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Female militancy and its implication in conflicts and preventive efforts in Bui division

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There has been an ever-increasing awareness and sensitivity by national and international actors on the need to end intra-state conflicts by targeting structural risk factors through but not limited to the involvement of women. While most governments continue to promote males consciously or unconsciously, females have been side-lined in the majority of prevention efforts.

This reality justifies the need for a wider socio-political transformation to incorporate females in preventing conflicts while considering female militancy a key factor influencing socio-political stability. This study, therefore, sets to appraise the implication of Female Militancy in the conflict threatening Bui Division in Cameroon’s restive North West Region.

The rationale of the study is to explore the connection between female militancy and the conflict ravaging the community; and to verify the participation of the constituent women in preventive efforts, their integration in decision making and institutions in the area paying attention to strategies and socio-political barriers working against their involvement in associated peace processes and preventive campaigns.

The study design is mainly descriptive in nature and respondents were selected through stratified random and convenience sampling techniques. Questionnaires (60 females and 10 males) and some oral interviews were used to collect data from the study population. The findings reveal that female militancy has a strong influence on the socio-political stability of the community.

The work also finds that the women’s local initiatives in preventive efforts are largely unrecognized, mostly concealed and weakly supported with their political and traditional elites (predominantly male) occupying both elective and appointive positions and making virtually exclusive decisions.

The study among others recommends that the government through existing or specific policies and program mechanism should promote concerted actions between female activists and opinion-makers of all segments of public life, women’s membership in decision making organs and institutions be equally increased in compliance with relevant international instruments to which Cameroon is a signatory.  



1.1 Background to the Study

In spite the vital necessity to build a foundation of gender-inclusion by maintaining gender sensitive language in dialogue, negotiations and peace building, data on peace agreements containing gender responsive provisions show a downward trend since 2015 with only 3 out of 11 peace agreements signed in 2017 showing those gender responsive provisions (UN Security Council, 2018). The outcome of such poor implementation of gender sensitive provisions in fostering nation-building may result in uncontrolled regional instability and provoke sociopolitical crises which can negatively affect livelihood, economic aggrandizement and political development of a nation. Worldwide, 1.5 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected regions. By 2018, half of all poor people will live in such settings, and by 2030 nearly two thirds will (World economic forum, 2013).

Today’s conflicts are waged by various actors, such as government military troops, warlords, rebels, mercenaries, child soldiers as well as private military and/or security agencies. These are often internal or cross-border armed conflicts, civil wars or insurgencies which have different dynamics than the state-to-state conflicts more prevalent in the past. The reasons for armed hostilities are multi-faceted and differ by region. They can, for example, be caused by failed and failing states, corrupt political elites, secession movements and new political orders as well as poverty, economic and social inequalities, the exclusion of ethnic and religious minorities or limited access to natural resources.

Even though women are often presented as victims of these conflicts where they are targeted for rape, suffer loss of income, become widows as men fight, and suffer most from decay of social sectors (Frances, 2010) with some abducted into the army, or as army ‘wives’, they have become agents, active participants in conflicts.

Some have become politically active in conflict resolution through peace activism, support of conflict through nonviolent resistance, support conflicts as combatants or as suicide bombers. Studies reveal that women have actively participated as combatants in Algeria, El Salvador, Eritrea, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, South Africa and Sri Lanka (Bouta et al in frances, 2010). In many cases they helped armed separatists to escape during crackdowns.

Research in Kashmir, for example, showed that women played a significant role in militant activities, contributing both materially and ideologically. Besides carrying out tasks such as feeding combatants and providing shelters, women in Kashmir acted as couriers carrying messages, arms and ammunition under their veils as well as planting bombs e.g. Dukhtaran-i-Millat female extremist groups in Kashmir played a crucial role in indoctrinating other women into the movement (Frances, 2010).

It is widely perceived that the movement could not have been sustained without the participation of women (Vibhuti, 2013). According to UNDP practice note, a study in 55 countries found women as militants in 38 countries. It is estimated that females form 10 – 30% of militants with a global approximate of 100,000 young females (under 18) involved as fighters in 2008.

Female militants generally play bigger roles in supportive services (cooks, messengers, etc). For example, South Eastern Nigerian women in the Umeleri and Aguleri Women’s Development Associations donated money and food to support combatants, while others served in the capacity of fighting forces (Francis, 2010).

Women have also fought in national freedom movement where they took active part in national politics. Indian women contributed in all national movements like Non-Coopeon, Civil disobedience, and Quit India Movements. Women also opposed the movement of Gandhi for not allowing them to participate in it (Choudhary in Gisela, 2004).  In Kenya women joined the Mau Mau as militants to fight for their liberation from British rule.  Mau Mau at times will use women in combat roles, “sometimes leading men in battle” (Edgerton 1990).

In Cameroon there are long standing practices of women gathering together as moral guardians of the community and in shaming individuals who break key rules. The practices differ in various communities and are called Fombuen or Keluh in Kedjom Keku communities, Anlu in Kom communities and Ndofoumbgui in the Aghem tribe. During colonial rule these gatherings were transformed into a more political practice targeted against political institutions.

During this period key issues for mobilizations included threats to female land tenure, rumour of the sale of land to different ethnic groups, crop destruction caused by grazing animals and dispute over new agricultural techniques (Shanklin, 1990).

The traditional tools of shaming and ostracising were then organised and used against colonial authorities and some political parties using protest, disruption in public spaces, road blocks, and other non- violent means. A significant example is the 1956 to 1961 political Anlu in the Kom communities.

The event started in July 4th 1958 in the town of Njinikom where women who were upset about agricultural policy decisions surrounded a meeting house and forced a local council member to flee to the church for protection. This disturbance spread and led to shutdown of schools, disobedience to both traditional and council authorities, setup of road blocks around the region all of which disrupted most aspects of life (Shanklin, 1990).

The governing body in the area was largely replaced by women who organised a separate leadership structure and were able to influence the situation around the region. The protest removed (KNC) which had been in power in the region and brought the KNDP to power.

Post-Colonial Cameroon has experienced political unrest characterised by crises and conflicts with women largely contributing in promoting or calming the situation e.g. Takumbeng – a female social movement in the western grass field of Cameroon where groups of women perform ostracizing rituals against individuals in their communities.

Towards the end of colonial rule and the early years of independent Cameroon (1960s) women used these movements for political protest often against agricultural policies. In the 1990s Takumbeng a combination of women resistance groups from different fondoms became a crucial opposition to the ruling party (CPDM).

The women marched with the SDF and would use nudity and the social status of older women; defecate in public places, use their breast as guns of war to prevent security forces from harassing protesters or intervening in their protest (Nkwi, 1985).

The movement became highly important following the 1992 elections and the disorder that followed in the North West Province were majority of the population believed the results were fraudulent and protest became wide spread (Fonchingong and Tanga, 2007).

The above manifestations of the Anlu and Tacumbeng present female militancy as a phenomenon which adopts uncivil, irregular and unpopular undertakings by women, in public or private places to initiate desired socio-political outcomes (Diduk, 2004).

Although Takumbeng women in the Bamenda grassfield had accepted European principles of modesty, it did not outweigh their awareness of the power of nakedness as wildly naked post-menopausal women from the group often took part in protests (Diduk, 1989).

The actual manifestation of female militancy varies from region to region and may take the form of non-violent or peaceful activism to hostile confrontations as well as terrorist engagements. Also, the amplitude of female militancy (political participation) in Africa can be well understood if we direct our attention away from institutions, politicians as well as structures and consider alternative views of grass root activism (Monga, 1996).

With regards Bui division, several women societies existed in Nso before the 1960s and the most wide spread of these was ‘cog’/’chung’ which organised feasting and promoted women’s perspective as farmers. It had its own ‘shiv’ or medicine, prohibited from men and regarded as a royal medicine (shiv se afon).

There is a myth surrounding chung which is said to justify hierarchic relationship between men and women. In the past men had small shiv which they kept secret from the women, women had shivduyen, which was much more powerful. Out of curiosity the women agreed to exchange medicines thus losing their powerful position just like in many African societies.

In the past women will have a meeting each time the harvest was ready with each woman bringing food from her farm for a feast and they will dance the dance of chung or shivduyen. Men were not allowed to view this dance. If a man gave ‘chung’ women trouble particularly during this dance,  he will be grasped and taken to the palace where he is fined- usually he would be required to provide food for the women in that group.

During harvest, the Fon summons the medicine of chung and give the women food. This custom ended by the 1950s and chung has been replaced by njangi, or saving and loan club meetings and women’s church association, like the early Catholic Women’s Association called ‘chung’ in kumbo.

When women feel their rights have been trampled upon or the community is not governed in their interest, they will protest and reprimand the Fon publicly without fear of reprisal.  Evidence from several women’s protests in the 1950s and 60s shows that women have had a collective political voice for a long time and were able to use it often to secure their rights in Bui division (Goshen, 1996).

In cases of interstate and intrastate conflicts, women often engage in peaceful activism such as protests, silent vigils, public speeches and boycotts. In one of such peaceful sit-in protests marking the renaissance of the Anglophone crisis, women and girls mostly in the English speaking regions of Cameroon responded to the call of civil society representatives by joining the civil society in an indefinite no school campaign until their grievances were met by government. This set the pace for a much violent armed conflict as government’s solutions to the issues raised by the disgruntled population was termed “cosmetic”. The conflict deteriorated rapidly following war declarations from one of the conflicting parties.

The Anglophone crisis, being political and constitutional is strongly related to the history of Cameroon which can be dated back to the November 1884 Berlin Conference when Cameroon became a German territory and was later divided to  French and English territories under the League of Nations after the defeat of the Germans in World War I.

In 1960, French Cameroon under France and Nigeria under Britain, both gained independence. On the 11th of February 1961, the United Nations conducted a plebiscite in the British Trust territory of Cameroon to ascertain whether this territory would like to have independence by joining Nigeria or French Cameroon. Northern British Cameroon joined Nigeria and the British Southern Cameroon joined La Republique du Cameroon (Konings & Nyamnjoh, 1997). Dialogue then followed on how the union will be formed and managed; this is the beginning of all present day misunderstandings or pro-conflict scenarios in the Anglophone regions.

– July 1961: Foumban Constitutional Conference met in Foumban and came out with a federal constitution of equal partners; giving equal importance to the languages, cultures, education and judicial systems inherited from colonialism (Messmer, 1998).

 – October 1961: The Federal Republic was born made up of two equal states partners – British and French Cameroons.

– 20th May 1972: The federal union was dissolved through a referendum, thereby creating a unitary state (United Republic of Cameroon). The flag changed from two stars to one star.

– 1984: President Biya changed the name of the country from United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon – Pre-federation name of The Republic of Cameroon – (Awasom, 2000).

Though existing literature has little or no revelation on the formal role played by women in the reunification of the Cameroons, it is documented however that the Southern Cameroons delegation was well entertained by beautiful Foumban ladies at the Foumban constitutional conference (Anyangwe, 2008).

These systematic changes resulted in a form of state where Cameroonians of Anglo-Saxon heritage felt marginalised in the long run and recently sought for equality through strike actions and protests. Thus in November 2016 lawyers and teachers staged two independent strike actions: The lawyers decried and took to the street that the Common Law System operational in English speaking Cameroon regions was gradually being eradicated.

The government responded with repression on the lawyers. Later on English speaking teachers staged a sit-in strike complaining that their colonial Anglo-Saxon educational heritage was under threat of complete annihilation through the influence of the Francophone dominating government. At this point Anglophones emptied to the streets demanding for improved governance, federalism or separation of the two states with the immediate return of all that is Francophone (institutions) back to their own state.

`Their demands focusing on social, economic and governance issues are evident in everyday life in Cameroon (Togho and Kafui, 2016). As the trend of political events unfolded, very little or nothing is known about the active involvement of women in spite increased discussions and heated debates on gender issues with emphasis on women emancipation, empowerment, and protection of the rights of women. These gender discussions and debates have been devoted to gender identity and gender representation (gender identity refers to the simple ability to label oneself man or woman, while gender representation relates to one’s ability to control or influence decision making in terms of resource and political control). In general, men and women differ in their activities regarding access and control over resources, participation in decision making processes and involvement in social and political activism (demonstrations, protest, debates etc.). 

The 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995 raised strategic goals on women and conflicts (armed conflicts in particular). These goals included, cut down on military expenditure, promotion of human rights as well as non-violent conflict resolution strategies and take measures that explicitly address women and their contribution to fostering a culture of peace.

The measures constituted participation in conflict resolution at leadership levels, protection of women in conflict situations and the provision of assistance and training opportunities for women refugees and (internally) displaced women in need of protection under international law.

In 2013, CEDAW Committee in charge of monitoring the implementation of the convention adopted the General recommendation No. 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations, which is seen as spearheading development.

Women as individuals, women’s movements, feminists and female militancy groups play a critical role in challenging gender inequality and contesting exclusionary political settlements, given the insignificant position and limited power of women within government itself.

It is clear that prolonged pressure and influence on decision-makers by women outside government through informal relationships and alliances, and through popular protest has been vital during conflict and transitional contexts.  Being active in politics has effect on policy choices which ensures superior social outcomes.

Again participating in politics is good for democracy, but all democracies are plagued by systematic inequalities in participation (Galston, 2001). With respect to this, Cameroon’s National Gender Policy Document argued that Cameroon was far from achieving the 30% bench mark advocated at the Beijing Conference though later on in September 2013 legislative and municipal elections Cameroon achieved the 30% bench mark with (31.11%) women.

One of the most persistent forms of inequality in political participation  has  been that  women who constitute more than half the population in most communities  are  found  to  participate  less  than  men, suggesting  that  half  the  population‘s  interests  are  less  well  represented (Scholzman  et  al  1995) giving rise to a type of uncivil political participation by Cameroonian women aimed at  influencing  the  structure  of  a  government, appointment  of  leaders and policies they execute.

This approach by women otherwise seen as female militancy in this research may include active  and/or  passive  actions,  collective  or  individual  actions,  legal  or  illegal, support  or  pressure  groups  actions,  by  which  women  try  to influence  the  type  of  government  that  may  lead  a  society,  or  specific government  decisions  that  affect  a  community  or  their  members, a situation which may be wrongly classified as terrorism following the current insecurity dispensation in the conflict hit English speaking regions of Cameroon.


1.2 Statement of the Problem

Most political systems tend to be patriarchal hence women generally are removed from decision-making processes for structural, political, or cultural reasons. In cases of war and conflict, women often have little choice in whether they are or become part of such a conflict or war (UN Women, 2018). Women to a large extent have been taken for granted when looking at the complexities of conflicts and their resolutions.

The surface view has generally been that it is the men who fight and it is the men who sit together and talk peace (Frances, 2010).

The above situation may not be the actual reflection during instability and its resolutions. While men may claim that they are the majority at the front lines in conflicts, women may as well argue that the sustainability of men in such events might be impossible without their direct or indirect support or participation.

In the liberation struggles in Africa for example, women were quite often at the front lines as active fighting forces, or were actively engaged in other war efforts (Urdang, 1989). Furthermore, they have played roles in situations of peace and war as traditional peace-makers, as priestesses who confer with gods to determine whether it was right to go to war or not, as praise singers for men during battles as a boost to ensure their victory or as custodians of culture. In each culture, there are stories of women who have played some leadership roles as peace envoys or harbingers of peace in their communities like the Queen Mothers in Ghana, queen mothers in Yoruba land in Nigeria and the ‘bondo’ women in Sierra Leone.

Yet in contemporary politics women’s agency and their contributions to conflict and democratization processes continue to experience severe restrictions. Even where women have taken part in peace negotiations and peace agreements including gender-sensitive provisions, these processes tend to reflect the concerns of women from dominant and elite communities only.

Limiting women’s participation in conflict and peace processes excludes the opinions of women from poor and marginalized communities, denying them the opportunity to define and address their own concerns and needs thereby erasing their experience and knowledge of the conflict in question from the public agenda which can affect the state of security in their societies.

For example, In Northern Ireland between 1974 and 2006, women set out to disrupt four peace negotiations that they believed were not conducive to their interests (McEvoy in Alexis, 2013). In Sierra Leone’s civil war and the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord in 1999, the gendered application of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration initiatives meant that a significant proportion of women combatants were largely excluded and thus not demobilized (MacKenzie in Alexis 2013).

These apparent restrictions is in total violation of the acceptance and recognition of women’s participation in conflict and inclusion in peacebuilding as enshrined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in 2000 with Cameroon dishonouring the afore mentioned UN’s prescription, thus raising questions of women’s participation especially in the on-going crises in the English speaking regions of Cameroon.

Men remain at the helm of affairs and make decisions virtually exclusively, even when the issues border on women. For instance in the Foumban constitutional conference, literature does not make reference to any woman, women as part of the Foncha’s delegation but rather talks about beautiful Foumban ladies provided by Ahidjo’s delegation to entertain Foncha’s team.

  The Anglophone civil society consortium created in 2016 to represent Anglophones portrays no trace of a woman to represent the women. Again the various Peace envoys or delegations sent by the government to North West and South West regions and even to the diaspora are mostly men.

The bilingualism and multiculturalism commission that is intended to solve the Anglophone problem is another indicator of gender discrimination. Again one keeps pondering whether the decision to wage war on Anglophone separatists was part of women’s opinion. Another thought provoking angle has to do with the proposals of a possible dialogue theme that more often is not women inclusive and the most recent ‘All Anglophone Conference’ called by clergies is not women inclusive.

The apparent absence of women already signals a possible future administration characterised by gender inequality and discrimination. In fact, if women do not participate in the decision-making structures of a society, they are likely not to be involved in decisions about the conflict or the peace process that follows.

If women too are dissatisfied for any reason(s), their neglect in formal peace negotiations, post-conflict politics and economics may not guarantee long-lasting and true peace in troubled communities and regions with pending symptoms of women’s uprising. It is against this argument that, this research seeks to examine Female Militancy and its Implication in Conflicts and Preventive Efforts in Bui Division. It attempts to answer the following questions:


1.3 Research Questions

  • What is the Profile of the respondents?
  • How is female militancy involved in the conflict in Bui Division?
  • What are the socioeconomic implications of the conflict in Bui Division?
  • What efforts have been adopted to deter the prevalence of the conflicts in Bui Division?

1.4 Objectives of the Study

1.4.1 General Objective

 The main objective of this study is to Examine Female Militancy and its Implication in Conflicts and Preventive Efforts in Bui division.

1.4.2 Specific Objectives

The specific objectives of the study are to;

  • Examine the profile of respondents.
  • Explore the involvement of female militancy in the conflict in Bui division.
  • Determine the socioeconomic implications of the conflict in Bui Division.
  • Identify Efforts that have been adopted to deter the prevalence of conflicts in Bui division.
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