Intensified support to the peace process in Mali

The peace process in Mali is fragile and the security situation remains difficult in large parts of the country, not the least for women. FBA supports Mali’s newly-established regional dialogue and mediation teams, and offers gender mainstreaming training for key state officials involved in the peace process.

In early 2012, Tuareg rebels and radical Islamist groups seized control of northern Mali. A peace agreement between rebels and the government was signed in 2015. But the peace process has been moving slowly and fighting continues throughout the country.

When the Swedish government decided upon a new strategy for Sweden’s development cooperation with Mali in 2016, FBA was commissioned to contribute to the strategy within the area of peace and security.

– One of the issues we are commissioned to work with is the inclusion of women in the Malian peace process. Women make up half of the population and from a democracy and justice perspective, they obviously must be included. Women are also badly afflicted by the conflict in Mali and their experiences need to be taken into account in the peace process, says Ylwa Renström Svensson, acting project manager for FBA’s work in Mali.

She underscores that Malian women face widespread discrimination, and that the ongoing conflict has aggravated the situation.

– Women in Mali have less access to education and paid employment than men. Female genital mutilation and other forms of violence against women are common. And during the last years of conflict, radical Islamist groups that are opposed to women’s rights have grown stronger.

Since FBA was tasked with working with Mali, the agency has investigated different ways to strengthen women’s participation in the country’s peace process. The first step was to deploy a Swedish expert to UN Women in Mali. Since 2017, the deployee has been stationed in the capital city Bamako, assisting UN Women and the Malian Ministry for the Promotion of Women in their efforts to revise the national action plan for women, peace and security.

– Our expert has designed and planned consultations with people from different parts of the country, in order to gather their opinions about the action plan. Due to this, the new version of the plan is more inclusive and takes greater account of the varying needs of varying groups. There are differences in needs, not only between men and women but also between people from different ethnic groups and social backgrounds, and between people living in rural areas and city dwellers, Ylwa says.

Each Malian ministry has a designated focal point responsible for overseeing the implementation of the national action plan for women, peace and security.

– The Malian Ministry for the Promotion of Women expressed a need of training for the focal points, and that is why FBA designed a capacity-building programme for them. It started in October 2018, Ylwa says.

The 24 focal points received training on gender mainstreaming in efforts for peace, carried out by FBA’s gender experts. The training session in October last year was followed up by an interchange in the beginning of 2019, coordinated by FBA. Half of the Malian focal points travelled to Liberia and the other half to Nigeria, in order to observe how the women, peace and security agenda is implemented in those countries.

– The interchange was much appreciated and gave the Malian participants many new ideas, Ylwa says.

The next step for FBA is to offer a so called training-of-trainers session for the focal points. The session is held in April in Bamako.

– After the session, the 24 focal points will be able to hold their own trainings on gender mainstreaming, for their colleagues in the Malian ministries and for other actors involved in the peace process, Ylwa says.

In line with the concept of encouraging people to spread their knowledge further, the training-of-trainers session is held by an expert from FBA together with two former participants in FBA’s peacebuilding programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

– It feels great to be able to use two participants from FBA’s project in Congo as teachers in a similar project in Mali. Hopefully, this can lead to a useful exchange between the two countries.

FBA is also financing a study about possibilities for women to participate in the Malian peace process. The study is carried out by PRIO, Peace Research Institute Oslo. A final report will be released in June, Ylwa says.

– The researchers from PRIO have interviewed focus groups, consisting of both women and men, in two cities in central Mali, Segou and Mopti, and Timbuktu in the north. The results of the study can help decision-makers in Mali understand the obstacles to women’s participation in the peace process in different parts of the country, and which measures are needed to reduce the obstacles.

Yet another part of FBA’s mission in Mali is to support dialogue and peace mediation processes. A handbook on dialogue and mediation, developed by FBA in cooperation with the Malian Ministry for Reconciliation, is now being launched. The Malian Ministry for Reconciliation is currently establishing regional teams around Mali, tasked with preventing and solving local conflicts, and the handbook is tailor-made for them.

– Local conflicts are a huge threat to people’s security in many parts of Mali. Our objective is to strengthen the capacity of the Malian state to handle those conflicts in a peaceful manner, by mediation and negotiation, says Christian Altpeter, project manager for FBA’s work with the handbook.

A third part of FBA’s mission in Mali is to support reforms of the national security sector. Among other things, FBA is financing a survey of 15, 000 Malian households and their perception of security. The survey is carried out by the Malian National Institute of Statistics, and the final results will be published later this year. The statistics will help decision-makers in Mali design reforms of for example the police and the military in an adequate way.

Photo: Ralf Steinberger

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Saba Nowzari

Saba Nowzari is expert on Mali, the Middle East and women, peace and security

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