Leveraging the Women, Peace and Security Plan

This post originally appeared at Incline – a blog that publishes commentary and analysis on New Zealand and world affairs. www.incline.org.nz

This year New Zealand will become the 49th country to adopt a National Action Plan (NAP) on women, peace and security. This is fifteen years after the adoption of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325 and eleven years after Kofi Annan’s call for member states to develop NAPs. New Zealand has a rich history of advancing women’s rights as the first country to give women the vote and is ranked thirteenth out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Index. But the development of a women, peace and security NAP has waited until the achievement of a non-permanent seat on the UNSC. This timing could be fortuitous. During its two-year term in New York, New Zealand has a crucial opportunity to advance UNSCR 1325 issues at the international level.

New Zealand’s draft NAP was released in May 2015. It focuses on five areas: (1) ensuring women’s involvement in decision-making within conflict and post-conflict situations; (2) promoting New Zealand women as mediators and negotiators in international forums; (3) increasing the number of New Zealand women deployed in police and military roles in UN-mandated peacekeeping missions; (4) ensuring that gender analysis informs NZ’s peace support responses, and development assistance to conflict-affected countries; and (5) promoting efforts to combat sexual violence, intimate partner violence and violence against women in conflict affected countries where New Zealand has a development programme or post.

So how does New Zealand’s proposed NAP measure up?

First, with respect to focus areas 2 and 3 it is important to examine the extent to which New Zealand can strengthen its capacity and capabilities to meet its commitments to UNSCR 1325. New Zealand’s overall contribution to UN peacekeeping is minimal and currently stands at 11 personnel out of more than 100,000 personnel from member states. Increasing the number of deployed female police officers and soldiers to reach the target of 18% on peacekeeping missions requires recruiting and retaining women within the police and defence force and ensuring their progression through to senior rank. Although there has been an increase in the number of female officers deploying with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) in senior roles –  including a Lieutenant Colonel to the Chief UN Observer role in Lebanon, a Wing Commander as Senior National Officer in Dubai and a Colonel to Afghanistan – women in the NZDF continue to face the “armoured glass ceiling”, making up only 6% of officers in combat operations. In a 2012 Review, the NZ Police acknowledged the need for more women in senior police management and agreed to targets of 30% women in constabulary recruitment and 10% women total commissioned officers by 2017.

Second, in ensuring gender analysis informs NZ’s peace support activities in conflict-affected countries, New Zealand must examine the efficacy of the gender mainstreaming approach. Rather than deploying specialist gender experts, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has focused on training NZ Police and MFAT programme staff to integrate gender dynamics analysis into intervention design and implementation. According to a 2013 evaluation of NZ policing in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, gender equality has not been built into country-level interventions, nor linked to partner country national gender and human rights processes. New Zealand has very limited capacity to pursue a gender mainstreaming agenda with just one gender equality advisor with no delegated authority or budget and no staff with specific responsibility for gender equality in any of the country missions.

Third, on the issue of how New Zealand can advance women, peace and security issues much more could be done to promote women’s inclusion in peace processes, including putting forward New Zealand women as potential UN mediators. Former NZ Permanent Representative, H.E. Jim McLay, actively contributed to the UNSC Open Debate in January stating: “it’s widely acknowledged that women have an important role to play as leaders and decision-makers in the prevention and resolution of conflict. But, while that’s recognised, it’s not something that’s consistently applied in practice.” Women have comprised only 4% of signatories, 2.4% of chief mediators, 3.7% of witnesses and 9% of negotiators between 1992-2011. With over half of all peace agreements failing within a decade, there is clear evidence that involving women expands the scope of agreements and improves the prospects for durable peace.

As the Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective’s submission on New Zealand’s draft NAP recommends, New Zealand should organise an Arria Formula dialogue for Pacific women peacebuilders to have their work in the region highlighted and to generate best practices and lessons learned for other conflict-affected regions. At the UNSC, New Zealand could leverage its historical experience in supporting women peacebuilders and ensuring gender-sensitive policing/peacekeeping in the Pacific Islands. For example, in New Zealand’s peacekeeping experience in Bougainville the inclusion and influence of women at the earliest stages of the peace processes was recognised as essential to sustainable peace. By contrast, where peace negotiations were less inclusive of women in south and central Bougainville, the transition to peace was notably slower. Highlighting these examples of gender-sensitive peace talks would reinforce New Zealand’s commitment to the core principles of the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2012-2018.

