The women in WIPNET played a crucial part in the efforts to bring peace to Liberia. This Monday they celebrated the ten-year-anniversary of the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in a ceremony in Centenial Memorial Pavilion, Monrovia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Susanne Mannberg.
Thousands of Liberians gathered on Monday to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement that ended the bloody, 14 year long, civil war. ”Today, we are celebrating that we can feel safe” said Roseline Toweh from the women’s rights organisation WONGOSOL.
The Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, was signed on 18 August 2003, in Accra, Ghana, by the then Liberian government, the armed groups LURD and MODEL, and all the political parties. The Liberian women’s movement has been world renowned for its vital part in bringing peace to the country, including a sit demonstration outside the negotiating halls in Accra, when the women refused to let the different parties out until they had agreed on terms for peace.
In the aftermath, though, it has proven harder for women activists to gain ground for women’s rights, a situation described as “back to business as usual” by one activist in the report Equal Power – Lasting Peace (2012) on obstacles for women’s participation in peace processes.
“Celebrating feeling safe”
However, this Monday was dedicated to celebrating the years gone by, when Liberians haven’t been forced to live in the midst of war.
”We can always discuss whether we have a just and stable peace or not. But what we are celebrating today is that we can feel safe. My children can leave our home in the morning and I know that they will come back in the evening. I don’t have to look over my shoulder, always being afraid of someone following me. We can sleep soundly at night. That constitutes true wealth and is what we rejoice in today” said Roseline Toweh, newly elected chairwoman of WONGOSOL.
Rural women awarded
The celebration of the anniversary in the capital Monrovia, started with a march through the city, organised by, among others, Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisation WIPNET. This was followed by a ceremony in the Centenial Memorial Pavilion. Among the guests of honour were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as well as the signatories of the peace agreement, and representatives from the transitional government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the political parties.
All received awards for their contributions to the peace agreement. And the women was not forgotten.
”We must give a special thanks to all those women – Mothers of Africa – that, no matter rain or burning sunlight, continued their relentless efforts to achieve peace” said Liberia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan.
Women from rural Liberia also recieved recognition in the form of an honorary award. Then, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a moment of silence to remember all of those who died during the war, those who paid the price for the peace and were missing in this celebration.
Talks on factors behind peace
WONGOSOL was one of the organisers behind the ceremony in Monrovia. Similar ceremonies were conducted in all of Liberia’s 15 counties. During the week preceding the celebration, WIPNET arranged public prayers and lit candles for peace. WONGOSOL have organised talks all over Liberia, trying to identify the factors behind the peace being sustainable. Ministries and the international community have organised open meetings to discuss how to maintain the peace and how to further include young people in the development process.
Since young people were the primary target group of last week’s campaign, football games and similar activities have also been arranged.
Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of several high political officials, who have voiced their support for the new Gender Parity Bill. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Christina Hagner.
Last Thursday, female parliamentarians in Liberia presented a draft law on equal representation of women and men in politics. A women’s movement more united than ever, is behind the draft.
In the last elections in Liberia, in 2011, women lost seats in the Parliament. The few female parliamentarians lost out to men, partly because they lacked knowledge of the political process and were not sufficiently organised. Male parliamentarians also joined together across party lines to shut women out.
But the women’s movement didn’t give up and now women’s organisations and women parliamentarians have produced a draft law, the so-called Gender Parity Bill, proposing that each sex must have a representation of at least 30 percent in decision-making bodies. Last Thursday, the proposal was introduced to the Parliament. A decision is scheduled to be taken in January 2014.
Wanted 50 percent quota
A quota law has been discussed for some ten years, but has been met with resistance from both men and women, explains Susanne Mannberg, Field representative in Liberia for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
”Part of the women’s movement was adamant to have a law with a 50 percent quota. They had to fold now. What this draft says is that there must be at least 30 percent from each sex.”
Susanne Mannberg believes that a draft law proposing a 50 percent quota would have faced too much resistance from men to be adopted.
Push through before elections
Support for the 30 percent quota law has been unusually high, among politicians and within the women’s movement equally. The latter is keen to push the law through the Parliament before it’s time for Senate elections in 2014 and presidential elections in 2016. The probability of the next president being a woman is not great.
”The women’s movement has realized that if it doesn’t move forward now, it will never happen. This is their only chance” says Susanne Mannberg.
Backed by high officials
Among the politicians who have backed the draft law are President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Senator and former First Lady Jewel Taylor, several influential male senators and the Speaker of the Parliament.
Many also expressed their support of the proposal when the new secretariat of the Women Legislature Caucus was inaugurated in the capital Monrovia last Tuesday. The Women Legislature Caucus is a group of women parliamentarians from all political parties and they have coordinated the work with the draft law. The group has existed in the Parliament for a long time, but has previously had limited influence.
”Now they are overjoyed to have the secretariat up and running” says Susanne Mannberg.
Trainings for women parliamentarians
The secretariat will review all key legislative proposals from a gender perspective. Its five employees will also help women parliamentarians to write speeches and provide training in negotiating and how to write formally correct answers to questions from committees etc.
”In Sweden, you automatically recieve this type of training when you are elected to the Parliament, but that’s not the case in Liberia. Without this type of training it can be difficult for women to really penetrate the political system. Liberia also has no local political bodies, which otherwise is a common way for women to get into politics” says Susanne Mannberg.
Another important task of the secretariat will be to strengthen the contact between the women’s movement and women parliamentarians.
Among those who helped draft the parity bill were the organisations AFELL and MARWOPNET. The umbrella organisation WONGOSOL with 105 members, has also been involved since the beginning of the process.
In June, Kvinna till Kvinna co-hosted a donor conference to find financial support to the secretariat and to a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the bill.
”The campaign is for making people aware of what the law means and why it is important. The literacy rate is very low in Liberia, so you have to use many different channels to reach out” says Susanne Mannberg.
Helena Torh Turom, Sewoda. Photo: Ida Svedlund/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Violence against women is widespread in Liberia and harmful traditions, like women being accused of witchcraft, are still very much in use. Helena Torh Turom, co-founder and national coordinator for the Liberian women’s organization Southeastern Women Development Association (Sewoda) is one of the activists fighting for change in the post-conflict country.
Liberian women have become known around the world for their crucial part in the peace process that in 2003 ended the country’s four year long brutal civil war. During the conflict over 250 000 people were killed and up to one-third of the population was displaced. Social norms and values vanished, and the social structures has still not been completely repaired. Women in Liberia face deeply discriminatory systems, hindering them from taking part as full members of society.
Women trialed for witchcraft
One of these systems is the practice of traditional law. Among many things, it entails the possibility to accuse and trial women for witchcraft. For the accused to prove her innocence, she then has to drink an extract prepared from the bark of the sassafras tree.
– The bark is poisonous, so the women who are forced to drink it get sick and many die, says Helena Torh Turom.
If the accused woman dies from drinking the extract it means, according to popular belief, that she was guilty of witchcraft. This justifies the tradition. Mostly it’s used against women who are considered troublesome, explaines Helena Torh Turom.
– Sewoda is trying to get Liberia’s old tradition-bound laws integrated into the official justice system. It should not be possible to try people for witchcraft, but it still happens.
Work in isolated areas
Sewoda was founded in 1995 and is an umbrella organization based in southeast Liberia, with about 100 women and 4500 men as members.
– We are working to increase awareness of women’s rights and trying to get women to discover their own identity. We want women to be educated and increase their own capacity.
Sewoda is working in areas that are difficult to reach. Some villages they visit have never before been visited by any organization that has talked about women’s rights.
– The war has isolated the southern region of Liberia, it’s very difficult to get there. The roads are in poor condition and it is dangerous for women to travel because of the lack of security.
Working in the villages also entails safety risks for Sewoda activists. They often meet men who claim that they are trying to turn their women against them. Sometimes activists receive threats and insults.
Encourage women to vote
One of the key issues ahead for Sewoda is to get more women to master the will and the courage to engage in politics. Since 1996, women can be elected to the Liberian parliament, but there are still very few female candidates and women’s participation in elections is low.
– We need to get more women to use their power and vote, says Helena Torh Turom.
Another big challenge is funding. Since Sewoda is operating in a region very distant from the capital Monrovia, it’s difficult for the organization to get the attention of international donors. Still the needs are great. The southeast region was hit hard by the unrest during the last elections in the neighbouring Ivory Coast and the humanitarian situation is severe, with large refugee camps on the Liberian side.
– We do not have any money so all the support we receive is very important for us, says Helena Torh Turom.
The findings from the Iraqi field study show that the US occupation increased secterian thinking within the country and severly crippled women's rights. Photo: Anna Lithander/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women in conflict-torn regions from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes. Another big part of the problem is that the international community gives priority to men for senior positions in peace operations. This according to the new report Equal Power – Lasting Peace made by the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace is based on field studies made in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia. Although the countries and conflicts differ, the patterns are strikingly similar.
In all the regions women and women’s organizations play important roles in resolving conflicts in local communities and in handling everyday life.
But when it comes to formal decision forums the doors are closed for women. This contrary to the statements of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which emphasizes that women must participate on the same terms as men in all parts of peace processes, for the peace to be sustainable.
The exclusion of women is present both within the international missions and negotiating team at national level. Equal Power – Lasting Peace shows that very little has happened, despite the fact that twelve years have passed since Resolution 1325 was adopted.
