International development is increasingly shaped by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV). The World Bank projects that by 2030, the number of countries affected by FCV will be home to 46% of the world’s extreme poor. To get ahead of this challenge, Counterpart International is working with communities to assess local drivers of conflict and identify assets and resources available from the bottom-up for building peace and security. In these contexts, it is increasingly important for women have meaningful opportunities to affect peacebuilding.

In alignment with the new United States Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS), Counterpart recognizes the gender-differential impact of conflict and war on women and girls, along with the potential for women to positively influence peacebuilding opportunities. Previous research indicates that when women are engaged in such efforts, peace agreements are 64% less likely to fail. Women have largely untapped potential in enhancing citizen security, often having unique access to multiple local sources of information – whether it is at the marketplace or during social gatherings – and as a result can be the first to recognize radicalization in their families and social networks. In remote regions, they are also often the first to identify when foreign fighters may be moving into an area.

In June 2019, the U.S. released its Strategy for Women, Peace, and Security that outlines three strategic objectives:

Women are more prepared and increasingly able to participate in efforts that promote stable and lasting peace;

Women and girls are safer, better protected, and have equal access to government and private assistance programs, including from the United States, international partners, and host nations; and

The United States and partner governments have improved institutionalization and capacity to ensure WPS efforts are sustainable and long-lasting.

To strengthen women’s capacity to prevent, mitigate, or resolve conflict, Counterpart’s approach to supporting the WPS strategy is to identify stakeholders with social influence, build up women’s soft skills, connect them to peer mentors so that they have the assets and resources to become effective stakeholders, and then foster meaningful opportunities for engagement with government and security sector officials.

By increasing women’s engagement on security-related issues, we believe they can play a pivotal role in preventing radicalization to violence. They can also collaborate with key stakeholders to strengthen gender-responsive services and improve communication between the government, security forces, and their communities. In addition, women can support activities that increase protective factors and mitigate the risk factors that influence radicalization of both men and women.

Counterpart is piloting its WPS framework in the Sahel where chronic poverty, food insecurity, inter-communal strife, and violent extremism threaten stability. In Niger, we are implementing the USAID-funded Participatory Responsive Governance-Principal Activity (PRG-PA) to improve collaboration between communities and the Government of Niger to strengthen service delivery in the health, education, and security sectors. Through a recent WPS add-on component, we are further supporting women and girls to become active leaders to promote peacebuilding and resiliency in their communities. In Niger and in neighboring Burkina Faso, we are also implementing the Department of State (Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor)-funded Kagalo: Women for Change program which aims to ensure that women are meaningfully included in democratic decision-making efforts as well as prepared for participation as leaders in government and civil society so that policies are more responsive to the needs of communities.

These activities support the United States Strategy’s strategic objectives in three ways.

First, we are finding ways to strengthen the capacity of women in peacebuilding efforts. We have learned that simply bringing diverse stakeholders into the room does not necessarily mean that historically marginalized voices have a chance to be heard. If women are not provided training to build their soft skills, or if they lack an enabling environment where male champions support their involvement, they lose the opportunity to have meaningful engagement. To address this, in Niger, we are conducting asset and skills mapping for women to self-identify and narrow which trainings would provide them with opportunities to amplify their role as decision-makers. This participatory process ensures that women inform which types of technical assistance will be most meaningful for them. Although we are in the early stage of the program, we have identified communications, public speaking, negotiations, and advocacy as key areas for technical assistance through training and supporting peer-to-peer learning through female mentors and champions. To date, we have identified nearly four dozen role models in the violent extremism-affected regions of Diffa and Tillabéri to support women. Moreover, women parliamentarians have been engaged to provide one-on-one mentoring to further strengthen the role of women leaders.

Second, we are addressing security-related barriers to women’s participation and identifying opportunities for increasing women’s meaningful engagement with the security sector to improve citizen security. In Niger, Counterpart is supporting communities – including women – as part of the broader United States Government Security Governance Initiative. We have found that women may not always feel comfortable wielding a megaphone, but they are keen on being active partners in exchanging security-related information. To this end, we have supported women in developing WhatsApp groups to share information about emerging changes in the security environment. In 2019, for example, they have observed an increase in inter-ethnic conflict, targeted violence against community leaders, and an increase in recruitment by violent extremist groups.

To advance the third strategic objective of the United States Strategy for Women, Peace, and Security, we are identifying avenues to support women in the public sector to ensure WPS efforts are sustainable and long-lasting in the Sahel. Our approach includes providing women with leadership development training in Burkina Faso and Niger and supporting opportunities for women to strengthen local governance.

Finally, it is important to note that to implement this work, we are continuously monitoring the environment, paying particular attention to how complexity affects our ability to operate. Our Complexity Aware Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (CAMEL) approach guides our team in understanding how to monitor emergence and assess when internal and external factors affect the assumptions underpinning our Theory of Change, which may merit a change in our implementation. This includes using monitoring and evaluation approaches like Most Significant Change, which engages stakeholders and beneficiaries to self-identify and articulate the outcomes that were most meaningful to them – a key component to assessing whether WPS work is providing women meaningful opportunities for advancement on their own terms.

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