Dr. Ayak Chol Deng Alak on why women peacebuilders are so important: “Women bring the human aspect into peace processes”
Marking the end of #October1235, we here bring reflections from our Peace Process Support Advisor Dr. Ayak Chol Deng Alak on why supporting women peacebuilders is fundamental to promoting peace and security.
Ayak has a background in medicine, surgery, communications and peace and security. She has previously worked as Deputy Chairperson for civil society, South Sudan during the peace process, and as the head of Research at the Strategic Defence and Security Review Board.
Q: Hi Ayak, thanks for taking the time to meet and reflect on your important work supporting ´women peacebuilders and women coalitions. First of all, do you consider yourself a women peacebuilder?
A: Peacebuilding Is definitely bigger than just security. It involves every other thing that uplifts and empowers you and makes you a positive contributor to society in one way, shape or form. I happen to be in this space and I consider myself a peacebuilder based on the work that I do locally, with local South Sudanese initiatives and wider civil society movements regionally as well as different youth groups and networks like the African Women Mediators and the Afrikki platform, which is a Pan-African citizen engagement network for movements and other such initiatives.
I feel the efforts of the work I do, however working like this you are not just plugged into one space, it is more of an octopus effect. You are plugged into multiple spaces at the same time and so you become like focal person for exchanging ideas, contacts, networks, and sharing experiences and mentoring the right people meet the right you know are paired with the right type of mentors they need, the type of funding they need the type of experience or skill they need that type of work.
Q: Thank you! And also here to start with, could you describe Inclusive Peace’s approach to supporting civilian-led peace processes in three words?
A: Sure. I would say intentional, to empower and to accompany. We are intentional in every aspect of the work we do on inclusion. I would say, empower, because we allow whoever we are working with, to become themselves and not try to speak for them, not to occupy their space and not to be their voices, but to create the spaces that they need for this process to happen.
And I would say accompany, because we are there when and if needed. This also means to realise when the time comes to step back and allow the actors that we are supporting to do their thing. Each context is different and we are only there to accompany them.
Q: Could you give any recent examples from this work that stands out to you?
A recent example that stands out, would be the Ethiopian space with the formation of the women’s coalition on national dialogue that was birthed in the presence of Inclusive Peace in an environment that was facilitated by Inclusive Peace.
In this space we shared research based comparative examples, and these allowed the Ethiopian members of civil society to envision their active role in the national dialogue. And as it stands, the women coalition is a leading civil society entity that has its ducks in a row when it comes to its engagement in the national dialogue. They are not asking for permissions or prompts, they are working to create a conducive space ensuring the women’s agenda and they have become some sort of reference group, when it comes to engendering.
In this example it also stands clear that women have always known how to lead. I always say, if you go to the smallest village in any community, and you say: “Who is the leader here?” You might not find, you know, any organised leadership structure, but a woman will always tell us who is the women leader here because women have always had some sort of innate organisational structure, even at a micro level of society. So it is very easy for women to organise and to be proactive, and to take initiative and to start envisioning, preparing for the future or for what a process might look like. It’s something that’s innately a part of who we are as women. And so when it comes to engaging, peace and security it just comes naturally.
Q: Why are women peacebuilders so powerful?
A: There is no competition in this space. And if they are, they are not overshadowing the intention of their unity. In wider civil society, male dominated spaces often are still struggling to overcome their egos to agree to reach consensus, to compromise on so many issues, everybody wants to be the leader of this committee or that organisation. The women have transcended that. And to me, it’s, it doesn’t come as a surprise, but these are things I would like to highlight, because usually when people think leadership, when people think organisation and organising there is this inclination of gravitating towards the mid formulated spaces, there’s this inclination of always the leader, you’re looking at the male figures.
Here is a live example of women taking the lead, always organising better, always. And being better prepared, always, not waiting to be prompted. And it does not matter which context we are talking about. If women are faced with circumstances, they rise to the occasion and transcend their divisions in the easier, faster, and even start envisioning plausible scenarios and how they can intervene.
In my own backyard in South Sudan, the women’s coalition organised very quickly and was leading in terms of demands. In no time they had dissected what type of security arrangement they thought would work, they had engendered an entire peace process before anyone else. They envisioned what hurdles they might face, how they would engage and had mapped out allies. And so youth groups and the wider civil society started simulating what the women are doing, looking to them as front runners of the peace process.
Q: Can you pinpoint exactly what it is that women bring into peace processes?
A: Yes. There is the human aspect of peace processes. This is only brought about by women’s participation. Warring generals move in circles, they push and pull, because it is about power. It is about division of responsibility. It is about governance, it is about who takes the biggest share of the cake.
When women come into the space and they flip the script. It becomes about people, it becomes about service, it becomes about reform. It becomes about accountability, but also it becomes about transformation. There is a whole different ball game, when very informed women in civil society come into peace spaces, the conversation changes and becomes more human.
Deaths and wars don’t just become statistics, they become about how to end them. Women flip the script, especially in context, like the East African region, where women have, inherently very powerful cultural roles. In my own backyard, in my village, if a woman removes her clothes, no man will go to war. It’s a curse. They call it the curse of the womb. And if a woman urges men to go to war, men will obey. There is this power that transcends having soldiers, it is a power that comes by being a woman and knowing how to navigate power. This power can make warring generals listen.