Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reblogging Why We Tell Stories by Su Chuen Foo on ALC fellows' panel at CSW

March 3, 2011, New York – It is uncommon to find a panel discussion staffed by all young, African women leaders. That is why it was such a refreshing change to hear their voices at yesterday’s session on “Documenting Women’s Experiences in Peace & Security as a Research Tool.”

These women were alumni of a joint fellowship program between the African Leadership Center and King’s College London aimed to train young, capable African women leaders to take a greater part in shaping the future of their country and its citizens. Coming from all over Africa including Nigeria, Kenya, and Sierra Leone, these women gathered to share their stories with us, as well as the stories of other women during peace and security, and of the importance of documenting them.

Telling the stories of women in war - before, during and after - takes on a more personal note for these women, one which we at Women for Women International comprehend fully. Documenting and sharing the stories of these women is more than just keeping a record of war’s experiences.

When we tell the stories of women, we let others into the daily realities of women in conflict and post-conflict zones. We give the world a glimpse of what it means to lose your husband to armed rebels, to be raped in front of your sons and daughters, to be constantly afraid to leave your house for fear of being attacked, and to be shunned by your own community because you have become one of the many thousand victims of sexual violence through no fault of your own.

When we tell the stories of these women, we shine a spotlight on the existing gaps between policy rhetoric and women’s experiences on the ground. We tell policymakers that regardless of how well-intentioned their policies and programs are, that if it was not formulated with women in mind, it will fall far short of their goals.

When we tell the stories of these women, we remind donors and politicians that there is more to war than just military intervention. We share with them aspects of women and children’s lives that become lost in translation in the midst of urgent military decisions during conflict, decisions such as whether to send additional troops into countries experiencing chaos as opposed to seriously contemplating and acting upon the critical need to increase humanitarian aid to conflict countries.

When we tell the stories of these women, we are ensuring that women’s courageous actions before, during, and after the war are not forgotten, ignored, neglected, and swept under the rug during peace talks. According to Debra Mwase, who was one of the panelists from Zimbabwe, part of the reason women have been excluded during peace negotiations in Africa is because their role and actions have been for the most part, invisible. Without documentation, it becomes almost impossible to advocate, assert, and fight for women’s valuable contributions toward peace.

When we tell the stories of these women, we are putting a human face to the problems going on far, far away from many of the world’s citizens. Vivid images, stories, and interviews with these women will hopefully light a fire in people’s conscience, reigniting empathy for all humankind, and drive them to take action to end the mass violation of these women’s rights. When we hear of these stories, they shame us into remembering that, regardless of our intentions and experiences, solutions to problems need to come from women themselves. As the representative from Open Society Institute - East Africa Region, who closed the session yesterday shared, even after losing everything – their husbands, children, homes, and source of income, the Congolese women she met with only wanted soap, so that they can clean themselves and so that they can restore a sliver of their dignity.

Finally and above all else, when we tell the stories of these women, they remind us that women are not just victims of violence and oppression, but most of all they are also agents of change and of peace. Despite atrocities, loss, and violence, women survivors of war are able to defy odds to rebuild their lives and the lives of countless other women like them. Slowly but surely, many of the women survivors of war that have gone through the year-long program at Women for Women International have shown us the power of what little knowledge and resources can do for a woman’s future.

One such success story is that of of Violette, one of the women survivors of war from Rwanda that Women for Women International served. In attempts to flee the rebels who were tearing her village apart, Violette ran away with her children to a nearby church to seek protection. Little did she know that the church was also grounds for a mass massacre. To avoid getting killed, Violette smeared blood on her and her children and laid on the floor pretending to be dead for one week. With little money to support her children, Violette enrolled in Women for Women International to learn vocational skills so that she can earn some income to feed her children and send them to school. Relying on her entrepreneurial skills, Violette’s business of harvesting sorghum and beans flourished. Violette was making an average of $1800 a year when the average income in Rwanda was $260 according to the World Bank. Inspired to share her wealth and fortune with her community, Violette applied and received a bank loan to build a water pipe for her community, where women spend hours a day catching water from the wells.

There are many other stories like Violette - of women who are heroes to many of us, and these stories need to be told.

Before I end, it is important to note how symbolic the panel of young women leaders was when we talk about UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This landmark resolution passed in 2000 and for the first time recognized the unique role and contributions of women in peace and conflict times. It called for women’s increased role in peace negotiations and for the protection and prevention of women from insecurity. The fact that this panel consisted of all young women leaders presents a laudable step in the right direction. After all the ongoing discussions about the lack of progress on UNSCR 1325, this panel is helping keep hope alive for me.

Su Chuen Foo


Molara Brown said...

I shuddered while reading...even though i do not know what it feels like to be in their shoes...i feel their pain.

You are such a great blessing to womanhood and may the Great God continue to bless and protect you.

The Activist said...

@ Lara: thanks Lara and amen

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