Religious actors play a critical role in peace processes
The war in Ukraine coloured the discussion at the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), taking place in Karlsruhe, Germany between August 31st and 8 September 2022. Also highlighted was the role of the churches in peacebuilding and reconciliation, which led to a lively panel discussion on 5th September, organised by Finn Church Aid and the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.
THE TITLE of the panel discussion was “Faith-based actors’ role in peace-building and reconciliation processes”. Taking part were Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, Most Rev. Dr. Tapio Luoma; Moderator of the WCC Central Committee, Dr. Agnes Abuom from the Anglican Church of Kenya; Ms Sally Azar from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan; and the Holy Land and Mr Matthias Wevelsiep from the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.
Since over 80% of the world’s population self-identify as as members of a religious group, religious actors play a critical role in peacebuilding, conflict transformation and reconciliation processes around the world. Mediators from a religious background work within communities, while tradition and faith serve as motivation and guide for peacebuilding.
The panel emphasised the importance of religious leaders and communities as well as other faith-based actors in peace processes.
“Looking globally, religious leaders have a lot of influence in their own communities, but also a great responsibility to act equitably and promote justice and peace with their own activities,” said Archbishop Tapio Luoma.
Moderator of the WCC Central Committee Agnes Abuom also emphasised the importance of ecumenical organisations as platforms for dialogue and peacebuilding.
Ecumenical cooperation to promote peace
The World Council of Churches was founded in Amsterdam in 1948 and includes 352 member churches from more than 120 countries. The Assembly is WCC’s highest decision-making body and meets every eight years. WCC’s mission is to promote Christian unity. Work to promote peace and justice has also been a key element of WCC’s operations since its foundation.
Finn Church Aid is WCC’s partner organisation, supporting WCC’s projects for peacebuilding in the Middle East as well as interreligious dialogue and cooperation. In addition, FCA works actively in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), sending volunteers annually to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. During the three-month period, the volunteers monitor the human rights situation at the grassroots level, report on it and provide a protective presence to the locals.
In Somalia, FCA has trained more than 700 women leaders in leadership and other skills.
OVER THREE DECADES OF CONFLICT has left Somalia in poverty, most of its infrastructure destroyed, and ongoing political instability and armed conflict exacerbate the effects of climate shocks. Women have borne the brunt of these hardships.
FCA has been supporting state-building and the establishment of inclusive local governance through district council formation in line with the Wadajir National Framework and National Reconciliation Framework. Together with the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, we worked closely with the Somali State and Federal Government, local authorities, communities, and civil society partners.
In 2021, we released a new publication on lessons learned and best practices for supporting inclusive local governance, focusing on promoting the participation of women, youth, and marginalised groups to support future state-building efforts in Somalia. As decision-making is largely in the hands of clans, which men dominate, decision-making processes exclude women, youth and marginalised groups. Since 2016, our support has resulted in the formation of five new district councils, with sixteen women elected as district council members. Furthermore, FCA has trained more than 700 women leaders in leadership and other skills.
In 2021, we lobbied for women’s meaningful participation in federal and district elections. In the Barawe district of Southwest state, a new council was formed, comprising twenty men and seven women, including the first female Deputy Mayor. Twenty youth (fourteen men and six women) were also elected. In partnership with the Network, Somali Peace Line and the Ministry of Women, Human Rights and Development, we promoted women’s participation in federal elections in Southwest and Hirshabelle State, advocating for a 30% quota.
Social media, radio and television raised awareness about civic rights and opportunities to participate in political processes and communication activities that FCA supported. That contributed to a 98 per cent awareness rate of district council formation, which helped increase the participation of women and other marginalised groups. Inclusive local governance in Somalia is time-consuming and labour-intensive work, but the incentive is clear – the dividend is peace.
“Looking Back – Looking Ahead” report documents more than a decade of work in inclusive local governance in Somalia
FCA launched a new publication on inclusive local governance in Somalia with support from the EU. The report covers the lessons of the District Council formation process, community participation, and the inclusion of women, youth, and marginalised groups.
ON NOVEMBER 24, 2021, in an event co-organized by the Federal Ministry of Interior and Reconciliation Affairs (MOIFAR) and Finnish NGO FCA, FCA launched a new publication on inclusive local Governance in Somalia with support from the EU. The publication has been developed through a participatory process with key local governance and stabilization actors and partners in Somalia and documents more than a decade of work in inclusive local governance.
More than 50 participants representing the government at federal and state levels across Somalia, district administrations and councils, elders, women’s groups and networks, and key stabilization and international support actors convened to discuss inclusive local governance efforts in Somalia in-person and online. At the event, the participants reflected on the lessons learned, challenges and best practices captured in the publication and identified priority actions and next steps to take the recommendations forward.
