Spinning Stories: Competing Narratives about ‘Boko Haram’

Last week, I attended two events on Jama’atu Ahlu Sunna Li Da’awati wal Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, and the situation in North-East Nigeria.

As one of the speakers, Dr Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos himself said, in addition to the war between the government and JAS, there is also a war of words between conflicting narratives of what is taking place. This came out very strongly in the different positions taken by the speakers at the two events, especially concerning the ‘internationalisation’ of JAS.

I have my own thoughts about this. It’s clear the ‘internationalisation’ narrative fits very neatly into the interests of certain actors in growing militarisation and international presence in the region. I’m yet to be persuaded that the evidence backs this narrative. What is used in support seems too much like constructing theories on the basis of stringing together a number of assertions based on flimsy evidence interpreted in certain ways.

I am open to changing my mind if presented with the evidence.

There were many other issues discussed beyond the internationalisation debate. Can elections be held in the North-East given the state of insecurity? Who does it benefit to hold or not hold elections? From where does JAS get food, fuel and arms? Is there an incentive to have an amnesty process?

You can read the full discussions at the events at my Storify of the event.

And, of course, the end of the week saw the announcement of a ceasefire by the Chief of Defence Staff, followed closely by continued attacks over the weekend in the North-East.


Launching the #NigeriaNAP

On 27th August, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development of the Government of Nigeria launched its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

