Women: refusing to give up on peace

Women: refusing to give up on peace

Joan Busolo, CMS Africa manager, talks to Naomi Rose Steinberg about peacemaking women

Photo: Joan Busolo (right) listening to South Sudanese women refugees in BidiBidi 2 camp in northern Uganda

For decades, violent conflict has tormented parts of eastern Africa. Joan Busolo, CMS manager for Africa, believes peace is possible. But to achieve it, she says, we need to follow Jesus and listen to women.

Interview with Naomi Rose Steinberg

Naomi: Joan, thank you for talking with me about this topic, which is timely given the continuing violence in Sudan, South Sudan and DR Congo. Can I ask, do you think that for the most part women have been left out of peace-making in those contexts?

Joan: Actually, it’s not they are left out of peacemaking; they are often left out of everything, even just making decisions about themselves. So, we have to start there.

Watch Joan Busolo talking about the priority of peace

Naomi: But it’s women who suffer most during war?

Joan: Yes, even apart from sexual violence which we know occurs…I’ve listened to many stories from women who were pregnant during times of war – imagine a pregnant woman having to run, to hide, to go without food for many days because of what’s going on around her that she never asked for. She may have children looking to her for help. They are the last people who want to see wars. Many of them say it would be easier to have peace and go hungry than to have plenty amid war. Women will be the ones to receive and care for the wounded, they will bear the brunt of those who are angry because they lost the battle. And it’s on that front where their peacemaking begins.

The key players in peace

Naomi: So, women in eastern Africa have a vested interest in bringing about peace – tell me how they can do this from a marginalised position?

Joan: It’s important to understand that many women are peacemaking. They are doing it already. They’re key players in peace. It may look small. It may be ignored. It may look like they are just doing their wifely or motherly duties. But they are peacekeepers.

Women spend 90 per cent of their time with the family, in community. Now that’s crucial. So, what they tell their children when they are fighting, goes beyond just a little fight. It’s a bigger thing. What they say even to their own husbands when there is a dispute with a neighbour or a complaint about one community or another – her voice may come in very quietly, but it can move and change a difficult situation. So, at a grassroots level, they are impacting. They are impacting right from the roots. Truth be told, they prepare the ground for the bigger decisions.

Give women more space!

Our cry in CMS is; give them more space to do that, allow them to come out even more strongly. So, when we run women empowerment programmes in conflict zones, or trauma healing programmes, women are given an opportunity to speak out and to recognise themselves as the peacemakers that they are and can be.

Naomi: Can you tell me about some women peacemakers you know?

Joan: The first person who comes to mind is CMS local partner Regina Lueth in South Sudan. This woman has gone beyond borders. Talk about ministry in hospitals, Regina is there. Talk about counselling, Regina is there. Talk about going to schools to say to young people, you don’t need to carry guns, you can relate and resolve issues by speaking to each other…she is there. She carries a lot. She is an example of how women are accelerating everything we are doing in terms of wanting to make disciples of Jesus in areas of armed conflict.

There is also Annette in DR Congo who leads the Graceful Warriors programme in Goma; their core business is trauma healing especially with children and young people. They also share the gospel and are supporting some Muslim-background believers who are facing persecution.

Those are just two examples of women who are helping bring about peace.

Shifting expectations

Naomi: Do you think more men will start listening to women and respecting their potential as peacemakers? Can the Church play a part in this?

Joan: It’s true that women are the majority in the Church, though there are very few in leadership. However, we recently helped run a consultation about bringing peace in Wau, South Sudan. There were women and men present, church leaders and their wives. We had lots of questions and discussion around how to best end violence and promote peace. I noticed that for the most part the women would just smile and go along with what was being said in the groups. The men were making the presentations; the women stayed seated. I spoke with my colleague Karobia at CMS-Africa and said, “Do you see what I’m seeing?”

So, in the afternoon we separated the women and men and I sat with the women and suddenly they felt freer to open up and share their own thoughts. They had very deep and moving things to say about being a woman in conflict contexts. About how women are often treated as children or viewed as property, more or less. How they are not expected to have a voice. How in church they are expected to be quiet and not challenge.

Naomi: Were those things shared with the men? How did they respond?

Joan: None of them objected or said there was anything untrue in what the women were saying. The men were looking at their wives with love and respect.

We have to understand that culture change is a journey. Bit by bit. We have a saying: “You can take a man out of his village, but you cannot take that village out of the man.”

But with Jesus, we can begin to see the miracle of change. It is only through Jesus that peace can come and so the Church has a vital, leading part to play as peacemakers. And listening to and including women is a big part of this.

Get our email newsletter: