‘African women bear brunt of war’
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Tokyo - African women leaders have spoken out at an international women’s summit on human security and violence against women, especially in war zones, and reminded the world of the need to “bring back” the girls abducted in Nigeria.
Four top women from the continent were among 50 high-level international leaders from various sectors of society at the summit which closed on Saturday – South African executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; Sierra Leone’s Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict; Dede Ahoefa Ekoue, Minister of Social Action, Women Promotion and Literacy in Togo; and Shukria Dini, executive director of the Somali Women’s Studies Centre.
Bangura said no society could live up to its full potential if half the population lived in fear. “War is dangerous for women and girls, (but) less well known is that gender-based violence often increase after the peace agreement has been signed and life is even more dangerous for women who dare to make their voices heard.
“Women who pursue peace and justice face prosecution, threats and violence,” she said, expressing the desire that the conference’s recommendations – to be tabled at the UN – would “bring us one step closer to a world where a woman can help decide the future”.
Bangura said the UN had established a global legal framework to deal with crimes against women in conflict situations.
But, she said, despite G8 nations and others having signed declarations, the challenge remained to turn commitment into action on the ground, and for governments to act to protect their citizens.
“There are still countries where there is a culture of denial and silence… where rape is not a crime… where when a woman is raped she has to see her attacker at the police station, or she needs US$100 to get a certificate to say she has been raped,” she said.
Referring to Boko Haram and the 219 schoolgirls abducted and missing in Nigeria for five months (since April 14), Mlambo-Ngcuka said it was African women who mobilised support by being the first to write to Nigerian president (Goodluck Jonathan) and galvanise international support for the campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Yet despite offers of help from Western and other world leaders, the girls had still not been found.
“I find it hard to believe that we lost so many girls, and life goes on,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
“The Nigerian issue is a symbol of how much war has changed, and that girls and women are being attacked. It is more dangerous sometimes to be a girl or woman in war than a soldier,” she said.
Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in the US, reporting back on the session on women’s participation in conflict prevention and peace-building, said women’s protection and agency as specified in many international, notably UN Security Council Resolution 1325, must be assured.
It has been almost 15 years since the resolution was adopted, yet there was a wide gap between its imperative and reality, she said.
Too often women were victims of sexual violence in conflict, while rape had become a tool of war.
And, while women played a key role in peace and reconciliation, they were largely excluded from the peace table, Vermeer said.
She called for high-level political leadership to ensure implementation of Resolution 1325, and an end to a culture of impunity for sexual violence. Women deserved protection from sexual violence, and could be agents of change in peace, reconciliation and social justice, she said.
In his closing remarks, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the 21st century must be the one that is free from violations of women’s human rights.