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Celebrating inclusive collaboration: Launch of the Young Women+ Leaders for Peace chapter in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region

4 April 2022

by Shayne Wong[1] and Katrina Leclerc[2]

Rwanda is often remembered internationally for the genocide perpetrated on its territory in 1994. However, increasingly the country has been recognized within the African continent and the wider international community for a different reason: Rwanda has taken great lengths to address gender inequality and has recognized the need for women’s equal participation in decision-making to heal and rebuild their communities.

The Constitution of Rwanda sets gender equality as one of its pillars, and it established a  30 per cent quota for the number of women in parliament. As of October 2020, UN Women reported that Rwandan women occupy 61 per cent of the parliamentary seats, leading global figures for women’s participation in any country’s parliament. Along with governmental action, civil society groups have galvanized significant progress towards gender equality.

To support Rwandan gender equality efforts, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), ISOKO Partners for Peace and Gender Equality, Benimpuhwe, and Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), launched the Young Women+ Leaders for Peace (YWL) program in Rwanda with a series of workshops and a virtual forum. The workshops in Kigali convened government officials and youth from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwanda from 9-11 September 2021. The workshops inaugurated the newest and tenth chapter of GNWP’s YWL network globally. The virtual forum, which took place from 8-10 January 2022, followed up on discussions from the launch activities while also encouraging government officials from the three countries to reaffirm their commitments toward gender equality and the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) in the Great Lakes Region region.

The Young Women+ Leaders program helps young women and gender equality allies gain the skills and confidence to become leaders in their communities. It raises awareness of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace and Security agendas and enhances women and youth peacebuilding capacities to effectively advocate for the implementation of the WPS and YPS agendas at local, regional, national, and international levels.

Advancing regional peace and security priorities

The workshops in Kigali were an opportunity for 28participants from Burundi, DRC, and Rwanda to share their stories  about advocating for the WPS and YPS agendas in the Great Lakes Region and increase their capacities as advocates. The participants discussed leadership skills, COVID-19 response, effective global advocacy campaigns.

“I am proud to be a young man in peacebuilding because I can lend my voice to young women and support gender equality through my commitments to peace.” – Young Women+ Leaders for Peace member from Rwanda

The session on gender equality facilitated by RWAMREC emphasized the importance of recognizing that gender equality is not only a women’s issue. It challenged people of all genders to engage with and advocate for the fight for gender equality in the Great Lakes Region. Questions such as “what makes you proud to be a man/woman?” or “what does not make you proud to be a man/woman?” were posed to the attendees. Members of the newly-formed Young Women+ Leaders for Peace network were encouraged to recognize and reflect on the ways that women and men can work together to fight for and achieve gender equality in the region.

Renewing commitments for gender equality

“Everyone can contribute [to the effective implementation of the policies.] We cannot reach the goals alone but together by joining efforts, we can.” -Concluding observation by break out group examining the Participation pillar of UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security

The January 2022 virtual forum saw over 30 participants from government and civil society come together to share their progress and reaffirm their commitment to gender equality in the Great Lakes Region. In the sessions, YWL members discussed their accomplishments since the official launch of the network and how they envision a gender-equitable and youth-inclusive future in the region.

YW+L members had the opportunity to hear about the work on WPS, YPS and gender equality in DRC from both civil society and government representatives. The newly-formed Congolese Coalition for YPS, which officially launched on 9 December 2021, shared its experiences on building a coalition and promoting youth inclusion in peacebuilding. The National Technical Secretariat for UN Security Council Resolution 2250 (STN-2250) also shared their ongoing work in the DRC on the development of the National Action Plan (NAP) on YPS.

Throughout the sessions, YWL members were able to share perspectives and recommendations about how young people can be included at all levels of peacebuilding. Some of their key recommendations were allocating core funding for youth organizations, raising youth awareness of the YPS resolutions, implementing intersectional approaches to peacebuilding in the Great Lakes Region, and holding governments and key stakeholders accountable for the full implementation of the YPS resolutions.

The workshops and virtual forum on the WPS and YPS resolutions in the Great Lakes Region were organized with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

For more information on GNWP’s Young Women+ Leaders for Peace program, please visit: gnwp.org/what-we-do/young-women-leaders-for-peace-program/

[1] Shayne Wong is the Youth Engagement Program Coordinator at ISOKO Partners for Peace and Gender Equality. She works on ISOKO’s Youth, Peace and Security policy and programming.

