There is no woman in the Central African Republic who has not lost something. Many of us have lost our husbands, others have lost children. Many have had property stolen or their houses destroyed. Some of us have suffered physical violence.
In the years since the crisis began, we have all been traumatised in one way or another. Despite all this we have not lost our courage. Because we women are the ones who must keep moving forward. We are passing new attitudes towards violence onto our children. We are Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. We are all sisters.
Before the crisis these social divisions along religious lines didn’t exist. We lived together, ate together and were neighbours. Now we all live in separate quarters and there is so much fear. This is what the crisis has done: It has separated us and created fear that paralyzes us. Seleka militias burned the houses of Christians and the Anti-balaka militias did the same to houses owned by Muslims. People see the death and destruction and they say: They were Muslims - that means my Muslim neighbour is now my enemy - and vice versa.
But thinking like this leads nowhere. It is people’s hearts that must be disarmed. That’s why we organise communal activities – for example, interfaith prayer meetings and debates. We talk about tolerance, love, peace and reconciliation. Humanity’s greatest topics. We talk to people and we collect clothing and everyday items they need, from people who are better off. And when possible we support women who want to start their own small business, so they can be independent.
In 2017, our biggest project was a peace march in the provincial capital of Yaloke. We were a group of Protestant and Catholic women and we decided that we needed to network with Muslim women too. A lot of Muslims still live in camps. They are worried they might be killed if they leave those camps. That’s why we went to them and invited them to leave the camps with us. We all marched together and we shouted: “No to war! We want peace!”
We want to end this violence together. We’ve had enough of it. If you want to achieve change then it doesn’t matter who starts the process. It is only important that it happens. Our idea is that we, as women, can support a new direction in a different way and stand by that with our words and our deeds. Every individual woman can raise her husband’s, and then her children’s awareness of peace – and it will go on like this. To end the war, people need first to be disarmed. So much harm is done because everyone has a weapon. That’s why we are going to the armed groups, to the Seleka and the Anti-balaka. And we say to them: “Lay your weapons down. If we females can do this, if we can come to you and say that, then you men can also stop fighting”.
Often these men are not opposed to the idea of peace. But they sometimes don’t comprehend how they can stop fighting. You just need to make the first move and step out of this vicious circle of violence. Of course, we are scared when we go to the armed groups. We’re scared of being killed – so many people are dying in this country. But together we are powerful. “We are mothers! We are angry!” That’s what we say to them.
Often the fighters don’t want to listen. But then I say: “We are just like your own mothers. I carried you in my belly for nine long months. I fed you. I brought you into this world to live, not to kill. And now I am coming to you and telling you, this war must stop.”
Then they look at us for a while and then they listen. I believe that the attitudes of all the people and the politicians will slowly change. Then we will all be sisters and brothers and we will find a solution together. Peace is already here, the process has already started.
Transcribed by Gundula Haage