Peace-building sounds lofty and is often seen as the responsibility of world leaders and armed actors, but quite often it is manifested in the tireless work of women and male allies in communities caught in a conflict’s cross-fire.
Héritiers de la Justice is one such grassroots organization. Based in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), it offers legal aid to women victims of war and delivers programs that transform victims into advocates for change.
The important role of women is recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 1325, and Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, which was approved last year, identifies women and peacebuilding as an action area, although to date the policy is not fully funded.
The case for full funding is compelling. According to UN Women, the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least 15 years increases by 35 percent when women are included in the process.
For example, in the DRC, which has been embroiled in two civil wars since the 1990s, Héritiers de la Justice has established local women’s committees in towns and villages to help women support each other and break the silence around sexual violence.
Héritiers de la Justice provides legal training, accompaniment and mediation to promote peace and justice in the DRC’s eastern region. It documents cases of sexual violence, accompanies women through the judicial process, and educates them on Congolese and international laws that are meant to protect their rights.
By working directly with at-risk communities to help improve their conditions, Héritiers de la Justice and other grassroots organizations are laying the groundwork for resiliency and development to improve the conditions for sustained peace.
A KAIROS-sponsored delegation of five grassroots organizations focused on women in fragile states, including Héritiers de la Justice, was in Canada during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, which began in late November, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
KAIROS is a faith-based social justice organization of 10 Canadian churches and religious organizations, focused on Indigenous rights, international human rights, and ecological and gender justice.
In meetings with Parliamentarians the delegates called on the Canadian government to fully finance women’s critical role in conflict prevention and resolution, as well as in building and sustaining an inclusive and just peace.
While the context of conflict in their countries differ, the impacts on women are very similar. Gender-based violence such as rape is often used as a weapon of war. However, when women victims access the support necessary to heal, reclaim dignity and assert their rights, they can become active and effective peace-builders and human rights defenders.
In 2013, Canada made a significant investment of $18 million through the United Nations Development Program to fight impunity around sexual violence in the DRC. Through this project, mobile tribunals travel into rural areas of eastern Congo to facilitate access to justice. While this institution building is critical, it requires the participation and trust of women at a local level. Without investing in such grassroots capacity building by local organizations, Canada’s commitment to ending impunity through this large multilateral project will not be fully realized.
KAIROS has asked Canada to match dollars to words. As the federal government prepares the 2019/20 budget, we urge that it fund and implement its Feminist International Assistance Policy and focus support on grassroots organizations. This cannot happen if its international assistance remains stagnant at 0.26 percent of gross national income. The international standard is 0.7 percent. Canada could match this standard with an annual increase of 15 percent over the next 10 years.
Research by UN Women shows that only five percent of international funds are allocated to programs targeting gender equality and women’s empowerment in fragile states. Canada can change this chronic underfunding by investing in the best chance for sustained peace in the world’s most volatile regions.
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