[2] Katrina Leclerc is the Director for Africa, Middle East & North Africa (MENA), and Latin America Programs and Communications at GNWP.

An Appeal for the Immediate Cessation of Hostilities in Ukraine and Respect of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Laws

4 March 2022

The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) strongly condemns the military invasion of Ukraine and the recognition of the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states by the Russian Federation. We call on all parties to ensure respect for human rights, women’s rights, and international humanitarian law.

The military invasion and the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and territories of Donetsk and Luhansk violate the United Nations Charter and other international laws. Since the current Russian invasion, 352 have died and 1, 700 have been wounded. This adds to the more than 14,000 casualties, 30,000 injured, and over 2 million IDPs in 2014. Moreover, due to the invasion, Ukrainian women are at higher risk of trafficking, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, and restricted access to education, employment, and health care.

The Russian Federation’s recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent from Ukraine along with its ongoing military operations in Berdiansk, Enerhodar, Lviv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, and Zaporizhzhia regions have resulted in mass human rights violations and displacement, and threaten peace and stability not only in Europe but in the entire world. These actions violate the United Nations Charter, international humanitarian law, and the Minsk Accords, a set of 2015 agreements that sought to end hostilities and reinstate protection for human rights in the Donbas region. In the face of the growing humanitarian crisis, Ukrainian women are mobilizing to distribute humanitarian aid, disseminate critical information through social media, and help families flee from the attacks of Russian military forces. Nevertheless, talks in Belarus between Russia and Ukraine have failed to include Ukrainian women meaningfully. 

It is vital to support humanitarian efforts led by Ukrainian women and ensure their participation in decision-making on peace and security in accordance with Ukraine’s National Action Plan on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. GNWP urges the United Nations Security Council and the broader international community to take all necessary action to restore security in Ukraine, protect civilians and prioritize their needs, especially those of women peacebuilders, activists, and vulnerable populations.

GNWP stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, especially women and youth peacebuilders, who are key actors in the survival and resilience of their families and communities during a crisis. We must continue to listen to and amplify the voices of the Ukrainian people. We reinforce their calls for:

  1. An immediate ceasefire, cessation of all hostilities, and adherence with international humanitarian law;
  2. Safe and accessible humanitarian corridors for evacuation and the delivery of aid that reaches all Ukrainian people in need, especially minority communities;
  3. Initiation of a peace process which ensures the meaningful participation of women, youth, and other historically marginalized communities at all stages of negotiations;
  4. Provision of rapid technical and financial support to Ukraine civil society organizations, including women’s rights organizations on the frontlines of the humanitarian crisis;
  5. Protection of women’s rights and human rights in Ukraine by Member States, multilateral institutions;
  6. An investigation of the crimes of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed within the territory of Ukraine by the International Criminal Court;
  7. Accountability for human rights violations through gender-responsive monitoring and accountability mechanisms led by international actors such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and
  8. Integration of key provisions of the Women, Peace, and Security resolutions into all programs and security initiatives in response to the conflict in Ukraine.

The World’s First National Action Plan on Youth, Peace and Security – An analysis of Finnish commitments

9 December 2021

Katrina Leclerc[1]

In August 2021, the peace and security community welcomed the first National Action Plan (NAP) on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) under Finnish leadership.

The Finnish NAP (2021-2024) comes at a time when we are witnessing a rise in the impact of the YPS community – with thousands of youth-led social justice movements providing emergency assistance in pandemic responses in the Philippines, to global anti-racism demands in the United States, to civil disobedience following the February coup in Myanmar. Young people are making waves on the international stage, further demonstrating their agency in peace.

Finland is one of the pioneers of the Youth, Peace and Security agenda, having first announced its NAP development process in 2019, and co-hosting the first international symposium on the positive role of young people in peace processes in Helsinki in March of that year. The Finnish YPS NAP builds on the standard for NAP drafting, strongly inspired by the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. National action plans have been the primary method to translate international law into actionable commitments by governments, since the ground-breaking adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR on WPS) in 2000.

Effective implementation of policy commitments

Following the adoption of UNSCR 2250 on YPS in 2015, young peacebuilders and their allies have been debating whether or not NAPs are the most effective tool to institutionalize and operationalize the agenda. Nevertheless, the Finnish NAP, followed by the Nigerian NAP, paves the way for Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, and the Philippines, among others, who have announced their development of national action plans on this thematic area.

