20 November 2023 by Karen Bedoume and Katrina Leclerc
The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), in partnership with Common Action for Gender Cameroon (COMAGEND), launched the Localization of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) strategy in Cameroon. On 20 to 23 September 2023, with support from the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI), GNWP and COMAGEND led the establishment of the Localization of WPS efforts in the Bamenda II and Bali Nyonga communities in Northwestern Cameroon.
Since 2016, the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon have been at the core of a violent conflict that has killed over 5,000 civilians and displaced over one million Cameroonians. This ongoing conflict, dubbed the Anglophone crisis, has also given rise to unresolved local crises and disputes. It has equally exacerbated the rates of violence against women and girls – those who bear the brunt under such conditions. As a result, its escalation has called for a more rigorous implementation of the WPS resolutions and a swift response to injustices experienced by women and girls.
In the Bamenda II municipality, Localization of WPS workshop participants highlighted the pre-established cultural and religious barriers that have consistently barred women from meaningfully contributing to decision-making and peacebuilding efforts and holding any leadership positions in their communities. Women’s economic emancipation was another common topic of concern among the discussants. According to them, many women are forced to stay in abusive marriages and relationships to ensure their survival and well-being. If they were to leave these relationships, restricted access to supportive resources could hinder their economic sustainability and autonomy. One woman participant noted, “there is a need to increasingly appreciate that the conflict affects women differently than men. This analysis is important to end the misconception that conflicts impact women and men the same way.”
Participants in Bamenda II consciously applied an intersectional lens to identify local challenges and devise gender-responsive strategies. Further capacity-building for women’s civil society leaders and psycho-social counseling for survivors of gender-based violence were among the main recommendations. The first Deputy Mayor, Tsi Louis Angwafo, and the North West Regional Delegate of the Ministry of the Promotion of Women and the Family (MINPROFF), Wirba Asan, committed to raising issues related to gender inequality within their respective government institutions and champion the application of the WPS resolutions in the Northwestern region of Cameroon.
In Bali Nyonga, the Mayor, Ernest Wandum Bunga, and MINPROFF Divisional Delegate, George Fuambo, highlighted women’s crucial role in building and shaping society, as well as their indispensability in peacebuilding processes.
The participants in Bali Nyonga discussed the significant challenges they face amidst the conflict, namely weak governance and justice systems, high cost of living, land disputes and xenophobia. Moreover, participants noted that conflict often exacerbates the effects for women, finding themselves at the heart of several forms of violence. During the workshop session on “Peace and Security,” one of the women participants noted that peace means “being able to sleep in peace without thinking that something terrible will happen to me, which I haven’t felt in a long time.”
Participants emphasized that previously attempted solutions were largely ineffective due to their lack of gender-sensitivity and considerations of the WPS resolutions. In turn, participants developed a roadmap urging municipal, religious and traditional leaders to consistently include women in peace processes and mobilize efforts towards shifting cultural norms that limit women’s agency.
GNWP and COMAGEND are grateful to the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) and the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé for their support in expanding the Localization of WPS strategy to the Bali Nyonga and Bamenda II communities.