Each year September 21, the World celebrates the international day of peace. This day was officially established in 2002 by the UN General Assembly to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace. It was also to provide an opportunity for individuals, organizations and nations to create practical acts of peace on a shared date. The day is a great opportunity for reflection especially in an era when many countries in Africa and the rest of the world are in dire need of peace and sustainable development.
What does this day mean for women in conflict and post conflict? Women in this situation have been subjected to all forms of atrocities and sexual violence and they make up the majority of refugees and internally displaced people, the world over.
The gender-based violence against them in conflict, refugee and internally displaced camps is always rampant which include; gang rapes, sexual slavery, abductions, mutilations, death, loss of property, and in many instances, they have been made to bear children for their abductors. Sex is used as weapon of war; greatly traumatizing the victims; often leading to reproductive health consequences and infection of diseases particularly HIV and AIDS.
Strangely, these remain largely unacknowledged and unpunished, even after the armed conflict as post conflict reconstruction processes fail to acknowledge and address women’s needs and concerns.
Women and girls are, however, not just victims in armed conflict. They are peace makers in communities and are actively involved in efforts to make peace, resolve conflict and work for reconciliation. Unfortunately, their potential and abilities remain unrecognized and are not utilized in post conflict programming. They still remain largely absent in decision making processes on peace and security. Furthermore, the allocation of rehabilitation packages is often blind to the specific needs of women and girls. Therefore, consolidating and sustaining peace in post-conflict countries calls for the involvement of women at all levels of conflict prevention and peace building.
According to Akello Betty the Coordinator of Women Rural Development network (WORUDET) in Pader District, Northern Uganda, peace is an important aspect which means living in dignity.
“When you do not have good health services and living in a lot of uncertainty, then you don’t have peace”.
“The government should address the issues of trauma, sexual and reproductive health of women as well as livelihood. In many health clinics, there are no personnel to attend to women’s health needs especially pregnant women. Those who are there, leave the facilities as early as they have arrived. In order to have a peaceful mind, women should be availed adequate services”.
Helen Amuge of Akwenyutu PHAs in Katakwi district notes that the international day of peace should be celebrated with the total knowledge of what peace means. She was also hard hitting on the disjointed provision of services in post conflict Eastern Uganda.
“Peace means that your mind, body and soul are free from disturbances.
Likewise, you cannot have peace when you are not healthy. Women in post conflict areas do not have access to adequate health services in health facilities. Therefore services should be brought near to the women to ensure that they have peace”.
She wondered how one would expect women especially those living with HIV and AIDs who have to travel for over 45 km for access HIV and AIDs services can be peaceful. “For example, in Orungo Sub-county, Katakwi district, we don’t have facilities for testing HIV and AIDS, and ARVs are rarely available. There are no PMTC services and when a pregnant mother is HIV positive, the nurses will not attend to her. Recently I was at the Health centre where I found a woman who had been ignored by the nurses just because she was HIV positive. Even when she had just finished pushing the baby without assistance, there was no one to help the baby. This means that the chances were high for the baby to be infected. Such women are not at peace and they are not enjoying peace”.
Dona Aseru, from Arua, West Nile also agrees Betty and Helen that
“Peace only comes when one has access to basic services like health, education and food. Peace should be in our minds, we can’t enjoy peace when we are traumatized.There is a lot of trauma in the community and the government has not provided counseling services. This has continued to cause disharmony and women are not at peace”; she declared.
For Rufuna, of Dyero Kwo Post Test Club, Kitgum, in Northern Uganda
“Peace means being able to express myself as a woman. As women we have not been allowed to express ourselves because we have not been involved in decision making and in post conflict recovery. Therefore we are not at peace because our needs have not been addressed”.