By Edidiong Idang
For Initiative for Peace and Women’s Right in Africa (IPWR)
Just recently, the United Nations celebrated the International rural women’s day. This day was celebrated to recognize the effort of the rural women in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing of local societies. This day recognizes completely, the contribution of rural women in the agricultural sector and its ripple effect on rural development, improvement of food security and eradication of rural poverty. The rural women have continued to show huge successes in these regards amidst continuous setbacks stemming from lack of information, opportunities for training and education, limited access to property, land, financial and non-financial services.
The place of the rural woman should not be limited to agricultural and rural sustainability. It is a known fact that Women from indigenous and grassroots communities are often custodians of traditional knowledge, which is a key for their communities’ livelihoods, resilience and culture. Such knowledge base and strength can be adapted towards the maintenance of peace within the communities and the society at large. It should be noted also that some of the fundamental conditions that generate conflict in the rural or grassroot communities are not limited to social and economic insecurity, political and cultural discrimination, exclusion to common resources and in other cases human rights discrimination (Lederach, 1999). Women play unarticulated roles of peacebuilding in their families and social groups therefore including them in conflict and peace building processes is essential for sustainability of these processes.
How then do we define Peace, and how can rural women play a role in it? According to experts, peace is a state in which everyone is able to thrive without interferences of conflict, anger, prejudice and the likes. Peacebuilding comes to bare as a result of varied opinion and needs- which usually leads to conflict. Peace and peace building has therefore become necessary because conflict and conflicting situations are inevitable hence the need for effective management of situations. As earlier stated, rural women have privileged information and substantial knowledge which can be tapped into ensuring conflict resolution and peacebuilding at all levels of conflict; be it intra-personal, inter-personal, intra-group, inter-group, intra-national or international conflicts.
Women are able to build trust, which is one of the reasons government and some local institutions have accorded them needed support to achieve success in the agriculture sector. Women are selfless, meaning that they are able to seek the common good above personal interest. They are good listeners. They are also able to manage conflicting opinions, a role they do so well in their homes. Within the rural community, women are influencers. They are able to mobilize and influence their children, husbands and their immediate and extended families. Such skill is capable of ensuring that inter-personal or intra-group conflicts are handles before they escalate to the bad state. They share their goodwill with almost every stakeholder be it community leaders, religious leaders and members of their clan. Such goodwill allows them the opportunity of dousing tensions and also offering solutions. Women are caregivers and preservers. This quality can help in the sustainability of peace accords and maintaining of relative peace in the community.
At every stage of conflict, rural women are relevant and have some role to play. From Pre-conflict where there is only incompatibility of goals amongst parties to crisis and then to post conflict stages, women can use built in and acquired skills in managing these processes. Experts reveal that Women are often the first to notice the rising tensions that can escalate to violence. They are also quick to respond to the aftermath of conflict, bearing the brunt of shattered economies and structure. With unhindered access to religious, cultural and other stakeholders, women have the capacity to broker lasting peace in conflict areas or even warn of situations that can lead to conflict.
As related by experts of an International Peace Institute study of 182 signed peace agreements between 1989 and 2011, it was revealed that when women are included in peace processes, there is a 35 percent increase in the probability that a peace agreement will last 15 years or more. As such more women should be given opportunity to participate in the process from the pre-stages to the point of resolution. It should be added that peace management peace and security issues should not be void of women to ensure sustainability of the state of peace.
Being that conflict resolution and peacebuilding require some requisite skills, more women groups should be trained in order to achieve peace in the rural communities. Informal and practical trainings should focus on negotiation and mediation skills, communication in conflict, conflict analysis and early warning skills. Confidence building and continuous mentoring programs should not be left out. Encouraging strong support groups should also be encouraged.
In conclusion, rural women have soft skills that can be pruned towards conflict management and peacebuilding. The local community being the microcosm of the bigger picture (Lederach 1999), requires people with sufficient knowledge to handle these issues within the community. Rural women as many grassroot leaders are able to identify the tiny lines of conflict because they witness firsthand the deep-rooted hatred and animosity within their local community on a daily basis. Government, Civil society organizations and International partners can look closely in developing the skills of these rural women in achieving sustainable peace in their societies. In recent past, through agitations from civil society and women groups, the Malian Government invited women to undertake formal mediation training ahead of the peace negotiations in Algiers in 2015. The women were trained and four were supported by the Malian Government to be part of the negotiations. More of such actions should be encouraged across the world.
The security agencies should give sufficient support to women in order to spur them to boldly take up these roles. Leaders and peace brokers should endeavor to build more inclusive processes where women can play more pivotal roles in building peace throughout the various stages.
Bore, Linda; Training Manual on Fundamentals of Democracy for Security Agencies; Konrad Adenauer
Lederach, J.P (1999) Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, United states Institute of Peace Press