African women peace activists were very visible during the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women and the parallel NGO Forum, which took place in Beijing, China, in September 1995. A highlight of the opening ceremony for the NGO Forum featured the presentation of a peace torch by the African Women for Conflict and Peace Project. "The woman is the first person to promote peace, because she is the first victim when there is no peace," said one African activist. Below is a brief sketch of some of the peace work African women are involved in.
A member of the Mouvement National des Femmes pour la Sauvegarde de la Paix et de l'Unité Nationale in Mali spoke about the problem of returning refugees after the Tuareg ethnic conflict in her country. "It is very important for reconciliation that both sides prepare mentally themselves for the return," she said. "We do workshops to educate the population. We also must help reorient the children who have been victims of this trauma; and look at the role of the media in peace. We offer training for women to prepare themselves for the roles they must play in reconciliation."
Contact: Mouvement National des Femmes pour la Sauvegarde de la Paix et de l'Unité Nationale, BP 1771, Bamako, Mali.
"In Rwanda women are now 65 percent of the population," said a member of La Campagne-Action pour la Paix Pro-femmes. "One big problem we face with widows and our 40,000 orphans is land rights. If their land has been taken over by someone else, the widow and orphan should have a right to get it back." She described how her group was reviving the custom of 'hagu' ('lawn'), a traditional public space where everyone gathered to resolve a conflict. "It is important to create a public space where the facts of the massacre can be known. Children as young as 12 were involved in the killings, as were women. We work to reintegrate them back into society. We want to create a Village of Peace in each of our 11 provinces. In these villages people from both communities will live side by side. The villages will provide a role model for the country. We also lobby the government to create an Institute for Peace to educate and promote peace."
Contact: Association des Volontaire de la Paix, BP 1787, Kigali, Rwanda.
A founder of the Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace (SWVP) described their work during one of several SWVP workshops at the NGO Forum. "We conduct five-day workshops on how to approach the war leaders, and how to address the pain we are experiencing. Muslims sisters from North Sudan also organized a meeting--two of them are in prison because of this. But our Muslim sisters still work with us for peace, only underground."
"I am only half a human being as a woman, so I cannot talk directly to commanders," she continued. "On the border of Kenya and Sudan we invited the chiefs of three provinces to meet with women leaders, to listen to widows talk about their dreams of peace. The chiefs were very impressed, but said they themselves could not speak for peace because the rebels would kill them. Still, in south Sudan we have field coordinators to organize the women. We make strategies to bring ordinary Muslim and Christian women together, because we face the same problems of displacement, poverty and lack of education. In the South, we have met with warring rebel leaders, introducing ourselves as 'your mothers, wives and daughters'. We tell them the war has destroyed us enough. Many leaders are also tired of the war and ask us how to stop it. They help us travel inside the country."
One SWVP workshop took place in July, when nine SWVP representatives travelled to Narus, in south Sudan, to organize a women's peace group there. They encouraged the women to speak out against the killing and rapes. And in Lokichogio, Kenya, recently, SWVP organized the workshop "Grassroots Promotion of Dialogue, Peace and Unity", held with church, community and refugee leaders from south Sudan. It was the first time representatives from hostile ethnic groups came together. The groups have been pitted against each other by rebel "war lords who draw their support from their respective ethnic groups. As a result rural people have participated in looting and killing each other. Any peace process that does not take this into account is bound to be ineffective."
The Lokichogio Action Plan for peace was drawn up at the workshop. Copies (and the quarterly English-language SWVP newsletter "New Voice") is available from Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace (SWVP),c/o People for Peace in Africa, Waumini House, Westlands, Box 14877, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel. 254 2 568547; fax 254 2 441372.
Since autumn 1993, an estimated 100,000 people have been killed in tribal violence between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi. Among those killed are Quakers, who number about 7,500 people, mostly Hutu, in Burundi. Quakers in Burundi are engaged in important peace work, despite the continuing atmosphere of fear and violence. They have built a peace center in Gitega and brought together Hutus and Tutsis to rebuild houses destroyed by the war. They have also organized relief supplies of food and housing materials, and established a peace committee in Kibimba that brings together Hutu and Tutsi leaders to prevent further violence. Their peace theatre, where actors reenact bloody incidences from the war, has educated many audiences about the need to actively work for peace. Their peace work has been hampered by the destruction of buildings and looting of equipment.
A Quaker hospital in Kibimba was saved from destruction, and its patients from death, because one nurse refused to flee. After all staff and patients able to walk had left, she remained and was able to persuade soldiers not to destroy the building. The nurse, from a neighboring African country, later decided to return home. She was stopped by soldiers at a road block and never seen again. Today, though there is no doctor, the hospital provides some medical care for villagers.
Contact: Quaker Peace & Service, Friends House, Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ, UK. Fax +44 171 388 1977.
The Quaker Peace Centre Cape Town offers Peace Education training in schools for teachers and student. The Peace Centre is lobbying the government to include peace education curricula in all schools, and continues to run camps for young people from all of South Africa's communities.
The Peace Centre, with a staff of 29 people, has trained 34 Xhosa-speaking men and women who live on the Cape Flats as community mediators as part of its Reconciliation and Reconstruction team. The community mediators intervene in conflicts and help negotiate for improvements in housing, electricity and the needs of squatter camps, roads, transport, etc..
The Peace Centre's Economic Program offers advice to small businesses in the Karoo and Cape Flats area, while the Community Development Team has given advice and assistance on vegetable growing in 800 back yards and 80 plots in a community garden. The Team has organized sewing classes for both beginners and advanced students, and joined other like-minded people in planting hundreds of peace trees in South Africa's first Peace Park, in Khayelitsha. Contact: Quaker Peace Centre, 3 Rye Road, Mowbray 7700, Cape Town, South Africa. Tel. +27 (0)21 6857800; fax +27 (0)21 6868167.