“History has taught us that every movement for peace or democracy in Africa has involved strong and resilient women,” Amujae Leader Fatoumatta Njai told an audience recently, highlighting the vital—yet too often overlooked—role that African women play in conflict resolution and peacekeeping processes.
Speaking at the Women’s Forum for Peace in Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia earlier this month, Ms. Njai began her speech with a call for further progress towards women’s representation in leadership and peacebuilding efforts. Despite numerous declarations and conventions calling for equal representation, not much has changed, she said.
“Between 1992 and 2019, just 13% of negotiators in major peace processes around the world were women. This means that the vast majority of peace agreements reached during this time period did not consider the experiences and contributions of women.”
These official figures are troublingly low, but Ms. Njai pointed out that they don’t account for women’s informal involvement in peace processes. She cited the example of the Second Liberian Civil War, which was brought to an end in 2003 by the Accra Peace Agreement. Though women were largely excluded as official negotiators or mediators in the peace process, they played an enormous role in securing peace outside of formally-recognized negotiations—they “organized marches, rallies, strikes, and sit-ins. They blocked the exits of government buildings following formal peace talks, literally standing in the way of negotiators leaving the talks without a resolution.”
Elsewhere in Africa, including in her home country of The Gambia, Ms. Njai acknowledged the instrumental work of women on the ground working to end civil conflicts and uphold democracy, but pointed out that such efforts are rarely documented or formally acknowledged.
Despite this lack of recognition, the incentives to get more women into positions where they can “prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts” are clear, Ms. Njai continued. Women make up half the population, so their equal inclusion is a requirement for democracy to function as effectively as possible. Similarly, more women in legislative positions also results in “more conversations and policy on issues affecting women and children.”
Evidence suggests that countries with higher levels of gender equality are less likely to see the outbreak of civil conflict, and research shows that peace agreements that include women are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years, Ms. Njai added.
As one of three elected women assembly members in The Gambia, Ms. Njai also shared her most recent efforts in the fight for gender equality: she has co-sponsored a constitutional amendment that, if passed by Parliament, will significantly increase the number of women representatives in The Gambia’s National Assembly by reserving seats for women in each of the country’s seven regions.