Women’s civil society groups from across Africa met recently with state ambassadors in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as part of a now-annual meeting of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union with civil society.
The March 28 meeting included addresses by the various ‘office holders’ below: Margot Wallström (middle), the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Litha Musyimi-Ogana (left), the Director of the Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the African Union, and Dr. Mary Chinery-Hesse (right), from the AU’s Panel of the Wise.
But the real force of the meetings came from the “Survivors of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict”, who had traveled from Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The meeting included time for “first-hand accounts” from the survivors, as well as discussion of different models of civil society initiatives for rehabilitation and community reintegration.
At the end of the event the survivors of sexual violence released a Statement, which is a moving testament to the urgent health needs of sexual violence sufferers in Africa. The Statement makes a number of recommendations relating to health care, including, a call for “comprehensive medical care, including emergency surgery services, and trained medical workers on trauma management” and a recommendation that AU member states “ increase their health budget for our sexual and reproductive health complications and trauma management”.
The frustration of civil society actors in ‘post’ conflict negotiations is also clearly evident in the Statement:
We are deeply saddened by the fact that our violators and their apologists are often seated on these tables deciding our fate. We are therefore not surprised that post conflict processes do not include the concerns and priorities of survivors of sexual violence. Instead, we are often urged to let bygones be bygones and look to the future. We cannot look to the future when we are hurting physically and psychologically, and are unable to pick up the pieces of our lives.
Among the recommendations made is a call for the AU to “adopt sexual violence as a disqualifying criterion for leadership” in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1960.
As an example of civil society and state interactions, this annual meeting between the AU and victims of sexual violence may be a model to consider in other contexts. I wonder, for example, what would happen if members of the Canadian Parliament (or US House of Representatives), agreed to meet each year with a representative group of poor single mothers to hear about their lives and experiences over the past year?