This report outlines the findings and recommendations of a workshop with representatives from Burundian and Sierra Leonean civil society organisations (CSOs) working in the field of gender equality and women’s empowerment organised by International Alert on 25th to 29th February 2008. The aim of the five-day workshop was to exchange experiences, discuss commonchallenges and strengthen future collaboration in order to support the integration of genderrelated priorities into peacebuilding processes. The workshop resulted in a number of findings and recommendations that can be built on to ensure enhanced support for women’s organisations to monitor and advocate for the inclusion of gender perspectives in peacebuilding processes.
Discussions around security-related issues raised the important point that security sector reform (SSR) processes in both countries have suffered from a lack of engagement with civil society and other non-state actors. Women’s organisations face particular challenges in their attempts to holdsecurity sector actors accountable, as few women’s organisations have traditionally engaged withthe security sector and lack sufficient technical expertise, capacity and connections to exercisemeaningful oversight over the sector.
It was widely agreed by workshop participants that women’s economic insecurity underlies a number of other forms of insecurity, vulnerability and discrimination and should be addressed by those attempting to improve women’s involvement in peacebuilding processes. Women’s economic insecurity is compounded by a number of factors, including illiteracy, traditional practices, and discrimination by financial institutions and in public policy. Economic empowerment enables women to participate more actively in society and peacebuilding processes and to reduce their vulnerability to various forms of abuse. However, these programmes need to be informed by a conflict-sensitive approach. For example, microcredit schemes can sometimes increase tensions within households and communities when only certain women can take part in these schemes and may have to respond to high expectations from family and community members.
Women’s political participation was identified as a priority by workshop participants from both Sierra Leone and Burundi. Women’s increased participation in formal political bodies and within civil society is an important end in itself, but is also seen as a potential entry point for promoting gender-sensitive legislation and policies. In Sierra Leone, women’s sustained mobilisation resulted in the adoption of three ‘gender bills’ that substantially improve women’s legal rights. In Burundi, on the other hand, women parliamentarians and civil society actors have been less successful in reforming discriminatory legislation.
Burundi and Sierra Leone were the first two countries to be placed on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), a new intergovernmental advisory body of the United Nations that supports peace efforts in countries emerging from conflict. They have also benefited from funding from the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), established at the same time with the PBC to act as a bridge between conflict and recovery at a time when other funding mechanisms may not yet be available. Although Sierra Leone and Burundi were each allocated US$35 million of PBF funding in early 2007, very little has been done by women’s organisations around these issues in Sierra Leone in contrast to the extent of activities initiated in Burundi. In Burundi, women’s CSOs have been relatively successful in incorporating gender concerns into the work of the PBC and have prepared to monitor the implementation of PBF projects from a gender perspective. In both countries, confusion about the PBC/F processes and delays in implementing PBF-funded projects have hindered the positive impact of the fund and the involvement of civil society in monitoring the processes.
A number of challenges constrain the work of women’s organisations, and gender-sensitivemonitoring of the implementation of policies and the enforcement of laws is a particular challenge. Overall capacity gaps in terms of resources and technical expertise limit the impact and sustainability of women’s organisations. Women’s activism is also often elitist and fragmented. To reach its full potential, the constituencies of women’s organisations should be broadened, especially among rural women, who often tend to be excluded from active roles in civil society. This could give women’s CSOs more relevance, legitimacy and a stronger mandate. Issues discussed at the national level must also be adapted to local contexts, where needs and priorities may differ. Local women should be supported to have more understanding of and voice in national policy-making processes, such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and the work of the PBC. On the other hand, support from international organisations and pressure at the international level is important for progress in national-level advocacy. Pursuing advocacy channels at international, national and local levels in tandem can result in more significant change on the ground.
Key recommendations for international actors working in Burundi are as follows:
- Provide training to members of the Technical Gender Committee of the Cadre de Coordination in the development of gender-sensitive indicators and monitoring techniques;
- Continue to link up international advocacy efforts with the in-country work that Dushirehamwe and their partners are doing;
- Share strategies around the role of CSOs in security sector oversight with women’s organisations to enable them to develop appropriate technical expertise;
- Support further research into women’s security needs and priorities, and build capacity to engage in effective advocacy with security sector actors and institutions on the basis of these priorities;
- Build capacity to campaign effectively for legal reform, including sharing lessons learned from other regions; and,
- Provide opportunities for more cross-learning about successful strategies undertaken by women CSOs in other contexts to integrate gender-related priorities into post-conflict reform agendas and peacebuilding processes.
Key recommendations for international actors working in Sierra Leone are as follows:
- Support the establishment of a technical committee or network of women’s CSOs that can monitor the security sector;
- Train women’s CSOs in the development of gender-sensitive indicators and the creation of monitoring mechanisms to oversee the implementation of the PRSP and PBF-funded projects in Sierra Leone;
- Support further research into the economic dimensions of women’s insecurity and build capacity of women’s CSOs to engage in effective advocacy around women’s economic priorities with a range of local, national and international stakeholders;
- Build capacity to enable the creation of a more representative, diverse and inclusive network of women’s CSOs throughout Sierra Leone; and,
- Assess the impact of the new gender bills and the SSR process at the community level to determine the degree to which they are contributing to positive changes in security and access to justice, particularly for women.