  1. With @Ollee11 @ChineduAnarado @NSRProgramme at the launch of the #NigeriaNAP – looking forward to discussing implementation
  2. Lyrics of the women’s anthem we are going to sing at the end of the #NigeriaNAP launch twitter.com/chitranagarajan…
  3. At d launch of d #NigeriaNAP with d Minister 4 Women Affairs & Social Devt. #NationalNAP sees 2 d inclusion of women in peace-building
  4. @chitranagarajan the #NigeriaNAP ensure women are part of peace and security initiative. It caters to the needs of women and girls!
  5. Just spoke at #NigeriaNAP launch on behalf of @NSRProgramme – stressed ‘good for women and girls’ AND ‘good for peace and security’
  6. Zainab Maina, Minister of Women’s Affairs, practicalised what it means to mainstream gender – is doing so in every area of life #NigeriaNAP
  7. Zainab Maina, Minister of Women’s Affairs – women are major stakeholders in peace and conflict resolution #NigeriaNAP
  8. UNSCR 1325 was a watershed UN evolution of women’s rights and security issues says Zainab Maina, Minister of Women’s Affairs #NigeriaNAP
  9. Crucial link between peace, women’s participation in decision making & recognition of women’s life experiences in conflict #NigeriaNAP
  10. Conflict changes traditional roles of men and women in society – Zainab Maina, Minister of Women’s Affairs #NigeriaNAP
  11. Still insufficient opportunity given to women to participate in decision making processes that affect their lives #NigeriaNAP
  12. The #NigeriaNAP serves as roadmap to guide implementation SCR 1325 – gives women opp to partake in decision making on peace & security
  13. We at @NSRProgramme get commended for making production and launch of #NigeriaNAP possible by Zainab Maina, Minster for Women’s Affairs
  14. Role of women in our society is unquantifiable -when you train a woman, you are building a great & viable nation – Zainab Maina #NigeriaNAP
  15. Hajia Maina thanks UNwomen and @NSRProgramme for helping with the publishing and dissemination of #NigeriaNAP
  16. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu – Nigerian women are tired of being on the menu, am I right? asks Lydia Umar YES! #NigeriaNAP
  17. This #NigeriaNAP is not just good for our Nigerian women and girls but also our men and boys says Lydia Umar, one of its drafters
  18. When there is conflict, war & crisis, the gun does not recognise if you are a woman but total exclusion of women #NigeriaNAP
  19. Women are not just victims but essential in ensuring a culture of peace – this has not been recognised; Lydia Umar #NigeriaNAP
  20. Security Council observed lack of women’s participation & impunity for gender based violence – took decisive action in 2000 #NigeriaNAP
  21. Changing nature of conflict – before only involved men but now evolution with civilians being targeted – Lydia Umar #NigeriaNAP
  22. Why do women need to be critical stakeholders? Experiences of women and men different #NigeriaNAP
  23. Lydia Umar – need to take into account role of gender equality & conflict prevention, & protect women’s human rights #NigeriaNAP
  24. When we spoke with women during the Kaduna conflict, were concerned about lack of bread – men did not experience that #NigeriaNAP
  25. I observed that 85-90% of those in displacement camps are women – where are the men? – Lydia Umar #NigeriaNAP
  26. Even if not in formal negotiations, play critical role in keeping families & communities together, via marriage cross divide #NigeriaNAP
  27. Undervalued & underrecognised contributions of women, disprop impact of conflict, impt of women’s participation recognised #NigeriaNAP
  28. Why is 1325 significant to Nigeria? Current security challenges facing enough reason for Nigeria to key into #NigeriaNAP
  29. Need to go away from being reactive to proactive to conflict – paradigm shift if #NigeriaNAP implementation
  30. If think of impact of 1325 on Nigeria, think of the impact of conflict on women – so much to say, not enough time #NigeriaNAP
  31. Just exchanged ‘namaste’s with Zainab Maina, the Minister for Women’s Affairs while we unveiled the #NigeriaNAP – well, that was unexpected
  32. 1% military women, 4% in UN police, women not in peace discussions in DRC & Burudi, only 2 special reps of UN Secretary General #NigeriaNAP
  33. Want to see female ex-combatants mainstreamed into process of demobilisation and reintegration, not marginalised #NigeriaNAP
  34. Need to integrate discussion of human rights – including that of women – into peace negotiations says Bilkisu Yusuf #NigeriaNAP
  35. If we do not know laws and policies, we do not know how to demand for our rights – Bilkisu Yusuf #NigeriaNAP
  36. This #NigeriaNAP will not be meaningful if our sisters at grassroots do not know – need to sensitise & develop personal action plans
  37. We must promote the culture of peace – from our homes onwards; must include women in peacebuilding – Bilkisu Yusuf #NigeriaNAP
  38. We must train women and girls as mediators, conciliators so when you’re at the table, can speak in the jargon they understand #NigeriaNAP
  39. We need to think of women and what they need when looking at post conflict says Bilkisu Yusuf #NigeriaNAP
  40. Must intensify advocacy against traditional and cultural practices that prevent women participating – Bilkisu Yusuf #NigeriaNAP
  41. Bilkisu Yusuf strongly advocating for a strong transitional justice mechanism to address crimes committed during conflict #NigeriaNAP
  42. I’m fanatical about #NigeriaNAP. I am coming to your communities to see what you have done and what the people say – Bilkisu Yusuf <love her
  43. The #NigeriaNAP is not UN property, not federal property – you & I are owners of NAP; all are stakeholders in peace so NAP is our business
  44. Is it too much to ask for peace? Must put money where our mouth is so need to fund the #NigeriaNAP – Bilkisu Yusuf <YES!
  45. Successful implementation will depend on funding and political will; #NigeriaNAP should not be a beautiful document that is not implemented
  46. Nigeria contributes more troops than any other in West Africa to UN missions; exporting peace but not investing in it at home #NigeriaNAP
  47. When we bellyfull now, we give away AND we are one humanity ie need to fund peace in Nigeria AND contribute externally #NigeriaNAP
  48. @ProfLizKelly it’s the launch of the National Action Plan on women, peace and security – Bilkisu Yusuf & Lydia Umar are amazing #NigeriaNAP
  49. #NigeriaNAP needs to be implemented so women can have development, peace and equality – Bilkisu Yusuf
  50. OH ‘I’m tired of being on the menu, I want to be at the table’ women talking about decision making #NigeriaNAP #yay
  51. Do you gender at work/outside and surrender at home? #NigeriaNAP. Time to think again. Send your email for a soft copy of the NAP Document
  52. Contact nsrp.comms@ng.britishcouncil.org for a copy of the NAP.

celebrating the women’s rights, peace and security agenda

I was asked to speak at the second anniversary of the African Women’s Decade by Make Every Woman Count, held on 31st October 2012 which marked the 12th anniversary of the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. What follows is reconstructed from my notes for the evening.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was a resolution passed by the Security Council in 2000. It came out of conversations that women from different conflicts in different parts of the world had which found similarity of experience – that women had been instrumental in bringing about peace processes, keeping communities going during and after conflict, their experiences were fundamentally different than those of men but that they were sidelined from official peace negotiations.

They started a global campaign to get issues of women, peace and security seen as important in places of global power – including the Security Council. Bangladesh and Namibia were the first countries to support the idea of the Resolution. It was passed in 2000 and was the first time the Security Council required parties to a conflict to respect women’s rights, recognised the role that women play in peacebuilding and supported women’s participation in peace negotiations and post conflict reconstruction. The Resolution continues to be used by women’s rights organisations all over the world to hold their governments and national, regional and international institutions to account.

It is important to know the history of it.  The Resolution is not something that those who are the most powerful in the world came up with, but women working for peace all over the world and from countries that had experienced conflict and understood what it meant.

So, has the fact that the Security Council passed this in 2000 meant women are now included in all peace negotiations, peacekeeping and other decision making, there is no more rape and sexual abuse in armed conflict and all peace agreements consider the needs and protect the rights of women and girls? Not surprisingly, the answer is no.

Unfortunately, despite calling for and working towards peace, human rights and justice, women continue to be excluded and marginalised. Those who have the power to decide often simply do not view involving or thinking of women as a priority.

In the past 25 years, only one in forty signatories to peace agreements have been women.  Only sixteen percent of peace agreements concluded between 1990 and 2010 even mention the word ‘women’ and even of these 16%, many mention ‘women’ to restrict their rights and say what women can and cannot do.

Let us see what has been happening across North Africa over the past two years. Women were active in, and in many cases, led the revolutions but have faced marginalisation and violence. In Tunisia, considered to be the regional leader in promoting women’s rights, the first march for women’s rights ended in attacks with shouts that women should ‘go back to the kitchen.’  Women’s rights activists in Egypt talk of an epidemic of sexual harassment in every-day life – and of course we know about the so-called ‘virginity testing’ that was carried out on female protestors by the military to intimidate and discredit them. There have been proposals to cancel women’s rights to initiate divorce, reduce the age of marriage and decriminalise female genital mutilation. As a Libyan activist said following the overthrow of Gadafi, ‘We have got rid of the big patriarch; we now need to break free of the little patriarchs everywhere.’

The situation for women across Africa continues to be that of the strength of women’s organising not being reflected adequately in national, foreign and international policies and practices. It is not just African governments but international institutions too. I recently met someone who was involved in the Darfur peace process who told me that UN officials involved didn’t know that the Security Council had said that women must participate in peace negotiations.

So, the story so far is of uneven progress – it is a bit frustrating that we have not progressed further in the past 12 years but there is increasing attention and awareness being paid to women’s rights in conflict.

Every year in October, women from conflict affected countries come and speak to the Security Council. There are now 5 Security Council Resolutions that make up the Security Council agenda on women, peace and security and commitments. There has been lots of discussion about sexual violence committed by peacekeepers. It has opened up a whole world that existed in the past but was never discussed in ‘hard’ security spaces. There is a women, peace and security movement with networks all over the world that use Security Council Resolutions and other international and regional human rights law and other standards to hold governments and institutions to account. National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security have been developed in 36 countries, (incl Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda) setting out how governments intend to take action on women, peace and security commitments. The real gap is between the rhetoric that takes place in New York at the UN and the reality of what happens in conflict affected countries.

As one of the Liberian women’s rights activists who was part of the movement to end their civil war once told me ‘We need to go back, pick up 1325 and carry it forward to the place we are now.’

at the table, not on the menu: why you can’t build peace leaving half the people out

I wrote this for Fabiana magazine on women and peace processes for their first issue, published in Autumn 2011:


No country is a model of perfection when it comes to gender equality. The reality of what power imbalances between women and men means in practice sharpens when looking at countries affected by violent conflict. Here, women experience sexual violence, displacement and torture but their needs, realities, experiences and perspectives are often excluded from consideration.


As Kofi Annan, then United Nations Secretary General, said, “For generations, women have served as peace educators, both in their families and in their societies. They have proved instrumental in building bridges rather than walls.” Thousands of women mobilised onto the streets in Liberia demanding ‘peace and no more war.’ The Women’s Mass Action for Peace was instrumental in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating tables and its barricading of delegates in meeting rooms led to mediators securing agreements and setting deadlines. The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, consisting of Catholic and Protestant women, was able to engage all parties, easing tensions and promoting dialogue while ensuring the process moved forward. Women for Human Rights in Nepal ensured the rights of widows, a group particularly marginalised and vulnerable, were recognised in the interim Nepali Constitution through their advocacy efforts.