The publication covers the lessons of the District Council formation process, community participation, and the inclusion of women, youth, and marginalised groups.
Local governance is the most visible form of government to the people
In Somalia, eight district councils have been established in line with the Wadajir National Framework of 2016. Out of these eight, five district councils have been successfully formed with active and inclusive community participation, including women, youth and marginalized groups, with the efforts and support of FCA and its partners and with generous support from the EU.
As local governance is the most visible form of government to the people, it is crucial it is seen as inclusive and legitimate. Establishing community-owned, functional local governments responsible for delivering services to their population supports the legitimacy of government and fosters trust and good relations between government and local communities
As highlighted by the Director General of MOIFA, Saed Alasow in his opening remarks:
“MOIFAR really appreciate the joint efforts and collaboration between the Somalia government, donors and civil society support for inclusive local governance in Somalia, MOIFAR is fully committed of supporting and facilitating inclusive local governance and Reconciliation in Somalia, also encourages the participation of all stakeholders.”
One of the key lessons is that formation of these councils are so much more than elections. Civic education, dialogue, conflict resolution, reconciliation, negotiation, and power-sharing have just as much of a role. In addition, support to women’s political participation brings tangible change at different levels.
Reconciliation processes need to be revisited
“The reconciliation processes need to be revisited and resigned to be inclusive because male dominates the reconciliation, but women play critical roles, but their contribution is not recognized, and they are not given credit for their efforts, this has to be changed,” said Idil Ibrahim, a program advisor for Life and Peace Institute on reflecting lessons learned and best practices.
Visions and dreams related to the future of Somalia’s local governance include implementing district council formation processes in all the remaining districts across Somalia: good relations and collaboration among different levels of Governance across the country, community ownership of district council formation, and having resources for it allocated by the central government, a democratic and inclusive Somalia with systems in place and all essential services attended to by districts, realized national reconciliation as a foundation for trust-building, unity and more vital governance institution, a shared vision of a common future leading the way to a new social contract and social cohesion; political stability, justice and an improved security situation at large.
“In comparison to the other districts that have not yet been formed in Somalia’s South West state, hope, confidence, and trust have been stored in the established district councils,” said Director General of South West State Ministry of Interior, Mustafa Sh. Abdullahi.
“Furthermore, we are here to promote inclusivity and women’s rights in any government formation – if we look back and solve issues in the community, we are looking ahead in a better way.”
For more information:
For more information on FCA’s and partners efforts in promoting inclusive local Governance, and to access the publication, please refer to: kua.fi/localgov
Since 2016 FCA has been implementing various Right to Peace programmes, from promoting inclusive local governance through district council formation (DCF) following the Wadajir National Framework for Local Governance to increasing women’s political participation. The programmes have been supported by the EU delegation to Somalia, USAID/TIS+ and Somalia Stability Fund.
Media inquiries: Mr. Ikali Karvinen, tel. +252 617 234 597, email: ikali.karvinen[a]kua.fi (preferred way of contact)
Distance learning, quarantines and travel bans. Lockdowns, cancelled events, and hundreds of online meetings. Remembered as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was an exceptional year for everyone, including Finn Church Aid, writes executive director Jouni Hemberg.
Conditions have been dire in our programme countries before; however, this was the first time that a crisis affected the entire organisation. Even though we have experienced conflicts, earthquakes, natural disasters and epidemics, none of us had ever experienced a global pandemic.
Although what happened during the year took us and everyone else by surprise, we weren’t entirely caught off guard. As our teams are geographically dispersed, remote working is not unusual. In Finland, our entire Helsinki office relocated to employees’ homes practically overnight. When I compare the ease of remote working now to what it was a year ago, it’s as different as night and day. Our country offices in Asia, Africa and the Middle East were also able to ward off coronavirus infections for a long time, which was crucial for our Covid-19 response in 2020
The pandemic has inevitably affected our education, livelihoods and peace programme work. Schools worldwide switched to distance learning, and some had to shut down entirely in 2020. While families in Finland agonised over remote school and remote work arrangements from home, people in our programme countries needed to be even more resourceful. Without access to internet or any infrastructure, teachers travelled from village to village teaching children, and radio lessons were provided.
Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on livelihoods. Unlike in Europe where governments have taken responsibility for helping people and businesses cope, people in developing countries have been left to their own devices. In countries where social safety nets are weak, an epidemic much less dramatic than the Covid-19 pandemic can make life difficult. Unable to earn a living, people are forced to leave their homes and seek opportunities elsewhere. Forced migration is not only a risk in terms of the pandemic, but it also increases regional tensions. Conflicts arise regardless of epidemics, and this has made our peace work all the more challenging.
Despite such challenging circumstances, we as an organisation have performed extremely well. A significant increase in our international funding shows that partners such as the UN, the EU and other public funding providers, have strong faith in us and our vision.
