STATEMENT: Why Were Women Groups Excluded From Meeting on Nigerian Security

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Maria Butler, Director of PeaceWomen

I sat in the glittery closing plenary of last week's global summit to end sexual violence in conflict in London, tired, saddened and outraged. I listened, together with activists, governments and survivors, to the words of Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague. He played to the crowd.

Hague said how saddened he was that women and women's groups still had to ask to be included at the negotiating table. "We should not have to be reminded, as governments, that women must have a seat in every forum of decision-making, and it should not be the uphill struggle that it is to overturn the habits of centuries and establish new precedents and norms for full female participation," he said.

I sat listening, knowing that promises do not readily translate to "practical action" (one of the summit hosts' soundbites).

I want to be optimistic but it's hard having just been through one of those "uphill struggles" Hague referred to in relation to Nigeria.

Despite the buzzwords at the star-studded summit, and the immense mobilisation around #BringBackOurGirls, Nigerian women's civil society was excluded from the meeting about security in Nigeria, held on the margins of the London summit last Thursday.

These security meetings (the previous one was held in Paris in May) with leaders from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, France, Niger and Nigeria, as well as representatives of the EU and the US, aim to create a regional strategy to counter Boko Haram. We have called for these discussions to address root causes and include women's participation, but neither of these important meetings has included female civil society – no women from Nigeria, and no representatives of the abducted girls.

Security council resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, affirmed women's participation in decision-making on peace and security at its core, but it is still not being implemented. The resolution is failing the women of Nigeria. It is vital that women's voices and gender perspectives are included now, not later. As Joy Onyesoh, the president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's (WILPF) Nigerian office, said to me this week: "We – Nigerian women – have more on-the-ground experience. We live these realities; to us these are the issues we breathe, the fears we experience every day. I expect women's organisations from Nigeria and other countries to be included from the onset of the regional security talks."

The WILPF and its partners worked tirelessly to try to get the concerns of women aired, and shift the rhetoric towards implementation in the weeks before the 12 June meeting. Nigerian women met in Abuja, discussed, organised and drafted their messages to make any commitments on peace and security work for Nigerian women and for sustainable peace in their communities.

We reminded the organisers again and again that they should include women in discussions, and how best to do so. They agreed, of course, but in the end they concluded it was not "appropriate" for women's groups to attend the talks.

The UK government did not even keep its conciliatory promise to share an open letter from Nigerian women's groups.

It is outrageous that speeches and celebrities are prioritised over implementation of already agreed commitments about women's meaningful participation. I am saddened because again the voices of women's rights advocates are being excluded, disregarded and forgotten. It makes the work of the women's peace community more important than ever.