Cameroonian Women, Peace and Security Frontline Advocates

Cameroonian Women Peace and Security

Reny, Cameroon

Let me take you through my beautiful country, Cameroon where our women have an age-long tradition of advocating for peace and security.

Thrusts in West and Central Africa, Cameroon is bound by Equatorial Guinea to the southwest, Gabon to the south, Congo to the southeast, the Central African Republic to the east, Chad to the northeast, bordered by Nigeria to the west and north and the Gulf of Guinea to the west. Its political capital, Yaoundé, and its biggest city which is also its economic capital with a seaport, Douala, are transit points to ecotourism sites as well as beach resorts like Kribi – near the “Chutes de la Lobé” waterfalls, which plunge directly into the sea – and Limbe, where the Limbe Wildlife Centre hosts rescued primates.

French and English are the official languages of Cameroon. The country is often referred to as "Africa in miniature" for its geological and cultural diversity with over 120 ethnic groups co-habiting since 1960.

With the tallest mountain in West Africa, Mount Cameroon (an active volcano that stands over 4,040 m and 13,250 ft.) located in Buea- South West Region, Cameroon is famous for producing coffee, cocoa, cotton, bananas and oilseeds. Cameroonian cuisine is one of the most varied and cherished in Africa due to its location on the crossroads between the north, west, and center of the continent. Furthermore, there is diversity in ethnicity with mixture ranging from Bantus, Semi-bantus and the Sawas.

After World War I, the territory was divided between France and the United Kingdom as League of Nations mandates; Southern or British Cameroon under the British colonial system and French or Eastern Cameroun under France.  On January 1, 1960, French Cameroun gained independence from France under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. On October 1, 1961, the formerly British Southern Cameroons united with French Cameroun to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. Ahidjo stepped down on the 4th of November 1982 and left power to his constitutional successor, Paul Biya who has been president of the Republic of Cameroon since then, with a multiparty presidential regime.

Thirty-six years down the line, Cameroon has known just one president who has served as much he could, providing the people with basic needs yet, not enough to keep a people happy. With the advent of education and technological innovation, the inhabitants of the smaller part of the country (English speaking regions of Cameroon) rose to demand for equity in the judicial and educational sub-systems.  Following non-response from the leaders, the protest which started peacefully by lawyers and teachers has then escalated into an armed conflict in which thousands have been killed and countless rendered homeless.

The English regions of Cameroon have a group of post-menopausal women known as Takembeng. Takembeng is a female social movement in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. Towards the end of colonial control and in the early years of independent Cameroon (the 1950s and 1960s), these local practices became a crucial tool for larger political protest. A group of women exercising moral guardianship involving women in rural communities protesting against policies especially agricultural policies that disfavor the community.  They also mobilize to bring down individuals who violate key community moral standards, subjecting the community to sufferings.

Most Significant Accomplishment by Cameroon Women

The most significant accomplishment of this female movement was in 1958-1961 in the Kom communities, North West Region of Cameroon. The event started on 4 July 1958 in the town of Njinikom when women who were upset about the existing agricultural policy, surrounded the location of a meeting and forced the local council member C.K. Batholomew to flee to a local church for protection. The news spread and led to large shutdowns of schools, undermined both traditional and colonial authorities, set up roadblocks around the region, and disrupted most aspects of life. Government in the area was largely replaced by the women who organized a separate leadership structure and were able to influence the situation around the region. This protest led to the change of power and political stability the region enjoyed thence.

With the advent of technology and the enlightenment that education brings, the Takembeng movement has greatly evolved as more educated women lead their peers to raise their voices demanding the respect of human rights and the promotion of peace and security in the country.

As the socio-political crisis in the two English speaking regions of Cameroon persist and with the new academic year in view, the women become more disturbed with the constant loss of lives and insecurity that reigns. Women burying their husbands and children unexpectedly, children’s inability to enjoy the basic human rights which is education as schools in this part of the country are all shut down or burnt due to the socio-political crisis.  Being the mother of humanity, the women in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon often take to the street staging either a sit-down or stand-up strike with placards calling for ceasefire and the intervention of the leaders of the country.

Different Classes Of Women Have Joined the Peace Movement

Different class of women joined the movement and hard-pressed on the leaders of both the separatist group and the government in power for a dialogue between both camps. The women demanding for schools in the area to be reopened, for armed men to evacuate school premises so children could attend school without fear. The acclaimed Ambazonian leaders (the separatist group fighting for the independence of Southern Cameroon) that have been adamant to the call for school resumption in the area finally heeded to the cry of the women and the children in that part of Cameroon embraced school anew.

My country, Cameroon recently launched a policy termed “More Women in Politics” which advocates for insertion of women in more decision-making positions. The inclusion and presence of women in the government has evolved with the passage of time. The Minister of Women's Empowerment and the Family, who is a woman, championed a movement which led to the government to enhance women's participation and representation in public service and decision-making positions.

The results are glaring as the representation of women in political positions increased: in the National Assembly for instance, the number of female Members increased from 25 in the eighth legislative period to the 56 in the current ninth legislative period; female representation in the National Assembly is 31.1%. In the 100-member Senate, there are 21 female pioneer Senators elected and the others appointed by the President of the Republic. Out of the 360 mayors elected following the 2013 Council election, there are 31 women representing 6.7%.

The different elections which were expected in 2018 (the elections have been suspended till further notice), specifically the council, parliamentary and senatorial elections provide a rare opportunity for lobby, advocacy and civil society organizations to lure political parties into nominating more female candidates.

More Womem Need to be Nominated

With the nation at heart, more women must be nominated in the various elections. It will be an opportunity for political parties to take the gender component contained in the Electoral Code seriously. Though efforts have been made, the representation of women in power is moving at snail-pace and there is a need for the number of women in political positions to be considerably increased.  It does not only entail having women in power but most importantly, having women in position involving key decision making.

Women Are Sexually Harassed At Work and School

Women are mostly harassed sexually at work place and at school, when they succumb to the harassment, they gain nothing and if they shun the sexual demands, they still suffer very poor working conditions directly or indirectly imposed by the adamant male oppressor. Therefore, there is a need for women to be properly and evenly represented so their voices can be heard. Women must stand with each other if advocacy policies must be taken into consideration.

Women need to be more involved politically, women currently have very little political influence in Cameroon,  Takembeng Women can be a grass root movement that rallies women with a common goal to bring positive change to the country and address women's issues. Something like sexual harassment in work place is a very common issue in a lot of work places in Cameroon, sometimes these women give in not because they want to, but because if they don't they'll lose the job offer or career advancement and possibly their job and there isn't a credible body that they can report these allegations to in other for them to be investigated and appropriate actions taken. So, what a grass root movement can do is rally women and inspire them to run for office where they can be a part of the policy making process or write the policies themselves.

Thus, women must collectively speak up against sexual violence for peaceful and respectful work environments. Women must team up like the Takembeng movement to outright political policies that endanger them and their loved ones. More women must rise to politics and even lobby for the presidency. Women must be supportive within themselves, give themselves a chance to lead and take decisions.

This story is from the Women, Peace and Security Global Polling project.