The Hutu women of Busoro, near the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, are separated from their Tutsi neighbours in Musaga village by little more than a dirt road and the country’s bitter civil conflict. For years that was barrier enough as the fighting ebbed and flowed around them. Over time, the sound of gunfire echoing through the green hills became almost routine, and the absence of the men, off to war or gone in search of jobs, came to seem normal. It was the screaming of the wounded that was hardest to take – that and the fear that knotted the stomach even after the guns and the cries fell silent.
Until one day it simply became too much to endure. With fires still burning from the latest battle, the women of Musaga collected what food and clothing they could for victims in Busoro. Then they marched to the local government office, where they rallied with their sisters from Busoro to demand an end to the killing. The Tutsi and Hutu women clasped hands to sing “Give us peace. Give us peace now!” They sang together for hours before making their separate,dangerous ways back home. And although the war continued, something important had changed. The road that divided them now connected them, and through their local peace group, Twishakira amahoro (”we want to have peace”), the women of the villages have worked to keep the connection strong.
This is just one of many examples of African women acting locally, often spontaneously, to assist the victims of war and reach across battle lines in pursuit of peace. It is peacemaking at the village level, where Africa’s increasingly internal conflicts are fought, and often the first step towards reconciliation in communities shattered by the hatred and devastation of war.
But the contributions of women peacemakers in Africa, from Somalia to South Africa, have gone largely unnoticed. Dismissed by governments and rebel movements who consider making war and peace to be men’s work – and often relegated to the role of “victim” by well-intentioned diplomats and aid agencies – women have had to fight their own battles for a seat at the peace table. “Women have played a leadership role in the cause of peace,” UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer told the UN Security Council last year. “But their efforts have not been recognized, supported or rewarded.” (On UN.org).