Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Lina Zedriga Waru for the next issue of Voices. Lina is a passionate advocate for the greater involvement of women in building and sustaining peace. We talked at length about how during the 2006-2007 Juba peace talks between the Government of Uganda and the LRA she and others rallied to have the then neglected voices of women heard during the negotiations. Eventually hundreds of women of different ethnicity and backgrounds, from different parts of Uganda and other countries were mobilised to travel to Juba and join the talks.
“It was so powerful that when we reached Gulu, the President himself, who had refused to see us, decided to fly to Gulu to meet us,” she said, “The fact that we came from beyond [Acholi] demanding that this war must end and demanding that peace must be given a chance was very powerful.”
The women’s “march to Juba” was an incredible success and eventually culminated with the handing over of a symbolic “peace torch” from the contingent of women to Riek Machar, who was then the mediator of the peace talks. Most significantly, elements of the calls their group made in the “Women’s Protocol for Peace” that they delivered in Juba were included in the final written agreement.
While discussing the value of collective advocacy by women, we also discussed the recent abduction of over 200 Nigerian school girls in the north of the country by Boko Haram rebels as well as the efforts by groups of women, including the mothers of the missing, to draw attention to it. Sympathy has poured out from all around the world and many have observed that it harkens back to the dark times during the LRA conflict when students were abducted from their schools in northern Uganda. The abductions from in St. Mary’s College, Aboke in 1996, Sacred Heart Secondary School in 1993, and Lacor Seminary in 2003, and Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School in 1996, like the Nigerian situation, raised the profile of the conflict and drew scrutiny to the role of governments and other humanitarian actors.
The Nigerian government has been criticised for its lack of action in retrieving the girls, as well as the mixed messages it has given about their being rescued. Lina Zedriga Waru observed that situations like this reflect the importance of utilising collective advocacy to draw the public’s attention to issues and to get governments and other actors to act. A series of activities that can sustainably and continuously draw attention to what is going on is vital, she says. A crucial element, though, is that advocates should make sure that they provide alternative solutions to the problems they are advocating to address, and to ensure that they work to recruit allies with a common vision. Most importantly they should relate the issue to the public as much as possible. Women advocates, she says, act as a support to the government by representing the concerns of communities.
The next issue of Voices (on gender justice and sexual and gender-based violence) will be out at the end of May.