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Addressing a Neglected Category of Peacemakers: Women

Addressing a Neglected Category of Peacemakers: Women

May 20, 2015
Samira Saleh Usman
Samira Saleh Usman Senior Education Reform Researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory

The 15th anniversary of the United Nation Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 (adopted 31 October 2015) and the establishment of the UN Women, Peace and Security (UNWPS) agenda will be celebrated during October 2015.[1]  Members of the United Nation have declared their commitment to securing the implementation of Resolution 1325 which aims at empowering women as equal partners in preventing conflicts, building peace in countries threatened by war, violence, insecurity and enhancing national and global security.  It further directs the attention of the member states and international community to understanding the importance of women in both the prevention, and resolution of conflicts and in the process of peacebuilding.  Resolution 1325 calls on states to recognise the importance of equal participation and full involvement of women in all efforts for the maintenance of international peace and security, as well as, “the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.”

Women constitute half of the world’s population and their inclusion in terms of war and peace is not something we can afford to ignore, “Whether it’s ending conflict, managing a transition, or rebuilding a country, the world can no longer afford to continue ignoring half the population[2].” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, described the impact of conflict on women “During and after conflict, more women die during childbirth, and more girls are forcibly married. Fewer women work and participate in the economy and [fewer] girls go to school[3]”.  According to General Major General Patrick Cammaert, the Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2008 “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflicts”.  These views demonstrate the importance of recognising the impact conflict has upon women.  But equally, as women prominently operate at the grass-roots, civil society levels, their importance in bringing about peace, security and reconciliation needs further recognition.

Since the 1950s, more wars have started than have stopped[4]. By the end of 1995, wars had been running in Afghanistan for 17 years, Angola, 30; Liberia, 6; Somalia, 7; Sri Lanka, 11; Sudan, 12; and according to the United Nations and International aid agencies say women are among the worst victims of war[5].  Devastating reports and statistics reflect the impact of conflict and post conflict on women and children in war torn zones. Before World War-II, 90 percent of casualties in conflicts were combatants[6]. Modern wars now have a disproportion impact on civilians, especially women and children[7]. In Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey alone[8], it is estimated that four out of five refugees and displaced persons are women or children.  Reports estimate 149,849 Syrian refugee women and girls of reproductive age, and an estimated 10,939 pregnant Syrian refugees[9]. Health and psychosocial assistance to cope with the stresses of conflict and displacement are not accessible for most of these women[10]. The United Nations and Member States saw the need to establish Women, Peace and Security agenda as laid out in UNSCR 1325 and in six following Security Council Resolutions: UNSCR 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013) and 2122 (2013). Empowering women affected by wars, conflicts and crisis through institutional and structural reforms is essential if women are to play their rightful role in every society and culture ensuring equal protection under the law.

Resolution 1325 was the first formal document issued by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) addressing the contribution of women to international peace and security.  The resolution calls on all parties involved in a conflict to ensure the protection of women’s rights and to avoid any violations in times of crisis or war. UNSC 1325 emphasises the importance of giving women’s voice an opportunity to participate and be part of any peace negotiations, post-conflict reconstruction, and to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict. The pillars of UNSCR 1325, sometimes referred to as the “Three P’s,” calls for women’s Participation, women’s Protection, and the Prevention of violence against women.  These pillars are underlined by an all-encompassing principal: gender mainstreaming.  The resolution has since become an organizing framework for the women, peace and security agenda.  Women peace activists worldwide are using Resolution 1325 as a tool for raising awareness about women’s experiences of conflict and for holding local authorities and governments accountable[11]. In Sri Lanka, women peace activists are running workshops on “taking 1325 to the village”—introducing the resolution to local women and informing them of their rights under international law. In Fiji, the local Women, Peace and Security Committee demanded that the national defence review process acknowledge the role of women in peace and security issues and successfully advocated for the inclusion of the Minister for Gender Affairs on the National Security Council.

