Women in conflicts are agents for change, Mary Robinson says

UN Great Lakes envoy says involvement of women in peace-building difficult in practice

Women caught in conflicts are too often seen only as victims when they are also positive agents for change, UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region Mary Robinson has said. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Women caught in conflicts are too often seen only as victims when they are also positive agents for change, UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region Mary Robinson has said. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 2, 2014, 10:19

Women caught in conflicts are too often seen only as victims when they are also positive agents for change, UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region Mary Robinson has said.

Marking her first year in office at an international symposium at NUI Galway (NUIG) yesterday, Ms Robinson noted that involvement of women in peace-building was far more difficult in practice than in theory.

However, this involvement was “essential for sustainable peace”, she told the symposium on women’s leadership, peace and sustainable livelihoods in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, who opened the conference, committed funding of €100,000 in support of the women’s platform initiated by Ms Robinson, in addition to Government support of €300,000 approved last year for her work.

Up to five million lives have been lost in two decades of conflict in the DRC, and hundreds of thousands, mainly women and children , have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Ms Robinson said that in her first year, which she found “tough, but challenging”, she had established a women’s platform for the new Peace, Security and Framework (PSC) framework, which had been agreed in February 2013 for the DRC.

The former president of Ireland, who was appointed special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa in March 2013, said the invitation from the UN to take up the post was perhaps the only job that she “couldn’t say no to” as she knew all the heads of state involved and had been to Rwanda three times since the 1994 genocide.

DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda are the four key countries involved in peace-building among 13 states in the Great Lakes region, and the structures which Ms Robinson has put in place will ensure women are at the forefront of the peace process, she said.

She said she had asked African Union special envoy for women, peace and security Bineta Diop to attend regular oversight and technical support meetings to ensure gender and women’s issues are represented.

The US’s first ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Melanne Verveer, who is also attending the two-day conference at NUIG, said that there was “real hope” for the region, due to a confluence of events that included the appointment of Mrs Robinson to the UN special envoy position.

“One of the most seminal contributions that Mary Robinson is making to this process is in recognising that women have a participatory role, both in terms of sustaining peace and ensuring livelihoods,”Ms Verveer noted.