I am not a victim, I am a stakeholder

Women delegates greet mediator, Riek Machar, at the Juba Peace Talks. Courtesy of Lina Zedriga Waru.

IN 2006, AFTER YEARS of negotiations the leaders of the LRA and the government of Uganda finally began talks to end the conflict in northern Uganda and its neighbouring countries. Having suffered for over two decades, many northern Ugandans saw this as an opportunity for peace in the region.

The discussions began in July 2006, but were stalled when LRA leader Joseph Kony pulled out in 2008. The comprehensive Juba Peace Agreement, although unsigned, gave birth to Agenda Item No. 3, which has proved crucial in the setting up of transitional justice mechanisms to deal with the numerous post-conflict issues faced in Uganda.

In spite of the mixed success of the talks, Juba was noted for its lack of involvement of women at the discussion table. Statistics by UN Women’s Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations report shows that only a fraction of the negotiation delegates included women (a factor which it notes may have influenced the agenda for discussion). This is not unique to Uganda, and reflects much of the growing concern surrounding the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 of 2000 which calls for the great¬er involvement of women in repatriation and resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction.

Lina Zedriga Waru, an accomplished activist and a self-described “mother and war-widow”, believes the involvement of women in peace building is vital to both securing a women sensitive agenda in peace negotiations, and in securing peace as a whole. Women, she says, think “with their hearts and not with their stomachs.”

In 2006, she was part of a women’s movement, known as the Women’s Peace Coalition, that came together to march to Juba after finding that women were not adequately involved in the peace talks. This remarkable story is highlights the value of collective advocacy. In her own words:

On the Juba Peace Talks

“[Before the peace talks began], we realised there was no woman on the government delegation. So we tried to meet with the stakeholders – such as the members of the Uganda peace team but we were told that ‘the issue of women will wait. They don’t have to be at the table.’ But we knew as women that we needed to be at the table, we needed our issues to be enshrined in the agreements. So we decided to mobilise outside of northern Uganda.

After we mobilised, we approached (UN Goodwill Ambassador and former Member of Parliament) Honourable Phoebe Asiyo from Kenya to be our ambassador because we wanted to say that this is a regional war and everybody must take the responsibility to protect. She was able to bring a peace torch from the DRC, with a team of women from DRC and Rwanda, and we marched through the streets of Kampala. We delivered this peace torch with commitments in the Parliament of Uganda. We kept vigil.

After that we staged a one week march to northern Uganda, to Kitgum, with the Peace Torch. We had a stopover in Corner Kamdini, to wait for the women from West Nile and Karamoja. By the time we reached Kitgum the caravan had actually blocked all the roads. It was described by one of the journalists who came with us as the ‘19th Century Pied Piper’.

It was so powerful that when we reached Gulu, the President himself, who had refused to see us, decided to fly to Gulu to meet us. We were very strategic as we sent for him women he didn’t know and not the leaders. The fact that we came from beyond, women demanding that this war must end and demanding that peace must be given a chance, was very powerful. And then the District leaders all came to support us. Gulu received us from Ciro Leno with a band and we were singing war songs and we went to radio. Kony himself called and said, ‘How many women are ready? I can have all of them on my team.’ On radio! That was very powerful.

We delivered the Peace Torch in Juba with the Women’s Protocol for Peace which made demands about how we wanted the peace agreement. When we look at the agreement, Juba Agenda Item No. 3, Clause 10 and 11 specifically has a provision for inclusion of women’s issues and children, but specifically for UN Security Council Resolution 1325. They just got it! The other outcome was that we got a slot for a woman, Santa Okot, formerly MP for Pader. We also got a request from Riek Machar, who was then the mediator, to have women as technical advisors to identify critical issues and engender the process.

What we felt we lost was the proposal that there should be a truth and reconciliation commission set up. There are people out there hurting and they would like to be included. We would also like women from the internally displaced person’s camps to be part. They can be given translators. You don’t need to go to a classroom to understand the issue of how you con¬tribute to the core issue of reconciliation.