However, the Covid-19 epidemic diminished our church collection income. With various social restrictions in place, we have been unable to reach our donors as we normally would. Passing the collection plate online is very difficult, and our hardworking face-to-face fundraisers were forced to stay at home. But while our internal funding in Finland decreased, so did our expenditures, as travel-related costs shrank. With that being said, we were fortunate to not experience significant losses in 2020.
A year amidst the pandemic has opened our eyes to new opportunities. We must be able to grow as an organisation and learn how to make effective use of new digital tools. Going forward, a large part of our education activities will no longer take place in physical buildings despite a vast number of people in places like Africa will still need access to education. This is where digital learning could come into play. The fact remains that the way we work will never be the same it was before the pandemic. We need to contemplate on the lessons learned during the pandemic and adopt new working modalities in the future.
As the Executive Director of Finn Church Aid, it is my heartfelt wish that we will soon defeat the pandemic and begin our journey to recovery. Our post-Covid-19 work will focus strongly on sustainable development. We will continue our efforts to promote education, peace, livelihoods and equality. And now that remote working has proved successful, we can start pursuing more ambitious environmental objectives, such as rethinking what constitutes as necessary travel.
Although 2020 was an extremely tough year for us at Finn Church Aid, it was also a major success story, thanks to our employees, board members and other elected representatives and volunteers. You are our most significant resource, and your valuable input allows us to help those most in need.
You are also the best indicator of quality and trust in our activities. Thanks to your efforts to develop our operations, our funding has increased. We learned a valuable lesson from the pandemic: when all the parts of our organisation come together, we can weather any crisis.
Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director for Finn Chruch Aid
This text twas originally published as the preamble of our Annual Report 2020 that came out recently. Would you like to know more about what was done?
South Sudan faces multiple shocks but optimism remains
South Sudan reaches its tenth Independence Day on 9th July in a situation in which the Covid-19 pandemic is hampering the country’s gradual recovery from conflict. An economic crisis and exceptional floods add to the challenges, but there is also significant optimism among youth, writes Finn Church Aid’s Humanitarian Coordinator Moses Habib.
WHEN WILL THE PANDEMIC END? Who brought Covid-19 to South Sudan? These are questions we encountered from beneficiaries while rolling out community awareness campaigns about the pandemic. As a layperson with limited knowledge about Covid-19, it was intriguing to explain to people the myths about a virus we all did not understand, and that left me with memories I will have forever.
The general situation in South Sudan is dire. What worries me most is that before the pandemic struck, more than two-thirds of the country’s population – about 8.3 million people – were in need of some form of humanitarian assistance in order to survive. In 2020, the multiple shocks caused by intensified conflict and sub-national violence, a second consecutive year of major flooding, and the impacts of Covid-19 hit communities severely.
The challenges increased the vulnerability of populations that were already at risk. It worries me even more to hear some say that there is not enough political will to end their suffering.
We believe that advancing inclusion over exclusion paves the way for addressing the root causes of conflicts and ending the cycles of violence. In practice, we equip youth, women, traditional and religious actors with skills in conflict resolution, mediation and peacebuilding. Our efforts have materialized at local and community levels but have not yet translated to adequate representation in the national peace process.
What gives me hope is that there is optimism among young people, despite the country’s protracted challenges. South Sudan has abundant natural resources, which keeps many South Sudanese optimistic about the future. People believe that with a conducive environment free of conflict, this country has the potential to take off and become a breadbasket of the East African region and beyond.
Finn Church Aid has worked in South Sudan throughout the country’s independence. FCA builds peace in local communities, empowers youth and women in peacebuilding and through access to vocational education, and supports children’s access to school. Have a look at photos of our work throughout the years!
Members of a youth peace committee in Pibor in 2019. Pibor has a reputation for cattle rustling and fighting between youth groups, but peace committees have reduced conflict and supported reconciliation. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
A gathering of the women’s peace committee in Pibor in 2019. Women are an integral part of peace building efforts but often not represented in peace processes. Before this group was founded, villagers reported incidents of violence five times a week. Thanks to peace committees like this one, incidents in 2019 occurred at an average of once a week. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
One of Finn Church Aid’s key objectives is to maximise the opportunities of children and young people to attend school and receive a quality education. This project, funded by the EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), supported 7,000 pupils’ access to school in Fangak County. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Girls playing after class in New Fangak. Schools offer a safe place for girls amidst disasters, societal pressures and harsh economic realities that lie at the bottom of issues like child marriage and child labour. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Teacher training funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) in New Fangak. The training of teachers builds the foundation for quality education. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Youth at the local youth centre in Pibor. Football is one of the most popular pastimes across the country. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
Floods and drought create challenges for food production in South Sudan’s northern parts. Nyaluak Kong Kuon lost her harvest to the floods and faces difficulties in planting during the heat of the dry season. Photo: Maria de la Guardia
Nyakuola Pale Thieng grows onions on her lands in Old Fangak. In 2020, a total of 6,347 beneficiaries benefitted from Finn Church Aid’s distribution of agricultural inputs and fishing gear. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
Luor Luny Thoar with his catch near Toch village in South Sudan’s Sudd swamp. Besides receiving gear, fishermen are also trained in fish preservation methods, which ultimately increase the profit of their livelihood when they sell their catch to the market. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
Youth at the Juba Technical School. Finn Church Aid supports Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) for youth in for instance construction, catering, mechanics, hairdressing and tailoring. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
23-year old Abir Mustafa trains in construction. More than half of the 414 youths that benefited from TVET training in 2020 were women. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
21-year-old Reida trained in catering in Juba and managed to secure an internship at a hotel. In 2020, 414 young people completed a post-vocational internship in the private sector, and 298 of them continued at work after their internship. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt
The market in Yei town in South Sudan’s southern parts. Yei County is traditionally considered South Sudan’s breadbasket region due to its fertile soil and agricultural traditions. The conflict that erupted in 2016 forced many to flee across the border to neighbouring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
The peace agreement in September 2018 has encouraged some people to return home from the refugee settlements. Finn Church Aid supports returnees and the host community in Yei with for instance cash transfers that help people feed their families and rebuild their houses and livelihoods. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
Siblings Stella, 28, and Pascal, 25, returned to Yei from Uganda’s refugee settlements in 2019 and have worked hard to cultivate their plot of land. Pascal managed to finalise his agricultural studies thanks to the cash transfers. Photo: Sumy Sadurni
Knowledge Management Central in Advancing Inclusive Local Governance in Somalia
For years, FCA has worked with its partners systematically and successfully to involve women, youth and marginalised groups in decision-making. Sharing knowledge and learning from others is central to this work.
Successful district council formation is a key milestone in building inclusive local governance structures and systems. Since 2017, four district councils have been successfully formed with active and inclusive participation of the community including women, youth and marginalized groups, with the efforts and support by FCA and its partners. The four areas include Berdale and Hudur of South West, Afmadow of Jubaland and South Galkacyo of Galmudug.
In June, FCA engaged partners, federal and local government officials and key actors to reflect on the overall progress, achievements, challenges, lessons learned and remaining priorities in inclusive local governance in Somalia.
Active dialogue and knowledge management in a recent workshop
The workshop, held in Mogadishu on 21-22 June 2021, brought together more than 45 key figures in local governance. The aim was to promote collective reflection and knowledge management and to address remaining priorities in the work towards inclusive governance particularly in the district council formation processes and the promotion of women’s political participation in Somalia.
Mr. Mustafa Adaf, the Director-General of the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Local Governance of South West State of Somalia, briefly highlighted the success stories, challenges and lessons learnt from the established district councils in South West State.
“So far four district councils have been formed in South West State with strong representation of women in the elected councils including ten women out of 21 elected council members in Diinsor, five women out of 21 in Waajid, and two out of 21 in Berdale, while Hudur has zero women representation in the district council,” Mustafa said.
FCA has been implementing various programmes promoting inclusive local governance through district council formation (DCF) and increasing women’s political participation since 2016, with the support of the EU delegation to Somalia, USAID/TIS+ and the Somalia Stability Fund.
Learning from experience
Officials from the Ministries of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation (MOIFAR) at the federal and state levels across Somalia, district administrations and councils, elders, women’s groups and networks and key stabilisation actors were actively participating in the lively discussions. The participants identified and discussed the results and successes of FCA and its partners’ interventions and contribution to promoting inclusive local governance and gender equality and the social inclusion of women, youth and marginalised groups.
The participants of the workshop also explored lessons on what has and not worked in past and ongoing interventions to foster learnings for the benefit of the other districts that are currently undertaking the district council formation in accordance with the Wadajir National Framework for Local Governance. In addition, the workshop also charted the way forward in addressing remaining priorities for effective, future programming.
The workshop’s outcomes will be collated and a publication will be compiled for internal and external knowledge management. The document will be distributed among the numerous actors working to support state-building processes in Somalia.
Advancing women’s participation
Not only is successful district council formation a historic milestone in promoting democratic process and inclusive local governance, but also in terms of women’s political participation. This is the first time in the history of South West State for women to achieve such a representation among elected council members.
“One of the lessons we learned in the previous council formations such as in Berdale and Hudur in 2017 was the need to emphasise the importance of the role of women. From such experiences, we started discussing a quota system for women’s participation in the DCF process in other districts. Once we secured that women can have meaningful participation, we proceeded with the process. So, in a nutshell, women participation can only be achieved, if the government and actors collaboratively engage the community to campaign for women in the process,” Mr. Adaf draws together lessons learned.
FCA contributing to profound shift in women’s political participation in Somalia
FCA’s persistent work has led to a significant increase in women’s political participation in Somalia and contributed to a change in local decision-making.
Two of Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) projects in Somalia have helped to move the country towards sustainable peace by advancing gender equality and increasing women’s political participation. FCA has strengthened women’s capacities, increased their opportunities for civic participation, and helped to build fair and equal governance bodies at different levels through trainings, discussions and multi-level advocacy.
“FCA’s team in Somalia works in a challenging environment but on the other hand, the timing of this intervention has fitted well into the state building process following the civil war,” Programme Manager Bashir Fidow from FCA Somalia office tells.
Somalia is one of the most unequal countries towards women due to cultural beliefs and institutional bias and discrimination. Many people still believe that women belong at home and do not have a place in the informal or formal decision making structures. Traditional practices and customary laws are often applied instead of state judiciary. Historically the representation of women in politics is very low.
FCA’s work to increase women’s involvement in politics and in the society
Within the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) project framework, there have been numerous trainings, citizen interface dialogues, debates, and meetings. FCA Somalia team with their partners Centre for Research and Development (CRD) and Ministry of Women and Human Right Development (MoWHRD) have advocated for women’s participation in politics. These platforms provided by the projects have offered women an important channel to be heard but also to learn from each other. The results have been encouraging as hundreds of women have participated in trainings about their rights and the social and civic responsibility of active citizens and elected leaders which has given them the confidence and the skills to participate in decision-making processes.
FCA has advanced inclusive district council formation, including the quota of at least 30 % women in the newly formed district councils. The project has contributed to significant political developments. FCA led the consortium that supported the establishment of four district councils in Berdale and Hudur of SWS in 2018, and Afmadow in Jubaland and Galkacyo in Galmudug in late 2020 with inclusive participation of women and youth. Two women were elected as council members in Berdale, five in Galkacyo and another two in Afmadow. A National Gender Policy was developed for the South West State. In the local elections in the South West State, the number of women’s seats saw a significant increase. There are currently 16 female parliamentarians and a female deputy speaker in the SWS Assembly.
FCA Somalia has implemented several projects in Somalia to promote inclusive governance and women’s political participation. ‘Gender Equality and Social Inclusion’ (GESI) worked in Baidoa, Hudur and Berdale Districts of the South West State (SWS) and was funded by the Somalia Stability Fund (SSF).
‘Strengthening local governance structures and systems for more accountable and inclusive Federal Member States in support of the Wadajir National Framework’ Phase II’ targeted the district council formation through democratic process in the SWS, Hirshabelle, Jubaland and Galmudug, and was funded by the EU. The goal of Strengthening Local Governance project was to bring inclusiveness to District Council formation and have a 30 % quota for women.
FCA has worked in Somalia since 2008 and advanced sustainable peace from the beginning. The country programme operates in four states, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug and Jubaland, and has been active during the time when the federalism and decentralisation efforts have been taking place. FCA has operations also in Mogadishu and Somaliland.
Advocacy on multiple levels of society
“A key element in these projects has been the multi-level strategic advocacy,” says Business Development Manager Leakhena Sieng from FCA Somalia.
The projects’ partners have been essential for effective advocacy. The MoWHRD has supported FCA in building networks and organised meetings and platforms for women and the political gatekeepers to meet, discuss and make decisions.
“FCA’s interventions engaged people on the local level, clan leaders as well as ordinary families,” tells Abdulwahab Osman, acting Local Governance Project Manager at FCA Somalia. “The projects have harnessed networks of women to advocate with traditional and religious leaders about the importance of women’s participation. There have been numerous occasions, workshops and discussions, where the importance of women’s engagement has been debated.”
The GESI project worked with clan elders so that they support and indeed enable women’s active political participation. Somalia’s governance system is heavily influenced by the clan-based social structure and without the support of clan elders, women’s inclusion and leadership is difficult. FCA identified traditional and local leaders as important change agents early on. When the local leaders are convinced about the need to have women in positions of power, in Somalia that is a major advantage, in relation to local communities as well as political leaders.
It has been important to challenge the traditional structures and roles that have prevented women from participating actively in the society. Women have been discouraged from education and girls have been denied their right to learn. The women that FCA has trained have visited villages and spoken to women themselves as well as their families to show how women can take an active role and why they should do it.
“One central goal has been to increase overall public awareness and now 56 per cent of the project’s beneficiaries say that they are able to influence decisions in their community,” tells Leakhena Sieng.
Women supporting and helping each other
FCA wanted to provide aspiring women the tools and the confidence that they need to participate actively in politics. The BAY Women Association Network (BAYWAN) has been key to this process. The network was established by the 207 trained women by FCA and CRD with the purpose to provide a supporting circle for women from all backgrounds and age groups to come together and exchange views and experiences.
