In a historic moment on 29th July 2021, Cameroon’s first ever Women’s National Convention for Peace got underway in the country’s capital, Yaoundé. Since 2016, an escalation of violence has brought Cameroon to the brink of civil war with devastating social and humanitarian consequences. As is true in armed conflicts around the world, Cameroonian women and girls have paid a disproportionately heavy price. For three days over 1000 women from all corners of the country came together at the Palais des Congrès, Yaoundé to raise their voices in unison, demanding an end to violence and calling for peace.
“It is true that women pay a disproportionately heavy price in armed conflicts every day around the world. But we have also shown that we can overcome these difficult challenges with strong determination, loud voices and firm actions.”
– Women’s Call for Peace
A committee consisting of 38 civil society organizations working for peace and women’s rights in Cameroon was responsible for the organization of the convention. In attendance were women peace activists and civil society, survivors of war-related violence and displaced women and girls, female traditional and religious leaders, female politicians, soldiers, businesswomen and many more. Not only from all parts of society, but importantly the attendees represented all 10 regions in the country. Esther Omam, President of Reach Out Cameroon and a member of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL), explained: “We have returnees, we have victims from this ongoing crisis, widows from both sides participating in the conflict, those of the non-state armed groups and those of the security forces…”
“We have come together as mothers and grandmothers, wives and companions, sisters and daughters – together, we build an alliance of good will that is stronger, louder and in greater numbers than those people who profit from war and conflicts.”
– Women’s Call for Peace
A highlight of the convention was a reading of the “Women’s Call for Peace” followed by a moment of silent reflection. The powerful and moving words expressed how, after years of suffering from the effects of violent conflict, Cameroonian women were united in pledging their commitment to support peace efforts. The call makes several demands to key stakeholders in the conflict, including to end hostilities, pursue dialogue, ensure the equal participation of women in all aspects of the peace process, provide psychosocial support and trauma-healing, and utilize Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) processes.
“It is our collective responsibility to be peace mediators wherever we find ourselves. We call on the government and our brothers to receive the message from the Women’s Peace Convention with an open heart because this is the time for peace”
– Esther Omam, Reach Out Cameroon
Key interventions came from Yvonne Muma, representing the Cameroon Women’s Peace Network; Nina Netzer, from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation; and Madame Abena Ondoa née Obama Marie-Thérèse, the Minister for Women’s Empowerment and the Family. Other notable moments across the three days included moving testimonies from civilian victims caught in the conflict, a video message of solidarity from award-winning Nigerian author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and a rousing performance of the Women’s Anthem.
“Cameroonian women can and should play a leading role in building, negotiating and defending peace.”
– Women’s Call for Peace
All Across the Nation
All Around the World
Women are longing to be free;
No longer in the shadow,
Forced to stay behind,
But side by side in true Equality.
So sing a song
For Women everywhere
Let it ring around the world
And never, never cease.
So sing a song
For Women everywhere:
Equality, Development and Peace.
The convention also consisted of four workshops on the topics of strategic dialogue, trauma healing and psychosocial support, normative frameworks, and the role of women in peacebuilding. In the true spirit of WASL’s “locally rooted, globally connected” approach, network member Rosa Emilia Salamanca, Strategic Director of Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica (CIASE) travelled to Cameroon from Colombia to be in attendance and provide a cross-country exchange. Rosa Emilia Salamanca played a crucial role in shaping Colombia’s final peace agreement and has a deep understanding of war and identity. Drawing on nearly 30 years of experience, she gave a dynamic presentation sharing strategies and lessons learned building peace in Colombia.
“Our purpose is to bring synergy and greater coherence to our existing collective efforts, to advance gendered understandings of and responses to extremism, and to collaborate strategically in providing clear alternatives that bring a just peace for all.”
– WASL Founding Statement
In addition to Esther Omam and Rosa Emilia Salamanca, other WASL members involved in the organization of the convention were Clotilda Andiensa Waah, Coordinator at Center for Advocacy in Gender Equality and Action for Development (CAGEAD) and Caryn Dasah, Founder of Hope Advocates Africa. Additionally, WASL member Nicoline Nwenushi Tumasang Wazeh, CEO and Founder of Pathways for Women’s Empowerment and Development (PaWED) helped conceive of the event at the urging of Liberian women who are known for their own role in ending that country’s civil war.
“Chanting the national anthem of my country today in both English and French languages “O Cameroon thou cradle of our fathers”, ” O Cameroun berceau de nos ancetre” reminded me of how deep my love for this country is and heightened my desire to see not only peace but human security return.”
– Nicoline Nwenushi Tumasang Wazeh, PAWED
The WASL members involved each expressed how the convention was a significant step forward in bringing together women from across the country whose efforts to end the conflict had been fragmented. The conference provided an opportunity for disparate groups to find common ground and realize that, despite differing approaches, they shared the same concerns and purpose: restoring peace in Cameroon.
“I saw the peace landing, even if just for three days, among us there.”
– Clotilda Andiensa Waah, CAGEAD
The International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) supports its Cameroonian partners with cross-regional coordination, raising the profile of their work internationally and strengthening their efforts at localization through the Better Peace Initiative (BPI). Looking forward, the partners hope to initiate a peace caravan to engage more grassroots communities and host workshops with women peacebuilders from across the world for cross-country exchange. They conclusively agreed that there is a need to better connect the Women, Peace and Security theory to practice; localizing, contextualizing, and simplifying the normative frameworks for inclusive peacebuilding in communities.