Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Building peace in Africa? Give power to women

From Jessica Ellis, CNN and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, for CNN
updated 5:42 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bineta Diop is the founder of Femme Africa Solidarity, a women's empowerment group
  • She believes women can play an important role in conflict resolution on the continent
  • Her fight for women's rights has seen Diop in some of the most dangerous parts of Africa
  • Women now comprise almost 50% of Senegalese government, says Diop

African Voices is a weekly show that highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. Follow the team on Twitter.

(CNN) -- A series of gold-framed pictures cover the wall from left to right inside the working space of Senegalese human rights activist Bineta Diop. Nelson Mandela, Paul Kagame, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Yasser Arafat -- they're all here. This is Diop's wall of memories, reminders of meetings and accomplishments over the years.

"You meet them and you have to discuss and still you know you want to convince them that they need to do more on the issue of protection, on the issue of promotion and women leadership," says Diop, who's met a myriad of politicians and dignitaries throughout her career in human rights.

As the founder of Femme Africa Solidarity (FAS), a women's empowerment organization, Diop has been leading women-led peace building in the most fragile regions of Africa, including countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan and the Central African Republic. She says her mission to promote gender equality on the continent is worth the risk.

"We, Africa women, realize that our continent was torn about by conflict -- we realized that women was used as weapons of war, rape was used as weapon of war, the body of women was used in the battlefield and we said, 'We need to do something for this and nobody can do it for us but ourselves," Diop explains to CNN.

Giving a voice to the women of Africa
Campaigning for women and peace

Having founded FAS in 1996, Diop has also been striving for stronger policies for women and for an increase in the number of female politicians in governments. It's a demanding role, one that requires the activists to live out of a suitcase.

Recalling a recent typical week, Diop, who is also the Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security of the African Union, says: "I was in Addis. From Addis I went in South Africa and I went to Mozambique to meet the president of Mozambique. The day after I was back to Dakar. Two days after I was back to Geneva and I traveled to New York for one day. I came in the morning, I left the next day in the evening. I went back to Geneva, go to Paris and then came back to Senegal. So it's a life of crazy."

Over the years, Diop has led numerous on-the-ground campaigns for gender parity while trying to make sure women play a leading role in African development.

"We look at peace and security like a male-dominated structure and we say we need to dismantle it. Dismantle it and bring women's voices and their contributions," she says. "I always say military knows how to wage war but women also know how to wage the war to bring peace without guns."

Diop, whose efforts for peace in Africa were recognized internationally in 2011 when TIME magazine named her in their annual list of 100 most influential people in the world, started her mission close to home focusing on conflict resolution during election periods by assembling her own "women's situation room."

"I always say military knows how to wage war but women also know how to wage the war to bring peace without guns.
Bineta Diop, founder of Femme Africa Solidarity

Diop's three-prong strategy starts with mobilizing women from all different walks of life. "Second, we mediate among the different political parties that was coming into conflict, through the women. And the third was the monitoring of the election -- to say let's get the result from the ballot, not the bullets."

She adds: "That's why Senegal now have, almost 50% of women in parliament to make a difference."

Also contributing to an increase of women in Senegalese National Assembly is the Parity Law -- which requires all political entities to put forward an equal number of men and women candidates -- passed into legislation in 2010.

Eighteen years since the group's inception, Diop says she's proud of the gains made for women on the continent -- but adds that there's still more work to be done.

"It's coming, we are having Africa women heads of state," she says. "We have three now. But also we see in politics, no more are we saying women cannot be president or women cannot be prime minister, women cannot be ministers in politics. But we still have few women billionaires. We have millionaires but few billionaires. So that glass ceiling in economics, we also need to break it.

"We are getting there. Africa is moving, the gender evolution is there. It's coming but we need to double our efforts."

READ THIS: Africa is rising, but for whom?

READ THIS: Hip-hop artist raps for respect

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Starting a business is never easy, but in Tanzania, the obstacles for women can be particularly fierce.
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Through a variety of exhibitions including one signed off by the artist himself, Nigeria is presenting J.D. Okhai Ojeikere to the world one last time.
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
Neurosurgeon Kachinga Sichizya talks about caring for newborns and mothers from underprivileged backgrounds.
updated 11:08 AM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mulatu Astake may be the father of a musical genre: Ethio-jazz. But when he talks about the art form, he tends to focus on its scientific merits.
updated 5:53 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
Daniel
Kenyan funny man Daniel "Churchill" Ndambuki chooses five emerging comics from the continent to keep an eye on -- they are going to be big!
updated 6:44 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
African contemporary art is thriving, says author Chibundu Onuzo.
updated 6:10 AM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Photographer Ernest Cole made it his life mission to capture the injustice of apartheid in South Africa.
updated 8:39 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Mulenga Kapwepwe
Mulenga Kapwepwe has single-handedly created an explosion of arts in Zambia.
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
In the largely male-dominated world of the motorsport, South African superbike racer Janine Davies is an anomaly.
updated 8:49 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Nelson Mandela
Adrian Steirn and the 21 ICONS team have captured intimate portraits of some of South Africa's most celebrated. Here he reveals the story behind the photographs.
updated 5:26 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Explore a series of artistic street portraits designed to pay tribute to the people of the Sudanese capital.
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
A growing list of popular African authors have been steadily picking up steam --and fans -- across the globe over the last several years.
updated 2:35 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic musical legends from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT