As the UN pushes to include more women in peacebuilding, the challenges facing Ugandan women range from finding the time to finding the courage to get involved, said Rose Othieno, Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution of Uganda.
“Even some fellow women would say, ‘But how could she be doing that?,’” Ms. Othieno reported, adding that women have always been quietly contributing to peacebuilding, but “outright, [it] has not been a common practice, and therefore, it is still not very easy.”
But Ms. Othieno said she helped motivate women by telling them it will help them suffer less. “They see the negativity of the practice [of violence], so it was easy to convince the women to start preaching the peace, singing songs, talking directly with the people who were involved in disarmament. Of course, the problem is not totally solved. But, we really believe that a lot has been done because of the participation of women in disarmament.” Ms. Othieno spoke of Ugandans Betty Bigombe and Stella Sabiiti as role models.
Ms. Othieno said that peacebuilding must involve disarmament. "You realize that part of the hindrance to bringing sustainable peace was this issue of a lot of proliferation of illicit small arms and their misuse. So, we saw it fit to bring in this issue of small arms and light weapons, where we joined the associations, the networks for small arms and light weapons at the international, regional, and local level, where we are members to advocate for disarmament."
"And we saw that in many of the communities where these arms were heavily available—especially the pastoral communities, which were a little bit backward and semi-arid, so they depended a lot on livestock— the perception they had—because it’s not true—[was that] they thought that they needed small arms to protect their animals, and even raid more if the stock had been depleted."
Ms. Othieno and her organization also examined policy issues around weapons and domestic violence “because, there is a lot of domestic violence in other forms, but once it's armed with a gun, let alone a knife or anything, it's very, very deadly.”
“Like, when licensing these guns—there should be consultations with the family members, especially the spouses, and also look into the character of the person applying for the license to see if they are either violent, or they are likely to be violent, or, have they ever taken part in violence? And such a person wouldn't be issued the license.”
“When it comes to issues of consulting with a spouse, comes to all the gender things we are talking about, and the masculinity where, in some societies, they still feel if the gun is for the protection of the family, then the head of the family has the right to decide what to do. And you don't know whether these people always decide the right things.”
The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: I'm here today with Rose Othieno, Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CECORE) of Uganda, an initiative of people working together to prevent and resolve conflicts through alternative and creative means. Rose is an experienced peacebuilder who has served as an expert in the International Conference of the Great Lakes region. She is active in the women's coalition, advocating for women's voices to be heard in peace negotiations between the government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Rose is also a member of the Institute for Inclusive Security's Women Waging Peace Network.
In Uganda, a woman leader, Betty Bigombe, has been a central figure in peace negotiations with the Lord's Resistance Army. In your opinion, Rose, has this influenced other women to get involved in peace activism?
Rose Othieno: Yes, it has. Maybe just to go back a step before Betty Bigombe, there were other women who had been on this kind of initiative before, one of them being my cofounder of the Center for Conflict Resolution, Stella Sabiiti, who has been engaged in peace work since the '80s and then in the early '90s—really very instrumental. And that is why we founded this organization, the Center for Conflict Resolution, for the very reason that, at that time, not many organizations were looking into the issues of peacebuilding. At that time, many of the organizations were for relief, development initiatives, and most of the local ones are only now beginning to look at the issue of human rights, but with the lens of accusations—so-and-so is violating rights. And a lot of them said, “Well, something must be going wrong so, let’s look at what peacebuilding is all about.”