The question of effective NAP development aside – the NAP process outlined by Finland demonstrates the need for an inclusive consultation and drafting process.

“Our 2250 network of youth organizations and other civil society actors played a key role at all stages of the NAP process. We organized two rounds of consultations that produced input for the NAP, we were invited to give comments to draft documents, and had a constant dialogue with the ministry formally and informally. We also received some public funding that enabled us to organize the consultations. In general, our views were very well received and taken into account. Of course there is always room for improvement, and we are confident that our active role and youth involvement will continue in the next stages.” – Kaisa Larjomaa, International Advocacy Specialist at the Finnish National Youth Council Allianssi; Coordinator of the 2250 network of Finland

It also addresses a critical gap in some other countries’ NAPs, that of domestic implementation. Several countries which are considered “at peace,” such as Finland, have been criticized for adopting NAPs on WPS (or other thematic areas) which have little to no domestic focus. This means that a country’s NAP is almost exclusively linked to its international commitments rather than also addressing local gaps in peace and security. Finland’s NAP is refreshingly diverse in its approach and recognizes, targets, and prioritizes a dual implementation – both domestic and foreign.  

The priority areas in Finland’s NAP on YPS follow the five pillars of the YPS agenda (participation, prevention, partnerships, protection, and disengagement and reintegration). Importantly, it also includes a cross-cutting theme on intersectionality. It pulls from lessons learned from UNSCR 1325, and the WPS agenda, and demands an intersectional analysis inspired by the long-examined context of sex and gender. Finland commits to also addressing the specific marginalization of boys and young men. In Finland, young women are more likely to meaningfully participate in political decision-making. Interestingly, the NAP does not have young women-specific measures in this regard.

The Finnish NAP expands further to various other facets of young people’s identities such as sexual orientation, disability, race, religion, social-economic and educational backgrounds. By doing so, Finland recognizes the diversity of young people and focuses on their strengths and barriers – an emerging approach promoted by intersectional feminist actors.

“An intersectional approach will be promoted in the action plan by involving different types of young people and youth organisations and by providing them with the opportunity to also participate in the plan’s monitoring and evaluation. […] The intersectional approach also means taking into account that some young people need more support in order to play a meaningful role in decision-making.” (Finland National Action Plan on Youth, Peace and Security, 2021, p. 26).

Overall, the priority areas of the Finnish NAP touch on a wide range of themes, including the humanitarian-development-peace “triple” nexus. Finland has committed to integrating a YPS perspective into development cooperation, humanitarian work, and peacebuilding. As an important donor to the humanitarian and peacebuilding communities, Finland could increase investment in youth-led initiatives. Additionally, Finland has committed to raising awareness of young human rights defenders’, peacebuilders’, and activists’ work, rights, and need for protection.

Within the context of this new digital era, it is fitting that the NAP also emphasizes social media as both a tool and a threat to peace and security. Finland outlines commitments to prevent the spread of misinformation and fake news by promoting media literacy and peace education. Furthermore, it recognizes the impact of mental health on young people and describes it as a barrier to participation and protection, while viewing it as a prevention issue.

The Finnish NAP is ground-breaking and innovative when it comes to priorities for Youth, Peace and Security implementation. There is no doubt that Finland has demonstrated significant leadership with the development and adoption of this policy – in partnership and cooperation with civil society and young people. Several questions remain in terms of implementation and monitoring, especially with the lack of a specific, dedicated budget attached to this NAP. However, with genuine commitment and continued leadership, Finnish young people and youth across the world will surely benefit from this innovative policy approach.

GNWP wishes to congratulate Finland on the collaborative process which led to the adoption of this first NAP on YPS. GNWP is enthusiastic and optimistic about its impact, and we look forward to collaborating for a localized implementation.

[1] Katrina Leclerc is the Youth, Peace and Security Policy Specialist and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders. She manages GNWP’s global YPS policy work and Young Women Leaders for Peace programs in Eastern Africa.

GNWP continues its boycott of Facebook because #FacebookPromotesViolence

In September 2020, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) began boycotting Facebook to protest their role in threatening peace and democracy on and offline. 

Today, on this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, over a year later, GNWP continues the #FacebookPromotesViolence campaign in light of indisputable evidence that the platform knowingly harms those most vulnerable and marginalized. Facebook fosters harmful misinformation, polarization, and hate speech around the world. Despite Facebook’s aim to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” their algorithms and policies disproportionately affect marginalized groups, such as women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA+) people, and other minority groups. 

