Advancing the WPS Agenda In Africa Through Knowledge Sharing

Staff Writer

Over the course of two weeks in September and October, WILPF co-convened the 2021 MenEngage Africa Training Institute (MATI) in partnership with MenEngage Africa, Sonke Gender Justice, and the Institute for Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. This year’s MATI welcomed participants from 17 different countries across Africa and focused on advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda. 

“The first training week… [explored] the construction of manhood in Africa and argued for the application of a more sophisticated gender analysis that also includes men and youth. It entirely changed the narrative of how I thought about women’s rights advocacy.”

RAYMOND J. KAKUBA, PROJECT COORDINATOR AT THE EASTERN AFRICAN SUB-REGIONAL SUPPORT INITIATIVE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN (EASSI)

Established in 2010, MATI is typically an intensive two-week residential training programme for gender equality activists from across the African continent. It is an annual program, and is usually held in collaboration with an African university. 

This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Institute took place in a virtual format and brought together emerging academics, activists, and practitioners, including from WILPF Sections and MenEngage Africa networks in 17 different African countries (Burundi, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa, Nigeria, Togo, Uganda, Namibia, Rwanda, Madagascar, Mali, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe).

The 2021 MATI focused on advancing the women, peace, and security agenda in Africa. This year’s theme was inspired by the persistent challenges to peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and prevention of violence that continue to be experienced both within the African continent and around the world. Some of these challenges are deeply rooted in structural inequalities, including gender inequalities. Overcoming these obstacles and working for peace therefore requires an understanding of the different ways that war, conflict, and violence affect all people based on their gender, as well as other identities. 

Participants came away with a deepened understanding of the gender dimensions of conflict, the structural drivers and root causes of conflict, and the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda from regional and sub-regional perspectives.

Exploring the root causes of conflict

The Institute included courses on a range of topics, including key theories and concepts; practical strategies for advocacy on WPS and human rights; and deeper dives into themes and country case studies. Joy Onyesoh, WILPF International President, facilitated the session about the Women, Peace and Security agenda and approaches to implementation. 

Throughout the sessions, MATI incorporated a focus on men, boys, and masculinities, which are relevant to discussions about war and violence. 

“Gender in Africa is in most cases referred to almost exclusively to the disadvantages that women and girls face,” reflected participant Raymond J. Kakuba. “Given the extent of gender inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa, an almost exclusive focus on women and girls has been appropriate … but the MATI course changed my mindset in that it portrayed gender to be more than just this.”

A critical component of WPS is the topic of conflict prevention and addressing root causes. Participants in the course engaged in many discussions around the root causes and systemic drivers of conflict, including structural violence. 

Participant Dr. Chiemezie Atama found this emphasis especially useful, stating that “The link between structural and cultural violence and its implications in promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda was very intriguing. [Dr. Yonas Adaye’s] quote still rings like a bell in my head: ‘Do we [have] conflict because we are conflictual, or do we [have] conflict because of environmental factors?’” 

Deepening engagement through knowledge sharing and multimedia

Throughout the course, participants and presenters brought in their own expertise to ground and enrich the discussions. 

For example, Annie Mbambi, President of WILPF DRC, shared her experiences working on WPS in the context of the DRC, where civil society organisations have opened space for women’s leadership and participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Amon Mwiine, Lecturer at the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University joined the conversation near the end of the training and reflected on the ambiguities of the narratives on “male champions” of gender equality in Uganda Parliament. And Edwick Madzimure of WILPF Zimbabwe spoke about violence related to the mining sector in her country, an issue with which she found commonalities with Congolese participants. 

To make the course more interactive than online formats often allow, and to ensure that participants reflected deeply on the course content between sessions, throughout the course participants were encouraged to use photography and video to document their own experiences, reflect on their lives and work, and to explore course themes. 

To assist participants with engaging through multimedia, and to orient them to the use of photography, WILPF invited Pete Muller, winner of the World Press Photo of the Year Award and a documentary photographer who has focused much of his work on masculinity and conflict, to present on the second day of the course.

Mobilising for a future of feminist peace

Through a mix of lectures, interactive discussions, networking, and group activities, attendees of the Institute came away with deeper knowledge as well as closer connections with other advocates and practitioners. This will help strengthen WILPF and MenEngage’s shared work to mobilise men for feminist peace and advance inclusive conflict prevention and resolution.

“I can now engage better simply because of the training, which has further empowered me on women, peace, and security international and regional instruments,” stated MATI participant Sekinah Temitope Lawal, who attended from Lagos, Nigeria. 

“Going forward … it will be a lot easier to efficiently mainstream the WPS agenda in my work and effectively advocate for the involvement of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes.”

This article originally appeared on Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom website, written by WILPF International