Statement by Rebecca Joshua Okwaci,
Secretary General, Women Action for Development (WAD) and
Executive Producer, Sudan Radio Service
“UN Security Council Resolution 1325: Recognizing Women’s Vital Contributions in Achieving Peace and Stability”
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight
May 15, 2008
Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me today. I thank the US for your contributions to ending Sudan’s conflicts.
Women have been most severely affected by Sudan’s conflicts and underdevelopment, but we are not passive victims. I have traveled from Africa to tell you about the vital contributions Sudanese women have made to peace building and negotiations, which culminated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
I was, with other women colleagues, extensively involved in the process leading to the CPA. I can tell you firsthand how critical women were to ending the war and how we have not stopped there. We continue to call for the speedy implementation of the CPA as the people remain desperate to see peace dividends.
Let me start by saying that during the conflict, thousands of women joined the political struggle for peace with justice. We formed networks and NGOs, and repeatedly called for peace. As negotiations dragged on, we became determined to participate directly in peace talks. We developed the Sudanese women’s minimum agenda in which we called for one-third women’s representation in decision-making bodies.
Despite our having shaped the negotiations, only a handful of women were formally included. We all continued, however, to raise our voices. When the talks grew tense, women pressed men to keep negotiating. We worked across party lines to find points of compromise. We organized visits to the talks and sent strong messages to the mediator. It was difficult, but over time, our impact grew.
I recall a reception one evening when I approached Chief Negotiator Sumbeyiwo – an imposing Kenyan general. I said to him, “I am Rebecca.” He said, “Which Rebecca?” For months, we had been sending messages calling for the men to stay at the peace table and to bring in women. So I replied, “I am one of those small Sudanese women.” He immediately said, “Oh! So you are one of those women who have been making so much noise about peace!” I knew then that we were being heard.
The CPA created new democratic, political space for women. Across the country we have pressed for fair representation and I am proud to tell you that the current draft electoral law includes a 25 percent quota for women in the national assembly.
Despite our efforts, there are pockets of tensions and instability. Not forgetting, of course, the conflict in Darfur.
There has been slow progress in the reconstruction of our economy and the development of basic infrastructure, health, education, and other programs.
We must dramatically increase women and girls’ literacy, reduce the number of women who die during childbirth, ensure women’s economic and political empowerment, and eliminate gender-based violence. We must do this throughout the country. And don’t forget Eastern Sudan.
Let me turn now for a moment to Darfur. Women there are often portrayed merely as victims, with no ability to influence peace. These portrayals could not be further from the truth. Late last year, I witnessed Darfurian women coming together to identify common priorities and speak with one voice. I admired them very much and hope our experiences in South Sudan can inspire and inform them. Women should be included in negotiating teams, as mediators, and as participants in the negotiations.
Mr. Chairman, two dates loom large in Sudan’s future: national elections in 2009 and a referendum in 2011 on unity or secession of the South. Women are looking ahead to elections, preparing to participate as voters, as organizers, and as candidates.
We will need assistance to achieve these goals. Specifically, the US Congress can:
· Appropriate funding for Sudanese women-led NGOs to provide health, education, and legal services;
· Require USAID contractors to ensure a minimum of 50 percent women as beneficiaries and implementers of projects.
· Appropriate funding for programs that strengthen women as candidates and voters. As a journalist, I use the radio to bring news to people in even the most remote villages. As a peacebuilder, I train women on peace making through my organization, Women Action for Development. Often, I combine my roles, hosting radio programs about women and peacebuilding. I cannot over emphasize the important role the media play in sensitizing women and helping them participation fully in nation-building.
I applaud the US Government and USAID for recognizing the key role women play in Sudan’s recovery and reconstruction, and for calling for gender to be a primary crosscutting theme in all programs.
Peace throughout Sudan is possible, but not without the full participation of women. We must keep up our momentum. The moment to invest in women as drivers of reconstruction and stability in Sudan is NOW. Thank you.
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