Peace cannot be achieved without women. At Interpeace, we advocate that building resilient societies rid of violence is only possible by going beyond tokenistic inclusion—giving women seats at the table and providing more opportunities to serve as peace agents and key drivers of social cohesion and social change in their own communities.
To commemorate International Women’s Day, Interpeace reached out to its country offices and local partner organisations to speak to the women who are at the forefront of peacebuilding and who are creating spaces for peace in their own countries. These are the portraits of the women who are #EmbracingEquity in peacebuilding.
Halima Ali Adan
Abdiya Sheikh Hassan
Noangma Léonie Ouangrawa/Koudougou
Halima Ali Adan
Gender and Human Rights Expert
Halima Ali Adan is a passionate advocate for gender-sensitive approaches to humanitarian, development and peacebuilding, and gender equality in Somalia. With over 15 years of experience, Halima has a deep understanding of the range of obstacles that women in her community face in achieving gender equality. These challenges include protracted conflicts, violence, displacements, climatic shocks, and a weak legal framework, which increase the risk and vulnerability of Somali women and girls.
“Women are seen primarily as homemakers to bear children and attend to domestic duties. Over the last two decades their role has significantly shifted. They have become small business owners and breadwinners keeping their families alive during conflict and crisis,” Halima said. “However, women are often not involved in leadership and decision-making outside these spaces. Although there has been some progress in women’s participation in politics at the federal level, it remains a small number and insufficient for those voices to have an impact in the country.”
Somali women’s participation in peacebuilding and conflict resolution is very limited, but she is encouraged by the fact that some Somali women have been bridging the divide between clans as strong partners working for peace and inclusive political processes.
“Most of the stakeholders have little to no understanding of what gender equality means generally nor in the context they are working in. This has resulted in a general assumption that having women in attendance is enough, but it has to enable the women to have meaningful contributions and influence at all levels and in all spaces. This challenge can be addressed through comprehensive advocacy: men, traditional elders and religious leaders need to be engaged as change agents to catalyse this process.”
Indigo Côte d’Ivoire
“I have always worked as a manager on complex issues in my country, for example I can talk about Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), the preservation of protected areas and national parks, political and electoral violence, and the like. It sometimes surprises some people to know that a woman can take on this level of responsibility and even more so work on such complex issues,” said Thérèse Sanou-Kouamé, Project Manager for Indigo Côte d’Ivoire.
Thérèse Sanou-Kouamé is a sociologist and an expert in rural land tenure. A mother of three, specialising in conflict management, she is currently in charge of the initiative to prevent political violence and strengthen social cohesion through dialogue and citizen collaboration in Côte d'Ivoire.
In her work, she strives to give responsibilities to women that allow them to assert their leadership and make crucial decisions to advance the project’s objectives. In the implementation of various processes, she ensures that women are involved at all levels and are given the same responsibilities as men in projects involving local governance and conflict prevention mechanisms.
Thérèse explained that the numerous challenges women face, such as women’s access to resources, lack of decision-making power, and the low proportion of women in decision-making positions undermine women’s potential to build stronger and more peaceful societies. “Women continue to be seen as inferior to men in some communities, sometimes citing their inability to do certain activities traditionally done by men,” she said. Despite these challenges, however, Thérèse underlines the centrality of women’s contribution to peace, emphasising the need to encourage women to play a more active role through providing opportunities for women to be change actors.
“Women play a leading role in promoting peace, and when they are involved, the results are convincing because everything a woman does, she does with her heart,” she said. “Women are at the forefront of peace actions as mediators and community facilitators. Women also play an important role as cultural custodians or educators in their families and in society. Women should always be consulted in conflict management. However, they sometimes risk their lives for the (re)construction of peace.”
“Burundi is a patriarchal society, a society where culture plays a significant role, and culture is not on the side of women. It is not on their side when it deprives them of the right to express themselves, to defend their points of view, when it deprives them of the right to freedom, labelling a woman who dares to claim her rights as rude.”
Ella Iradukunda is the Programme Director and gender focal point at Yaga, a youth-driven nonprofit that seeks to use digital platforms to promote various socio-political advocacies throughout Burundi. As a blogger, passionate about women’s rights, she uses her writing to tell the stories of the daily lives of women in Burundi.
“There is an Indian proverb that goes, ‘If you teach a man, you teach a person, but when you teach a woman, you teach a whole family.’ In Burundi, a large part of a child's education is often entrusted to the mother, but the mother herself needs to be made aware of the current issues to instill values in her children,” she said. “And at Yaga, this is exactly what we do. Through our writings and publications in various formats, we raise awareness, provide models, and give tools that can lead to equity in peacebuilding.”
