Forum seeks female peacekeeping troops to protect women in conflict
African women leaders vowed(*) to press for the deployment of more female peace-keepers to protect women in conflict and called on the African Union (AU) to appoint more female peace envoys.
The African women, who met to discuss the state of women affairs in the continent ahead of the African Union (AU) semi-annual conference convening in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh, also called for an urgent end to violence against women in Africa.
The pre-AU Summit meeting was sponsored by the Fammes Africa Solidarite (FAS) to discuss the state of women, with a special attention on the implementation of specific declarations by the AU over the last four years, seeking to improve the women welfare.
The talks also agreed on a raft of measures, touching on the health and economic welfare of women.
The gender rights activists sought urgent removal of school fees in primary schools and urged African leaders to work on a staggered plan to phase out fees in secondary schools to enable more women in the continent to access education.
The conference was attended by African ministers in charge of gender, legal experts within Africa and the Diaspora and regional institutions engaged in the campaign to improve the women welfare, among a host of other institutions to popularise the gender campaign.
It was convened to provide a platform for following up on the pledges made by the African leaders to improve the status of the women welfare in the continent and brought together women rights organisations, under the ‘Gender is My Agenda’ campaign network.
The participants urged the AU to strengthen its campaign against violence, noting that the women in the continent remained less active in peace negotiations, even though they were the worst affected by the conflict.
“Peace and security is a pre-requisite for development,” said Monica Juma, the Executive Director of the South Africa-based Africa Policy Institute.
She said the meeting agreed to push for the nomination of women in senior political positions and as lead envoys for peace in the continent.
The conference urged the African leaders due to meet here to consider nominating more women to lead conflict negotiations.
In particular, the women leaders urged the AU to appoint former Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel, who also joined the Kenya peace mission early this year, to lead the mediation efforts for an end to the political crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Other measures agreed upon by the women include the need to recruit more female soldiers for the peacekeeping operations within the continent to protect girls and provide specialised care to women; and for the AU Commission to tackle the crisis facing women in countries emerging from conflicts, especially Burundi and Liberia.
The AU Gender Directorate, the women said in their communique, should be strengthened to become the watchdog against violations of women rights.
Meanwhile, the AU has been urged to convene a round table discussion on women land ownership ahead of the 2009 land Summit, to enable African women make specific contributions on the issue of land ownership, still a major issue for most of the women folk in Africa.
Juma, who read the communique on behalf of the participants at the gender confab, said special focus should also be turned to the people living with HIV/AIDS.
She said the meeting agreed to push for women contraceptives to be available on demand.
(*) Sharm el Sheikh on Sunday 22/06/2008