– Peace Processes that excludes half the population are imperfect. Women’s needs and experiences are made invisible, says Lena Ag, Secretary General at The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace’s survey shows that the most common obstacles for participation that women face are:
- Legislation and standards
- Rumours and threats
- Domestic violence, including sexual violence
- Poverty and corruption
- Ignorance of the international community
- As in other policy areas, the male dominance within the peace and security area needs to be broken. It is a question of democracy and a basic condition for sustainable peace processes. It is also important to push for the appointments of more women to key positions within the EU and the UN. How else can the international community credibly argue that equality is important? says Lena Ag.
No female UN Chief Mediator
Examples of the representation of women and men in key positions related to peace and security:
- At the 24 largest peace negotiations held between 1992 and 2010, only 7,6 percent of the negotiators and 2,5 percent of the mediators were women.
- The UN has never appointed a female Chief Mediator.
- 89 percent of the UN’s special representatives and envoys are men.
- 84 percent of the UN peacekeeping operations are led by men.84 percent of the UN member countries’ UN ambassadors are men.
- There are only men leading the EU’s CSDP operations (operations under the EU’s common security and defense policy).
- 2 of the EU’s 10 special representatives are women.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace, the report
Equal Power – Lasting Peace, summary
Statistics of women and men in key positions within the EU and the UN
Lois Brutus during a seminar in Almedalen – Photo: Sara Ludtke/The Kivnna till Kvinna Foundation
The Liberian women’s rights activist Lois Brutus has long pushed for the recognition of sexual violence in war as a crime against humanity. She still continues her fight, so that victims can finally see justice implemented. During Almedalen’s political week in Sweden, she shared with us her experiences.
Mrs. Lois Brutus, Liberian Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to South Africa, participated in several seminars at Almedalen where she discussed the measures needed to bring perpetrators of sexual and gender based violence in war and conflict to justice. (more…)
Why is it so difficult to get the parties in peace negotiations to include women? This was the main focus of an informal round-table held in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 26th. Experts on mediation and peace processes and women from civil society with experience of peace work participated.
- The results of the discussions will now be passed on to international actors, donors and civil society as part of the efforts to make a change, says Therese Arnewing, field coordinator at the women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, which arranged the round table.
Among the participating experts were Monica McWilliams, Professor at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland and signatory to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, Paul Bremer, the US Presidential Envoy to Iraq, responsible for Coalition efforts to start rebuilding the country’s shattered political and economic structure and Joyce Neu, first team leader for the United Nations’ Standby Team of Mediation Experts, with over 20 years of experience in conflict analysis and mediation in sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans and the Caucasus etc. The ten civil society representatives came from Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Liberia and the South Caucasus region.
Chatham House Rules used
The whole round table was held according to the Chatham House Rules, which means that the information shared is free to use, but the identity of the speaker is not to be revealed.
- We did it that way because we wanted to have as open a dialogue as possible. When people know that they won’t be quoted, they can speak more freely. And we kept the group small to make it easier for the discussions to actually end in fruitful, concrete, recommendations, Therese Arnewing explains.
Joyce Neu, Founder and Senior Associate of Facilitating Peace, USA, Annie Matundu Mbambi, president of WILPF in DR Congo, Khanim Latif from ASUDA, Iraq and Bineta Diop from Femme Africa Solidarité, DR Congo, at the round-table in Geneva. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Trust in one self
One of the participants from civil society was Annie Matundu Mbambi, president of Women’s International League For Peace and Freedom, WILPF, in DR Congo. She was very pleased with the meeting.
- I learned a lot about experienced mediation and how to promote women’s participation and gender perspectives in negotiations. It will help me to encourage all of us to trust in our own skills and start negotiating more to have seats in the process, she says.
So what was the outcome of the discussions? Clearly the role of the negotiating parties are crucial when it comes to deciding if women will be present or not. But since they are also the ones who, most likely, will be implementing the peace agreement, it is important that they don’t feel forced to include women, but do it on their own accord. Otherwise there is a greater risk that the decisions won’t be pushed through.
In the summary of the meeting four incentives were presented:
- The self interest incentive: Find ways to convince the negotiating parties that a gender balanced negotiation team is in their best interest. Arguments that can be used is that when the peace agreement is followed by democratic elections, women will make up 50 percent of the constituency, i e to ensure positions of power it could be strategically wise for them to make sure that they have women’s support. That research shows that a peace is likely to be more sustainable when civil society is included in the negotiations and a gender perspective in the agreement, can also be an important leverage.
- The financial incentive. Funding can be used to motivate the negotiating parties to include women and a gender perspective at the negotiating table.
