‘The Courage to Dare’
“Local Voices at a Crossroads” is an article series in which local actors of everyday peace share their insights into the fragilities and resilience of their societies in the face of conflict. Grassroots societies lie at the crossroads between local realities and national peacebuilding policies and practices. The series, therefore, aims to accelerate action at the local level by strengthening the voices of civil society at the policy level. “Local Voices at a Crossroads” is hosted by the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS) and emerged from a collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.
With this contribution to “Local Voices at the Crossroads’, we look at the work of CSPPS’ focal point organisation in Cameroon, Association Rayons de Soleil, and its efforts to advance the empowerment of youth, women, and girls as a means of fostering peace and security in Cameroon.
The Courage to Dare: Association Rayons de Soleil’s mission
As a member-led network, CSPPS’ presence and activities in Cameroon are coordinated by the civil society organisation Association Rayons de Soleil. Composed of a group of young women, Rayons de Soleil’s goal is to develop female entrepreneurship and to encourage young women to participate in decision-making processes for sustainable and inclusive development. They aim to equip all girls and women with the tools to actively participate in the development of their communities, to influence decisions, and to participate as full citizens in society.
“We believe that women pay the most in situations of conflict, and that they must participate not only for the end of conflicts and a lasting return to peace, but also to effectively address the challenges emanating from these conflicts”. Fidèle Djebba, President of Association Rayons de Soleil
To do so, their work centres around the aim of strengthening the leadership and entrepreneurial skills of women from a young age. Their guiding motto is “the courage to dare”: a recognition of the brave steps needed to be taken in order to break down the structural barriers imposed by societal gender norms. Indeed, for Rayons de Soleil, ensuring women’s involvement and realising their full potential in society is the only way to pursue truly sustainable development and peace; as emphasised in the policy paper published by Rayons de Soleil and CSPPS, having policies in place is not sufficient for realising this - implementation is what matters.
Advancing the Women, Peace & Security Agenda
The themes of equal empowerment and participation are at the heart of the Women, Peace & Security (WPS) agenda. This global agenda affirms the idea that gender equality is central to international peace and security, and calls for ensuring proper accountability, implementation, and action on realising this. The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 reflects exactly this, and is a key component of the WPS agenda.
Rayons de Soleil is working directly on the realisation of WPS Agenda in Cameroon. In July 2021, together with other women-led and women-focused organisations, it co-organised the historic first National Women’s Convention for Peace in Cameroon. In recent years, there has been an escalation of violence and conflict in the country, of which women and girls have experienced disproportionate impacts. During this 3-day Convention, more than 1000 women from different regions across Cameroon convened to shed light on this issue, bringing together their knowledge and expertise to contribute to the peace process and to make an unequivocal call for peace, where women are meaningfully consulted and involved in decision-making.
One of the main barriers Rayons de Soleil identifies on the advancement of the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda and of UNSCR 1325 is the low organizational capacity of women. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) represent a crucially important safe public spaces where women can express themselves, but due to a lack of local training institutions and limited support and faced with the complexity of procedures for accessing external funding, many women's organizations are struggling to function. In order to strengthen the leadership and participation of women, it is therefore necessary to strengthen their capacities in the creation and management of organizations.
This was a key component of Rayons de Soleil’s work during the pandemic. Indeed, COVID-19 played a role in exacerbating the pre-existing barriers facing women and women-led organisations to realising their full potential and participation in the peace process in Cameroon; even prior to COVID-19, women depended on male-controlled resources and assets, and consistently held less decision-making power in the domestic sphere, in wider society, and in government.
Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, there was no coordinated action among civil society actors and platforms worked independently. This brought the need for establishing a country team that could enhance coordinated action among CSOs, raising a common voice and strategy. Rayons de Soleil identified this early on in the pandemic. In response, Rayons de Soleil - in collaboration with CSPPS - organised a National Civil Society consultation workshop, bringing together civil society, government representatives, and other key stakeholders to discuss and jointly strategise on a shared agenda towards truly inclusive peace.
One of the key items on the agenda in this consultation was to identify other CSOs engaged in peacebuilding in Cameroon and to secure their membership in the CSPPS Cameroon Country Team, and to develop a national civil society action plan amongst these organisations for the realisation of the thematic priorities of the vision for peace - including the advancement of gender equality and the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
In addition to organizing the first National Women’s Convention for Peace, Association Rayons de Soleil has been conducting several projects and activities aiming at implementing the WPS agenda. One example worth mentioning is the training workshop for young women on activism and associative activism, which took place over 5 days in May 2021 in Maroua, during which 30 young women took part. Facilitated by civil society experts, the training was structured around 11 modules, including on the security challenges and gender-based violence in times of conflict in the Far North region, on the understanding of UNSCR 2250 and 1325, and on the participation of youth and women in peace processes.
A second activity consisted of accompanying the participants in the development and implementation of their community projects. The objective of the activity was to support them in identifying problems in their communities related to human rights violations and violent extremism, and to propose local solutions. Divided into small teams, the participants developed 10 projects to be implemented during the period of June to August 2021, covering 10 different themes including domestic violence, the under-education of girls, and inter-community tensions.
“We, women leaders, want a lasting return to peace, but also a greater participation of women for the advancement of Agenda 1325.” Fidèle Djebba, President of Association Rayons de Soleil
Safeguarding Civic Space during COVID-19
Fidèle Djebba, President of Association Rayons de Soleil, will be speaking on this work – and on the importance of safeguarding civic space and peace during the pandemic more broadly – at the 2021 edition of the Paris Peace Forum. CSPPS’ project ‘Local response and Coordinated Action: COVID-19’ and its Country Team members’ work within this will be showcased alongside 80 other projects, in a conference dedicated to jointly formulating solutions to some of the most pressing global issues facing society today.
Stay tuned on our social media accounts to follow our participation in this Forum and our follow-up!