Bineta Diop has been appointed as the African Union Commission Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security. The Senegalese-born gender expert is the President of Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS), a UN-backed pro-democracy body that promotes justice for humanity, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Mercy Eze interviewed her.
New African: You are a woman with many responsibilities; can I begin by asking you about your latest appointment by the African Union?
Bineta Diop: Yes, the AU chairperson, H.E. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has appointed me as her special envoy on Women, Peace and Security. So, we are very glad to be here [at the London Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict] with the AU chair herself on the delegation, looking into how the AU can work with all the stakeholders at a global level to make sure that we address the issue of gender-based crimes.
We have conflicts in Africa, and they are spreading. We have heard that the bodies of women are being used as weapons of war. Rape is a tactic of warfare. So, we are trying to make sure we learn from others how to address this problem.
As one of the leading voices at the London summit, what messages will you take back to Africa?
You know we have gathered here to set up the gender-based discussion on ending sexual violence in conflict. It is a global war, and we are here to explore how to eradicate this phenomenon.
Through the summit, we have shared our own experiences; because Africa alone cannot determine how to protect our girls. We are also worried about our boys who are on the field. We have put a collective programme together to protect our girls that will be implemented by all of us.
Africa has been identified among those regions with the highest cases of gender-based crimes, and men too are sometimes victims of rape. Does the AU have a separate agenda to deal with the issue?
I think what we have been discussing is a global issue, wherever there is war. And because of this, we have seen it in Bosnia, in Libya, in Syria, in the Congo … it is a tragedy of war.
It is not just about targeting the women, but people say “this is a culture or norm. It is a phenomenon that goes everywhere”. So we need to fight it through education and sensitisation campaigns on the ground. So, what the AU is doing, for example, is [adopting] zero tolerance!
Were you shocked to hear that some soldiers serving as peacekeepers sent to protect civilians were also guilty of sexual assaults, such as those reported from the Congo by the UN?
Yes. It means we have to train the peace-keepers. We need to also put in place the code of conduct to make sure that somebody who perpetrates acts of sexual violence will be brought to justice.
We announced the launch of a programme in the Central African Republic to provide psychological support for the victims – the women that have been raped. This is a global campaign initiative.
The problem of food shortages at some camps and other locations housing refugees often provides opportunities for perpetrators to extort sex from women.
As you say, there is not enough food. I think women should be put in charge of distributing food. If women were in charge, they would not be subjected to this sort of immoral bargaining.
All the discussions at the summit mainly concentrated on rape as a gender-based crime in war. How about domestic sexual violence?
The ongoing campaign is all about breaking the chain of sexual and domestic violence. Educating the boy child is as important as educating the girls and empowering them. That is my response.