Women Transforming Traditional Conflict Resolution Mechanisms in Darfur

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In Ardamata IDP camp in the outskirts of El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, three communities come together: the returnees who are coming back home after being displaced by conflict, nomads and host communities. Ardamata is rapidly becoming an example of how communities in Darfur can come together in peace.

Ehssan Youssef Abdelwahab lives in the camp and is a member of the recently constituted Sheikhat, a group that mediates when there is a conflict or a dispute between the women of the different groups. Sheikhat are not new to Darfur, they were the traditional mechanisms for settling disputes and undertaking mediation and reconciliation at regional and local levels in the region. Now that conflict is fading out and peace is spreading between the communities, these traditional justice mechanisms, with the support of the Promoting Reconciliation and Co-existence for Sustainable Peace (PRCSP) in Darfur project, are being established again.

Ehssan Youssef Abdelwahab considers that it´s a big step forward. As a women coordinator for the Peace and Reconciliation Committee in the Ardamata IDP Camp, she confirms that women started to mediate in women conflicts. “Women in Darfur are one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in the community. These forums have allowed women to engage with the native administration and to have a voice and contribute to peace building and reconciliation. In fact, now through these forums, we managed to have our own mediation groups (Sheikhat). Also, we are represented in the Peace and Reconciliation Committee and we are allowed to attend sessions when a woman is party in the dispute”.

Of special importance to the community forums are the Peace and Reconciliation Committees that Ehssan mentions. The forums are advocating for the participation of women as permanent members in all peace committees and not only when a woman is party in the dispute.

“There´s still a long way to go” says Hayat Mohamed Abubaker, the secretary of the Women´s Union in Sirba Locality (West Darfur), at the end of the first forum organised at the new Peace, Justice and Reconciliation Centre built by the project in the locality. “The most important step is that women have started to work together to resolve our problems and men are beginning to listen to us”.

In the same building, the Commissioner from Sirba Locality, Abdulrahim Mohamed Saeed, who also attended the first forum, reaffirms the support from the Government to the project: “women are the ones who have suffered the most in the conflict. We need to support shushiat – women leaders – who lead other women, they need to have a voice between men. The Government welcomes the forums and the support they give to the women to have a stronger role in society.”

Before the latest conflict, the native administration and informal justice system in Darfur was strongly rooted and effective. Now UNDP – with the support of UNAMID Civil Affairs Section, through the United Nations Development Fund (UNDF) funded by the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD), is leading the Promoting Reconciliation and Co-existence for Sustainable Peace (PRCSP) in Darfur project that is organising the community forums around the five states to bring those traditional justice mechanisms back and adapting them to the current context. They review the status of traditional conflict resolution approaches, identify constraints that impact on the effective functioning of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and formulate recommendations to address the constraints. In addition, the first and foremost objective of these community forums is to identify entry points for women to participate in the mediation processes at community level to enhance dialogue among women and men on reconciliation issues impacting on community stability and social cohesion. With the organisation of these forums and the overall implementation, the project is realizing that:

  • The best way for the inclusion of women to participate in peace building and reconciliation/mediation is to create open space for both women and men to get into dialogue and discuss between themselves.

  • It’s been observed that when a peace agreement is signed with the participation and support of the government and initiated by the community, it is more likely to be sustained and respected.