Resolution 1325 and the resulting framework provide a two pronged approach for the international community to address the role of women in conflict and conflict resolution.  The framework recognises the impact of conflict upon women as victims, as well as the valuable contributions women can make to preventing conflict and bringing about stable reconciliation to conflicts.  The disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women and girls fuelled the urgency to adopt gender perspective measures and to consider the special needs of women and girls during conflict.  The UNWPS agenda make clear the need for strengthening and enhancing gender equality and women’s rights in the face of rising radicalization and terrorist acts, while at the same time ensuring that counter terrorism (CT)/Counter violence extremism (CVE) strategies uphold the protection of these rights in the process of implementation[12]. The UNWPS agenda also calls for full and equal participation of women at all levels in issues ranging from early conflict prevention to post-conflict reconstruction, peace and security.  The subsequent Security Council Resolutions have continued to develop this framework:

  • UNSCR 1820 (2008) focuses on need for protection of women from gender-based violence and highlights women’s victimization versus women’s empowerment;
  • UNSCR 1888 (2009) complements Resolution 1820 on gender-based violence in conflict and calls for the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary Gender to advance UN’s work on sexual violence and more accountability;
  • UNSCR 1889 (2009) calls for increased implementation measures and inclusion of women empowerment in security and peace building activities;
  • UNSCR 1960 (2010) places and emphasis on the need to address sexual violence during conflict and advocates for work of gender advisors and the appointment of women protection advisers in peacekeeping missions;
  • UNSCR 2106 (2013) addresses global guidelines on sexual violence in armed conflict as well as addressing areas of justice, women’s empowerment, arms, women’s human rights, and civil society engagement;
  • UNSCR 2122 (2013) further develops ideas and practices for women’s and increases attention on threats caused by terrorist acts, while recognising that the empowerment of women helps to drive peacebuilding.

Growing recognition of the significance of enabling women as a key to lasting peace and stability through education, socio- economic empowerment in addition to political inclusion will definitely safeguard lasting stability and peace. Analysis shows that in conflict-affected communities those that experienced the fastest economic recovery and the quickest drop in poverty were those in which more women reported higher levels of empowerment.[13]  This should come as no surprise given the role women have in social grass roots structures and in the informal processes that communities are built upon.  The evidence shows that women are well placed to support the transition from a society devastated by conflict into a peaceful and productive society.

There are a number of cases showing the success of including women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. In Rwanda, the genocide of 1994 left a huge demographic imbalance and in the post-conflict environment women took on multiple roles such as political leaders, head of a household, and financial providers.  With early and critical support from UN organizations and the world community (among others), women in Rwanda were leaders in reconstruction efforts[14] and now 56 percent of the Rwandese Parliament members are women.  In Northern Ireland, women positively influenced advance peace and security via negotiation.  Women had positively influenced advance peace and security via negotiation.  For example, women negotiators secured commitments in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to involve young people and victims of violence in reconciliation; to accelerate the release and reintegration of political prisoners; and to ensure an integrated education system and integrated housing[15].  In the Sudan conflict of 2005, the women of Darfur, helped to include critical issues into the talks and shined a spotlight on the need to provide protection for the vulnerable and displaced, and highlighted a wide range of critical gender concerns related to land rights and physical security that were otherwise ignored and overlooked by negotiators[16]. Inclusion of women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution acknowledges their role in the society and allows for their voices to be represented. Failure to include women and girls in decision-making processes often means that their concerns and protection risks are not addressed in the community’s overall response and in their negotiations with external stakeholders[17].

However, in other conflicts, where women have been excluded and shut out from the political and peace efforts, such as in Iraq or Bosnia, the transition to peace has been more difficult and the status of women has suffered.  At the moment the position of Iraqi women is worse than twenty years ago[18]. Women leaders in Iraq face numerous challenges like lack of security, which affects women’s sense of safety and hinders their ability to contribute effectively to development efforts.  In some cases women suffer from a lack of awareness of their rights, particularly in rural areas; of equal access to justice; and of an understanding of women’s rights among predominantly male police forces. Armed militias threaten the rights of women and governments minimize the voices and participation of women[19].

Helping women help themselves by giving them a voice in decision-making and access to socio-economic resources accelerate their empowerment and is vital for these women to cope with the reality of displacement, loss of income and in most cases becoming the main breadwinner.  These efforts further support the move to community, social peace and reconciliation. Despite the growing international efforts calling for the inclusion of women in post-conflict reconciliation, women remain under-represented in peace processes, peace negotiations, peacekeeping, and post conflict reconstruction. More than 95 percent of peacekeepers are men, and only few women are included in mediation, negotiation of peace deals which contradicts with UN-accord that women are long lasting peace deals.