One of the things we did and we did right, was the fact that we did country wide consultations. We documented what people were saying at the regional level, national level, IDP camp level. So we had evidence and our movement was driven by the grassroots. We did a rapid assessment of really what the key issues that people want to see and how do the communities felt about this war. People were so fed up.

[The responses from the different regions were] consistent because we had our evidence that the dead bodies were not only from here. People were being buried silently everywhere.”

On lessons learned from advocacy

“I have learned from women’s movements that if you do not involve men, the thing will not succeed. The men will treat only involving women with suspicion and sabotage it. They will say, ‘You leave your UN Security Council Resolution at the gate.’ So we started the men engage program. We have to really engage them as the change makers and as the advocates. They are not the problem – it’s the society, the system. We have to work together to deconstruct as a team.”

When there is a tear in a cloth and you use the needle it mends, but if you use the knife – like some of these justice mechanisms, you are wrong, she is right – you will still go on hurting.

On women’s role in peace-building and advocacy

“Women take decisions with the heart, not with the stomach. We are socialised to use ‘needle logic’ in conflict resolution. When there is a tear in a cloth and you use the needle it mends, but if you use the knife – like some of these justice mechanisms, you are wrong, she is right – you will still go on hurting and we will not be coming together to constructively engage. We will still continue to want to tear our¬selves apart. You will plan revenge wherever you are. We need to employ that needle logic and women are so good in doing it.

What advice do you have for women advocates who face hostility towards their advocacy, their coming together to promote peace in their intrinsic way?

“If women are excluded from discussions that would involve them, or that people are not willing to listen to them, what strategies should they employ at their own level to achieve their objective?

We have been culturally socialised to believe we are less human. We must have women personally master that their decision is right and that it is good. They need to feel confident, assertive, and personally important. The perception that women are sexual objects and are workers should be demystified. It is being demystified, because the way we are raising our children we are not raising them with discrimination. We [also] need to document the lives of women who are successful. We also need to make sure we encourage and set up support mechanisms to encourage them and not divide their families.”

Why do you choose not to be labelled a ‘victim’?

“I am not a victim, I am a stakeholder. The issue of victim hood makes you powerless. It makes you inhuman, it is degrading and it is cruel. We are very powerful. And I say nothing about us without us, because anything about me without me is not for me. It is not within what I want and it is not within my minimum standards. [As a person] you need to make sure are confident and carve out your own identity. This makes you feel powerful! Yes, because victim hood makes you powerless.”

On the Nigerian Boko-Haram abductions

“The women waited and waited. What have they done? They have decided to start matching. They are demanding accountability. And now they need to scale that up. It should not just be an event. One thing we do as women, we organ¬ise events and people will say, ‘They’ll make noise and go.’ [Instead, they should] organise a sustainable advocacy space or item. Let it be in a series. Let people shift uncomfortably in their chair. And when they think it is going to cool, they will be seeing another activity. We should place ourselves as the neck and continuously turn the head our direction. And do it continuously. The neck doesn’t get stiff. If it gets stiff, you go and get a vapour rub [laughs]. [We must] also, organise and provide alternatives and relate these is¬sues hereto the global, to the regional. For us as women, we have to remain focused. We have to not struggle to be the speakers or to be the people in prominence and make sure that you are continuously speaking the same voice, representing the concerns of the community’s and not our personal interests.”

On travel to Gambela, Ethiopia

“The South Sudanese have been dis¬placed in their thousands. They don’t know what is happening in [the peace talks in] Addis Ababa. They are stuck, so we [women activists] are going on a solidarity visit. Your neighbour is in problems, you don’t need an invitation to go there. You just announce your¬self with a bowl of soup or porridge. We are going on a solidarity visit and saying your hurting is our hurting. We need to make sure that we wake up and take action. We should not sleep. We should make demands on both the rebels and the government of South Sudan. Then we also want to see how we can come up with the women’s protocol to the Addis peace process, hold¬ing them accountable to the comprehensive peace process as women.”

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