Women for peace: Kimairis, US

To mark International Women's Day 2016, for which the official theme is #PledgeForParity, we are profiling some of our female peacebuilders around the world and asking them: What can gender parity mean for peace?

You can read all of their featured stories here.

Kimairis, US

Originally from the US, Kimairis Toogood is a Senior Adviser on Conflict Sensitivity within the Africa programme at International Alert. She is also Acting Country Director for Nigeria.

Please describe your professional background and what you are currently working on.

I am currently implementing the DFID-funded Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) in partnership with the British Council, which aims to reduce violent conflict in Nigeria. I have also recently written a joint report with UNICEF called Bad blood, which reveals how women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria face stigmatisation when they return home.

What are the challenges and opportunities for gender equality in your country?

The US struggles to adequately address a number of conflict drivers and gender equality is one of these outstanding issues. It is one of the only countries in the world that continues to not only underpay women for equal work, but also not guarantee paid maternity leave. There have been important shifts in gender roles that are leading to men taking more responsibilities at home in terms of childcare and housework, but the unequal support men and women receive needs to be addressed.

As of November 2015, the US fell to 28th place in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report. This is down to more unequal pay for similar jobs as well as fewer women occupying high government positions. As the US continues to support and advocate for greater gender equality in the world, it struggles to apply its own principles at home. Internationally, it has never led the way in terms of gender pay equity or female representation in top leadership positions. And yet while it has attempted to overcome overt discrimination against women in the workplace in more recent years, this remains a big issue.

What role do you think gender equality and women’s empowerment could play in long-term peace?

While empowering women is very important, I think most countries including Nigeria where I am currently working need first and foremost to focus on addressing gender equity.

The disparities in relationships between men and women in terms of education, economic opportunities, access to social services, and political participation make a focus on women’s empowerment challenging. These disparities are institutionalised in discriminatory cultural practices based on gender stereotypes that continue to hinder greater progress towards gender equality. It is therefore essential to address these political, social and economic inequities in order to support sustainable and effective gender equality efforts that will lead to greater female empowerment.

Which women inspire you and why?

The peacebuilding field can be frustrating. This is because measuring tangible impact can be difficult. Attitudinal and behaviour changes often take generations, and therefore, for peacebuilders, the long hours worked in challenging contexts often don’t manifest as changes everyone can see within one’s own lifetime. This can be very disheartening and discourage people from continuing to work on such complex issues.

However, the research conducted for the recently released Bad blood report has renewed my faith that peacebuilding can have attitudinal and behavioural changes in the short term as well.

I was able to interact with survivors of sexual violence committed by Boko Haram. There are strong female leaders within the Muslim faith that have used a religious doctrine to reach these survivors. They are attempting to help them reclaim their self-worth and to forgive themselves for the violence that was committed against them. These women work at the University of Maiduguri, at the Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) and the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. All of them, as well as the survivors themselves, inspire me to keep working on peacebuilding issues.

Did you celebrate Women’s Day this year? How?

This year I continued my work in monitoring programme activities in northeast Nigeria. At the moment, we have workshops and dialogue sessions that are helping to reduce stigma against women and girls and they are having significant impact among the participants.

We also staged a protest march in The Hague with UNICEF and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to urge for more support for women and girls released by Boko Haram. The march was inspired by the findings of Bad blood and it marked the launch of our #FutureForOurGirls campaign (see picture below).