For four years, tensions have flared between the French-speaking majority and English-speaking minority in Cameroon. Threats of the Anglophone region’s secession have escalated things, leading to widespread violence and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Cameroonians. Sally Mboumien has seen it all firsthand.
“I didn’t realize how much I had been emotionally engulfed by this conflict,” she said. “I thought it was work, but I see that it was my life.”
“When the crisis broke out, women were the first people under attack. They were not carrying guns but they were raped, forced to be cooks, forced to take care of everything. And nobody seemed to care. So we mobilized ourselves. The women’s movement that I am a part of is the first movement that has called for an inclusive and sincere dialogue. We’ve said drop your guns, guns do not talk.”
Mboumien has seen how government response plans build from the frameworks that women in local communities put in place, although these efforts are rarely documented. The advice of women may be taken, but without any credit being given. She has also seen how international aid makes matters worse.
“They come with funding,” she said. “They come with different objectives, with donor criteria and rubrics and conditions, but they don’t listen. They don’t find out what is needed from the women.”
In conflict, crisis, and disaster settings, international NGOs and aid agencies are often among the first responders, providing technical support to local organizers, and providing funding and resources.
But they also come with bureaucratized systems. And according to Mboumien, the help rarely comes without impeding on the efforts that local groups have already made.
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