Ella also recounted the challenge she faces to make her voice heard. “It's hard to make yourself heard when the majority is convinced that you are an extra, the one who is only there to fill the quotas, a person with no skills. As a younger woman, I have to work twice as hard to be considered.”
“Women's rights are not just for March 8, it is a 365-day struggle. Gender equity will benefit future generations, an assurance of a healthy future. And what is peace without the pursuit of equity if not a dormant volcano ready to explode at any moment?”
Fezzan Libya Organization (FLO)
Bushra Alhodiri is the Operations Manager for Fezzan Libya Organization (FLO), a nonprofit organisation based in Sebha. Along with its youth-led reporting and media coverage, the organisation also carries out peacebuilding work throughout the region. FLO also promotes equal opportunity for all, ensuring that all their employees receive equal and fair treatment, regardless of their background, extending a warm welcome to all.
Bushra highlights that women are still regarded as second-class citizens in the country, with a highly patriarchal society believing that women do not deserve the same privileges as men, and with entrenched discrimination persisting in law and practice. In her community more specifically, many senior positions are held by men, and women's contributions are disregarded or not taken seriously in both public and private sectors.
However, Bushra still strongly believes in the potential of women to be key change agents in society. “In my community, women struggle to participate in community development,” she said. “They do so primarily through their work in the education and health sectors, where they constitute the majority of the workforce. This contributes to enhancing their quality of life and achieving community stability.”
“Women should become change agents within their organisations and industries, initiating initiatives such as advocating for policies that support work-life balance, diversity, and inclusion,” she added. “We need more female leaders, which will amplify women’s voices.”
Travail et droit de l’homme (TDH)
Angel Ngalula Madila is a member of the non-governmental organisation Labour and Human Rights (TDH). A lawyer focusing on private and judicial law, she is the member of the bar of the Court of Appeal of Central Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Angel is involved in the protection and promotion of women's rights within her organisation.
Her focus is on combatting forced marriages, addressing barriers to women’s education and healthcare access, as well as combatting backward and demeaning customs towards women. "Girls are forced into marriage by their parents so that the dowry from their marriage will cover the family's needs and the education of boys. A good number of girls are excluded from schooling, on the grounds that the primary role of girls is marriage," she said.
To strengthen women’s contribution to peacebuilding, this human rights activist has launched an awareness campaign through her organisation. Thanks to this campaign, women are leading local reconciliation initiatives and are gradually gaining access to the corridors of power.
“It is certainly true that peacebuilding in our community was the sole prerogative of men. Women never attended peacebuilding sessions because their place was reserved to the kitchen. But with awareness efforts and the involvement of us women leaders in promoting women's rights, the lines are being challenged, and the political and traditional leadership of women are beginning to be recognised.”
Angel’s message for International Women’s Day is threefold. “I ask women to take ownership of the struggle to women's rights. I ask leaders to continue to take measures that promote gender equality and to strengthen legislative rules that will minimise backward customs. I ask men to embody positive masculinity towards women and allow women to excel even where men have failed, for the common good.”
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been facing a multidimensional security situation (security, social and humanitarian) that has been undermining national unity and stability. “Not only does this situation add complexity to women achieving equity, it also highlights the non-involvement of women in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes,” said Rasmata Derra, Interpeace Senior Programme Officer in Burkina Faso. “
A sociologist by training specialising in gender and development and gender and conflict, Rasmata has spent over 15 years working for an organisation that focuses on women’s rights before working for Interpeace. A mother of three children, she is also a Wolaf mentor (Women Leadership in Africa) mentor, using her experience and expertise to support young girls to strengthen their leadership skills and unlock their full potential.
“Although the legal environment is favourable for women's participation in all levels of society, the reality is quite different,” she said. “They are still 'left out' and the positions they manage to occupy do not allow them to make any consequential decisions.
Rasmata is now working on addressing security challenges throughout the country through conflict prevention and improving security governance, with a special focus on the involvement of women and youth in security management. She is currently piloting an initiative that aims to strengthen women’s role as mediators, inviting women to join “Peace Circles,” a holistic approach to transform conflicts from the individual to the community level.
“On this day of 8 March, when women's rights are celebrated, I would like to make a vibrant appeal to the authorities in my country to show real willingness in initiatives to promote women's socio-political, economic and cultural rights so that real changes can take place,” she added. “A general awareness of the pivotal role of all women in the country is imperative for the return of peace, given that women are known to be vectors of peace, artisans of peaceful conflict management and good negotiators.”
