West African women leaders participated this week in a United Nations-led conference held in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, to discuss ways to increase women’s leadership and involvement in ensuring peace and security in the region.
Organized by the Office of the Gender Advisor of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the two-day event from 6-7 November brought together some 70 leaders representing women’s organizations and networks in West Africa, as well as UN agencies and UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions in the region.
“We are here today because we all agree that much more remains to be done to enhance women’s roles and leadership in peace processes and peacebuilding,” said the Acting Representative of UN Women in Liberia, Elizabeth Lwanga, during her opening remarks. “We hope that this dialogue can serve as a turning point in commitments to women’s leadership in peace and security in this sub-region.”
She said women’s participation in peace negotiations in West Africa, with few exceptions, has remained below 10 per cent of those formally involved and fewer than 3 per cent of signatories of peace agreements are women. In politics and decision-making women are underrepresented both at the national and local levels: the percentage of female parliamentarians is 12.9 per cent in Sierra Leone, 11 per cent in Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia and only 10 per cent in Guinea Bissau.
Ms. Lwanga highlighted UN Women’s myriad initiatives in this regard and underscored the importance of women’s representation in conflict resolution and post-conflict peacebuilding and said the regional dialogue provided a welcome opportunity for concrete decisions to accelerate action on this issue.
At the end of the gathering, participants issued a statement with recommendations for UN missions, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), governments and other organizations on how to promote women’s participation on peace and security issues in the region. The recommendations ranged from planning and implementing peace missions that include women mediators and expanding recruitment of women in the security sector, to taking immediate action to highlight the situation of women and girls in Guinea Bissau and Mali. Mentoring programmes and reaching out to young women, as well as knowledge-sharing, were also suggested.