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Africa | Rwanda
Gender - Women | Politics

Rwanda women ex-combatants seek AU peacekeeping role

afrol News, 2 September - Female ex-combatants from Rwanda are now seeking a greater role in regional peacekeeping missions in Africa. There are made plans to "create a network of demobilised women" as female combatants are said to possess "major advantages in efforts to bring stability" to Africa. Rwandan female ex-combatants have first-hand experiences in what warfare means to civilian women and children.

At a meeting, organised in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, the role of female soldiers in future peacekeeping operations by the African Union (AU) were discussed. The meeting, organised by the UN's gender agency UNIFEM and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) looked into the challenges of reintegrating into society, and the role female ex-combatants play as peacebuilders in their communities.

The Kigali meeting brought together over 200 members of an association of Rwandan female former fighters, called Ndabaga. Pointing specifically to Rwanda's recent commitment to support regional peacekeeping missions by sending soldiers to help protect AU cease-fire monitors in Darfur (Sudan), speakers stressed their interest in assisting women caught in conflict.

- This has really caught people's imagination, UNIFEM Director Noeleen Heyzer, was quoted by the UN as saying. "We will help their organisation to meet with other women's groups not only within Africa but outside as well. We hope to create a network of demobilised women," Ms Heyzer added.

The UNIFEM leader was referring to women combatants' overall role in rehabilitation after conflicts, including education, health care and employment. On the specific issue of women in peacekeeping operations outside their countries, Ms Heyzer said they would have to be prepared, but added: "We try to break new ground."

Rwanda has no tradition of female conscription but during the conflict that tore the small central African nation apart in the past decade, hundreds of women voluntarily took up arms alongside men to assume military responsibilities and fight for the liberation of the country and to put an end to the 1994 genocide, killing almost one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

This extreme event remains the major point of reference for Rwanda's female ex-combatants of the Ndabaga group. The group, established in 2001 as the first association of female ex-combatants in the Great Lakes region, includes women from all 12 of Rwanda's provinces, and from both sides of the ethnic Hutu-Tutsi conflict.

- Since wars and conflicts affect children and women in a special way, and since women tend to confide in their fellow women more that they do men, peace missions should have a big representation of women to attend to the special needs of women suffering the consequences of war, Rwandan Minister for Gender Valerie Nyirahabineza told meeting.

Minister Nyirahabineza in particular cited the AU's Sudan mission as an example of where Rwandan women ex-combatants should have been included.

The meeting was organized in recognition of the fact that female ex-combatants, despite the essential roles they can play in post-conflict disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes, are frequently excluded. Because of a strong focus on men, the needs of women ex-combatants are often inadequately addressed in demobilisation phases, resulting in often untenable situations of deteriorating health and poverty.

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