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Three women leaders from Africa outlined their hopes for change and visions for peace during a roundtable discussion at the Kennedy School on Wednesday.
“Building Peace in Rwanda and Sudan: Voices from the Field” was sponsored by the Women and Public Policy Program and moderated by WAPPP Director Swanee Hunt.
Kaliza Karuretwa, Lona LoWilla, and Sidiga Washi spoke eloquently on the losses suffered by their people, the obstacles they have overcome, and the important role women can play in leading rebuilding efforts.
“We watched hopelessly as our husbands, sons and fathers were murdered,” said LoWilla, a native of the Sudan who works for OXFAM out of Nairobi, Kenya. “But women are now playing a key role in the reconstruction.”
LoWilla is training women in conflict resolution and participating in peace dialogues between northern and southern Sudanese women. “We at the moment are learning and teaching from a grassroots approach,” she said. “We are meeting under the trees.”
A consultant to many NGOs in south Sudan, Washi said many women today are running NGOs and leading other important organizations on the ground. “Sixty-five percent of the people in the south are women — and it is important to recognize and support the role of women and their contribution to development,” she said.
Karuretwa, economic attaché at the Rwandan Embassy in Washington D.C., discussed how far Rwanda has come since the genocide of 1994, and the pivotal role women have played. Today women now hold nearly half of the seats in Rwanda’s Parliament, a greater percentage than any other parliamentary body in the world.
But there is still much to be done in Africa, and the panelists agreed that leadership among women is critical to the continuing recovery of a region that has lost a tenth of its population to warfare. Challenges in the years ahead include the AIDS crisis, helping further national unity in the Sudan and Rwanda, and teaching a “culture of peace” to children raised with violence and bloodshed.
“We as women have a lot to do,” said Karuretwa.
Photos: Martha Stewart