. . . WOMEN’S EQUALITY . . .
Giving voice to those who have no voice: that is the daily struggle of Bineta Diop. Special Envoy of the African Union (AU) for women, peace and security since 2014. A trained lawyer, she wants to increase women’s participation in the prevention and resolution of conflicts. “Peace and security are still dominated by men,” says the 66-year-feminist, wearing a turquoise robe and turban.
Bineta Diop. (Photo: EPA/Nic Bothma)
Founder of the association Femmes Africa Solidarité, which marked since 1996 the emergence of women’s movements for peace on the continent, she spends much of her time “on the ground” meeting with refugees and internally displaced, including women whose rights have been violated. From Somalia to South Sudan, Nigeria and Burundi, she collects their stories, lists the emergencies, and defines the actions to be implemented.
She has no fear to confront Heads of State. In 2001, for example, with a delegation of women from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, she convinced the feared Charles Taylor, then president of Liberia, to participate in a regional summit on peace, thus avoiding the outbreak of war. She has also collaborated on various reconciliation programs in areas of crisis and in post-conflict election observation missions. And ishe s currently working on the establishment of an index to track the progress of the condition of women in every country in Africa.
Ranked among the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2011 Bineta Diop remains hopeful despite the violence that still ravage the continent.
“What makes me hopeful is to see that women are able to organize despite everything,” she said. “To see them come together in very difficult conditions, to keep smiling and never give up.”
Actualité interviewed her at the World Summit for Innovation in Education (WISE) in Doha, Qatar, where she gave a lecture.
For 20 years, Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) has involved women in prevention and resolution of conflicts. What are the main results?
FAS has allowed women to organize and develop skills to become leaders in the establishment of peace. Violent conflict has a major impact on women, their bodies are often used as a weapon of war, a battlefield. But when it comes to solving problems, they are not invited to the discussion table, contrary to the demands of Resolution 1325 of the United Nations Security Council. The mobilization of women can provide a positive change of attitude, we can be an army without weapons. We can bring together Christian and Muslim women and various ethnic groups to talk and to develop common positions.
How can they manage to override their differences, especially when they have suffered so much conflict, even raped?
While men kill, society makes women responsible for the family, children’s education, care of the old … They therefore have a greater interest in peace and security. They can use their status as mothers and sisters in order to win. FAS provides training throughout the continent to help them understand that the real causes of these conflicts are not religious or ethnic, but related to the sharing of power and resources. Once sensitized, they arrive very quickly to transcend their differences and to put aside their grudges.
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Is religion a motor or a brake for peace, in your eyes?
Religion can be used to ignite conflict, but it is not the source. Men have always used regionalism and ethnicity to defend a political strategy. And now, the Boko Haram and al-Shabaab use Islam to manipulate people. Many listen to them because they are not educated and do not understand the religious texts. And in religion as in politics, women are dominated and have no voice.
What has caused the proliferation of terrorist groups?
The international community and all of us have perhaps made mistakes. Dictators have been overthrown without replacement, which created a political vacuum and space for these groups. And poverty is fertile ground. These groups infiltrating populations are embedded in families. They recruit unemployed youth by promising them paradise and virgins to no end. And they provide communities with what they need: water, electricity, basic education … and everyone closes her eyes. Especially since they are sowing fear.
How can women contribute to their dismantling?
More and more people want to fight against those who take their communities hostage and are not concerned with the interests of the population. The proof is that when their leaders are driven to a village by the military, they are quick to burn everything they had built! To overcome these movements, we must push the state to immediately replace what al-Shabaab and others have set up. People dream of a better world, we must give it to them! But for now, nobody is talking about that. Instead, they talk about military security and intelligence but not the roots of the problem. The State has failed in its responsibility to provide jobs …
In his recent book Africanistan (Fayard, 2015), French scientist Serge Michailof fears that the population explosion in Africa produces the same effects as in Afghanistan. What do you think?
We should not look only at the dark side, there is not chaos throughout Africa. The continent has the resources, and the potential for the greatest economic growth in the world. We have farmland, lakes, oil, sun … and youth who, when properly equipped and motivated, can move mountains. But we need to be better organized. If Africa was not as divided, with 54 countries who look only inward, if we had a comprehensive policy around common interests, we could share our wealth.
Is this the spirit of the Pan-African Vision 2063 action plan, drawn up by the AU?
Absolutely! To achieve it, we consulted everybody: young and old people, women, the private sector … in order to build a prosperous continent, where there may be conflicts, but less violence, and where we can finally benefit from our resources. There is a growing realization: political leaders realize that they involve young people if they want to move forward. And more and more women are involved, are elected, are becoming heads of state. Africa has suffered enough, it is time that men and women of the continent take their destiny in hand, because nobody will do it for them. One objective of the plan is to silence all weapons before 2020, and women certainly have a role to play in that.
Training for Peace
Her work experience in conflict zones has motivated Bineta Diop to create the Pan-African Centre for Gender, Peace and Development in 2005. Located in Dakar, Senegal, the Centre offers training throughout the continent, directly at a community level.