A trove of internal Facebook—now Meta—documents revealed that Instagram knowingly damaged teen mental health, failed to remove hate speech before the January 6th insurrection in the United States as well as during tensions in Northern India, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly presented misinformation regarding the company’s safety performance. Facebook prioritizes profit over safety, which is antithetical to GNWP’s core mission: elevate the power of women and amplify their voices to build sustainable and inclusive peace. Therefore, GNWP will continue to boycott Facebook and join efforts to hold them accountable for their contributions to violence in the digital space which promotes violence in real life.

“I feel fortunate and proud of my education!” In conversation with a Rohingya Young Women Leader

Written by Anniesa Hussain, Peacebuilding Programs Intern for Asia

Edited by Mallika Iyer, Asia Programs Coordinator and Humanitarian Action Specialist

The Rohingya have been stateless Muslim minority group who reside in Myanmar’. There are around 1 million Rohingyas among Myanmar’s total population  of 52 million. They are recognized by the United Nations as among the most persecuted ethno-religious groups in the world. The Myanmar government have denied the Rohingya people fundamental freedoms for decades – most notably citizenship through the 1982 Citizenship Law. The Citizenship Law rendered the Rohingya community stateless based on their race and religion. As evidenced by the ongoing International Court of Justice investigation, the Rohingya people have endured a genocidal campaign perpetrated by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) in the Rakhine State, where the vast majority of the community live. On 25 August, 2017, the storming and burning of Rohingya villages by the Tatmadaw resulted in 1.3 million Rohingya people from Rakhine State in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. At least 6,700 Rohingya were killed – around 730 of which were children. Women were targeted and raped. Today, the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are the largest in the world.

Among the thousands of refugees living in Cox’s Bazar is a young Rohingya woman called Lucky. Lucky’s story is one of survival. She is an outspoken young women’s rights activist who fled with her family in August 2017 and is one of the few refugee women able to pursue an undergraduate degree remotely at a local university. In the refugee camps she advocates for gender-responsive humanitarian action, which empowers Rohingya women, young women and girls, and helps meet their urgent and intersecting needs.

Lucky has participated in advocacy led by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) to promote synergies between implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda and humanitarian action frameworks, including Bangladesh’s National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). Since 2018, GNWP have worked in Cox’s Bazar to elevate Rohingya and Bangladeshi women and young women peacebuilders as decision-makers in humanitarian action; build local women’s and communities’ resilience to threats and violence; and advocate for gender-responsive and conflict-sensitive humanitarian action and crisis recovery.

Through a series of capacity building training, GNWP, in partnership with Jago Nari Unnayon Sangsta (JNUS), strengthened the literacy, peacebuilding, social media, theater and leadership skills of young Bangladeshi women leaders from Ramu and Ukhiya upazilas. The training established a network of Young Women Leaders (YWL) from the host communities in Cox’s Bazar to advocate for gender equality. The young women leaders have led initiatives aimed at improving the gender-responsiveness and conflict-sensitivity of humanitarian action in Cox’s Bazar. They were able to identify literacy as a barrier to empowerment and responded by conducting gender-sensitive literacy and numeracy classes for 180 Rohingya refugee and host community women and girls. These classes have empowered attendees to be able to sign their names on legal documents, read critical signage within the refugee camps, and access life-saving information.

GNWP conducted a virtual interview with Lucky on September 15, 2021.

GNWP: How do you build peace and promote gender equality in the refugee camps?

In the camps, Rohingya women, young women, and girls face many forms of violence, discrimination, and marginalization. I am one of the few Rohingya refugee young women able to access higher education and so  I decided to put my education to good use by advocating for women’s rights and gender equality within my community. I have led training for women, young women, and girls in my camp on women’s rights, sexual health, preventing child marriage, and leadership. I explain that women have the right to study – even after marriage. I connect with women in my community through one to one calls or in person and help them understand how important education is for our empowerment.

GNWP: What achievement related to your activism are you most proud of?

I am proud that I am able to study at a local university – which most other Rohingya girls cannot do. I am also grateful for freedom and family support. My mother supports me physically, mentally, and financially and my father allows me to fly as much as I can. Their support has enabled me to advocate for the rights of Rohingya women and girls to global policymakers. I am fighting for education and training opportunities for all Rohingya girls.

