By Vincent Ogo
July 19, 2021
Women have a crucial role to play in peace building in The Gambia. As mothers they are closer to the children in their early, formative years. Thus their influence in individual homes that form the nucleus of a society is very crucial to stability in any country. Furthermore, the polygamous nature of most African societies makes it rather difficult for most men to be very close to all their children or be able to monitor them closely. Given this state of affairs, responsibility for imparting the necessary moral virtues to the children is most often shouldered by individual wives in a large, polygamous household.
Women played significant political roles, and wielded some influence in some pre-colonial West African states like Kanem Bornu, Asante and others. However, in these modern times when traditional authority is merely symbolic and ceremonial, women are increasingly seen as being relevant only as homemakers and economic complements, even in societies that are traditionally matriarchal. It would suffice to mention that African societies are overwhelmingly patrimonial, and this pervades attitudes and perceptions especially as they relate to women.
Every traditional African society has its own peace and conflict resolution mechanisms, however abstract or complex they might be to an outsider. The active participation of women in peace building or conflict mediation efforts in any of these societies is largely determined by the level or extent of the socio-political space they are given by the male folk.
The constraints notwithstanding, women can indeed get involved in, and make positive contributions to peace building in Gambia and the rest of Africa, if the right policies and programmes are set in motion. The collaboration of governments and civil society is very important. To their credit, the civil society organisations are working tirelessly in this direction. For their part, governments must do more, and go beyond mere protestations and signing of international protocols and conventions.
Government and civil society must also take into account what it takes to position the women, and put them in a vantage position to contribute maximally to peace projects. Women can fit into the peace building matrix effectively when they are adequately educated, and knowledgeable about gender rights, sustainable resource management, as well as true democracy. All of the above pre-requisites are interlinked, and concentrating on some while leaving out others could prove defeating for efforts to fully involve women in peace building processes.