The BAYWAN has contributed to change in various levels of society. They have been a great asset to the GESI project in arguing for and advocating women’s active participation in society and girls’ education and equal rights.
“FCA selected 150 young women from universities’ political sciences department to participate in trainings and discussions, with the aim of preparing future leaders, helping them to form networks, giving them confidence to speak out and providing them with a platform for discussions and dialogues with their peers and mentors,” Mr Fidow says.
FCA brought together the young aspiring women and female politicians to inspire the younger generation. The Ministry of Women offered internships and volunteer opportunities for university students. What these women with FCA and its partners have done locally in the South West State has been so successful and inspirational that these good practises have spread and have been adopted in different districts in Somalia.
Profound change towards sustainable peace is possible
FCA’s efforts in Somalia to increase women’s political participation and gender equality has overall been a great success. FCA has helped to bring together the media and key decision-maker and people of power. Because of the publicity that the increase of the number of women in politics has received in the media, especially in Galkacyo, Afmadow and Diinsoor, where a number of women have been elected as council members, this has become a mainstream issue, Mr Fidow says.
FCA’s projects have had a huge impact. More than 700 women and numerous clan and religious leaders have been trained as leaders and agents of change for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The number of women in politics has increased and the enthusiasm of young women at universities shows that this trend is likely to continue.
“Now we are ahead of the other federal states in terms of women’s political participation. I urge other states to be like SWS and provide women political space,” says Faduma Ali Ahmed, MP in the SWS District Assembly.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal number five states that ‘gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world’ and this is very important in a country like Somalia that has been suffering from civil war and violent extremism for decades.
Goal 16, ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’ is intimately tied to FCA’s work in Somalia. The results of FCA’s projects show that great steps have been taken in Somalia towards this goal.
War-torn Syria has descended into a financial crisis that worsens the country’s humanitarian situation. Children living through the war need moments in which they can just be children.
“How can I ever repay my country? I have been told that it is too tough for someone my age to ask, but I am growing up in this country. I eat the food that my father, a farmer, has planted in this soil. That teaches me what is happening here. I want to do something for my country when I can.”
These are the words of a Syrian eight-grader from Eastern Ghouta, Ghadeer Al Aghawa, who we interviewed in January.
I was horrified when I read the interview. Does a child really have to be burdened by such thoughts? Her reflections underscore the grim reality: a disaster marks an end to childhood.
Syria has been through a tumultuous decade since the war started in 2011. The intricate conflict involves the government, opposition groups, other countries supporting the various parties, and extremist groups, and the turmoil has a staggering impact on the emerging generation.
The country hosts millions of students who have gone to school in exceptional circumstances.
At least five million children have been born in Syria during the war. An additional million were born as refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries. According to UNICEF data, thousands of children have been injured, and every ten hours, a Syrian child dies because of the war.
There are no signs of relief as Syria enters another decade in challenging circumstances.
The country faces an unprecedented economic collapse, worse than anything witnessed during the war thus far, writes The New York Times. The currency is weak, salaries have decreased, and the prices of necessities have soared. Syrians suffer from a chronic lack of petrol, which they need for cooking and heating the buildings where many families live.
Marwa Omar Safaya teaches computer science at an FCA supported school in Eastern Ghouta and observes first-hand how the country’s situation affects the children.
“During severely cold winter days, I notice how the children’s hands turn blue. Nothing protects their small bodies from the cold; the price of a coat nowadays equals a month’s salary,” she says.
Teacher Marwa Omar Safaya has seen the war’s impact on children.
The reasons behind the economic collapse are manifold, and many of them are interrelated, such as widespread destruction, international sanctions and the collapse of Lebanon’s banking system.
Statistics by UNOCHA underscore the situation’s severity. The number of people in need has increased by 20 per cent compared to the same period last year. Of Syria’s 18 million people, over 13 million need humanitarian assistance, and six million need it urgently. The World Food Programme (WFP) warned in February that a record number of 60 per cent of the population suffers from a lack of food.
Amid these needs, it is challenging to reconstruct cities ruined by a decade of war. The coronavirus pandemic and the measures curbing it further complicates daily life.
During the first lockdowns, experts worldwide expressed their concerns on how closing schools might affect learning globally. UNICEF and the World Bank said that already a few months of school closure might scar a generation, and worst-case predictions fear entire “lost generations”.
In Syria, the pandemic is only the tip of the iceberg. The country hosts millions of students who have gone to school in exceptional circumstances. Teacher Marwa Omar Safaya feels the pain of her students.
“We try to convince them that life has a lot to offer and that miracles happen when you go to school and work hard. At the end of the day, they only think of how they can complete their mandatory studies to find work and earn food to their table,” Marwa describes.
Eight-grader Ghadeer Al Aghawan is disappointed by the lack of computers in her school.
Eight-grader Ghadeer Al Aghawan says she is grateful for all that has been done for her school during the past years, but some things still disappoint her.
“We have IT classes but only theory. We do not have any equipment to practice what we learn, and that is sometimes frustrating. I know that outside our small town, the rest of the world is dependent on computers and technology. I feel like I am falling behind.”
Ghadeer’s disappointment is understandable. The digital divide between different societies is deep, and the divide increases inequality.
Finnish schools, for instance, utilised the internet for learning already when I was at Ghadeer’s age in 2007, and students did school assignments on computers. In Syria, this chance does not exist for most people, even today. It would not even be possible to introduce digital systems amid war. Computers require connections, connections rely on infrastructure, and infrastructure is built with money.
One thing is obvious: the schools play an essential part in disasters like the war in Syria. The schools offer a safe space and room to breathe for children enduring challenging circumstances. Ghadeer has found solace in school.
“For now, I only try to do my best at school”, Ghadeer says.
She has faith in a better future.
“Even after all the fighting, good things have happened, and I’m waiting for the good things that are still to happen.”
Children living through war need to experience moments in which they feel like children. And schools are the best place for that.
The author works as Communications Specialist for the Middle East at FCA. FCA supports access to quality education for internally displaced people in Syria.
1. INVISIBLE WORK. All women work but do not necessarily earn a salary. Traditionally, only productive work is categorised as a job and all other work, such as that in households or outside the formal economy, remains invisible and therefore unpaid. Women are doing 75 per cent of all unpaid work worldwide and do it for three to six hours per day. Much of the invisible work is within homes, taking care of children, the sick and the elderly.
2. EDUCATION. More than 130 million girls aged 6–17 do not go to school. A girls’ education can also be disrupted if her family needs her to support their daily life through household work or paid jobs. Menstruation or marriage can also put an end to a girls’ education.
3. MENSTRUATION leads to discrimination. In Nepal, for instance, families and the community restrict women’s movement and participation in activities during menstruation. In Myanmar’s Rohingya communities, women are traditionally not allowed to interact with other boys and men than their own family’s after they started menstruating. Many girls face the risk of early marriage after they have had their first period.
4. PERIOD POVERTY. The lack of sanitary pads causes multiple challenges. For instance, in refugee settlements, quality pads are hardly available or sold at a very high price. If the sanitary pads do not exist or cannot be changed safely in school, girls might be forced to stay home during their periods. Repeated absence from school might cause girls to drop out.
5. LAVATORIES are part of everyone’s daily life, but many women have to search for a safe lavatory every day. According to the UN, every third of the world’s women cannot access a safe bathroom facility where they can also wash during menstruation. Women need a door that can be locked not only because of privacy and dignity but because bathroom facilities put women at risk for abuse and sexual violence.
6. EMPLOYMENT. Traditional roles and models weaken the position of women in the job market. Their invisible work as caretakers of families creates further challenges for the women to find time for paid work. Research shows that public support for daycare services increases the number of women doing paid work. A woman with a job and salary has a better chance of impacting her own life and the surrounding society.
7. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN is a severe violation of human rights and a far too common practice. Women are not safe even in their own homes – every third of the world’s women report having experienced violence in a close relationship. An estimated 38 per cent of all murdered women were killed by their spouses.
8. DISASTERS worsen the situation of those in the most fragile positions even further – conflict and war increase domestic and gender-based violence. Violence against women has reportedly soared in several countries during the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus, including the countries where Finn Church Aid operates. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and the pandemic’s burden on healthcare, women are struggling to access services related to sexuality and reproduction, and this might result in a rise in, for instance, unwanted pregnancies.
9. INEQUALITY IN POWER STRUCTURES. Men form a majority in decision-making positions worldwide. Research shows that women are more likely to consider women-related issues, family politics, education and care services when they are in a leadership position. Thus, leaving women outside decision-making significantly affects these areas of life. The influence of women is also undermined by them not being part of the informal, male-dominated networks that might have an unexpected impact on society.
10. ADDITIONAL DISADVANTAGES. While women per se are in an unfavourable position, the women with additional disadvantages caused by disabilities, age, poverty or sexual orientation face even greater challenges. In emergencies, such as natural disasters and conflicts, women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence and struggle to access support. Elderly and poor women and those with disabilities are dependent on the support of others, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.
+1 FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) includes and promotes gender equality in all its operations. FCA and the Women’s Bank work for women’s rights by supporting women’s education and livelihoods in fragile countries. Livelihood activities offer training in entrepreneurship, marketing and managing finances. Creating cooperatives and savings groups are central to the projects, and the cooperatives support their members’ business activities.
