The Future is Female and African: Reflections from the African Union High-Level Forum on Women, Peace, and Security

Inclusive Peace’s Director, Thania Paffenholz, reflects on her participation in the recent 4th High-Level Africa Forum on Women, Peace, and Security. 

Author: Thania Paffenholz

I recently had the privilege to attend and present at the 4th African Union High-Level Forum on Women’s Peace and Security hosted by Binta Diop, the AU Special Envoy for Women Peace and Security) focussing on Participation in Peace processes in Africa.

“The future is female and African” is a phrase that sums up the forum well. The forum was characterised by a new sense of self-esteem with African female leaders from politics, civil society, and diplomacy (business notably absent) sharing their impressive stories and experiences of women leadership from a rapidly changing continent.

Why is the future female and African? Because both the international peacemaking agenda and the WPS agenda are lost in the transition between the old geopolitical system where peace processes were led by the UN and dominated by Western powers and the WPS participation agenda meant advocating for a place at the peace table – and new geopolitical realities where the UN and Western countries are no longer leading processes and are still searching for their new roles. What we see now is a set of Global South countries leading and supporting home-grown conflict management, peacemaking, and political transitions on the African continent and beyond – and in this new reality women are taking the lead.

Here are a few takeaways from the forum:

  • Women have a strong presence in national dialogues and have created strong networks: In several examples from political transition and peace processes like the current national dialogue process in Ethiopia or the upcoming Intra-Sudanese civilian political process, women are already at the forefront of national processes and have created strong home-grown women networks and coalitions that are active parts of these processes and are establishing strong gender and national agendas.
  • Women come together in solidarity in cases of authoritarian backslash: In cases of authoritarian backslash women in political leadership positions on the continent have profited from women’s solidarity through the AU and regional women networks such as Femwise and others including platforms of female parliamentarians that connect and act jointly when needed.
  • Women are still underrepresented in ceasefire talks but act creatively with alternatives: In attempts to end violence on the continent, women are demanding more participation in ceasefire talks, have presented shadow agreements (as seen in Sudan), and engage in regional and global advocacy and work on women rights agendas like protection and reintegration before they even emerge.
  • Women come together in solidarity with Palestine: Africa’s new global responsibility and self-esteem were also seen in the many solidarity statements for a humanitarian ceasefire in Palestine.

What are the next steps in a Female and African future?

While international peacemaking – and women’s participation therein – is rapidly changing there are immediate next steps for all actors in the peace and security space to promote and support:

  • Bringing African women’s experiences to the global spaces
  • Deepening the reality-based understanding of the new world order and its meaning for the WPS participation agenda on the continent and beyond;
  • Continuing to strengthen regional, continent-wide, and global women networks of different kinds and formats;
  • Rethinking existing international support strategies with a radical transformative localisation agenda brings about more creativity, real equality, and inclusion regarding established funding mechanisms or training approaches.
  • Promoting a better understanding of realities allows for more holistic approaches where peace and dialogue processes are seen as parts of complex political transitions that cannot take place in vacuums but need to engage with other societal and political processes in a context. In order to make genuine advances on the pathway to inclusive and peaceful societies the focus on inclusive outcomes needs to start today and not in the far future.

The forum made it strikingly clear that the old system rhetoric of ‘Where are the women?’ is out of date. The women are here and the future is female and African women are building these incredibly rich networks that enable them to connect, learn, and share experiences.