. . . EDUCATION FOR PEACE . . .
an article by Nonviolent Peaceforce
The formation of Women’s Peacekeeping Teams (WPTs) is an important part of the programming of the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in South Sudan. In various communities where NP is based, NP supports the development of teams of roughly 10 women who work to support each other and their community on protection issues that target women. Specifically, issues that women are in a unique position to improve. NP helps to create the space for the women to begin their work, builds capacity and confidence – but the inspiring and life-changing work is done by the women on the teams. This was demonstrated once again during the recent visit of Country Director Tiffany Easthom to the WPTs that NP supports in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Read about her visit:
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Arriving into the small village of Malual Baa in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, the primary thought we were all having was simply getting out of the land cruiser. After nearly two hours of bouncing along dirt tracks, through clouds of dust we were more than eager to get our feet onto solid ground. As the vehicle came to a stop, all thoughts of discomfort disappeared immediately when the 37 women who were waiting for us under the shade of a giant acacia tree leapt to their feet singing a song they had composed just for our arrival. They sang about their identity as a Women’s Peacekeeping Team (WPT), about how NP had brought them together and how they were now working for peace and security everyday in their communities. As we jumped down, we were wrapped up in the big hugs and the vigorous handshakes so famous in this country.
This warmth and excitement would be the tone for the next two days we spent with this Women’s Peacekeeping Team (WPT), learning about how they were progressing with their work and facilitating a training on Risk Analysis and Security Planning. We began our visit by hearing the members of the WPT share the cases they have been working on. The cases ranged from domestic violence, to sexual assault, reconciliation to inter-family disputes. The women stood up one by one, reporting back on the cases they had worked on and how they were now being approached by members of the their own community to provide advice, as well as, support. Mary, an exuberant member of the WPT with deep dimples shared that “since being part of the WPT, the men here treat me with respect. They now see me as a serious person”.
Angelina, more serious and suffering from a tooth ache, spoke slowly and intentionally. “The Chiefs’ court now refers cases to us, the WPT. They tell people that the WPT are good at solving problems and making reconciliation.” I was completely moved by this statement, the fact that the local judiciary process is now recognizing the WPT as a legitimate and effective option for conflict resolution is ground breaking. Angelina went on to say “As the WPT, we women are working together for peace. Usually we do not do this, sometimes we don’t even live peacefully with each other but now we are a team and it is our right and our responsibility to make peace”.
We have the advantage of an independent evaluation of the Nonviolent Peaceforce initiative in the Philippines conducted by Swisspeace. The evaluation is very favorable, although in the end, as one reads through it, gets the impression that such initiatives can help but cannot bring peace by themselves.
Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines can look back at more than two years of unique, relevant contributions and constructive engagement in one of the most difficult, political and volatile, contexts to work in: Being the only international non-governmental organization working with and living in close proximity to the most conflict-affected population in Mindanao, NP in the Philippines was able to support and enhance local structures of cease-fire monitoring, early warning, cross-community dialogues, human rights protection, to offer civilian protection and help to reduce the high levels of community violence.
The accepted offer to NP in the Philippines in late 2009 by the conflict parties GRP and the MILF to join the International Monitoring Team1 (IMT) and its Civilian Protection Component is a direct expression and result of its successful contributions to non-violence and violence reduction of the last two years.
To keep up the important work of NP’s project in the Philippines in the years to come, it is essential to ensure that the activities and objectives of NPP are based on a strategically and conceptually sound footing. This seems even more important given that NPP is going through a remarkable consolidation and expansion phase at the time of report-writing.
The re-focus on its key mandate, strengths and strategic advantages in Mindanao gives NP the opportunity to further enhance its unique work in the area of nonviolence, peacekeeping and peace building.