While the UN Security Council Resolutions, such as UNSCR 1325, set out a practical and normative framework for the international community, direct action needs to be undertaken by the member states to further the recognition of the importance of women in post-conflict situations.  A key part of the international framework is for states to come up with National Action Plans (NAP) for the implementation of Resolution 1325 and the wider framework.[20]  The purpose of the NAP is for a government to translate the provisions of UNSCR 1325 into practical measures to be carried out by national ministries, departments, councils/districts and commissions. Unfortunately, to date, only 42 out of the 192 UN member states have developed and adopted NAP[21].

The NAP is guided by basic principles going from engagement and protection of women as agents of peace and stability and rebuilding efforts, to respecting human rights, advancing gender equality and implementing gender integration, to Inclusion of all members of society regardless of sex, race disability or orientation. The NAP helps with ensuring collaboration among all government entities and international partners to maximize the impact of the action plan and directing activities for supporting women.  They also provide measures for accountability and can create systems for measuring implementation as well as articulating national priorities within the global framework.  Strategies for developing a NAP, based on the experience of some UN members who already established their own[22], include:

  • Gender audits and surveys to assess the gender mainstreaming in peace efforts.
  • Formation of a cross- governmental working panels to promote collaboration and cooperation among inter-governmental departments and other civil society groups.
  • Allocation of sufficient resources for the sustainability of the program to be implemented including integrating gender perspectives programmes and fostering education and training on gender aspects including the needs of women and girls.
  • Establishing a mechanism of monitoring and accountability to warrant measurable and effective change.

The process of creating a NAP builds valuable networks among different governmental institution, civil society and NGOs who are taking part in producing NAP documents, so the process itself may be as important as the document that is created. Furthermore, a NAP should not be seen as a final outcome but as a living document and should be revised and updated regularly. Creating a NAP provides an opportunity to take a course of actions that should already be in place in many ways, but further support coherence and avoids duplicating efforts.

Despite the fact that the UNWPS agenda is based on social ideas and practices regarding the role of women in society that should already be in place, its full implementation remains weak.  This has two impacts in that efforts at peace and security remain weak due to the exclusion of women and women themselves are not able to fully grasp the merits of the international framework and participate in peacebuilding.  We continue to see in peace processes and negotiations that the importance of women contributing and participating is asserted, but actual participation or recognition of contributions is neglected[23].  This is a particular concern for the Middle East and North Africa region.  According to a report by the Woodrow Wilson Center, many women in the region are being pushed out of public life at a variety of levels.[24]

Unfortunately, the reality of the Muslim world and society has little to do with the Islamic guidance about gender relationship.  The Islamic charter for society views men and women as co-equal and their responsibility or duties as well as specific rights may, but as human beings they are equal. Muslim women engaged in peace turn to the Holy Qur’an, to hadiths (sayings), and to the Sunnah (custom) to seek guidance on what roles to play[25]. The importance of Shura (consultation) and Sulh (peace) in Islam offer relevant frameworks. Prophet Mohammad and the Khalifat turned to shura in making decisions that affects the Ummah.  According to Shari’ah women are counterparts of men. There is no separate order in Islamic jurisprudence for women. The Shari’ah (or Islamic law) is essentially the same, and its general rules are common for both sexes[26]. Inspired, among others, by archetypes such as Khadijah, Fatimah and Aisha, many Muslim women and activists are actively engaged in a number of conflict transformation roles throughout the world.[27]  Bangladesh[28], which is an Islamic state, has been among the first countries deploying all-female UN police units to peacekeeping operations with a delegation of 160 women police officers sent to Haiti in 2010.  Mrs Dekha Ibrahim, the peace activist, has explained “Participation in a peace process is not about the mathematics of numbers and percentages in relation to who is in majority or minority. It is about plurality, diversity, participation and ownership of all affected by the conflict …”.[29]  The United Arab Emirates is committed to furthering the goals and objectives of UNWPS agenda.  The UAE Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh has stated “we must recognise women as the agents of change that they are, and not solely as the victims.”[30]  Currently, the UAE does not have a NAP in place yet,[31] but remains dedicated to ensuring women are protected during conflict, and are engaged with conflict resolution.

The UNWPS agenda is a crucial part of furthering international peace and security in the world in line with the objectives of the UN Charter.  While advances at the policy level are of critical importance, robust action is needed to translate commitments into action to improve the opportunities and outcomes for women and girls. Particular measures are necessary to bring the UNWPS agenda into practical terms, such as:[32]

  • Create an incentive for negotiating teams to include more women as part of formal negotiating teams in the form of extra seats to include women and provide funding and training;
  • Protect the safety and the security of participating delegates during peace processes;
  • Continually engaging media and public entities with a focus on women involvement.

