More women in the armed forces can make a difference against GBV in the Sahel
Another thing that makes Fady feel honored, as she says, is having been the only female joining a regional pre-deployment training for senior army officers from Burkina-Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, the countries forming the G5 Sahel .
The training attended in October this year by Fady and other 39 male officers is designed to enhance skills to plan and conduct military operations, to fight terrorism and trans-national organized crime, so that the state authority can be achieved and the humanitarian action within the area of the G5 Sahel can be facilitated. In line with its regional mandate, the EU Regional Advisory and Coordination Cell for the Sahel (RACC) played an active role in the organization of the course, entirely financed by the European Union.
As much as she is delighted to have had the opportunity to bring a female perspective to her course group, Fady asks herself why she was not joined by more female high-ranking officers in the training.
“I do not understand why women presence remains limited. In African armies we have women becoming General, pilots, however, a lot is still to be done when it comes to Gender equality."
Her broader message is that the G5 Sahel countries face socio-economic challenges that could be meaningfully addressed if women and men had access to the same opportunities. Statistics show that discriminatory traditions and gender stereotypes persist in the Sahel.
The African Development Bank’s Gender Equality in Africa Index indicates that the gender gap in the Sahel region remains the widest – with an average of 31.9%, which is below the continental average of 48.4%. This gives an overall gender gap of 68.1% across the three dimensions measured (economic, social and representation).
Female genital mutilation remains recurrent in the region with prevalence rates of up to 9 out of 10 excised women. According to UNICEF data, child marriage the Sahel remains just as common today as it was 25 years ago. The region is home to 20 million child brides.
In the margin of a sessions of the training dedicated to sexual and-gender based violence (SGBV), Fady stresses that: “Abuses happen also the US army, so it is not a matter related to customs or culture”. What is important, continues Fady, “is the level of accountability”.
Including more women like Fady in the armed and security forces would increase the likelihood of Gender Based Violence (GBV) to be appropriately addressed, in line with the “Women Peace and Security Agenda” (WPS) – which was launched in 2000 with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 – and it is one of the focus areas of the latest European Union (EU) Gender Action Plan (GAP III).
To speak up about GBV it is necessary to have more and more women in the security forces and at all level.
Fady explains how sensibilization on this subject among officers to be deployed in conflict area needs to be continuous.
Furthermore, indicates Fady, an increased presence of women, especially in the decision-making spheres would have a direct, positive effect on issues related to violence against women and girls.
“We need more women in the armed and security forces” remarks Fady, “And also in peacekeeping operations”. She observes that this can make the difference for winning the hearts and minds of the population living in conflict areas:
“Women can talk to a lot more people than men as they can reach out to other women. People of rural, crisis areas, can speak more easily to a woman, than to a man”.
This is also a better way to gather much needed information about what happens on the ground, she says. “Women, children and old people in our villages do not feel threaten by a woman in uniform, even when she is armed” says Fady.
The RACC contributed to the implementation of an action plan to increase the number of women in the G5 Sahel security forces. This is now set as a priority, and awareness raising workshops have been organised in Chad, Mali and Niger.
Fady says that as every year she will join the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence international campaign, starting on 25 of November. Sensibilization actions about the campaign, she explains, are organized every year that every year at the Ecole de Maintien de la Paix in Bamako
“I become aware of the campaign in 2017, since then I continue to make gender mainstreaming and sensibilisation against GBV an important aspect of my mentoring ability", says Fady, who bears the scar of wound on her forehead.
“I have scars all over my body” - she reveals - “I survived a car accident. Two of my small children died. I was pregnant, so I lost three. My husband and my other two children give me the strength to continue to be an active woman”, concludes Fady, the strong, forever girl from Timbuktu who succeeded to become an army officer, a mother, a survivor, with a positive, forward looking way of speaking up for women empowerment in the Sahelian security forces.
*Text and picture Francesca Marretta, EU Regional, Advisory and Coordination Cell for the Sahel – RACC