Produced by: Joelma Pereira, Communications Manager, World Vision, Mali
Women’s participation in conflict resolution and peace-building is limited by several factors, such as local culture and norms and the fact that some societies are often dominated by their male counterparts.
Yet, there are obvious reasons why women are important to the peace-building process of any country. Women constitute half of every community. In the case of Mali, women make up over 50% of the population. Women are also the central caretakers of families and everyone is affected when they are excluded from the peace-building process. Women are also advocates for peace, as peacekeepers, relief workers, and mediators. In summary, these hidden heroines play a vital role in peace-building and reconciliation in their community when they are allowed to do so.
Rebecca Togo (58), mother of five and a leader of the women’s association of a church in the Mopti conflict-affected region since 2016, is one of the heroines of peace in her community. Rebecca has been living in the Koro district for the past 28 years, so she is well aware of the insecurity issues her community faces, as she explains. “Today, we face huge difficulties. The inter-community conflict has made many victims. People have been displaced; many women have lost their husbands, children, and income-generating activities. They come to us – the women association in the church- to ask for help all the time, but sometimes I can only direct them to social services or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as our association does not have the means to help them all”, says Rebecca with a helpless look.
Rebecca carries on, illustrating the negative effects of the conflict on the vulnerable groups of people. “In this conflict, women and children are the most vulnerable targets. Before the conflict, people lived in harmony, but today we live in total mistrust, as there has been a lot of loss of property and human lives. I do not think that this war benefits anyone’’. Adds the leader.
Despite the disturbing situation, people like Rebecca remain hopeful and willing to promote peace and reconciliation in their community. In 2018, Rebecca was among the women trained by World Vision's Faith and Development team on the 'Do No Harm' approach. According to the woman leader, this was the most beneficial training she ever received. “I have received several trainings with World Vision but the one that has marked me a lot was the training in the field of peace i.e. 'Do No Harm'. I would say that this training was a huge support to me. The training was so useful that in the association I decided to have the local language version of 'Do No Harm' to better appropriate to local context", says Rebecca, now with a smile on her face.
Despite her volunteer work for the return of peace and reconciliation in her community, Rebecca’s formal occupation is food processing. ”I work in food processing with three women groups, which have 35 members altogether. Apart from the food processing, I am also involved in COVID-19 prevention activities in my community”, says Rebecca.
As the discussion continues, Rebecca adds that women in her community are at the forefront of all activities and COVID-19 is one of them. “The women in the groups and myself are not only behind the scenes of this struggle since the involvement of everyone is needed to fight against COVID-19. We have sensitised women to adopt protective measures to avoid contracting COVID-19, by advising them to wear masks within the groups. We have also received training on how to produce liquid soap and this has contributed to the fight against COVID-19, to the point that we produce soap for ourselves and sell. A part of helping to prevent the virus, the profit from our sales allows us to look after our children”, adds the heroine.
Rebecca Togo believes that women leaders can contribute to the return of peace in her community because she has sound evidence that this is possible.” Three years ago, it was unthinkable for these communities to get together, but today, it is possible thanks to the different sensitisation activities on living together, peace and reconciliation. The two communities have managed to sign peace agreements and I am proud to say that I was at the heart of those activities. I am a woman and, as such, I can not remain indifferent to the suffering of other women and children. That is why I decided to put into practice what I learn in the field of peace through the 'Do No Harm' training", says Rebecca with a big smile on her face.
Rebecca’s satisfaction with the 'Do No Harm' training has pushed her not only to contextualise the training but also to extend it to others in the association and her congregation. “Before the training, as a woman leader, I did not know how to make a difference between something that can connect or divide our communities – The Fulani and Dogon communities-. The training helped me to understand that my language could be a source of tension or togetherness within my community. With support from World Vision, I was able to roll out that training with people inside and outside my congregation. Today, whatever my association does in the community, the principles of 'Do No Harm' are at the heart of all the activities", says the leader.
The multitasking leader of the women's association is not ready to slow down, as she explains: "My association has plans to continue the sensitisation on social cohesion for the return of peace here. We will also continue to raise awareness for people to adopt protective measures to avoid contracting COVID-19. Because I believe that peace and health are the basis for progress and our well-being."
It is because of women like Rebecca that World Vision is committed to reach and transform the lives of the most vulnerable people in the hardest-to-reach areas of the world.