Sophie Ngassa on the role of women in peace processes. 

As we continue to speak with women advocates in Cameroon during International Women’s Month, we spoke with Sophie Ngassa.

Who is she?

She is a civil engineer as well as a social entrepreneur. She is a digital rights advocate and a tech woman. Sophie Ngassa has been passionately teaching girls in Cameroon digital skills through project-based and mentoring programs for ten years, with the goal of closing the country’s gender tech gap.

As the founder of the Center for Youth Education and Economic Development (CYEED), Sophie champions ICT capacity building for youth, digital literacy, mentorship programs, and advocacy campaigns to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers.

She has become more involved in advocating for internet rights in Cameroon and Africa as a result of two unprecedented internet outages in the Northwest and South West Regions of Cameroon in 2017. She spends time engaging government officials and stakeholders to resolve internet connectivity issues and crises that arise from blocked communication.

Sophie and her family were forced to relocate to Yaounde for safety reasons due to the Anglophone Crisis, and she also sought ways to contribute to Cameroon’s peace-building efforts.

She founded the ANASTA Hub in Yaounde, which is dedicated to promoting peace through digital skills, social innovation, dialogue, community-based education, and collaboration for the greater good.

ANASTA Hub in Yaounde has also been designated as a Peacebuilder maker space by #defyhatenow. During an inspiring workshop using a design sprint methodology organised by #defyhatenow Cameroon, she developed the idea to expand her activities in peacebuilding.

The main goal is to foster sustainable local technology innovation through digital skills in order to promote peace and raise the standard of living in the community.

The main activities at ANASTA Hub are focused on developing local innovators, particularly women in STEM, in the field of relevant digital skills and online marketing for employment in order to achieve sustainable development goals within their context.

How do you encourage women’s participation in community peacebuilding processes?

Women continue to be largely excluded from participating in peace processes, despite overwhelming evidence that their involvement in peacebuilding and mediation leads to long-term, positive peace that extends far beyond gun control. Women are frequently the most affected by conflicts and pay a higher price for the devastation, including from gender-based violence.

Being an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) in Yaounde has taught me firsthand how important women’s inclusion is in the peacebuilding process.

On September 21, 2022, the “Women of the National Peace Convention,” Cameroon’s first-ever Women’s Negotiation for Peace, took place. I was invited to join the Southwest Northwest Women’s Taskforce (SNWOT) network, and one of my recommendations was to emphasise the importance of women’s inclusion at all levels.

I facilitate the capacity building of women peace builders in Cameroon by utilising Inclusive approaches to technology use in peacebuilding. I teach women peacebuilders how to use digital tools, data, and online presence to promote social cohesion and peace, and I investigate how digital technology bridges cultural and societal divides.

At ANASTA Hub, I am currently working on a project called “Podcasting for Peace,” which aims to exchange ideas about the impact of digital technology on peace and conflict.

What do you think can be done to increase women’s representation in peacebuilding?

Women need to be empowered to create and influence their spaces to earn and establish authority, using their voices and actions, and being part of the decision making processes. 

We can accomplish this by:  

  • Promoting freedom of expression for women to meaningfully participate and engage in conversation and decision-making meetings 
  • Capacity building in leadership skills that empowers women to participate in peacebuilding
  • Enhancing digital advocacy skills to foster women’s participation in peacebuilding 

What are the consequences of sidelining gender issues in conflict resolution processes?

Women and girls are primarily and increasingly targeted by the use of sexual violence during conflicts. Marginalising or sidelining gender issues in conflict resolution processes will only increase violence. It results in higher levels of gender-based violence against women and girls, including arbitrary killings, torture, sexual violence and forced marriage. 

With the upcoming Senate elections, what are your thoughts on more women holding important positions in the Senate?

In Cameroon, the senatorial process will include the appointment of women to positions of leadership. I’m keen to know whether women will have the chance to speak for themselves when it comes to choosing their positions in the Senate. The existing political systems have the authority to decide how many women they want from their list and what positions they want in the Senate.

The voting advantage is not the result of an electoral process. I can’t say much because it’s not a level playing ground for women.

Some women will be selected as senators because of their legendary loyalty to the party and political godfatherism.

Any suggestions for young girls who want to change their communities?

Young girls must be brave and assertive.  This will help them form effective interactions and join helpful networks to grow.

Let me give an example of how to inspire young women; 

I visited Mboalab in Yaounde on March 7, 2021. Exploring their centre was excellent.  Since the subject of that year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) was DIGITALL: Innovation and Technology for gender equality, the makerspace was invited to participate.

The major goal was to understand how their makerspace helps young women and girls succeed in technology and how we might collaborate with ANASTA makespace in Yaounde to close the tech innovation equality gap.  We had a roundtable conversation with five women on how to collaborate to develop peacebuilding makerspaces in Cameroon and get more young women involved in makerspace innovation and technology.

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