- The public opinion incentive. By increasing public awareness on the issue, through both traditional and social media, public opinion can be used to pressure the negotiating parties to include women and a gender perspective. However, it is important to remember that media often is a part of the problem, reinforces stereotypes and spreading rumours about the reputation and moral of politically active women.
- The non-threatening incentive: With quite small measures including women and a gender perspective can be less threatening. Using other words than the sometimes sensitive ”gender” or ”women’s rights” can be a way to avoid the resistance. The discussion on women’s rights can become a discussion on economic development, constitutional reform and social justice for example. Another way is to insist that all mediators and their teams have knowledge on gender issues. Today the gender advisors in the UN Mediation Standby Team are not being deployed since the negotiating parties do not request their assistance.
Wants special agreement
Annie Matundu Mbambi has yet another idea of what is needed.
- In my point of view, the UN Resolution 1325 arguments aren’t enough to bring women to the negotiation tables. The international community must decide that women’s participation is so important that it needs to be protected by a special agreement to let them have seats in the peace process. In my country we will not reach sustainable peace as long as women are excluded.
You can find more about the findings of the meeting in Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: The role of the negotiating parties.
Liberia’s ex-president, 64-year-old Charles Taylor, was yesterday sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes committed in Liberia’s neighbouring country Sierra Leone.
- The sentence is a clear indication for other heads of states and former warlords still in position of power, that you can be found guilty of war crimes in international courts, says Susanna Elmberger, coordinator for Liberia at the women’s right and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
The 26th of April Charles Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Hague, for aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Yesterday his sentence was announced to be 50 years in prison. The prosecuter had asked for an 80-year prison term.
- For those who survived these crimes the long term impact on their lives is devastating; amputees without arms will now have to live on charity because they can no longer work. Young girls who had been publicly stigmatized and will never recover from the trauma of rape and sexual slavery to which they were subjected in some cases resulting in pregnancy and additional stigma of the children born there off, said Judge Richard Lussick, and referred to the actions as “the worst crimes in human history”.
First conviction of rape
Charles Taylor was the first former head of state convicted of war crimes since the second world war, and the first former head of state ever to be convicted for crimes of sexual violence and rape. Susanna Elmberger believes that it’s important that the sentence was as severe as 50 years imprisonment. It sends a clear message to other leaders that they shouldn’t count on being able to escape justice.
The crimes that Charles Taylor was convicted for, include rape, forced enlistment of child soldiers and murder. But he also has crimes committed in Liberia on his conscience. More than 200 000 people were killed and many women and girls were raped during the civil war that took place in the country between 1989 and 2003.
Still much support in Liberia
Susanna Elmberger is sure that Charles Taylor now will appeal and that the court process therefore will continue on for at least another few months. And the sentence will probably be met with mixed reactions in Liberia.
- Taylor still holds much support among people on the ground in Liberia. But I do believe that the many women who have been subjected to rape and abuse will welcome it, she says.
More on the sentence and the reactions in Liberia: Taylor Goes to Jail: Dust Finally Settles: But Liberians’ Sentence Reaction Mixed by FrontPage Africa Online.
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor waiting for the verdict in the court room of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: UN Photo/SCSL/AP Pool/Peter DeJong.
For the first time ever a former head of state has been convicted of rape and sexual violence during conflict. This took place last week when Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in Sierra Leone.
- I think that many Liberians felt relieved after the verdict. Especially the political establishment, headed by president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who were active in the extradition of Taylor. If he had been declared not guilty and had returned to Liberia, there would have been a great risk of increased instability in the country. At the same time Charles Taylor has many supporters, who see him as the hero who liberated Liberia from former oppression. So far from everyone are celebrating, says Susanna Elmberger, coordinator for Liberia at the Swedish women- and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone
Charles Taylor was prosecuted in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, operating out of the Hague, on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 10-year-long civil war in Liberia’s neighbouring country Sierra Leone. Taylor was accused of backing rebels in Sierra Leone, as said in the verdict: ”by providing them with arms and ammunition, military personnel, operational support and moral support”. The war took 120 000 peoples’ lives and many more were severely maimed. Taylor was convicted on all counts, for aiding and abetting in, among other, murder, rape, slavery and the forced enlistment of child soldiers.
But he was not convicted of bearing the major responsibility for these crimes, a fact that may lead to strong reactions from the many people who suffered from the war. Judges say Taylor knew about the crimes rebel troops were committing, but prosecutors could not prove that he was actually commanding those troops.
The verdict is historical since it is the first time since the Nuremberg trials – held after the Second World War – that a former head of state is being convicted in an international court. It is also the first conviction that includes rape and sexual violence, since there were no prosecutions of these types of crimes in the Nuremberg trials. The legal process has taken nine years and Taylor has consistently claimed his innocence.
Charles Taylor’s sentence will be announced on May 30th.