Power to Women in Peace Processes

Women's Organisations Cooperating in Realising Resolution 1325

Ingrid Hagström and Jenny Jonsson conducted interviews in several places during their time in Sierra Leone; in camps, where animals ran freely and around parading students.
FOTO: Benjamin John Sesay

“Conflict prevention and early warning is a life-time business”

The importance of women's participation in early warning systems has been increasingly acknowledged the recent years. In these systems, local contacts called monitors provide reports about potential conflict arising, in order for them to be prevented before they erupt. As a part of our master's thesis, we travelled to Sierra Leone in Western Africa to examine the country's early warning systems.

women's participation in conflict prevention

Sierra Leone is one of the world's poorest countries. Ten years ago, a peace treaty was signed after the end of a bloodstained civil war spanning over a decade. Many wounds have yet to be healed since the end of the conflict, but the people still hope for a peaceful future. We visited the country for two months. Before our journey started, our impression was that women's involvement in early warning systems in Sierra Leone is generally low. We were however prooved wrong, as our interviews showed women and men share approximately the same share of participation at the grassroot level.

The people we interviewed argued that the conflict in Sierra Leone, despite its cruelness, helped open up the traditional roles in local societies. Women had to take on more responsibilities for their own security and rely on their own decisiveness.

Answering a question regarding women's role in conflict prevention, one woman told us that their main tasks involve communicating and mediating. ”If you know the roots, you will know how to get yourself into it, get a solution for the problem.” It was apparent in our interviews that women and men perceive conflict situations differently. A female monitor reasoned that what women register in conflict is not necessarily coherent with what men register, since they have other needs and points of view. Women also represent the interests of other groups since they roam in places where men ususally are not present. According to our interviews, men have also started to realise the importance of letting women participate due to these facts.

Women also play an important role when it comes to educating others i surrounding villages about conflict prevention. The opinion that peace is something started at home is shared by both men and women. "If your home is peaceful, it transfers to the community and from the community to nationwide […]. The wife, the husband, we have to work side by side, work as a team, to promote our children, the neighborhood and the community."

Challenges and improvements

One of the men we met at the Sierra Leone-Guinea border says that “conflict prevention and early warning is a life-time business. It is not like some other projects - like building a house – that you give a time span.” With this statement, he claims that long term strategies are a must for the system to be successful – including both continuous trainings and economic support from national and international actors. One of the women we interviewed expresses the needs of the situation: ”There is no financial resources, the limited ones I have I use for meetings and to cook food. I need the money that can keep me going in the early warning system.

Women's participation is hampered due to the great domestic workload and the low level of education for women in the country. ”We have the culture of silence within our communities”, a woman tells us. Despite the fact that women knows that is happening in society, many keep quiet. To counter this, training and capacity building is necessary, coupled with an increased understanding for the importance of women's participation in peace and security.

Referencing to our meetings with representatives of the Sierra Leonean society, we can conclude that early warning systems seem to have good potential concerning conflict prevention. However, to solidify this, there is a necessity for improved collaboration between actors representing different levels of society and to address the early warning signals faster. It is also pivotal with structural prevention since poverty and inequality easily become security issues affecting the whole of society.

Ingrid Hagström and Jenny Jonsson
Master's students in Crisis Management and Peace Building at Umeå University