By Francis Tazoacha & Ancel Langwa
Different actors play different roles in ensuring that conflicts are resolved. However, women – who are considered the most vulnerable in times of conflict – turn out to be the most ignored in conflict resolution. Women’s role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding has long been underestimated, especially in societies where patriarchy is the order of the day (1). The armed conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon erupted about four years ago and has caused enormous loss of lives and property (2). The role of women in mitigating or resolving this conflict has continuously been undermined. The ongoing conflict produces gendered outcomes in Cameroon, with particular shifts enabling Cameroonian women to be directly involved in activities – such as conflict resolution – that were previously considered an exclusively male domain.
When the older male elites and chiefs are losing effective control over the heavily-armed young militia, Cameroonian women have the opportunity to intervene in peacebuilding. As mothers, grandmothers, aunts, spouses, and sisters – and as those more often victimized – Cameroonian women need to understand that to minimize atrocities committed, they need to curb the violence. Cameroonian women need to be educated on the fundamental role they play in reducing conflict in their respective communities. They need to be empowered on their role as an invaluable tool for conflict transformation and peacebuilding in Cameroon – a role that the international community and other potential stakeholders have not been able to play.
For over four years, the armed conflict in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions has caused maleficent obliteration of human lives and property (3). Regardless of the efforts taken by the national and international interested parties in bringing an end to the crisis, armed hostilities – such as kidnapping for ransoms, civil strife, enforced disappearances, and killings committed by both the Cameroon military and separatist fighters – have continued to go unabated. Women and girls are often the worst hit in situations of armed conflicts. They are exposed to acts of violence that seriously undermine their rights and deny them opportunities arising from gender inequality (4). Women have unique opportunities for conflict resolution and peacebuilding due to the unique role they play in society. The recent calls for a cessation of hostilities by some women in the country – especially those in crisis-hit regions – indicate their frustration with handling the crisis. It also demonstrates the unique roles women have in building peace in society and bringing an end to violent conflict (5).
Even though women have frequently been the first to take the risks necessary to promote dialogue across divided communities, they are marginalized from taking these initiatives as they have attempted in the ongoing Anglophone conflict.
Role Played to Resolve the Conflict
Conflicts often force women to organise themselves, protect necessities and carry out activities related to education and healthcare. These activities have a part to play in guaranteeing durable peace, and therefore governments are obliged to ensure that women are included in crucial peace consultations at all levels (6).
Very few women in Cameroon and Africa participate in formal negotiations, even though their contributions to conflict resolution and peacebuilding have been viewed positively.
With the security situation worsening fast in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, a group of courageous women has emerged under the auspices of Southwest and Northwest Women’s Task Force (7). These individual women and their foils in civil society have been mustering and campaigning for the end of the Anglophone crisis. They call for a ceasefire or total end of the meaningless conflict and meaningful participation of all stakeholders to find sustainable peace to the violent conflict.
In a male-dominated society like Cameroon, their mission is very stressful. However, they have organised press conferences, radio and television talks, and marched on the streets of major towns and cities in Cameroon (8). They have equally successfully mobilised thousands of women to participate in mourning exercises. This has been to express extreme discontentment and to draw the attention of stakeholders, especially policy-makers, particularly men, so that they may go to the drawing board to resolve the disastrous conflict sustainably. These women have also been active on social media and have kept apprising and supporting each other with WhatsApp messages. They have also created a #HearMeToo campaign on 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence to end violence against women and children (9).
Despite these efforts, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Women policy-makers and administrators have remained silent. They have done little or nothing to raise their voices in their respective houses to galvanise and push for an end to the disheartening and senseless conflict raging on and striking women.
The United Nations, all governments, NGOs, and the Cameroon government have a lot to do to support Cameroon women in enhancing their role in post-conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities as spelled out in the UNSCR1325 of 2000. These stakeholders who do not seem bothered with the carnage going on in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon need to put their hands on deck and consider the following to assist women in bringing an end to this war:
- Guarantee that women are involved in the design and implementation of conflict and post-conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities;
- Support and reinforce women organisations in their peacebuilding efforts by providing adequate and continuous financial and technical assistance;
- Strengthen the fortification and representation of refugee and women internally displaced by giving special attention to their health, reintegration, and social needs;
- Ensure recompense of crimes committed against women during the conflict;
- Bring to justice perpetrators who use rape as a weapon of war and as a war crime;
- Put mechanisms in place to implement and monitor international instruments to protect women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict situations;
- Sensitise local communities against cultural pressures that limit women from engaging in conflict resolution or putting themselves forward in decision-making arenas;
- Empower them on their capacities as women and in areas in which they can intervene to avoid illicit interventions.
Women and girls have been unreasonably affected by armed conflict in the Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon. Their efforts in mitigating these conflicts, though fundamental, have been side-lined at their actions in pulling the warring factions together or calling on the international community’s attention to pressure the belligerents to a ceasefire. In this light, women in the Northwest and Southwest regions have been viewed as the cornerstone in building bridges of peace in their beloved Cameroon.
Therefore, to urge them further into achieving their goals, there is a need to enhance their political, social, and economic empowerment in armed conflict resolution and peacebuilding initiatives. Moreover, they should be supported in political participation, empowerment, and representation, including in national and local governments, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding processes. They should be encouraged to work closely with international and national partners on the UN’s global policy agenda on Women, Peace, and Security and support the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. If these opportunities are surrendered to women, they will leave noticeable milestones in peacebuilding processes in Cameroon.
Tazoacha Francis is the Director of Peace & Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. His areas of expertise ranges from Peace-building, Conflict Resolution, Governance and Democracy.