The livelihood projects also strengthen women’s rights in other ways. Participating in cooperatives and their management builds confidence and experience that support women in becoming involved in broader decision-making structures. The cooperatives also offer interventions and solutions to issues, such as domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence.
The education of girls is one of the most efficient ways of securing sustainable development. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school, and education is the key to sustaining oneself and live an independent life.
Sources: Caroline Criado Perez (2019): Invisible Women, World Health Organisation, Plan International
The Northern Kenya Integrated Development project trains women in peacebuilding. Milka Rutonye explains how the women brought two conflicting communities together.
Three years ago, Milka Rutonye had had enough. The mother of seven children grew up in Kenya’s Pokot area but married a man from the neighbouring Marakwet. Milka could no longer bear with the impact of conflicts between the two communities.
Political incitement, livestock theft and a scramble for water between the Pokot and Marakwet led to shootings, violence against women and disruptions in the children’s education. Milka was determined to leave her husband’s home, leaving her children behind, and return to her family in Pokot just to run away from the gunshots.
“I always felt terrible when the Pokot – my people – came to Marakwet and caused chaos,” she says. “They forget that their children, sisters and nieces are married to the Marakwet.”
In 2018, Milka spoke with bitterness and complained of the area’s insecurity and its impact on her life. She began taking part in talking circles for women from both of the conflicting communities. Through the platform created by Finn Church Aid (FCA), the 57 women found a common cause and took it upon themselves to change the narrative of insecurity in the Kerio Valley.
The talking circles connect women from the neighbouring communities of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot. Issues, such as water scarcity and cattle theft, have sparked violence in this area of Kenya.
Training gave birth to peacebuilding initiatives
Milka Rutonye has participated in women’s talking circles since 2018.
The group calls itself Endo Chamkalya. It encourages women to be resilient in all aspects of life and actively create a just, peaceful, and equal society through formal and informal structures. Ahead of the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, Milka speaks from inspiration.
“I was touched to see that FCA, coming from outside our communities, was concerned about our well-being. The talking circles have opened our eyes to the causes of our conflict”, she says.
“Water scarcity contributed to the fighting because we wanted to ensure that our livestock gets food. The training has built our capacity to hear and understand each other.”
The Northern Kenya Integrated Development project arranges training in peacebuilding. The training gave birth to various initiatives that the women undertook to restore peace.
Milka recalls a significant event in 2018; a protest against violence. During a border conflict between Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot, the Endo women crossed over to the Pokot side when the conflict had practically restricted all movement across the border. They prayed for peace.
“We had mobilized the Pokot women that are married to Marakwet and decided that we will seek peace by all means. Our only way was to seek an audience with the Pokot,” she says.
The women of Marakwet and Pokot gathering in prayers for peace.
Women from the Pokot community met the women that Milka’s group had gathered. The women from the talking circle ended up meeting with 35 village elders of West Pokot. In two mediation meetings, the women spoke out about how they wanted their children to go to school without interruption, their animals to graze freely, and enjoy peace like any other part of Kenya.
Peacebuilding may start with as simple things as learning to express oneself to the other person. Milka says that the Pokot elders did not know that they were attacking their blood relatives, those that were married to the Marakwet. They regretted it, and some of them even cried.
More importantly, according to Milka, the story shows that anyone can find a moment like this and connect to it – and eventually, become a peacebuilder.
“We were able to influence the village elders of both Pokot and Marakwet to come together and discuss.”
Clearing the road improved livelihood opportunities
Since the peace negotiation led by the FCA talking circle, the situation between the two communities and the entire Kerio Valley has improved.
Benedicta, a moderator in Milka’s women’s talking circle, says that youth from both Pokot and Marakwet joined in clearing the nine-kilometre-long road connecting the two communities. The thick bush had provided hideouts for armed robbers, and there were also other physical obstacles that restricted movement. In the past, Benedicta witnessed two pregnant women die due to the impassable road.
“They were on their way to the district hospital, which is two hours away in normal conditions. The peace engagements have kept the road safe. Now, no one will die because of the road,” she says
Marakwet and Pokot youth clearing the bush along the road connecting the two communities in Northern Kenya.
This road led to the opening of the Lodio market, an important centre for the communities’ livelihoods, and eased access to the health centre. According to Benedicta, it paved the way for people to trade and improve their living standard.
When Covid-19 restricted gatherings in the Kerio Valley, the women groups found creative ways to arrange peace meetings. Peace talks continued during the lockdown on radio channels, such as North Rift FM and Upendo FM Eldoret, with a substantial contribution from the women.
“The talking circles have empowered us women, and we are now committed to advocating for human rights and lead herders and the entire community to disarmament, development, livelihood and gender equality,” Milka adds.