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Women Ex-Combatants Want Role Peacekeeping Role

Rwanda Women Ex-Combatants Want Role In African Peacekeeping Forces

Women ex-combatants from Rwanda are seeking a role in regional peacekeeping missions in Africa, highlighting at a United Nations-sponsored meeting their experience of warfare and its particular impact on women as major advantages in efforts to bring stability to the continent.

Pointing specifically to the Rwanda recent commitment to support regional peacekeeping missions by sending soldiers to help protect African Union cease-fire monitors in Darfur, western Sudan, speakers stressed their interest in assisting omen caught in conflict.

The role of women generally as peacemakers figured among the 10 stories the world should hear more, about highlighted by the UN Department of Public Information earlier this year.

Rwanda has no tradition of female conscription but during the conflict that tore the small central African nation apart in the past decade, hundreds of women voluntarily took up arms alongside men to assume military responsibilities and fight for the liberation of the country.

The meeting, organized in the Rwandan capital of Kigali by the UN Development Fund for Women UNIFEM) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to discuss the challenges of reintegrating into society, and the role female ex-combatants play as peace-builders in their communities, brought together over 200 members of an association of such former fighters called Ndabaga.

The group, established in 2001 as the first association of female ex-combatants in the Great Lakes Region, includes women from all 12 of Rwanda's provinces, and from both sides of the ethnic Hutu-Tutsi conflict.

"Since wars and conflicts affect children and women in a special way, and since women tend to confide in their fellow women more that they do men, peace missions should have a big representation of women to attend to the special needs of women suffering the consequences of war," Rwandan Minister for Gender Valerie Nyirahabineza told meeting.

She cited the Sudan mission as an example of where Rwandan women ex-combatants should have been included.

The meeting was organized in recognition of the fact that women ex-combatants, despite the essential roles they can play in post-conflict disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes, are frequently excluded. Because of a strong focus on men, the needs of women ex-combatants are often inadequately addressed in demobilization phases, resulting in often untenable situations of deteriorating health and poverty.

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