GNWP: What challenges do you face? How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your activism?

The pandemic has greatly impacted the rights and safety of Rohingya women, young women, and girls. I am struggling to participate in university’s classes, important advocacy meetings, or capacity building trainings. There are no in-person meetings, so I must do everything online. It is very difficult to connect to the internet in the refugee camps – even with a cell phone, I do not have service. With all of the mobility restrictions door to door advocacy has also become difficult. In the refugee camps, we are not allowed to hold any in-person meetings, while host community members are able to move around freely. Some people get angry at me and say, “why are you trying to convince us to get an education?”

But the worst impact of the pandemic is on our safety and security. After 6:30PM, the refugee camps are run by violent extremist groups. It is very dangerous for women and girls to move around. People try to intimidate me and other girls from studying. But I tell them that I deserve to study – just like anyone else. I’m not tarnishing my reputation or my family’s dignity by educating myself.

GNWP: What are some of the main challenges that Rohingya women, young women, and girls experience in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar?

Gender inequality is the biggest challenge Rohingya women, young women, and girls experience in the refugee camps. We are scared to use the washroom and toilet at night. Six families have to share one washroom. There is no privacy. We do not know the families we are sharing the washroom with. We just live together in the same block. If I knock on the door to use the toilet, I don’t know who is inside. We are ashamed to share the toilet due to our cultural beliefs. There is a risk that people will  think negatively of me if I’m seen going into a toilet with a boy. If this situation becomes public, the community will not like it and say, “she has done something wrong with boys’”. Nobody will marry me.

Many women also suffer from domestic violence or sexual harassment. When a man gets married again he must divide the limited amount of food he has between two families. My mother is married and has a husband. But if my father wants another wife, my mother does not have the right to ask him why he is getting married to a second or third wife. She cannot complain, or else she could be subjected to beating or divorce – this is difficult for women to manage. Men also control our mobility. If I want to go out somewhere in the camps, I have to ask permission from my parents. They will ask me, “Where are you going today? Why don’t you have any class today?” They will investigate and follow me. They could block my right to mobility and keep me at home.

There is very limited awareness of contraception and family planning too. Many boys are unaware of the consequences without it. So, when a girl is pregnant, her family will blame her. Her community will shun her and no one will marry her.

GNWP: Are Rohingya women, young women, and girls needs being adequately addressed by humanitarian actors?

As far as I know, humanitarian actors are providing food and other relief goods for Rohingya refugees. There are even ongoing literacy and numeracy education classes. But it is not enough for the entire Rohingya population. In addition educational opportunities are largely ineffective. For example, teachers are not teaching girls how to write in Burmese or English or do math. They are just playing with the students to make them happy and forget their trauma from Myanmar, so the girls are not learning anything. Older women barely have access to education – especially at higher levels.

We also do not have access to doctors who know our language or respect us. Therefore it’s difficult to receive support for our sexual health and reproductive rights.  If you are suffering from a menstruation or pregnancy related problem and you seek medical advice from a nurse or volunteer, they are not equipped to provide you with relevant medication. The current conditions make Rohingya women despondent and unwilling to seek help from the hospitals. Our sexual health and reproductive rights should not be de-prioritized by humanitarian actors in the refugee camps – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GNWP: What recommendations do you have for the Bangladeshi government to improve conditions for Rohingya women, young women, and girls in the refugee camps?

My request to the government of Bangladesh is to push for quality education for Rohingya women and girls in the camps. I know that by educating the women, young women, and girls in the refugee camps, we will be able to shape the world and demand accountability for the protection, preservation, and promotion of our rights.

GNWP: What recommendations do you have for international policymakers to improve conditions for Rohingya women, young women, and girls in the refugee camps?

We need opportunities to advocate for our rights. We need to be able to represent ourselves – instead of having others represent us in important meetings with policymakers. We need to be able to influence decision-making on humanitarian interventions that affect our lives. I urge humanitarian actors to organize regular meetings with us and establish a system for us to provide feedback and share our priorities. For example, we could develop monthly information reports.

I am not only speaking for myself, but for all Rohingya women and girls facing similar issues. They can’t speak for themselves because they lack the opportunities or are forced into marriage. We need opportunities to hear from all Rohingya women and girls. Otherwise, our basic needs will not be met in the refugee camps.

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