New Zealand’s draft NAP contains some noteworthy strengths. It addresses the importance of recognising and resourcing women peacebuilders within early warning and conflict prevention. It also acknowledges a range of forms of Violence Against Women (VAW) that is exacerbated following conflict and natural disasters – especially those in fragile countries.

The NAP deserves a national conversation as well as buy-in and ownership across government agencies and in partnership with civil society. The formal adoption of New Zealand’s plan should be marked by a parliamentary debate on UNSCR 1325 and women, peace and security and what it means for New Zealand in the Pacific region.

Anna Powles is a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies at Massey University and Director of Women in International Security New Zealand (WIIS). She can be emailed at A.R.Powles@massey.ac.nz

Jacqui True is a Professor of International Relations and Politics at Monash Unversity and Co-Founder of the Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective (WPSAC) and can be emailed at jacqui.true@monash.edu.au

What Can New Zealand Do on the United Nations Security Council to Advance the Women, Peace and Security Agenda?

The Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective and Women in International Security New Zealand (see note 1) are delighted that New Zealand has won election as non-permanent member on the UN Security Council beginning in January 2015 until December 2016, representing the Western European and other countries group. We see New Zealand as a global advocate for conflict and atrocities prevention, including the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, and also as an advocate for peacebuilding promoting gender-equal participation in peace and security processes.

Photo by Loey Felipe/UN Photo, used under a Creative Commons licence

Delegation of New Zealand following election to the Security Council. Photo by Loey Felipe/UN Photo, used under a Creative Commons licence

It has been 21 years since New Zealand served on the Security Council in 1993-4. At the time New Zealand played a leading role in the Security Council resolution condemning the atrocities in Rwandan “as genocide”. As President of the Council in April 1994 New Zealand ambassador Colin Keating sought to persuade the Council to deploy further UN peacekeeping troops to Rwanda (see Conley-Tyler and Pahlow 2014). Outside the of Council, New Zealand has consistently promoted peacebuilding in the Pacific region, including facilitating local women’s unique roles in ending violence and brokering peace, such as, in the process that culminated in the 2002 Papua New Guinea – Bougainville Peace Agreement. During that process on several occasions official delegations of leaders of women’s organisations were brought to talks in New Zealand to forge a united voice and to enable their greater inclusion in peace processes at home. These initiatives funded by the New Zealand government successfully supported women’s peacebuilding initiatives in Bougainville over a number of years. More recent interventions in the Pacific, including the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and participation in multiple UN missions in Timor Leste underline the importance of a coherent, context-appropriate and sustained strategy for the inclusion of women in nationbuilding at all levels of governance.

New Zealand’s ten-year campaign for non-permanent membership emphasized the country’s representation of small states in international politics that make up over half of the United Nations membership (109 states). Once on the Council New Zealand has vowed to work for reform to increase the non-permanent membership of the Security Council and lessen the veto power of the P5 to make a positive difference to UN multilateralism, particularly to address concerning situations of conflict and insecurity in the world. In its Security Council campaign, New Zealand did not mention the country’s efforts to advance the Women, Peace and Security agenda at the United Nations and through its foreign development and security policies even though, as the Bourgainville case illustrates, the country has a significant record on WPS. Moreover, New Zealand’s own anti-nuclear security history and identity was founded on widespread women’s peace activism in local communities and at the national level.

In a letter to WPSAC on 9 September 2014, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Murray McCully, wrote “[New Zealand] has a record of “targeting and mainstreaming assistance and promoting the wellbeing of women and girls through our development program and security operations overseas”. Given these commitments, we encourage the New Zealand government to stand up for less powerful, non-state actors, such as, women’s civil society and non-governmental organisations, that are increasingly playing crucial roles in conflict-prevention and peacebuilding as well as for small member states.

In order to make good on its unique WPS record, New Zealand needs to urgently adopt and implement a Women, Peace and Security National Action Plan based on consultations with civil society organisations and actors as well as with government agencies such as the Women’s Development Steering Group in the New Zealand Defence Force. A NAP is crucial for New Zealand to progress its plans to support the “empowerment of women at all levels of the security agenda including promoting the ability of women to act as mediators and men and women to act as gender advisors in situations of conflict” (Minister letter to WPSAC, 9 September, 2014). The recent appointment of a High Level Panel to review UN Peace Operations that included only 3 women but 11 men highlights the persistent gender gaps that continue to undermine women’s voices in international peace and security. We need UN SC members like New Zealand to ensure that women have an equal stake in UN processes and decisions because we need to harness all the groups who can bring about the resolution of conflicts and the creation of lasting peace.

Jacqui True and Anna Powles

Note 1: Women In International Security NZ (WIIS NZ) is the affiliate chapter of the global Women In International Security network which seeks to advance and advocate the role of women in international affairs, defence, and security. WIIS NZ was established on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2014, to address the absence of significant numbers of women in leadership positions within New Zealand’s international affairs, defence and security sectors as well as supporting the inclusion of women in leadership roles, adherence of the security sectors to UNSCR 1325, and peacebuilding throughout the region. A core focus of WIIS globally is advocacy for and monitoring of UNSCR 1325 including the NAPs and WIIS NZ is actively engaging the New Zealand Government to hold them accountable for the development and promotion of the NAP.

Australia’s International Response to Islamic State: The Forgotten Half

Something is being forgotten in the global response to Islamic State. It’s something big. In fact, it affects half of the population. Australia has a whole of government policy that requires our peace and security institutions to actively consider these women. The policy of which I speak is the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2012-2018 (NAP). As Australia re-engages in conflict in the Middle East, the Australian Government needs to prioritise the commitments they made in this policy.

'Yazidi Genocide: Iraq 2014', Source: Debris2008 (Domenico) via Flickr, available under a Creative Commons license

‘Yazidi Genocide: Iraq 2014’, Source: Debris2008 (Domenico) via Flickr, available under a Creative Commons license

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was the first of several resolutions to outline the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. It acknowledged the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women and girls and obliged member states to increase women’s participation and protection. There are obligations to ensure women’s participation in conflict prevention, peace processes, peacebuilding and peacekeeping. There are also obligations to protect women and girls from sexual violence in armed conflict, and provide gendered relief and recovery. In articulating these obligations, the Security Council formalised women’s participation and protection as a priority of international peace and security.

Strategy four of the NAP states that Australia will “promote women, peace and security implementation internationally.” Australia has made military commitments to the conflict with Islamic State (IS): first by delivering conventional arms, now by the deployment of special forces and fighter jets. The conflict is now clearly a strategic priority for Australia. Having made a strategic commitment, WPS needs to be comprehensively applied to strategic and operational planning and implementation. The current operational response is an example of why Australia needs the Commander Joint Operations to have a dedicated Gender Advisor who is a specialist in gender and conflict.

Strategy one of Australia’s National Action Plan says the government will “integrate a gender perspective into Australia’s policies on peace and security.” Women and girls in Syria and northern Iraq have been subjected to gross sexual violence. The International Rescue Committee recently completed a large survey of Syrian women and girls. The research report, entitled Are We Listening?, found that many Syrian women and girls “have been subject to sexual and gender-based violence, coerced into early marriages, overwhelmed by economic strife, and psychologically scarred by loss in a war that seemingly has no end.” When asked “what are the biggest challenges you are facing?” The most common theme of the responses was the daily reality of sexual exploitation and harassment: “constantly fearful, women and girls told us about extreme levels of harassment”. Indeed, a article in Foreign Policy highlighted the fact that sexual violence is being used by IS as a weapon of war. United Nations in Iraq has said that “some 1,500 Yazidi and Christian persons may have been forced into sexual slavery.”

Action 4.4 of the NAP says Australia will “consider the use of specific strategies to promote the participation and protection of women and girls in fragile, conflict and/or post-conflict settings”. Announcements by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, on funding for women and girls affected by the ongoing violence are welcome. More needs to be done to protect women and girls but both pillars of the WPS agenda are relevant in the IS conflict. Women are not just victims of violence during armed conflict, they are also agents for change. Women’s participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding will be vital to achieve any sustainable solutions to the conflict.

When you consider peace and security as a conflict cycle, women’s participation in conflict prevention in northern Iraq and Syria is currently about preventing an escalation in the conflict and conflict resolution. Strategy five of the NAP states that the government will “take a coordinated and holistic approach” to WPS. Yet Australia has made no commitments to supporting women’s participation in the prevention of escalation of the conflict or in peacebuilding.

