From Northern Ireland to DRC: Women and the peace process

(Above: Members of the delegation from DRC in Belfast, Northern Ireland )

All civilians suffer in conflict, but women and children often bear the burden.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Democratic Republic of Congo where citizens have suffered since 1994. Women were exposed to the harsh realities of conflict, but when it came to building a lasting peace agreement were denied a seat at the table.

In January, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy invited a targeted group of women political and civil society activists from DRC to learn important lessons about the role they can play in bringing about lasting resolution to conflict. Outbreaks of violence still occur in some regions even today, but we hope through best practice exchanges with key institutions involved in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland women activists will be encouraged to participate fully in the process.

Empowering women leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to facilitate meaningful change through their work was at the heart of WFD’s previous programme. Our support to Dyfcoside, a group composed of 8 women MPs and 12 representatives of women CSOs led to the submission of the first ever non-budget related edict in Province Orientale submitted by women representatives. This demonstrates how MPs and CSO activists can overcome traditional social barriers and work effectively together to advance issues of social justice on behalf of citizens. A model that could apply significantly to bringing lasting peace in DRC.

By facilitating the sharing of lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process, the delegation were encouraged to engage in inclusive dialogue with excluded parties from different communities and exposed to ways in which women build influence the peace process at home and abroad.

“The visit to Belfast was very beneficial as we were able to see women first hand who have taken charge when experiencing their own difficulties” Nasha Mulangala who has held various roles in civil society said. Meeting with women who initiated dialogue in Northern Ireland resonated with members of the delegation. Nasha added “I believe they can provide us with the tools to help lobby for our own cause and organise ourselves back home, both in Kinshasa and in the provinces.”

(Above: Participants at WFD organised workshop in Province Orientale, DRC, 2014)

Reflecting on the time in Northern Ireland, Eve Bazaiba, Secretary-General for opposition party Movement for Liberation of the Congo explained that “seeing how they get the community together is very important.” She added that “the conflict in Congo is very different because it was mostly political conflict but the consequences and the way of dealing with it are the same.”

As a post-conflict democracy that has received wide acclaim for its ability to successfully negotiate peace terms after more than three decades of sectarian violence, the Northern Ireland Assembly is an important case and reference point for modern peacebuilding efforts.

Monique Kapuwa Kande, member of Alliance of Christian Democrats (ACHRED), also participated in the visit explained that this experience “helps to guide [women in DRC] and show them the path that would help them see the direction they need to go on” she added that “by taking us to places like Belfast we were able to see things outside of the box and that there are opportunities available.”

To date, peace-building in Northern Ireland has utilised a range of actors working with various target groups at all levels of society to address the causes and dynamics of conflict through reconciliation and reconstruction, state-building and political and social transformation.

Sustainability of any peace-agreement is crucial and the Northern Ireland model points to this. Ms Kapuwa Kande noted in DRC “we get bogged down in the conflict and can’t really see anything that is beyond the immediate but this visit has given us ideas for a long-term approach.”

In the future, WFD wants to engage grassroots activists in DRC to engage communities in solutions that can lead to sustainable peace. Women often bring a different perspective to negotiations that men are missing. “By helping women and educating women you are helping the community, it has that cascading effect” Lucie Basonea Isude, member of New Alliance of Democrats (NAD) explained, “The presence of women in these political discussions is necessary.”

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