Women join hands to bring peace to Casamance.

_MG_0601Thirty years of armed conflict in Casamance have left many people—especially women—feeling powerless: powerless to stop the frequent deadly bursts of guerilla violence, and powerless to feed and educate their children in the midst of the chaos of conflict. But one woman, Seynabou Male Cissé, a former high school teacher, saw the potential of women in her community. She believed their deep strength could be harnessed to help solve her country’s problems. Today she is internationally recognized for having created a groundbreaking model for bringing about peace in her region.

Launching a women’s peace movement

In 1999, Seynabou founded USOFORAL (meaning “Let’s join hands” in the local Diola language), a grassroots organization that builds on the traditional role of Senegalese women as mediators and givers of life to forge a peace movement. Under Seynabou’s leadership, USOFORAL has set up local peace committees to mediate conflicts, direct reconciliation and negotiation activities, and engage women as leaders in their communities.

USOFORAL’s creative approach to advocating for peace has created a profound impact in recent years. In January 2011, the organization worked in partnership with several other Senegalese organizations run by women to hold a peace vigil, which brought together about 5,000 women to denounce the killing of women in the conflict. The organization has inspired thousands of women to join hands and stand up for their right to live in peace.

Bringing women to the negotiating table

In February 2011, USOFORAL led a delegation of women to the World Social Forum in Dakar. There, USOFORAL stressed the need for women to play a role in peace negotiations, highlighting the importance of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which supports the rights of women to be included in reconstruction in countries affected by conflict. Inspired by Seynabou’s leadership, female activists from Casamance are now using UN resolution 1325 as a framework for powerful advocacy campaigns.

USOFORAL also co-founded Plateforme des Femmes pour la Paix en Casamance (Platform of Women for Peace in Casamance, or PFPC), a coalition of 170 women’s groups that is now supported by AJWS, as well. PFPC has mobilized women across Senegal to advocate for peace and put women at the center of solutions to their country’s struggles.

In 2013, the Women’s World Summit Foundation awarded Seynabou its annual Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life, recognizing her outstanding contributions as a women’s rights advocate and peacemaker.