posted on Fri 25 Mar 2016 10:06 AM
Open Debate on the Role of Women in Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa

On Monday (28 March), at the initiative of Angola, the Security Council will hold an open debate on the role of women in conflict prevention and resolution in Africa. Angola circulated a concept note on 7 March in preparation for the open debate (S/2016/219).

Maria Filomena Delgado, Angola’s Minister for Family and the Promotion of Women, will preside. The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, will brief, along with Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun and Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya in his capacity as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). Paleki Ayang, Executive Director of the South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network, will address the Council as a civil society representative.

While the debate’s focus is broad, many Council members expect there will be specific interest on the role of women in conflict prevention in Burundi and Mali—two countries that Council members have visited this year (Burundi in February and Mali earlier this month). It seems there will also be strong interest in this topic in relation to South Sudan, given the approaching 31 March deadline for the parties to take concrete steps to implement the August 2015 peace agreement, as established in a 17 March presidential statement (S/PRST/2016/1).

Mlambo-Ngcuka will probably comment on the importance of the Council focusing its efforts on conflict prevention, a strong message in all three of the 2015 peace and security reviews on peace operations, the peacebuilding architecture and the implementation of resolution 1325. She will most likely reiterate that women’s meaningful inclusion in conflict prevention and resolution processes is directly linked to the sustainability of peace agreements and the decrease in levels of reoccurring violence. An example of this is the effective efforts of a women’s network of mediators in Burundi in addressing thousands of local-level conflicts, in particular in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.

She is also expected to underscore the importance of Council members being receptive to conflict-related gender analysis so that the Council can enhance its own ability to prevent, respond to and resolve conflict. As progress in this regard, it seems that she will highlight the first meeting of the 2242 Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security in late February, which considered the country-specific situation of Mali. The 2242 Group can be used by the Council to better integrate gender into its outcomes and, through increased interaction with the UN system, address in country-specific situations the security challenges and participation barriers which women face.

The head of UN Women is expected to discuss countering violent extremism (CVE) in Africa. Extremist groups have placed the subordination of women at the forefront of their agenda, but the promotion of gender equality has remained an afterthought in national and international responses. She is likely to advocate that CVE strategies do not inadvertently reduce the space for the very civil society organisations that have such an important conflict prevention role at the local level, as happens when international funding is diverted away from civil society towards implementing gender-blind CVE strategies.

Mlambo-Ngcuka’s comments may be reinforced by the Chair of the PBC. On conflict prevention and resolution, Council members expect Kamau to underscore that without women’s engagement from the earliest stages of conflict through the consolidation of peace, dangers of relapse are greatly heightened. Regarding CVE, he will probably convey the findings from the review of the Peacebuilding Architecture that empowering women and civil society, and promoting social inclusion, are the best CVE strategies.
Assistant Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun will reflect on the Department of Political Affairs’ mandate on conflict prevention. He is expected to brief on the steps the department is taking to implement the gender recommendations from the peace operations review. In particular, he may address DPA’s preliminary thinking regarding how gender is being taken into consideration in setting up new regional offices in Africa similar to the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). A joint initiative by women’s groups in cooperation with UN Women and UNOWAS to create a women’s situation room in UNOWAS has enhanced early warning and conflict prevention capacity and was declared a best practice by the AU. Council members will be interested in whether similar initiatives are a part of DPA’s planning for other regional offices.
Paleki Ayang is expected to convey to Council members her experience with women’s groups who have mobilised to make the peace talks more inclusive of women in South Sudan. She is expected to advocate that the Council promote accountability for the violations of women’s rights, as women have been massively targeted during the conflict. Some Council members have a particular interest in hearing from Ayang in light of the Council’s current focus on the impasse in South Sudan’s political process, and the recent report of the Human Rights Council on the multitude of human rights atrocities committed against civilians in 2015, including widespread gender-based and sexual violence (A/HRC/ 31/CRP.5).

Many Council members are supportive of Monday’s open debate and find the topic useful, particularly in the context of implementing the gender recommendations in the three peace and security reviews. The challenge will be to make use of the information received at the debate in the Council’s day-to-day work in country situations.
Looking ahead, the next meeting of the Council on women, peace and security is expected in May, for the consideration of the Secretary-General’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence.