Decades of experience responding to conflict all around her have taught Fosah Frinwie Loveline Muma what determined women can bring to the peacemaking table.
“This is how we build security. It starts with us. It starts with creating room to listen to women.”
As a woman who grew up with violence in my home—and now facing escalating conflict in my country—the security I need has not always come freely. I was born into a world where conflicts are natural and inevitable, but my experience has taught me that it matters how we deal with conflict. Women who believe in themselves can do many things. We can use our experiences overcoming struggle to become peacemakers in our community.
I grew up in Cameroon as the youngest girl in a polygamous family of fourteen. My mum suffered economic and domestic violence. Going to school was a nightmare for me because of my family’s financial challenges and also because my parents had the notion that “school is not meant for women”.
I saw my elder sister get pregnant after graduating from primary school. When I saw how she was forced into a marriage to her jobless boyfriend, I became very scared for my own future. What kept me going was my self-esteem, determination, and love for education. I promised myself I would not have a sexual relationship until I got educated and picked a job.
After I completed my primary education, my elder brother opted to sponsor my secondary education. I was then expected to get married as soon as I graduated from high school, but I rejected all the men who came to negotiate for me. I told them that before getting married, I had to go to school and then get a job—and the choice for a partner would be mine.
My family stopped supporting my education because of my contrary opinion. I enrolled in the university on my own and started selling fried groundnuts to try to pay for my education. I thought maybe my family would see my determination and would come in to help pay my fees. No one helped me. I bought some books and started at the university, but I had to drop out because I couldn’t afford it on my own.
I was motivated by my situation to register for the entrance examination into the professional school of teachers. This time, when I passed the examination, my family agreed to pay my fees. My family acknowledged that a “girl” could become a civil servant. But they would not give me any extra allowance for living expenses. If I dared to ask, I was told, “You are already big. You do not need to ask for extra allowance and rents from us.” Again, I had to push through on my own.
When I managed to graduate from professional teaching school, I had a lot of debt. My name was written in a book to record the debt I owed to a store. My belongings were seized several times because I couldn’t pay rent before the semester break. I was only able to pay my debts when I received an award as one of the best candidates in science at my teaching school.
I endured all of this uncertainty knowing that I could have taken a different path. Men with the resources to support me financially in school kept coming to me seeking a relationship. I kept rejecting them because I saw women around me being physically abused by the men who sponsored their education. I vowed to wait and get the right partner at the right time.
When I became a teacher, I realized that advocating for my own education and striving for my own well-being prepared me to make positive impacts in my family, community, and my world. I learned that my female students were not doing well academically and I started digging into their stories to try to help them. I found that most of the girls had cases similar to mine.
I created a gender club at my school, using my own experiences in a positive way. I began networking with women’s rights organizations to empower my students and to broaden my scope of advocacy into the community.
I started a program on “peace at home” and began working with women’s groups and young girls to fight against domestic violence and rights abuses. I organized programs on the International Day of the Girl Child on topics like the importance of girls’ education. Today, I continue this work at the national level, and I am spreading my tentacles of peacebuilding internationally everywhere I go.
Two years ago, the crisis situation in my country made me question whether I would lose the inner peace and well-being I had fought so hard for. I suddenly became a victim of conflict. At times throughout the past two years, my children and I became internally displaced people. We have slept on the floor to protect ourselves from stray bullets. My children were taken far away from the four walls of a classroom and their learning process has been affected. Our family’s economic activities have also been impacted.
I know there are many women in other places facing similar scenarios. I believe that women, who are most affected by hard times and crisis, have what it takes to seek solutions to peace and security when given the opportunity.
I am the only one who can speak about my situation and I need my story to be heard by decision makers. How can you give me my security when you do not know what I went through? How can you know how to handle my problems without bringing me to the table? We need to not only transform conflicts, but transform the actors in the conflict as well. Many women out there are asking the right questions. Peace and security efforts are more sustainable when women are equal partners in the prevention of violent conflict and the delivery of relief and recovery efforts. We need more women included in decision making and getting involved in signing peace accords.
We need strong institutions, rights, and justice at all levels. Women can play a role in advocating for collaboration between governing institutions to promote issues at the root of lasting peace: job creation; youth and civic engagement; an end to violence against women and men; and the mutual respect of rights of all people, including indigenous people and refugees.
Self-examination is also necessary to promote peace and well-being. We can think of ourselves and our actions first before thinking of the reactions and responses of others. We can give more energy in our different communities to build peace and show love to others around us. Above all, we can show reciprocity by respecting the rights of others, irrespective of their status.
This is how we build security. It starts with us. It starts with creating room to listen to women.
Women, let’s use our experiences and our struggle positively. Let’s grasp for peace and take our space to influence our world.
This story was published as part of the Future of Security Is Women digital event and is sponsored by our partner Our Secure Future. World Pulse runs Story Awards year round—share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.