Creating lasting peace
In 1999, Seynabou Male Cissé (60) held a forum with other women working for peace in the Casamance region of southern Sénégal, West Africa. (Religiously and ethnically distinct from the rest of the country, Casamance has been torn by conflict fueled by a separatist movement that began in 1982 and has become increasingly violent and fractionalized.) The forum led to the birth of USOFORAL, meaning "Let's join hands" in the Diola language.
Seynabou is confident that rural women's leadership is a catalyst for long-term economic justice, gender equity, and peace on local, national and sub-regional levels. With this in mind, USOFORAL trains women in the how-to of research, action, and building women's organizations and grassroots federations in order to participate effectively in the realization of lasting peace in Casamance.
During the many years of conflict in the region, traditional rural women's groups were no longer able to function because so many members fled elsewhere for safety. Though women have now returned to their homes, they often lack the time for and experience in organizing groups that meet the demands of today. USOFORAL provides the means for rural women to organize and to take advantage of the opportunities offered by post-conflict restructuring programs. This has made it possible for women to make their voices heard and to rebuild their lives.
Senyabou has been USOFORAL's highly-capable coordinator since its inception. Her inclusive approach ensures that rural women are at the forefront of every peace-building initiative. Her efforts began in Enampor where the mobilization of rural women and other members of the community successfully protected the village from violence and antipersonnel mines, making it a place where women could freely exercise their creativity. Likewise, with Seynabou and USOFORAL's support, women in displaced villages like Toubacouta secured their village lands and resumed cultivation. Their success prompted other members of the community return to the village. Such communities, supported by USOFORAL, serve as models of stability and social cohesion for other communities that are struggling to establish peace.