Women in Cameroon must be heard if a solution to the conflict is to be found, argued former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a recent op-ed for The Guardian.
The government and separatists in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions have been locked in conflict since 2017 after protests aimed at preserving their distinct legal and educational systems spiralled into armed conflict.
Writing with Dr. Comfort Ero, the President and Chief Executive of the International Crisis Group, Madam Sirleaf notes that women and girls have been disproportionately affected by the conflict. They make up the majority of displaced—more than half a million to date—and have been denied access to basic services, in addition to being subjected to sexual abuse by the warring parties.
However, the role women are playing both in the insurgency and as active peacemakers cannot be underestimated, the op-ed continued. While some have engaged in combat, others have campaigned for peace and successfully pressed for relief measures.
Drawing from their experience working for peace in Liberia and seeing first-hand how women’s empowerment can move a country toward reconciliation, Madam Sirleaf and Dr. Ero urged the government and separatists to “stop overlooking the role of women in the war.”
Urgent steps must be taken to protect women from sexual abuse, to help the displaced with legal and financial backing, and to include them in peace negotiations, they wrote. Women’s leadership is critical to the success of peace-building efforts:
“Women not only provide useful perspectives on the conflict, they can also serve as advocates for a political settlement.”
Read the full op-ed here.