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The Queens Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre

Tue, 29 Mar 2005 Source: GNA

A GNA Feature By Abigail Addo-Quaye (Naa Dede Wusu I)

For three days, Queen-Mothers put aside their roles as ceremonial partners accompanying their chiefs to functions and brain-stormed on effective mediation skills to enable them to resolve disputes and conflicts in their communities.

The 26 Queen-Mothers, drawn from the Ga-Adangme Traditional Areas, attended the workshop, which equipped them with the necessary skills to enable them to determine cases that come before them. The workshop was organised by the West African Dispute Resolution Centre (WADREC) and sponsored by Action Aid Ghana at Amasaman, near Accra.

It was under the theme: "Mainstreaming Women in Conflict Management." The first day, saw the Queen-Mothers clad in rich traditional attires, sitting the cozy auditorium of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The medium of expression was both Ga and English and so much enthusiasm was put into the day's session as the participants asked pertinent questions and answered those that centred on various conflicts in their respective home, communities and the nation at large. One should not forget that currently, there are so many conflicts plaguing the Ga District.

Some communities can best be described as known conflict-prone areas.

Ms Georgette Francois, Executive Director of WADREC, in her opening remarks said because the Queen-Mothers served and played unique and important roles within the community, it was vital to build their capacities to enable them to arbitrate in disputes in their communities. According to her the main objective of WADREC was to promote the mainstreaming of women in conflict resolution and in the peace building process in the West Africa Sub-region.

The seminar also focused on the inequalities that emanated from conflicts and their impact on women and children. Ms Francois called for the early settlement of legal, business, traditional and community disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to enhance the delivery of justice and the promotion of a peaceful environment for development.

She said with the coming into force of Constitutional Instrument (CI) 47 - (rules of court which came into effect on March 3, this year,) the women should seize the opportunity at hand and settle disputes amicably, stressing that there were numerous cases in court that could be settled using the ADR mechanism. The Executive Director took the Queen-Mothers through the definition of conflict after which she illustrated it with pictures. The pictures, which were distributed to all participants depicted an old woman with an angry face and when turned upside down, showed a smiling young princess. Ms Francois noted that in all situations, people would see things from different angles. The Queen-Mothers started the session by first knowing a partner's ambitions, fears, likes and dislikes.

This was to buttress the fact that it was important to be at peace with one another and to know each other well.

"We can't all think alike," she pointed out.

Ms Francois noted that before a dispute there must be a conflict adding that in conflicts, there were moves and counter moves. "If a conflict is not addressed a dispute arises. Even among Queen-Mothers, we have leadership problems which bring about conflicts," she added.

The participants were informed that understanding each other and accommodating each other could bring about a solution to a conflict. "In fact conflicts are part of our natural lives, our beliefs, culture, interests, likes and dislikes and opinion all play a role to bring about conflict.

"Conflict is not always negative, sometimes it is positive. The only way to avoid it is to know why it happened," Ms Francois observed. Under causes of conflicts, the women were told that Data/Information and value could give correct information and could solve problems.

In dealing with conflicts it was brought to the fore that the response should include avoidance, competing, accommodating and collaborating.

"The question Why" should be asked in all situations, she said. The training was interlaced with sketches and role-plays and video clips, which made it very interesting.

The participants learned that they could resolve disputes through negotiation, mediation, arbitration and reconciliation.

Benefits to be derived from ADR were that it was faster and speedier; it helps to resolve disputes without hindrance and also was fair and cheaper.

It could also be done in a comfortable atmosphere, it reduces stress, promotes relationship and above all it was a "win-win-no loser" situation.

The Queen mothers were told the types of cases which they could handle which include petty criminal cases, ones on public nuisance, small claims, sanitation, damage to property as well as some cases in schools and churches.

They were, however, cautioned to leave cases on rape, assault, battery and other serious criminal cases to the Police.

In their mediating roles, the participants were to remain impartial, neutral, trustworthy, ready to listen, not judgmental and should exhibit self- respect, be role models and be emphatic. Mrs Angela Dwamena-Aboagye, Executive Director of Ark Foundation, and a Gender Specialist, in a presentation, took the Queen-Mothers through: "What is Gender?"

She said concept of gender had been changing over the years. Using illustrations to show the importance of both sexes, Mrs Dwamena-Aboagye, however, noted that women were highly exploited in times of conflict and urged the Queen-Mothers to offer proper interventions with their knowledge on gender issues.

She urged them to ensure that they were part of the peacekeeping pocess and involved in conflict management at the family and community levels.

They were to continue to support good things between boys and girls; girl-child education and to join in the campaign against HIV/AIDS menace as more and more women were being infected daily.

Nii Tettey Okpe II, Amamoley Mantse, who chaired the closing ceremony, charged the Queen-Mothers to go to the field to help to maintain peace since conflict was rife in the Greater-Accra Region. "I want to see you, the Queen-Mothers stage a peace march in your communities," he said, adding that although conflict was not preventable it could be managed.

"I expect you to implement the training you've had to the letter," Nii Okpe stressed.

Mrs. Kaka Owori Gyimah-Akuffu, Country Director of Action Aid, said her outfit had been development practitioners in Ghana for 15 years, working with the poor and the marginalized.

"Development is not about services and resources. It is about facilitating relationship between people, communities and resources." She said unequal development brought about conflict and drew attention to its terrible effects.

According to her natural conflicts must be managed. "There is beauty when people start to understand each other better, society tends to grow and nurture.

The Country Director emphasised that the status of Queen-Mothers placed them in a unique position and called on them to choose the right methods to address conflicts at the community, household and national levels.

Interactions at the workshop and subsequent exercises in resolving disputes proved very successful. Indeed it came to light that most of the Queen-Mothers had a lot of nagging conflicts to resolve back home. But the most remarkable achievement was that the Queen-Mothers by using the ADR methods were able to solve two cases of misunderstanding between some of them; an indication that they had taken their training in fundamental conflict management and ADR skills to effectively arbitrate disputes seriously.

Armed with certificates of participation and a slogan to fight conflicts, the Queen-Mothers vowed to use the knowledge they had acquired to effectively resolve some of the chieftaincy, family and land disputes within the Region.

They also showed their determination to network in order to achieve their vision. Thus was born the Queens ADR Centre and the Queen-Mothers after outlining an action plan pledged to institutionalise the ADR Project and to sustain it for a long term effect. 28 MARCH 05

Columnist: GNA