2020 was a historical year for women and peace. It commemorated the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which set forth the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda. It was the last year of the African Women’s Decade, which aimed to advance gender equality through grassroots participation. 2020 was also the year that COVID-19 spread around the world. As 2021 begins, we must evaluate how the virus has affected women and peace in Africa to ensure that the progress made to date is maintained.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected women and peace in Africa?
The COVID-19 pandemic has become more than a health crisis. It has become a socio-economic one – with a disproportionate impact on women. It has shown how tightly governance, gender and peace are interlinked.
The African Peer Review Mechanism secretariat carried out a report on Africa’s response to COVID-19. The report sets women’s inclusion in governance and the fight against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as requirements to curb the pandemic. The increase in SGBV due to lockdowns is a threat to female leadership, equality and empowerment.
The AU Peace and Security Council has recognised that the pandemic is a security threat, as it constrains the continuation of mediation efforts in ongoing conflicts. At the same time, the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 could drive new conflicts on the continent, causing further harm to young women and girls. The pandemic could also erode gains made over the last 20 years in implementing the WPS Agenda.
How could the progress made by women be sustained?
The Africa Forum on WPS in November 2020 involved consultations about the WPS Agenda in Africa. It identified actions to strengthen the leadership of women in peace and security in the context of the pandemic.
Shuvai Nyoni, Executive Director of the African Leadership Centre in Nairobi, used examples from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal to recommend ways to address the increases in SGBV. For example, prioritising legal frameworks to deal with SGBV sustainably, education, and support for survivors.
Karabo Mokgonyana, African Union Youth Peace Ambassador, emphasised the importance of youth action through the media. She focused on raising awareness and capacity among youth via campaigns and advocacy programs – both offline and online. In light of the pandemic, it is particularly important to use technology to keep young women engaged in and informed about taking leadership roles in peace processes.
COVID-19 poses a challenge to female empowerment and threatens to set back progress, particularly in the implementation of the WPS Agenda. However, the Africa Forum on WPS has kept the conversation going in these challenging times. Women’s organisations are standing up against increases in SGBV and against the use of COVID-19 as an excuse to deprioritise programmes for women. African women are leading the fight for equality and peace; creating solutions for African women, by African women – and refusing to let the pandemic reverse their achievements.