The need for increased women’s participation in peace processes is important for, at least, three reasons: it is a matter of justice; it is important for ensuring quality of an agreement; and for reinforcement of its implementation. It is not only a women’s issue; it is strategically necessary for the benefit of all of society.  States and international organisations can further the UNWPS agenda through the development and deployment of technical expertise; further training for peacekeeping missions; supporting the presence of women on UN mediation teams supporting peace talks; ensuring timely access to information and analysis on women caught in conflict zones; building a strong commitment to mainstreaming women and girls directly in peace processes.  These measures will benefit the conflict resolution processes by protecting, empowering and engaging women, which also provides the best hope for continued stability and long-term development in the post-conflict period.

[1] Prepared by NGOWG on Women, Peace and Security: Amnesty International; Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; Femmes Africa Solidarité; Global Justice Center; Refugees International; The Institute for Inclusive Security; Women’s Action for New Directions; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; Women’s Refugee Commission and in consultation with Global Network for Women Peace Builders. http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/what%20we%20do/evaw-inventory.ashx.

[2] Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, December 19, 2011 launch of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security (NAP), http://www.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2011/12/179173.htm.

[3] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49186#.VSIlK-GEc-k.

[4] http://www.unicef.org/graca/patterns.htm.

[5] http://www.voanews.com/content/a-13-2009-03-08-voa9-68678402/408727.html.

[6] http://www.unicef.org/graca/patterns.htm.

[7] http://www.nato.int/cps/fr/natohq/topics_91091.htm?selectedLocale=en.

[8] http://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/scwps2014_statement_uae_0.pdf.

[9] http://www.unfpa.org/news/when-fear-follows-womens-centres-help-syrian-refugees-cope.

[10] http://www.unfpa.org/news/when-fear-follows-womens-centres-help-syrian-refugees-cope.

[11] https://www.ndi.org/files/Toolkit%20for%20Advocacy%20and%20Action%20IIS.pdf.

[12] http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/women-peace-security/side-events#sthash.1GQ7YXo4.dpuf.

[13] Patti Petesch, Women’s Empowerment Arising from Violent Conflict and Recovery: Life Stories from Four Middle Income Countries (Washington, DC: U.S. Agency for International Development, 2011), available at www.usip.org/files/Gender/Petesch_Women_and_Conflict.pdf.

[14] http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/meetings/2004/EGMelectoral/EP5-Powley.PDF.

[15]https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/emailfiles/US_National_Action_Plan_on_Women_Peace_and_Security.pdf.

[16]http://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/BringingWomenintoPeaceNegotiations IIS2009.pdf.

[17] http://www.peacebuildinginitiative.org/index9aa5.html?pageId=1959.

[18] http://yalejournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/116103salbi.pdf.

[19] http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR319.pdf.

[20] Statement by the President of the Security Council on Women, Peace and Security, 31 October 2002, UN Doc. S/PRST/2002/32 available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/ods/S-PRST-2002-32-E.pdf.

[21] http://www.wanep.org/wanep/files/pub/1325_guideline/1325_guideline_en.pdf.

[22] https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/email-files/US_National_Action_Plan_on_Women_Peace_and_Security.pdf.

[23] http://iknowpolitics.org/en/learn/interviews/ameena-alrasheed.

[24] http://www.wilsoncenter.org/islamists/article/challenges-to-women%E2%80%99s-security-the-middle-east.

[25] Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana and Meena Sharify-Funk, ’Muslim Women Peacemakers as Agents of

Change‘, in Crescent and Dove. Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam. USIP, Washington DC, 2010.

[26]http://islaminireland.com/site/assets/files/1086/on_the_position_of_women_in_islam_and_in_islamic_society.pdf.

[27] http://www.c-r.org/sites/default/files/Muslim%20women%20%281%29.pdf.

[28] http://www.c-r.org/sites/default/files/Muslim%20women%20%281%29.pdf.

[29] Information drawn from http://rightlivelihood.org/abdi.html.

[30] WAM, “UAE calls for strengthening women’s participation in achieving international peace and security”, 29 October 2014, http://www.wam.ae/en/news/emirates/1395271597302.html.

[31] http://www.peacewomen.org/countries_and_regions/391.

[32] Torunn L. Tryggestad (2009) Trick or Treat? The UN and Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations: October-December 2009, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 539-557.

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