May 2012

Women and the LRA conflict: from abductees to advocates

Conciliation Resources/Caesar Poblicks

The LRA conflict has not been far from the international media spotlight in recent months. There seems no shortage of opinions about how to bring Joseph Kony's 25-year terror campaign to a close. But with no end in sight, what of the people who are affected by ongoing violence from all sides in the conflict? We're working with a group of local women ranging from 14 to 40 years old who are determined to build trust and understanding within and between their communities.

Support for the people who fall through society's gaps

Conciliation Resources and our partners recognise that encouraging people to escape and return from LRA captivity is only the first step – they also need to be able to reintegrate and pick up the threads of how life was before.

Most will have been forcibly recruited – often having spent many months or years acting as supply-carriers, sex slaves or co-opted fighters before breaking free. They return home traumatised.

I hate thinking about the time I spent in the bush with the LRA, but it’s impossible to forget how hard it was.

Joyce, Western Equatoria State, South Sudan

Rather than finding comfort in their communities, former neighbours tend to be wary of people who now seem like strangers – they're suspicious of what they've done while away and fearful of the 'bad spirits' thought to be carried with them.

Instead of being welcomed back, often they find themselves ostracised. They're outsiders in a place that was their home. Consequently, returning LRA abductees – along with the children who've been conceived while they've been captive – are left even more vulnerable to poverty and further exploitation. The destabilising effect that this has on efforts to break the cycle of violence is something that must be addressed.

Women living within these communities are instrumental in promoting understanding of the returnees as victims who are in need of support.

Creating an atmosphere that enables reintegration

In April we held a workshop with 24 people in Central African Republic to discuss how to overcome hurdles and make a positive difference through advocacy. This built on an exchange that took place last year when women from three neighbouring countries visited northern Uganda to learn more about the conflict. Since, they've been keen to increase understanding at their local level of the causes and drivers of the conflict.

Long-term these women will be the backbone of recovery in this area, but they face many challenges.

Caesar Poblicks, Conciliation Resources

It's early days for this network of community-level women, who are themselves displaced by the conflict. There's much for them to learn about advocacy from discussions with our partners JUPEDEC, as well as Radio Zereda and Radio Ndeke Luka.

The political situation in their region is fragile. Building the network's capacity to link local communities to government is as or more important than them receiving aid. People directly affected by conflict often have great insights into the causes and drivers of conflict but their opinions are often overlooked. We're working to help them make their voices heard.

These women hope that by working sensitively at a local level they can bring about an improvement in the situation they and their neighbours face. We're continuing our work with local partners to help them to have a say in their future. They're already beginning to make their opinions count, with some contributing to a dialogue meeting with members of the Ugandan Army (UPDF) on what civilian protection means in practice.

Interested in finding out more about our work on the LRA conflict?

How you can help

If you're in a position to help support this work, please donate to directly fund our projects with women peacebuilders: www.c-r.org/donate

First of all I was fearing how I can go and approach the government and talk to them about women’s rights – the rights of the abducted women – but now I have got the courage: we women, we must advocate.

Veronica Anni, Western Equatoria State, South Sudan
Participant on the women’s exchange visit to northern Uganda