FEATURE Building on the Women’s Situation Room Cameroon’s (WSRC) success from the 2018 Presidential election, was during the twin elections of 2020 (Legislative and Municipal elections) operating the WSRC and its physical call center in Yaoundé.
Before, during and after the elections, call operators trained by WILPF Cameroon received information from monitors of electoral violence in the field as well as from electors and citizens. The overall aim of the initiative is to prevent and monitor violence during elections, hereunder address specific violence against women.
With Cameroon facing security challenges such as the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northern regions and the Anglophone Crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions, WILPF Cameroon believes it is important that women and youth are part of the solution and the WSRC was therefore staffed with women and young people.
“We believe it is wise to build a movement of not just women but also youths, so that we have a movement of people fighting hate speech and contributing to peace building,” says Sylvie Ndongmo, President of WILPF Cameroon.
On election day, 9 February 2020, independent Cameroonian journalist Irene Z. Fon visited the call center. Footage and editing: Irene Z. Fon
Contributing to change
Laura Ijang is one of the young women trained by WILPF Cameroon as a call operator. She volunteered because of the project’s focus on women’s rights in connection to the electoral process.
“My belonging to the team is to contribute to the peace and security of the electoral process,” says Laura Ijang. Through her participation, she sees a situation whereby Cameroonians would have more knowledge on elections and the electoral process.
As a call operator, her ability to direct those who do not know their polling stations to the Elections governing body ELECAM and to sensitise electors on their rights to vote makes her feel useful.
“I feel useful contributing, listening to those calling and proposing solutions at my level,” she says.
Bringing voters to the polls
Yves Tieumena is member of WILPF Cameroon. He signed up for the project because he believes that the issue of peace and security concerns everyone. He thinks the WSRC is a great initiative because elections are most often fueled by violence, and women and youths are most affected by this violence. He refers to a call he had three days before the 2020 elections, when he had the chance to comfort a caller from Bamenda (a town in the crisis-hit Northwest region), who was not sure about going out to vote, for security reasons.
Yves Tieumena advised the caller to be calm and then monitor the environment – if favorable, he could go and vote; otherwise, he should stay back in order not to put his life at risk.
“The call operators are trained to be like ‘Doctors’,” says Sylvie Ndongmo. “The way they receive the calls can already be of great help to the callers, because many people call to ask for advice or because they feel threatened.”
Training women on electoral processes
Besides sensitising women on the electoral procedure, the project also addresses violence particular to women during elections.
Through the WSRC, the WILPF Section helps women to better understand the electoral process by organising community meetings during which women are trained on the electoral process.
“We have been able to use the community meetings to have more women register on electoral rolls, withdraw their cards and go to vote,” says Sylvie Ndongmo.
While educating the women on exercising their civic rights, WILPF Cameroon also stresses the importance of non-violence.
“We let them know that they should educate people in their communities on the need to take peaceful action,” says Sylvie Ndongmo. “After all the community meetings, they become peace ambassadors.”
When the Section trains the field monitors/observers on electoral violence, they at the same time educate the women about the specific types of violence that come with the elections. The Section believes that when the women are aware of these, they can take the necessary measures to educate their communities, their peers and even themselves.
Improving future electoral processes
Based on the information they gather from the field, WILPF Cameroon makes recommendations to the authorities on how to improve the electoral process. After the elections, the Section compiles a report based on the incidents and conflict driven factors reported by the participants and the observers in the field. The report is made public in order to draw the attention of the community and authorities.
“To me it has been very exciting to be part of the Women’s Situation Room Cameroon; it is like you have your pulse on something happening on the ground, even when you’re not there,” says Gladys Viban, who has been the Chair of the Response Room in the call center;
“I think that in the long run, it gives us a better understanding of whether the elections are actually fair, peaceful or not; whether citizens actually participate or not; whether the institutions have put in place what we actually require to have free, fair and peaceful elections or not,” concludes Gladys Viban.
On the day of the elections, a National Election Observer (charged with monitoring the elections throughout the Country), Dr Chemuta Divine Banda, also head of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedom, visited the Women’s Situation Room Call Center. “The information will certainly contribute towards making the society more sensitive to the fact that what they do before and during the elections, is carefully watched,” he said and concluded: “People would be more prudent and they will try to avoid the use of violence, the use of fraud during elections.” Photo credits: WILPF Cameroon.
Fact Box: Women’s Situation Room Cameroon
During the 2020 elections, WILPF Cameroon opened for a toll free number to which callers from anywhere in the country could call for confidential talks in English, French, Pidgin or Fulfulde (a language mostly spoken in the Northern regions of Cameroon). In addition, 160 election field observers were deployed in all ten regions of Cameroon. These observers sent information to the WSRC via a platform already created in 2016.
The call operators channel the calls to the ‘Data Analysis Room’, where specialists in different domains including gender, youths, human rights, peace and security verify the information, before sending their observations with recommendations to experts in the ‘Response/Decision Room’ for solutions or reactions.
In advance of the elections, WILPF Cameroon also ran a social media campaign aiming to prevent hate speech, as this often leads to violence.
This blog is based on an article written by independent Cameroonian journalist Irene Z. Fon, who travelled to Yaoundé during the days around the elections on 9 February 2020.