However, despite their crucial roles in calling for and working towards peace, human rights and justice, women are largely absent during formal peace negotiations. In the past 25 years only one in forty signatories to peace agreements has been a woman. Only 16% of peace agreements concluded between 1990 and 2010 mention women and many of these references contravene human rights. This is not a coincidence. There is a link between participation, power and voice in politics, the economy and culture, fulfillment of women’s human rights and fear of continuing violence. Women experience conflict and its aftermath differently from men and when women are excluded, their needs are not identified, prioritised and allocated resources. In Egypt, women were central in the revolution, with virginity testing of women activists in Tahrir used to oppress and intimidate, but have been marginalised in decision-making since. In contrast, the involvement of women civil society groups in peace processes has led to greater gender sensitivity in peace agreements in Guatemala, Uganda and Burundi. Women have an equal stake in building a durable peace and the potential to contribute to deliberative democratic processes in the same way as men. Women have the right to take part in decision-making processes that will determine their future and that of their country. Furthermore, decision-making that is more representative, inclusive and democratic is a more responsive process, leading to better decisions and outcomes. Experience shows peace negotiations and agreements that exclude women are far less effective than those where all within society are involved. Donald Steinberg, former US ambassador to Angola, believes that “The exclusion of women and gender considerations from the peace process proved to be a key factor in our inability to implement the Lusaka Protocol and in Angola’s return to conflict in 1998.”


Despite recognition of women’s right to be fully included in peace and security structures and in peace processes and post conflict governance in the form of human rights law and numerous resolutions passed by the Security Council, challenges remain. Family commitments, communication and safety concerns play a part. Furthermore, the prevailing view continues to be that, as women do not make up the majority of those carrying the weapons, they have no stake in being around the peace table and no influence that they can bring to bear. Issues around women, peace and security remain in the margins.


However, the UK has been a leader in this field, driving forward the agenda at the Security Council and being one of the first countries to have a national action plan on women, peace and security. However, much more needs to be done to translate rhetoric into reality. Gender Action for Peace and Security works to strengthen government policy so it has further and lasting impact for women. Our No women, no peace campaign calls for leadership, coordination, investment and accountability around women’s rights in conflict. No women, no peace currently focuses on women’s rights in Afghanistan. At this crucial time, the UK must take action to ensure women and women’s rights are central to discussion around transition in Afghanistan. For peace to be meaningful, the end of conflict must mean the end of violence for women and women must be involved in decisions that shape their societies and their future.


slutwalk, London, 2011

I spoke at the Slutwalk held in London on 11th June 2011 in my role as Director of Gender Action for Peace and Security on behalf of our No women, no peace. campaign.

Good afternoon everyone. It’s absolutely wonderful to see so many of you here today – thousands of women and men standing together against rape culture, victim blaming and for women’s rights.   We’re marching in London today – while we do so, I think it’s important that we think about our sisters resisting in other countries. Women’s rights activism is global; it is alive and flourishing everywhere. Why? Because no matter where you are and who you are, life is not the same for women as it is for men. There is a link between women’s participation, power and voice in politics, the economy and culture and the violence and fear that we face in our homes, our communities and our streets. As a women’s rights activist from Zimbabwe said: ‘If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.’

The reality of what this means in practice sharpens and comes into focus when looking at women’s lives in countries affected by violent conflict. All over the world women experience sexual violence, displacement, torture, feminicide and kidnap but the needs, realities, experiences and perspectives of women are often excluded from consideration. Only 1 in 40 signatories to peace agreements are women and only 16% of peace agreements even mention women – and often, even when they do, when women are mentioned, it is to restrict their rights. This is not a coincidence.

When women’s voices are not heard, women’s needs are ignored. When women are marginalised and excluded from power, men think it’s okay to say things like ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.’ Not only does this kind of thinking blame women for rape, but it is used to put women in their place.

In Egypt, women took part in the revolution but have been marginalised in decision making afterwards about the future of their country. Virginity testing of women activists in Tahrir was used to oppress and intimidate because ‘the girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine.’ Forces had to have proof they were not virgins in case they were accused of rape afterwards – the message of course being that a woman who has been sexually (and politically) active cannot be raped and you should not be concerned about their sexual assault.

