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Key takeaways from the 2023 African MenEngage Alliance Symposium

In Kigali, the African movement for change was present

The Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace Programme attended the third African MenEngage Alliance Symposium in Kigali, Rwanda between 14-16 August 2023.  The symposium’s theme is Accountability and Transformation through Gender-Equitable Evidence-Based Programming.

Image credit: MenEngage Africa
WILPF International Secretariat
8 September 2023

In Kigali, the African movement for change was present

The Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace Programme (MMFP) attended the third African MenEngage Alliance Symposium in Kigali, Rwanda between 14-16 August 2023.  The symposium’s theme is Accountability and Transformation through Gender-Equitable Evidence-Based Programming.

Rwanda working towards gender equality

“The experience of engaging men is rooted in previous challenges we had….especially the genocide and the rebuilding of the country” said Silas Ngayaboshya, the Director General of Gender Promotion & Women’s Empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) in Rwanda. 

The period after the genocide was difficult; children were orphans, thousands of women were survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and the country was bleeding.  Engaging women in decision-making and rehabilitating men was a necessity. 

Ngayaboshya who previously worked in civil society added that the promotion of gender equality was the right and only choice because they had to involve everyone. 

Inclusion of all no to discrimination

Participants spoke of discrimination against women and also people who identify as part of the LGBTIQ community, and agreed that discrimination is societal and institutional. 

Discrimination makes for a hostile environment and impacts the way movements and organizations situate themselves within the civic space especially in countries where their presence is unwanted. In recent years, more countries in Africa have put in place laws that are nothing short of discriminatory as well as dangerous. 

Commenting on this, Nontokozo Sithembile Gumede from the Queer Women’s Network said that “as an LGBTIQ person…I am engulfed with fear and motivation… I am so fuelled up that I want to dismantle all laws.” 

Gumede added that they have discriminatory laws against LGBTQI people in Eswatini and although no one has been charged, the presence of these laws makes people fearful. 

Gumede expressed her simple demands and they are to get married, adopt kids in her country and just live well, but she can’t do that in her country.

Many LGBTIQ participants found the symposium a platform to speak out against hate speech and policies against their community that are promoted and funded by conservative groups from the US and beyond. They also raised awareness about the challenges they face in the larger society as well as in civil society. 

One of the main themes of the symposium was to discuss the anti-gender backlash and the breakaway sessions showed how activists were adressing societal backlash as well as a backlash within the movement. While using the strategy of engaging men, preventing violence and creating a just world, a lesson learned is that civil rights movements have to continue building consensus and this is only done by ensuring that we have similar values and are working towards a similar goal. 

Accountability lies within

Lyness Soko is a former police officer who also works for a human rights group in Malawi. He said that in Malawi, men enjoy privileges as a result of social norms and to engage men and boys, there is a need to have serious discussions that question male privilege.

Soko encouraged the audience to hold themselves accountable and to ensure that their practices at home are in line with the values they preach.

Angélica Pino, Program Coordinator for WILPF’s  Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace Programme (MMFP) spoke to the different approaches to equality and the importance of intersectionality in this work: 

“We have different lived experiences …on how we experience the world based on our gender. We experience different discrimination and we have different needs. Not all women experience violence the same way…consider their race, economic situation, and where you live. We need to understand our different and intersectional experiences of oppression,” said Pino.

Masculinities at play

Bertin Lukeba , a humanitarian activist who works in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where the context is very fragile, believes that women and children continue to pay the price for conflict.

“Our work focuses on transforming masculinity and we work on sexual and gender-based violence and we also work on violence in armed groups,” said Lukeba.

Through our research and movement-building at WILPF, we have always noted that when we have a multi-faceted approach to masculinities, we will be able to tackle gender-based violence and work on peacebuilding through addressing the root issues of violence. Pino pointed out that working on masculinities is also about understanding the root, structural causes of violence and how they manifest. Working on militarised masculinities is also a long-term approach to peace-building that includes social norms change and engaging survivors and perpetrators. 

Violence is close to us

The symposium was also an opportunity to reflect on militarised masculinities by screening WILPF’s film, “Power on Patrol”. The hour-long documentary spotlights men allies and female activists in conflict societies around the world challenging notions of militarised masculinities and advancing feminist peace. 

The documentary was well received and attended by young activists from different countries. Uche Brown, a Nigerian activist, said that the film reminded him of a recent loss he had. Brown lost a friend to militarised violence during the protest movement against militarisation and violence in Nigeria. 

Uche Brown
Uche Brown

“Militarisation makes us believe that real men are soldiers and real soldiers are men,” said Uche Brown, a peace activist, after watching Power On Patrol.

Nkengafack Eucharia

Nkengafack Eucharia, a member of Reach Out Cameroon, a local NGO in Buea in Cameroon and MenEngage Alliance Coordinator in Cameroon found deep resonance with the message of the film. She emphasised that “when people take up arms as a means to look for solutions, it never helps.”

Masculinities and Peacebuilding 

WILPF joined the “Masculinities and Peacebuilding” session to present on the National Action Plans (NAPs) in Africa in the framework of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. The session listened to interventions that are currently underway in different countries to engage men in conflict prevention. The Aegis Trust, an organisation working to prevent genocide and mass atrocities worldwide, shared their work in Rwanda to promote positive masculinities as a strategy for stability and peace. The Trust Fund for Victims, a body created out of the Rome Statute to address harm resulting from the crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court also shared their work with Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), a Rwandan NGO working on gender norms change and masculinities.

Guy Feugap from WILPF Cameroon, a partner in the Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace Programme – has worked on men’s engagement on NAPs in Cameroon and has also advocated for having a NAP in place before conflict began in his native Cameroon.

“The idea was to have the National Action Plan in place to prevent conflict, but at the time, the government was not very receptive because they believed that it is only good for countries already in conflict. When we began serious discussions, the country was attacked by Boko Haram and two years later, conflict began in [the] English-speaking region,” said Feugap.

Guy Feugap attends the NAPs session at the MenEngage Africa Symposium

After the first NAP expired in 2020, civil society worked to assess it and Cameroon is now developing the second NAP. Having a new NAP in place for Cameroon is a necessity.

The session concluded with an invitation to the participants to stay in touch with MenEngage Africa and WILPF, as the progress continues on the drafting of a policy brief on NAPs in Africa.

Ubuntu: our collective humanity

By the end of the symposium, the concept of Ubuntu resonated with participants. Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘I am because you are’. It reminds us that humanity is one and we can’t exist and live in isolation of each other. Through Ubuntu, we are reminded of a universal bond and connection that inspires us to keep working together to bring about change. Change for the people in that symposium would be an equal world, a world where peace is the norm and violence is the exception. 

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WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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