resolution and for measuring success in implementing it.

Michele Sona Koundounu, Executive Director of the Center for Women, Citizens and Country in Guinea, described the proverbs that Guinea uses in spreading the word. For example, a Guinean proverb holds that you can’t feed yourself with just one finger. You need all five fingers on your hand to grasp your food. The message conveys: One man alone is ineffective; better decisions result from diverse contributors.

Charles Vandi, Director of Gender Policy and Advocacy in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs for Sierra Leone, said his government established 59 indicators to gauge success. A review process that drew in civil society helped align those measures with global standards, and along the way the number of indicators was reduced to a more manageable 35.

The keynote speaker was Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Defense Ambassador Raychelle Omamo, who drew an ovation for her message that women are able to bring a different lens to security issues:. “Women can also be actors, women can be ambassadors of hope, women can be change makers.”

Omamo said violence in Africa is increasingly driven by electoral conflict and radical extremism, and often is executed by non-state forces. She challenged women to better define what they mean by peace and security in this evolving landscape.

“I believe fresh ideas on security will come from women,” the minister said. “As more women take up roles in decision-making, the tide will give rise to something phenomenal in our country. It is time for African women to believe that we can take charge of the security situations in our countries. We must engage fearlessly because no one else is going to do it for us.”

Ambassador Swanee Hunt, the founder and chair of Inclusive Security, recalled how she and many others struggled for several years to convince US officials to move forward with a national action plan for Resolution 1325.

“And we are going to make this happen worldwide,” Hunt declared to the symposium. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

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