In Libya, there is evidence that rape of women was used as a weapon against opposition forces and to punish women in order to instill fear and curb dissent.

October sees the tenth anniversary of military intervention in Afghanistan. In 2001, the need to promote and protect the rights of Afghan women was prominent in UK and US government rhetoric. Ten years later, will women be at the peace table to negotiate the transition? Will women’s rights remain firmly on the agenda, or will they be traded away for so called ‘peace?’

At Gender Action for Peace and Security, we believe that for peace to be meaningful, the end of conflict must mean the end of violence for women. We believe that women must be involved in decisions that shape their societies and their future. We run a No women, no peace. campaign calling for the meaningful participation of women in peace processes and for women’s rights to be taken seriously. In the next few months, we will be asking the UK government to ensure women and women’s rights are central to discussion around transition in Afghanistan. Please join us. You can find out more by visiting our website – nowomennopeace.org. We believe that you can’t build peace by leaving half of the people out.

No women, no peace.

Implementing Resolution 1325 in Liberia: Reflections of Women’s Associations

I co-authored this report on women, peace and security in Liberia in 2010 together with Ruth Gibson Caesar, Cerue Konah Garlo and Steven Schoofs.

‘Long before Resolution 1325 came into being, we were already doing 1325.’

With the launching of its Action Plan for the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2009, Liberia became the first post-conflict country with a National Action Plan (NAP) to implement Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The significance of the resolution is that it urges the international community and UN Member States to enhance women’s participation in peace processes. Liberia’s NAP is expected to sustain and enhance women’s peacebuilding efforts and take decisive steps towards gender equality and sustainable peace in Liberia. At the same time, women activists in Liberia are quick to point out that long before Resolution 1325 was adopted women’s activism played an important and visible role in bringing an end to Liberia’s civil war.

The direct involvement of women in peacebuilding activities raised awareness of their own capacities and potential to build a sustainable and peaceful society that is inclusive to women. As such, Liberia’s women’s organisations and networks embody a significant amount of practical peacebuilding knowledge and experience. In a sense, Liberia’s women’s organisations are leading the way with respect to working with Resolution 1325 within a challenging post-conflict environment. The question is whether, and to what extent, Resolution 1325 is strengthening or facilitating women’s peacebuilding efforts in Liberia.

Under the auspices of the Initiative for Peacebuilding (IfP), International Alert conducted a relatively small study on women’s organisations in Liberia to address this question. The objective was to document what impact Resolution 1325 is having on the strategies and activities of women’s organisations. The primary focus of the research was to generate a tentative assessment of how and to what extent women’s organisations are utilising Resolution 1325 in their work and how the resolution is shaping their strategies and activities. The study was informed by a research framework that sought to document achievements, lessons learned and constraints across three areas of analysis:

1. Coordination, collaboration and networking between women’s organisations;

2. Activities and strategies of women’s organisations; and

3. Influence and impact of women’s organisations.

The research was conducted in August 2010 by a Monrovia-based research team, which consisted of two researchers and a research assistant, as well as two London-based staff members of Alert. The study gathered qualitative information from a broad spectrum of women’s civil society and community-based organisations, including youth, faith groups, rural women and peacebuilding organisations, legal and human rights institutions, and organisations involved in peacebuilding activities. Participants were both male and female. The methodology used for this study included key informant interviews, focus group discussions and a two-day workshop in Monrovia to discuss initial findings with representatives of women’s organisations. A comprehensive research report has been produced from which this briefing paper is drawn.

The main rationale for this study stems from the fact that Resolution 1325 is generally regarded as an important instrument for enhancing women’s participation in peacebuilding processes and has the potential to contribute to a more peaceful and inclusive society; however, women’s peacebuilding efforts remain insufficiently understood by international institutions and policymakers, which is further compounded by the fact that the evidence base with regard to the implementation of Resolution 1325 remains underdeveloped. The result is that there continues to be a gap between the realities women face in conflict-affected contexts and the perceptions of decision-makers in national, regional and international institutions. It is hoped that the findings of this study can make a modest contribution to bridging that gap.

You can read the rest of the report here.