Civil society worked on WPS long before there were even Security Council Resolutions on the subject. Strategy three of Australia’s NAP is about supporting civil society organisations to “increase women’s participation in conflict prevention, peace-building, conflict resolution and relief and recovery.” On Tuesday 23 September 2014, civil society organisations will host the Annual Civil Society Dialogue on Women, Peace and Security, bringing senior leaders from government and civil society together with the community to discuss the implementation of Australia’s NAP on WPS. While progress has been made on the implementation of WPS in Australia since the release of the NAP, there is still much work to be done. There is no doubt that Australia should be doing a great deal to support women’s organisations who work on protection and participation in Syria and northern Iraq.

Registrations are still open for the Annual Civil Society Dialogue on Women, Peace and Security. It will be held at University House, The Australian National University.

Susan Hutchinson is a PhD scholar at the Australian National University. She is a civil-military specialist. Her PhD research focuses on Women, Peace and Security and the Australian Defence Force.

Close to the Finish Line: Making the most of Australia’s remaining months on the UN SC for advancing the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2122 (2013) at the October WPS Open Debate in 2013 (UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe). Retrieved from www.un.org, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2122 (2013) at the October WPS Open Debate in 2013 (UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe). Retrieved from http://www.un.org, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In November 2014, Australia will again hold the Presidency of the UN Security Council, as we near the end of our term of office as an elected, non-permanent, member. Australia has held a non-permanent seat on the Council since January 2013, the term of which expires in December 2014. Recently, the Australian government hosted a consultation between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and representatives from civil society to discuss priorities for the remaining months. The group was far larger than that which attended previous consultations, which suggests an increase in the level of general engagement among civil society actors, and the profile of government delegates was commensurately higher: the session opened with an address from Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon. Julie Bishop, and closed with a discussion about Australia’s legacy from the time on the SC led by Gary Quinlan, Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Australia has engaged substantially and substantively with the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ (WPS) agenda during its term of office. There were two new resolutions adopted by the Council in 2013 (UNSCR 2106 and UNSCR 2122), but there were also a number of ‘Women, Peace and Security’ events throughout the year that Australia played a key part in. In May 2013, for example, Australia and Guatemala organised an Arria formula meeting to discuss gender and peacekeeping operations. The emphasis in the meeting was on the practical experiences of gender experts in UN peacekeeping missions and the management of gender training at HQ level, with input from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous. And in September, the mission co-ordinated a side event in collaboration with Conciliation Resources, a London-based NGO, which focused on women’s leadership in peacebuilding. These are just two of a dozen such events that Australia has been involved in, either centrally or in a partnership role. The Australian government now has the opportunity to consolidate and extend its support for the WPS agenda, during the November Presidency and beyond.

First, the government could dovetail a focus on policing with strong work on WPS to date through showcasing the importance of female police officers and/or ‘best practice’ gender training as part of security sector reform (SSR), both of which have notionally informed Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan. Such a focus creates the possibility of events on 1) gender training of police forces drawing on the work of parts of the Australian Federal Police in this space and 2) on the relationship between women’s participation in peace and security governance and effective policing. Sierra Leone has faced challenges in this regard, while Afghanistan also has a really positive story to tell.

Second, in the realm of peacebuilding, Australia can leverage its commitment to the UN Peacebuilding Commission (UN PBC), evident in its continued and regular financial support of the Peacebuilding Fund, to develop more meaningful relationship between UN PBC and UN SC. There is also a need to create more (and more meaningful) opportunities for civil society engagement with peace and security governance at UN HQ and in country. One way to do this is to make funds available through UN Women to bring together research centres, civil society organisations and universities to enhance information-sharing and inform the 2015 High-Level Review of the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

Third, and finally, in relation to peace and security governance more broadly, Australia could show support for the creation of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Women’s Participation in Peace and Security Governance (SRSG-WPPSG). One of the key issues raised by civil society groups in 2013 related to the perceived narrowing of the WPS agenda to focus almost solely on conflict-related sexualised violence and the protection of women and girls. Australia has the opportunity in 2014 to champion an holistic approach to the WPS agenda, a vision of ‘Women, Peace and Security’ that shows the ability to make the connection between women’s meaningful participation in governance and their ability to live free from violence and discrimination.

The Australian government has built up a stock of political capital as a supporter of the WPS agenda. These last few months represent an opportunity to consolidate the good efforts thus far, and to create something significant as a legacy for the term of office on the UN SC: an opportunity to show that Australia really did ‘make a difference’ not only for the small and medium-sized countries of the world, as its campaign slogan said, but for everyone.

