Advancing Women’s Participation in the Central African Republic: Fulfilling Commitments for Peace and Equality
On World Refugee Day, it is important to acknowledge the struggles faced by those forced to flee their homes due to conflict, instability, and climate change. Among them, women and girls are disproportionately affected. Today, we honor their courage, strength, and resilience.
In recent years, the phrase “women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation” has been repeatedly echoed in this chamber. Today, I would like to focus on this issue in the context of the Central African Republic, specifically with regards to the upcoming constitutional referendum and the first local elections since 1988.
Since 2016, women in the Central African Republic have enjoyed the benefits of a parity law and a 35% quota in decision-making bodies, which will remain in effect until 2027. The government has also adopted its first national action plan on women, peace, and security in 2014, with ongoing efforts for the third iteration of the plan. These commendable initiatives deserve recognition and applause.
I would also like to commend the efforts of this Council in ensuring that Security Council resolutions on the Central African Republic incorporate clear directives on women, peace, and security, including mandates for both the peacekeeping mission and the sanctions committee. However, despite these efforts, women continue to face extreme marginalization in decision-making processes, especially in peace negotiations.
Norms and plans addressing women’s inclusion exist in many countries, including the Central African Republic. However, it is the inadequate implementation, enforcement, and funding of these measures that fail to meet the needs of women in the country.
In the 2019 peace agreement, women accounted for only 8 out of 78 delegates representing various parties, with only 1 of the 14 signatories being a woman. All 11 facilitators designated by the African Union were men. Currently, there are no women in the monitoring mechanism of the Luanda Roadmap. Women’s representation in national dialogues has also been low, with only 20% participation in the Bangui Forum in 2015 and 17% in the 2022 Republican Dialogue.
The Commission on Truth, Justice, Reparations, and Reconciliation stands as a positive example of women’s representation, with 5 women among its 11 members, including the president. However, two years after its launch, the commission continues to face financial challenges hindering its effectiveness. Additionally, in key committees dealing with peace and security, such as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, and security sector reform, women’s representation remains marginal or non-existent.
Despite the parity law, the 2021 elections saw only a modest increase in women’s representation in the National Assembly, from 8% to 12%. This can be attributed to the fact that out of over 1500 candidates, only 15% were women. Party lists that failed to meet the quota were still validated and accepted.
A UN Women study conducted last year revealed that 43% of women candidates experienced physical violence during their campaigns. They faced threats from armed groups and were even kidnapped. Women voters were denied entry into voting centers or turned away for lacking birth certificates.
However, certain mechanisms have made a difference. The UN established hotlines and situation rooms for women across the country. In one case, a woman candidate facing armed threats called the hotline and provided her location, with the sound of gunfire in the background. Peacekeepers swiftly responded, and the armed men fled. Today, she is a member of parliament, and we should all applaud her.
Central African Republic, like many other countries, witnesses women playing active roles in peacebuilding, conflict mediation at the local level, and community protection. They face risks, including sexual violence and psychological trauma resulting from the conflict, as well as the loss of husbands. Nonetheless, they care for orphaned children and assume new roles as breadwinners amid acute food insecurity. Almost half of the households in the Central African Republic are now headed by women.
Overall, we are falling short of our commitments and the aspirations of women in the Central African Republic. Women from civil society, invited here today, have expressed that they are often only consulted marginally or during visits by external actors. Their meaningful input into decision-making processes is rarely sought, and initiatives targeting women rarely contribute to the formal peace process. The civic space for women is closing, as reported by these vibrant civil society members.
The conflict and humanitarian crisis have exacerbated issues disproportionately affecting women and girls, hindering their ability to participate fully, equally, and meaningfully in their communities. We need their voices and agency. However, they face harassment, including from armed groups, when they speak up or collaborate with the government or the UN. Gender-based violence is on the rise, strongly correlated with the proliferation of arms. Only one-third of rape survivors can access clinical management within 72 hours.
We must provide brave young women with the space and resources to shape the future of their country. All of us must contribute to creating this space. We are at a crucial juncture for women’s participation, with a constitutional referendum and elections that could potentially result in instability and violence once again.
While various factors contribute to the challenges faced in the Central African Republic, such as attacks by armed groups, ethnic conflicts, and regional dynamics, the extreme under-representation of women in decision-making processes is seldom mentioned or addressed. However, addressing this issue is crucial in breaking the cycle of violence and instability and offering a hopeful future for the country.
In the upcoming months, for the constitutional referendum and local elections to be peaceful, I recommend the following four conditions:
- Ensure that women activists can freely express their opinions.
- Provide women’s organizations with the necessary resources to promote peace and social cohesion in their communities, as well as to mitigate tensions.
- Enable women candidates to run for office without threats and harassment.
- Foster collaboration between international partners, the government, and civil society in the Central African Republic to ensure that upcoming milestones contribute to peace rather than risking further instability.
I urge all of you to reinforce this message, both within the Security Council and as partners of the Central African Republic.