Pambazuka News

Women and Security Governance in Africa

‘Funmi Olonisakin & Awino Okech, eds.

Kofi Johnson

2012-01-25, Issue 567

Women and Security Governance in Africa argues that human security cannot be achieved in Africa without putting women at the centre of public policy.

Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2011.
172pp. £16.95 pap. ISBN 9781906387891

'Women and Security Governance in Africa' edited by ‘Funmi Olonisakin and Awino Okech consists of a collection of African writers whose aim is to underscore and to ‘expose the fallacy of the current paradigm’ which relegates women’s issues to the back burner. The book argues that human security cannot be achieved in Africa without putting women at the centre of public policy. In other words, the emancipation of women should be women-focused. The book is about inclusion of women in the daily discourse of security and engaging in the process of public policy.

This is a small book, but it carries a big heart, covering women’s dilemmas in Africa. It is fresh, innovative and fills the vacuum created by not including women in security discourses. The book argues that biases against women emerge from the colonial masters whose ‘core function on security matters is to subjugate the indigenous in order to achieve economic interests for the metropolis’. During the colonial era, security was imposed from above without regard for the African leaders who were to rule their people. Consequently, African leaders became political jugglers who constantly have to balance the balls. After independence, instead of a change of paradigm by those who took power from the colonial masters, the new leaders distanced themselves from addressing governance security and the position of women.

To make matters worse, by the seventies, a new wave of phenomenon engulfed Africa. Military coup becomes the order of the day in many African states. This further alienated any concerted efforts to bring women to the banquet table, to become a part of security discourse. It is not until recently that women begin to participate in security governance. For a long time, it is seen as a preserve of men. Consequently, little or no attention is paid to African women as regards security governance.

The central theme of the book is the politics of inclusion of that part of humanity - African women - whose plight has been neglected. The book‘s objective is to set up dialogues to include women in the security governance of Africa. The book questions: Why should women bear the brunt of vestiges of colonialism?

The book is divided into two sections. The first section deals with the ‘Conceptual Approach.’ The narrative here focuses on historical perspective and discusses the questions of the position of women. The controlling question is: has anything changed? The consensus is that nothing has changed. The reason is that current arrangements have not afforded women the protection
which they seek. For example: ‘Issues such as domestic violence, rape, incest, and female genital mutilation rarely make it to the agenda on non-state security and justice (p. 26)’ Similarly, protection of land and property in places where they are not allowed to own or inherit property. To make matters worse, access to justice systems is sometimes impossible because women cannot afford the costs of seeking justice. There are other legal and constitutional obstacles. In addition, there are customary laws and practices which discriminate against women.

The second section proffers specific case studies from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mozambique. This section is the strength of the book because it focuses on techniques used by women to gain acceptance in security governance. The contributors chronicle the war-ridden zones and how women in the countries studied made their voices heard.

A glaring example is Liberia, where international initiatives fail to bring peace. In Liberia, women are the victims of war. They are victims of war and other forms of sexual violence. In some cases, the women are abducted, violated and enlisted into the rebel movements against their will. Under the umbrella of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, they mobilized and joined forces to ‘say never again to violence and war’. The central theme of this section is how women are mobilized from Liberia to Mozambique. The tactics are similar to others and can be recognized as agents of change.

Finally, the authors navigate readers through ‘the approaches and structures’ which have been developed by international organizations such as the Economic Community of West Africa States, the African Union and the United Nations. Notwithstanding the efforts of international initiatives, they have not transformed into fundamental human rights for women in Africa. They have become mere charades.

Their proclamations have not yielded dividends to African.

This book is aimed at policy makers, development agencies, women rights’ advocates, peace and security professionals as well as scholars of Africa, Europe and North America. It is an all embracing book because it criss-crosses all disciplines. The book moves gender security governance in Africa to the front burner. ‘Women and Security Governance in Africa’ is a turn-on book for those itching to get students to understand gender issues in Africa. It engages students. It moves ordinary people to understand women’s struggles across the continent. It is an excellent addition to gender studies. Additionally, it offers a detailed insider perspective of women’s movements on the continent.

This clearly written, well-researched work makes the book a real contribution to women studies. It takes readers to long debates on gender issues. The shortcoming of this book is that attention is paid to sub-Saharan Africa leaving gender issues in North Africa in limbo. The beauty of the collection is that it is Afro-centric and gender focused.

The book is a jewel in the crown. It is highly recommended to upper graduates, graduate students and professional practitioners.


* Kofi Johnson, Fayetteville State University.
* This review was first published by African Book Publishing Review.