Abdiya Sheikh Hassan
Women for Peace & Development
Abdiya Sheikh Hassan is a highly experienced Program Coordinator for Women for Peace and Development in north-eastern Kenya. As a working group member with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) and the Interpeace Kenya peacebuilding programme, Abdiya has played a pivotal role in shaping peaceful coexistence between communities and bridging the gap between communities and the government.
“Despite constitutional equality, there is still discrimination against women. Women continue to suffer from male reservations about women’s roles and capacities. In rural areas for example, women face resistance not only from men but also from elderly females who have accepted inequality as their way of life. This is a vicious cycle where those who are seen as breaking barriers are considered as outcasts, ‘students of the west’ and feminists.”
With over 30 years of experience in social work and humanitarianism, Abdiya has devoted her career not only to promoting peacebuilding, but also to women empowerment, girl child education, and anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaigns within the Somali and pastoral communities.
“Women are important agents for creating stability in the lives of their families and promoting social cohesion, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence under very difficult and at times traumatic situations. They also play a key role in the design and implementation of post-conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities,” Abidiya said.
Noangma Léonie Ouangrawa/Koudougou
Government of Burkina Faso
Noangma Léonie Ouangrawa/Koudougou is the Director for Women’s Inclusion in Peace and Security for the Burkinabe Government. A lawyer by training, she also is a gender advisor, writer, and professor focusing on women, peace and security (WPS). She plays a central role in the current review of the national action plan on WPS, aimed at strengthening women’s participation in local and national peace processes.
Despite their important role in family and social development, Noangma highlighted the existing inequality between men and women in society, demonstrated by their lack of representation and participation in decision-making bodies, both in elective and nominative positions. Even though 52% of Burkina’s population are women, they are still perceived as the weaker sex compared to men who are viewed as superior and virile.
Noangma is a stern advocate of the centrality of women in fostering peace and development. “Women play a decisive role in the promotion of tolerance and nonviolence, since they are the first school in life. Women are the guarantors of their children's education and contribute enormously to instilling the values of peace and social cohesion,” she said. “Mothers play the greatest role in transmitting values to the new generations. The values of solidarity, respect for the truth, the value of work and effort…the sense of honesty, decency and modesty, tolerance, benevolence, love of neighbour, respect for life…”
Noangma underlines the key role of women in ensuring solidarity and social harmony beyond the family. Beyond their role as “discreet advisors” to their husbands, women also are adept to using traditional conflict management and resolution mechanisms to address community tensions and grievances. She strongly emphasised the need to review national quotas on women in government, as well as increasing opportunities to train women and girls to manage and lead.
“To marginalise women is to widen the abysmal gap between men and women, and inequalities resulting from this gap become sources of conflict,” she said. “Where there is equality, there is peace, and where there is peace, there is development. I call on women and girls to demonstrate commitment and leadership to bring about positive change within themselves and for the whole community.”
National Executive Secretary of Haguruka
Ninette Umurerwa is a legal aid practitioner and human rights activist with over eight years of experience in managerial and leadership positions in Rwanda. She is passionate about providing legal support and protection to vulnerable populations, particularly women and children, and empowering them to achieve their full potential. She currently serves as the National Executive Secretary of HAGURUKA, a local non-government organisation created in 1991 to promote and defend the rights of women and children in Rwanda.
“While Rwanda has made tremendous gains in gender promotion and inclusion, being the 7th country globally in bridging the gender gap according to the Global Gender Gap Index 2021 by the World Economic Forum (WEF), women and girls still face many challenges,” said Ninette. “Some of these challenges include low representation in leadership and decision-making positions, limited access to financial opportunities, unequal pay, gender-based violence (GBV), and cultural biases and stereotypes that hinder their social and economic empowerment.”
Ninette is one of the champions who fight tirelessly to make gender equality a reality in Rwanda and the region at large. She provides visionary leadership towards the design, fund mobilisation and adaptive implementation of initiatives aimed at providing legal protection to women and children.
According to Ninette, sustainable peace and development cannot be achieved if women and girls are still lagging in all development sectors. She believes that instilling gender equality in society is a collective responsibility, and it is the key to lasting peace and development.
“Ensuring gender equality is the main pillar and a prerequisite to sustainable peace and development. We all (men and women) have to understand that women and girls have special needs that must be addressed so they can both equally contribute to that ongoing process.”