Peacebuilding

Women in Cameroon fight for participation in the peace process

In the past years, Cameroon has been rocked by violent conflicts, which have particularly affected women. A platform of women’s organisations is campaigning for a peace process with a special focus on women’s needs.
Awarding the German Africa Prize 2023 to the National Women’s Convention for Peace in Cameroon. Deutsche Afrika Stiftung Awarding the German Africa Prize 2023 to the National Women’s Convention for Peace in Cameroon.

Since 2014, the political situation is fragile in Cameroon. The Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram harasses people in the Far North region. In 2016, armed separatist groups began a war of independence in Cameroon’s English speaking Northwest and Southwest regions. Furthermore, the East region hosts thousands of refugees from the Central African Republic, posing a security challenge for Cameroon. Additionally, there is conflict between indigenous people over access to land.

Civilians in the conflict areas have experienced unspeakable violence at the hands of the perpetrators. The horrors include extra-judicial killings, beheadings and rape. Even though these conflicts vary in scope, intensity and nature, they have in common that women suffer the most. They have been sexually assaulted and frequently exploited as a weapon of war.

This victimisation leads to isolation, alienation and prolonged emotional trauma. Many women had to bury loved ones. “We have bandaged the wounds of our sons; wept and comforted our daughters who have been raped and battered and saved them from being used as human bombs,” victims wrote in a “call for peace”, adding: “We hid in bushes, suffered the cold, starved for days as we run away from guns and killings. We have been cruelly deprived of everything including our dignity.”

While women pay a disproportionately heavy price in armed conflicts every day, they are still largely excluded from official peacebuilding processes. This is the reason why in January 2021, the National Women’s Convention for Peace in Cameroon was formed after writing the call for peace. The platform unites around 80 women’s organisations and networks from all ten regions of the country. The organisations work with internally displaced persons, promote education for children in conflict zones or engage in the prevention of gender-related violence. They also help traumatised victims and relatives, take in refugees and act as mediators between armed groups and the military.

The activists are convinced that a lasting peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives. They represent Cameroon’s complete spectrum of women, including peace activists, displaced women and girls, victims and survivors of war-related violence, academics and women with all kinds of societal backgrounds. Their slogan is: “We build an alliance of good will that is stronger, louder and in greater numbers than those people who profit from war and conflicts.”

For the past three years, the Convention has been actively advocating for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and lasting peace in Cameroon. The Convention has organised three unprecedented events:

  • In 2021, 1,800 women from all 58 Divisions of Cameroon met in Yaoundé to launch a united “Call for Peace”;
  • The Parliamentary Encounter of the 2021 Convention in the chamber of the National Assembly;
  • Initiation of the 2022 peace negotiations which assembled all official stakeholders.

The documents that have emerged from these events include:

  • the Ethical Peace Pact,
  • the Principles for Peace Negotiations,
  • the Cameroon Peace Treaty.

They are all available at the Convention’s website. The calls on policymakers are:

  • End hostilities immediately and permanently, and thus give meaning to the African Union campaign “Silence the Guns” for a conflict-free Africa, prevent genocide, make peace a reality for all and rid the continent of wars, violent conflicts, human-rights violations and humanitarian disaster.
  • Pursue a continued and inclusive dialogue that addresses core issues around peace, solidarity and humanity in Cameroon.
  • Ensure the equal and permanent involvement of women peace mediators and negotiators in peace processes at all levels, while enforcing their protection at all times.
  • Create additional centres for psychosocial support and trauma-healing and expand the existing ones.

The Convention is the largest and most far-reaching initiative of active peacebuilders at local, national and international levels in Cameroon and it has received national and international recognition. UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke about it in his report to the Security Council on 21 November 2021. The Convention is also the 2023 recipient of the German Africa Prize, which was presented in Berlin in November 2023. The prize is awarded to outstanding individuals and organisations from the African continent who are particularly committed to democracy, peace and human rights.

In addition, the publication “Piece by Piece – Building Peace in Cameroon through Women’s Action” was launched on 15 February 2023 in a ceremony in Cameroon presided by the Minister for the Promotion of Women’s Empowerment and the Family and attended by representatives of national institutions, the diplomatic corps, political parties and civil society.

The convention is supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), which is affiliated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Its Cameroon office serves as the secretariat of the convention, which is supported by various institutions in Germany such as the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

At the same time, the Convention remains a grassroots-based initiative of women from Cameroonian civil society. In consequence, the Convention also gets support from members who offer voluntary services and expertise in different domains.

The Convention wants Cameroonian women to play a leading role in building, negotiating and defending peace. It pledges support for all the peace efforts undertaken by the government and all its partners in Cameroon and abroad, including civil society. It calls on all key stakeholders to the conflicts to undertake concrete and immediate actions to end violence.

Links

National Women’s Convention for Peace:
https://camerounpeaceconvention.org/

First National Women’s Convention for Peace in Cameroon: Women’s Call for Peace in Cameroon.
https://icanpeacework.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Womens-Call-for-Peace-English.pdf

Epah Mfortaw Nyukechen is a programme assistant at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). He wrote the article in the name of the National Women’s Convention for Peace in Cameroon with the support of members of the Convention and FES.
epah.nyukechen@fes-kamerun.org

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