By: Maya Kelly
Every day, women around the world build peace in their communities. Yet, their role in brokering and keeping peace has been largely unrecognized, and their access to political decision-making remains restricted.
In 2022, only 26% of all national parliamentarians are women.
This year marks the 22nd anniversary of United Nations Resolution 1325, a landmark resolution by the UN Security Council calling for women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace and political processes. As the Security Council held its annual Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, learn about three inspiring women parliamentarians who have shattered glass ceilings and continue to open doors for more women in decision-making.
In 2015, Alokiir Malual made history as the first woman to sign a peace agreement in South Sudan.
“Being a part of the peace process was a desire and an obligation, a commitment,” she explains.
Her signature was a milestone that set a precedent for future women’s representation and participation in peace processes in South Sudan.
“The war had been there, and men had always been part of the war, and were now part of making the peace, because it depends on who is leading who in this conflict. And we, women, knew that whether we were there [fighting in the war], or not there, was not important. Now, after struggling to participate and get accreditation, we have become part of the peace process.”
As South Sudan’s “Revitalized Peace Agreement” was adopted in September 2018, Alokiir was no longer alone at the signatories table. She was one of seven women signatories to the agreement, and 28 women were involved in the negotiations. Alokiir’s advocacy efforts contributed to the adoption of a 35% quota for women’s political representation in the peace agreement, ensuring their access to decision-making spaces.
“We are growing. We have smartly taken advantage of the peace process, making sure to gain more for women: we achieved a 35% participation quota by uniting as women and as groups, and coming up with one position, one demand. A formidable achievement by the women of South Sudan.”
Today, Alokiir continues to advocate for the agreement’s implementation through her role with the Revitalized Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, where she co-chairs the subcommittee on peacebuilding. She is also Chairperson of the South Sudan Civil Society Alliance.
“It is our right to sit at the decision-making tables, not just around them,” says Central African Republic (CAR) parliamentarian, Béatrice Epaye. It is a right she has tirelessly fought for, despite threats to her life.
As a politician and educator, Béatrice Epaye advocates for better governance and particularly women’s participation in politics in the Central African Republic. Elected several times as a member of parliament to represent Markonda, her constituency and home, she uses her platform to pave the way for more women to follow.
“If a woman is in a decision-making body, she brings about change,” says Béatrice.
Enact change, she has. Identifying an opportunity to transcend ethnic, regionalist, and political differences and to bring women together under a united voice to vote in gender-sensitive laws, Béatrice formed the Forum of Women Parliamentarians. As President of the Forum, she worked with other women to reform her country’s electoral code and adopt a 35% representation quota for women.
Following the 2013 coup in the CAR, Béatrice was re-elected and appointed to serve in the Transitional Government under the leadership of another woman, Catherine Samba-Panza. She was again re-elected in 2020. Today, she also serves as the deputy and president of Foundation Voix du Coeur, an organization that helps survivors of sexual violence.
“In our country there are very few women who are in Parliament. Currently, we are 17 women out of 140 deputies. It is very little,” shares Béatrice. “Only when we leverage women’s leadership and mobilization power, we will achieve peace in my country… the last elections showed we still have a long way to go.”
Béatrice continues to rise to the challenge and encourage women’s political participation. Through community sensitization and support to women candidates in the country’s recent polls, she has paved and continues to pave the way for women in politics.
Maïga Adiza Mint Mohamed
“In all conflicts, the first victims are women and children. So the involvement of women is necessary in the management of conflicts,” explains Maïga Adiza Mint Mohamed.
Committed to increasing women’s involvement in peacebuilding and politics, Maïga’s contributions have been crucial to the peace process in Mali for several years. A native of Timbuktu, Maïga was elected as the Municipal Councilor and Deputy Mayor of Timbuktu from 2004 to 2009, and made history as the first-ever woman parliamentarian of Timbuktu.
At the Algiers Talks in 2015, negotiations which led to the current “Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali,” women were not formally invited to participate. This did not stop determined women like Maïga, a representative for her region, who traveled to the meetings nonetheless. Women pushed their way through barricades, demanding a seat at the table, literally and figuratively.
Though signed in 2015, the Peace Agreement’s implementation proved difficult and women’s exclusion from decision-making spaces persisted. Women did not gain access to the Peace Agreement’s Monitoring Committee until 2020, with support from the UN Peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
As of September 2022, thanks to the ongoing efforts of Maïga and other dedicated women peacebuilders, women now account for 38% of the monitoring committee’s members. While this is progress, Maïga emphasizes that more must be done.
“Women fought very hard so that other women could be taken into account in the Agreement’s monitoring committee. And today, I think that in this [committee] there are 9 women, and the sub-commissions have 12. We can always do better. We must move towards a more significant number [of women].”
Maïga continues to work tirelessly to ensure that the minimum quota of 30% women is implemented within the committee. She also leads women’s networks in Mali, serves as a member of the Consortium of Women in the Political Transition in Mali, and is an advocate with the non-profit organization, GOMNIKA.
To hear directly from Maïga Adiza Mint Mohamed, Alokiir Malual and Béatrice Epaye, and learn more about their impactful advocacy work in Mali, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, tune into the “Seeking Peace” podcast, launching on 24 October, 2022.