African Women’s Mobilization in Times of Unrest
On June 5, 2019, the Wilson Center Africa Program partnered with the Women and Peacebuilding in Africa Consortium for a symposium on “African Women’s Mobilization in Times of Unrest.” The symposium consisted of two panel discussions on Women’s Mobilization in the Current Uprisings in Sudan and Algeria and Women Activists’ Informal Peacebuilding Strategies.
African Women’s Mobilization in Times of Unrest
On June 5, 2019, the Wilson Center Africa Program partnered with the Women and Peacebuilding in Africa Consortium for a symposium on “African Women’s Mobilization in Times of Unrest.” The symposium consisted of two-panel discussions on Women’s Mobilization in the Current Uprisings in Sudan and Algeria and Women Activists’ Informal Peacebuilding Strategies.
Ms. Hannah Akuiyibo, Program Associate at the Wilson Center Africa Program offered welcome remarks, and Dr. Aili Mari Tripp, the Wangari Maathai Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provided introductory remarks and outlined the objectives of the symposium and the Women and Peacebuilding in Africa Consortium. Experts who spoke at the event included Dr. Aili Mari Tripp, Dr. Ayesha Imam, Independent Researcher and founding Director of BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, Dr. Samia El-Nagar, Independent Researcher, Dr. Liv Tønnessen, Research Director, Chr Michelsen Institute, Norway, Dr. Ladan Affi, Assistant Professor, Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, Ms. Helen Kezie-Nwoha, Executive Director, Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange, Uganda, and Ms. Jackline Nasiwa, Founder, Centre for Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice, South Sudan.
The event examined African women’s mobilization during civil crises and conflict, the cost of women’s exclusion, and the possibilities for their inclusion in peacebuilding in African countries. Drawing on field research conducted in Sudan, South Sudan, Algeria, Nigeria, and Somalia, the speakers provided evidence, comparative insights, and policy implications on women’s mobilization and women in conflict.
In Panel 1, Women’s Mobilization in the Current Uprisings in Sudan and Algeria, Dr. Tønnessen analyzed the context and background of the Sudan uprising and discussed the roles of women in the protests, specifically as leaders, organizers, and facilitators. She noted the complex international environment and that the response, motivations, and participation of different international and regional actors pose challenges to reform efforts. Dr. El-Nagar situated women in the uprising and noted the sociopolitical goals of women’s groups to achieve more equitable legal and political standings. She noted the challenges women face in mobilizing and protesting, not only from their family and social groups but also resistance from the government. Dr. Tripp focused her remarks on the Algerian Revolution and women’s participation in peaceful protests. She noted the centrality of women in the protests as they reclaimed their political space. Social media has played a role in amplifying their role, documenting the ways in which women participate in every-day forms of resistance. Dr. Tripp noted that women’s mobilization in Algeria is not a new phenomenon and traced the historical roots to the present efforts for legal and civil parity. In both countries, the speakers noted, women have historically mobilized and participated in protests and have specific goals aimed at opening up the political, legal, social space for women.
Panel 2, Women Activists’ Informal Peacebuilding Strategies, looked at tactics used by women and how women’s groups adapt to chronic insecurity and patriarchal hierarchies, among other challenges. Dr. Imam discussed how women in the Boko Haram conflict in Northeast Nigeria engage in multiple forms of conflict-ending and peace-building—efforts that often go unrecognized by the government and international actors. At the community level, women have engaged directly with aggressors to dissuade attacks. At the national level, women’s groups challenge problematic narratives and state policies that exclude women in civil society consultations. She noted the gaps in engagement for women in the conflict and the need to support local women’s organizations. Ms. Kezie-Nwoha discussed women’s informal peacebuilding strategies in South Sudan, emphasizing how women sometimes mobilize outside formal institutional structures vis-à-vis peace committees and nurturing inter-religious and inter-tribal relationships. Although women have seen gains in representation in the latest peace negotiations, she warned of the shrinking safe civic space, the lack of psychosocial support, the urgency for the government to promote security for returning refugees, and need for enhanced funding and agency for local organizations. Ms. Nasiwa emphasized the importance of continued international support for South Sudan. She noted how an integral component of peace for South Sudanese women is accountability and justice. Two key areas of focus in South Sudan should be focusing on governance as a root cause and insecurity as a symptom, as well as more actively addressing sexual violence. Lastly, Dr. Affi discussed the case of Somalia and the struggle for Somali women to achieve more equitable political representation at the state and federal levels. Women have historically contributed positively to peace and, due to the Somali tradition of inter-clan marriage, are uniquely capable of bridging clan divides. In the 1990s, women succeeded in securing gender quotas in parliament; for the 2016 election, women organized to support women being elected to parliament, which is now 24 percent female. Although women have made great gains in securing political rights, there is much progress to be made, especially as women currently face backlash.
Samia El Nagar
Aili Mari Tripp
Wangari Maathai Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.–Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, including our blog Africa Up Close, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations. Read more