Amplifying women’s voices to build peace in the Sahel

By Danish Refugee Council (DRC)

Around the world, women too often remain excluded from decision-making structures and processes, particularly in the male-dominated realm of security. This affects not only the women who are excluded, but also society at large which misses out on the opportunity to benefit from their experiences and perspectives. This trend is particularly acute in the Sahel region of West Africa, where women are traditionally excluded from the security sector, stifling their ability to contribute and depriving society at large of the acknowledged benefits of inclusive security governance.

Therefore, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and Danish Demining Group (DDG) are proud to support the Women’s Leadership Program for Inclusive Security Governance in the Sahel (WLP; Programme de Leadership Féminin pour une Gouvernance Inclusive de la Sécurité dans le Sahel). This initiative, developed in partnership with the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), works to amplify the voices and boost the participation of civil society women in security governance in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. As Secretary General, it brings me great pride to lead an organization dedicated to elevating the voices of women and other marginalized groups — in the Sahel and globally.

Signed 20 years ago, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 recognizes the indispensable role of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and the WLP works explicitly towards implementing the aims of this resolution and the relevant Sustainable Development Goals, including goals 5 (Gender Equality) and 16 (Peace, Justice, and Effective Institutions). The WFP is strongly committed to the above principles, and affirms that when women have equal access to decision-making within effective, accountable, and transparent institutions, the effect on society is transformative.

Through these efforts to ensure women’s meaningful participation in, and influence on, security governance, we hope to highlight and engage with the risks, vulnerabilities, and concerns that often go unseen and unaddressed within the male-dominated security apparatus, and to promote a holistic understanding of security laws, policies, and practices. These unaddressed issues leave many civilians poorly protected and unable to participate in the effective development and maintenance of a positive peace in their countries and communities.

This is especially important in the Sahel today, as Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have recently suffered sharply deteriorating security conditions, spurring large-scale displacement, a regional protection crisis, and the proliferation of humanitarian needs. Existing security and governance structures have failed to adequately resolve complex conflicts and failed to meet the basic needs of affected populations, not least those of women.

The WLP program started in 2019 with a series of workshops and roundtable discussions with female civil society organizations in all three countries. Having developed inclusive and locally appropriate strategies with these groups, we then opened the initiative to applications from interested Malian, Nigerien and Burkinabe women with no particular background in security.

The project attracted many women with a fierce commitment to improving safety and living conditions in their communities through understanding and improving the security policies and practices under which they live.

Trainings for the selected women began in early 2020, with a series of workshops covering human security, gender and security sector reform, leadership, and more. They then developed an action plan for responsive security structures adapted to the needs of their communities. The newly trained women have since also conducted assessments on the impact of conflict and Covid-19 in their communities, with plans for further research and advocacy in development.

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

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