Gibbs College Sponsors 2023 Grassroots Women’s Peace Conference in Uganda 

During summer 2023, the fourth annual Grassroots Women’s Peace Conference was convened at St. Monica’s Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda. The conference was organized by OU’s Center for Peace and Development and St. Monica’s as well as 10 other grassroots women’s organizations. The conference also received support from a gift by the Gibbs College of Architecture. 

This conference was first convened in 2018 in partnership with OU alumna Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, founder of St. Monica’s as well as the non-profit organization Sewing Hope Foundation. Since 2002, she has enrolled more than 2,000 girls at St. Monica’s who were terrorized by ongoing civil wars in Uganda. At the school, these women learn important trades such as tailoring, hairdressing and catering to help them become self-sufficient and support their own families.

Sister Rosemary observed that the voices, interests and work of women were often disregarded in discussions about conflict and peacebuilding, which lead to the development of the annual Women’s Peace Conference. This year’s gathering brought women together with the goal of deliberating and formulating solution-oriented initiatives that address the cultural aspects contributing to gender-based violence in Northern Uganda. The participating organizations included: 

  • National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (Arua) 
  • Kitgum Women Peace Initiative 
  • Teso Women Peace Activists 
  • Lango Women’s Peace and Development Champions 
  • People’s Voice for Peace 
  • Women’s Advocacy Network 
  • Nakere Rural Woman Activists 
  • St. Monica’s Vocational School 
  • Elderly Catholic Mothers’ Association 
  • Daystar Youth Services 
  • Female Journalists Media Initiative 

According to Kalenda Eaton, a member of the CPD Executive Committee, “These are all organizations focused on women’s needs, women’s issues and ways of supporting women in rural Northern Uganda. They are responding to this post-conflict environment that they live in and thinking about how they can move forward.” 

Previously, this event served as a forum for women to share their post-civil war experiences and for grassroots organizations to collaborate. This year’s conference evolved to include the more recent consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, last year’s conference focused on gender-based violence and teen pregnancy, establishing a foundation upon which this year’s discussion was built. 

“There was a lot of discussion of wanting to understand the underlying reasons for all this violence against women and girls,” said Zermarie Deacon, CPD co-director. “All the groups reported back on what they had discussed last year, what they had achieved in the year and how they had worked on last year’s action plans. Then they made plans for the coming year, and they really felt this momentum in terms of addressing gender-based violence.” 

Although the CPD provides resources and helps facilitate the conference, Deacon explained that the grassroots organizations do most of the work themselves. With the resources provided by the CPD, these women develop their own conference agenda to address the needs of their local communities. 

“A large goal for us at the CPD is to pass this along to the partners, so they will take complete ownership of it,” Deacon said. “It’s important because we have resources, we have opportunities, we have things that may not be accessible to these communities. But we’re not coming in with an agenda, we’re not dictating to them what to do. We’re providing a platform that they’re using themselves.” 

While this conference is a great resource for communities in Northern Uganda, it also provides a unique learning opportunity for OU students as a part of the university’s study abroad program. “It’s fascinating, because this is a grassroots women’s conference that allows OU students the opportunity to help with planning sessions, transcribe information, and listen to the conversations that happen in these different sessions,” Eaton said. “Whoever the student is, they come back changed.” 

According to Deacon, “It’s a fantastic opportunity for students to see real organizations engage in real social change. Oftentimes at the university level, when students learn about social change it’s very abstract. I think it’s helpful for them to see these organizations work with issues in real time and see what they’re doing to work toward change.” 

The CPD is excited to see the impact of the action plans developed at this year’s conference and has begun planning for next year. This conference is mostly funded by the CPD, so support from donors and partners is integral for the future of the program. “We’re always looking for supporters because the CPD doesn’t have a lot of money for it,” Deacon said. “The support from the College of Architecture was fantastic. It’s just so great that colleges are contributing to this cause.

We really appreciate anything for the peace conference as well as St. Monica’s. If people are interested in donating, they can support the tuition of a girl going to St. Monica’s to pay for her and her children to be there, go to school and earn a living one day.” Learn more about St. Monica’s and the Sewing Hope Foundation and make a donation at

Learn more about the annual Grassroots Women’s Peace Conference at