Our event this week in Bujumbura (introduced in my previous blog) is split into two parts.
Special UN Envoy Mary Robinson’s consultation and mobilisation in support of the Framework of Hope will be followed by a Great Lakes Regional Conference on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 – on Women, Peace, Security and Development – in the hope that the action plans for both have some synergy. They are connected, one is essential for the other.
The first event has ended and Mary is off to Brussels to build support in the EU for her role and the opportunity that exists here for a lasting peace. So, what has been achieved?
I have never been great at sitting listening to speeches. My restlessness and desire to participate got me in to a lot of trouble at school. My University lecture attendance was erratic. And throughout my political life I have rarely enjoyed being in the audience at Party Conference or elsewhere. So Tuesday might have been torture as 20 different platform speakers each had their turn.
But I felt energised.
The women here have spent two decades and more working with rape victims; children who have lost their parents, their dignity, or both; girls excluded from education; and those with damaged minds and bodies. They have made their own alliances, built networks and tried to shout loud enough to be heard.
This conference has energy because these women are at last part of the process.
Mary Robinson reminded participants that she is the first woman to be UN Special Envoy, and that even on the technical committee overseeing the implementation of the Framework for Peace, all the representatives of the 11 Great Lakes countries are male. So the women have to find their voice through other mechanisms and this event is a start.
She outlined plans for a Women’s Great Lakes Platform to support women in the Region pursue peace, security and development. This Platform would not be a new bureaucratic operation, but a ‘light touch’ co-ordination of financial support and information to resource those working on the ground.
There are also plans for women to influence the benchmarks, and be part of the monitoring as the framework is implemented. She wants ther input, but she also wants and needs their support and solidarity.
Mary’s passion, her constant reference to values, and her commitment to human rights inspire a loyalty from those around her. She clearly has long-term allies in the room. She is a new kind of Envoy. This could well be the difference this time.
Despite a disappointing ‘same as usual’ presentation from the World Bank, the first day became increasingly focused on action. Women from across the Region, supported by their sisters from across Africa, are angry that violence has continued for so long, and that previous plans have failed. They do not want to be observers, watching another failure, they want to make change happen.
The Conference heard a terrific ‘from the heart’ speech from French First Lady and Ambassador for France Libertes, Mme Valerie Trierweiler. She drew on her recent visit to DRC and conversations with ‘four generations of women who had been raped’ to issue a strong call for national and international action against sexual violence in the Great Lakes Region. Her presence, together with the French Minister responsible for relationships with French speaking countries around the world, was taken as a strong indication that France was ready to be more involved than at any time in recent years.
I am left with clear impressions.
First there is an opportunity here. Mary was asked regularly this week if this was a last chance for peace. Her answer was careful but consistent. She said failure would be unacceptable as the violence against women and children has to stop and for perhaps the first time there is a real momentum for change.
Second, many speakers this week have stressed that the same old approach will not work. This time the commitments from governments must be backed by public and civic understanding and engagement. That way peace will be more sustainable, and governments will be held to account by their people, not outsiders.
And third, these women can be the difference. It is clear that they have made and sustained links over the years of conflict. There are leaders and activists here who are talking the same language of change, working across borders, and frustrated by years of inaction. Engaged now, they can drive support for change across ethnic and national divides.
What now? More on that tomorrow…….