'I believe women can make a difference' Ambassador Mwangi of Kenya tells UNOAU
In October, UNOAU also sat with the Ambassador of Kenya, H.E. Catherine Mwangi. Read full interview below
As one of the few female Ambassadors sitting in the AU PSC, what would you say that the presence of female members / has impacted the work of the Council (if yes, how?) and the topics under the PSC’s program/agenda of the month in particular?
There is no doubt that the Female Ambassadors sitting on the Peace and Security Council bring to the table a different dimension to discussions, decisions and outcomes. Specifically, there is effort to include in the monthly Council programs women and children agendas. There is also effort to attempt to mainstream gender in all other discussions appreciating that in all areas and aspects of peace and security, women are likely to suffer the most, are most ignored and neglected, and yet have great potential and capacity to make a positive contribution. Additionally, the PSC regularly schedules open sessions devoted to women and children in armed conflict, ending child marriages and protection of schools and educational institutions among others especially in crises situations. These open sessions are often at the instance of female Ambassadors who are members of the PSC.
The field visits by the PSC to conflict situations and to countries emerging from conflict has enabled us to see first-hand the suffering of women and children from the impact of conflicts and crises. These experiences from the field brought by female Ambassadors has helped in shaping the decisions of Council.
We observe that the female ratio in the PSC is approximately 10%. How do you explain the fact that not so many female Ambassadors sit in the AU PSC to represent the interest of their respective country, of the continent but also the interests of African women who are the largest component of our populations? What message would you sent or what would you do to see this number increased?
The number of female Ambassadors in the Council is proportionate to the total number of female Ambassadors accredited to the African Union as PSC members are elected by country, based on regional representation, and not by person. Therefore it is the bigger issue of greater involvement and participation of women in all work areas on the continent. Perhaps as a starting point, Member States could be encouraged to consider gender parity in the appointment of Ambassadors, that way, we would then see the number of women Ambassadors accredited to the African Union increase. It is a fact that, women are more than able, and, like men, when elected or appointed on merit not because of their gender, women have performed exceptionally in all fields and have more than proved their worth.
What is your role in the enforcement of the women, peace and security agenda, including UNSC Resolution 1325? And, what do you view as the key priorities in that agenda for urgent and continuous consideration by African Member States and the PSC?
A first role or responsibility is the appreciation of UNSC Resolution 1325 which acknowledges that women and children are directly affected in situations of armed conflict, and recognizes the fact that women transcend victimology and become active and effective contributors to peace and security processes.
With this appreciation my role is to remain engaged and continually advocate for women to play their rightful role in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction, and to also stress the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security on the continent. Furthermore, as members of the PSC, we have the responsibility to ensure that the AU, RECs and RMs mainstream issues of gender into all the APSA components at the continental and regional levels. Also, to ensure that steps which have been taken, are maintained and nurtured by the AU Commission to mainstream gender in all its activities and programmes.
The AU Peace and Security Department as the technical department oversees several Field Missions in Member States, including its flagship peace support Mission in Somalia – AMISOM. As such, in a bid to implement Resolution 1325, gender advisers have been deployed to some of the AU missions, specifically AMISOM. Gender resource packages and training materials in gender sensitivity have also been developed to enhance the capacity of AU personnel in peace support missions. It is important to see to it that this continues and that issues of violations of women’s rights in conflict situations are addressed in a timely manner. The PSC should play a significant role in ensuring that this happens. As a matter of fact, the PSC has annually, placed on its agenda, open discussions on implementation of Resolution 1325.
What do you think about the UNSG’s approach towards obtaining gender parity in the UN and his appointment of females, African in particular, to very senior positions in the Organization?
As the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Secretary General has a long and laudable experience in working with victims and survivors of armed conflict, which I believe has informed his approach towards the appointment of women in senior leadership positions. Indeed, the UN Secretary General's approach toward gender parity is in keeping with the times and is obviously the correct and moral thing to do. You cannot achieve much by leaving out over half the citizenry of the world; by ignoring women, by not recognizing the great potential that this half possesses. We laud the SG for his wisdom and vision in appointing especially African women to senior UN positions. Again Africa as a block constitutes the largest number of member States of the United Nations so this conforms to the spirit of equitable distribution and fairness.
However, while appreciating what the Secretary-General is doing to enhance gender parity in senior UN positions, we would be happy to see this replicated in the leadership of UN Peacekeeping missions, a majority of which are on the African continent. The ratio of women to men in the leadership of these missions and other key UN representational offices dealing with peace and security is still very low.
Finally, in which areas of peace and security do you think that women – at all levels, from grassroots to political leaders and senior positions – would make a difference and should be given greater opportunities to perform and succeed?
I believe women can make a difference at all levels and in all areas of peace and security. The myth that there are jobs, tasks, responsibilities that are the domain of men has long been disproven. For any meaningful progress, Gender must be mainstreamed in all peace operations. Women must be included substantively in all aspects of peace and security including conflict prevention, management and resolution and post-conflict reconstruction and development. More women should also be included in active peace keeping missions and at the peace table at the various tracks. Women leaders and influencers at the local level have great capacity in contributing to peace and security programs and activities. Their exemplary performance in this field is on record, especially in building social cohesion. Involvement must also be at the decision making levels, both at operational and political level. This will additionally ensure among other things that peace keepers, especially women are suitably provided for. The recently established AU Network of African Women in conflict prevention and mediation (FEMWISE), seeks to bridge the gap between the different levels and to ensure women participation at all levels in the entire conflict cycle – prevention, management, resolution and post-conflict peacebuilding.
With effective capability and capacity building and their local knowledge and ability to mobilize and shape opinion, women can play a critical role in contributing to sustainable peace and security in the continent.
 Track 1 – top political level, government, UN, AU, etc; Track 2 – faith-based organizations, their top leadership, civil society leaders, etc; and Track 3 – women at the community level