Beyond sexualised violence: Making the links across the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda

Homepage of UN Action

The UK government is hosting a Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London this coming week. The event brings together civil society organisations, world leaders, national policymakers and academics ‘with a view to creating irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and practical action that impacts those on the ground’. This is the most recent in a series of moves under the auspices of the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), launched in 2012 by Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The expenditure of significant political capital by the UK on the issue of conflict-related sexualised violence (CRSV) has had material effects on the policy frameworks that govern this issue at the international level. In June 2013, we saw the adoption of a further UN Security Council Resolution on the topic of CRSV (UNSCR 2106), which was received by many  (myself included) as a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, the prevalence of conflict-related sexualised violence is of course a crucial area of concern in the governance of peace and security. On the other hand, the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda at the United Nations, the framework through which peace and security governance attends to the differential effects of conflict on men and women, is much broader in scope than the narrow focus on CRSV implies.

To deal with the positive first: the move to raise the international profile of conflict-related sexualised violence began in 2009/10 with the creation of position of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the unification of a range of UN entities under the umbrella organisation UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict. The increased visibility of this issue has had a number of positive effects, including the cross-cutting inclusion of language related to CRSV in UN SC ‘core business’ resolutions (that is, resolutions that relate to matters other than the thematic priority of ‘Women, Peace and Security’, which is evidence of the issue’s broader traction at the Council).

There are complexities that are erased, however, through many of the common representational practices related to this issue. There is a tendency to lapse into women-as-victim frames to represent conflict-related sexualised violence, which is a problem, and it is by no means clear that, even though there is an organised effort to include men and boys in conversations about CRSV, serious thought has been given as to how that works. With regard to the latter, there has been concern expressed among practitioners and service providers about the political economy of this debate: a long-overdue need to recognise the sexualised victimisation of men and boys in conflict and post-conflict situations has been translated in uneven and often thoughtless distribution of funds for service provision in post-conflict environments. The response has often been to try to stake the claim that while, yes, men and boys suffer CRSV in unrecognised numbers, women and girls suffer disproportionately.

This formulation seems problematic as a platform for action, though clearly it may be empirically verifiable in particular contexts. It is problematic is because it invites support through competitive logics (who is suffering more?) rather than focusing on the prevention, punishment, and sensitive social care in the aftermath of, conflict-related sexualised violence. Further, the argument founders wherever it is suggested, as in Johnson et al.’s 2010 study of North and South Kivu provinces and Ituri district in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that actually rates of sexualised violence against men/boys and women/girls were roughly even (74% of female respondents reported experiencing conflict-related sexualised violence versus 65% of male respondents). This case can then be held up to counter the claim about the disproportionate victimisation of women, and, while we know we cannot extrapolate in any meaningful way from a single case, by then the debate has moved on and the damage is done.

When the focus is on service provision, then we need to recognise not who suffers more but how men/boys suffer differently from women/girls and ensure that both sets of needs are met in the specific local context. Both men and women might be marginalised and even forced to leave their communities as a result of the stigma attached to conflict-related sexualised violence, but that might be different depending on the context. Men/boys don’t need pregnancy tests or prenatal care; women/girls don’t need to know about how to care for wounds to penis or testes. The care needs of both groups are different and should be assessed on the ground, in context, to ensure that the needs of the specific community are addressed, and in a sensitive fashion.

If the focus is truly on prevention then the impetus has to be to change cultures of gendered behaviour. While this might seem like a lofty goal, in the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda it has a very practical operational manifestation in the increased meaningful participation of women in all forms of peace and security governance, from peacekeeping to peacemaking to peacebuilding and security sector reform. Creating the office of a Special Representative of the Secretary General on Women’s Participation in Peacebuilding is an important and necessary action.

The visibility of conflict-related sexualised violence is linked in no small part to the existence of the SRSG-SVC and the political purchase that gives the CRSV agenda at the UN; if women’s participation in peacebuilding had similar institutional backing, this would bring about a significant cultural change. From Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Somalia and elsewhere, there is growing evidence that having women engaged in peacebuilding in meaningful, long-term and inclusive ways makes a material difference to the type of peace being built, and the kind of society that emerges from the post-conflict period. The ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda has always been holistic: the civil society organisations that fostered the foundational resolution (UNSCR 1325) and have remained engaged with critiquing, challenging and extending the agenda recognise the agency and potential of women, rather than seeing them solely as victims of violence. I believe that the diplomats, ministers, politicians, practitioners, public figures, and associated experts gathered in London this week can do the same.

Laura J. Shepherd, UNSW Australia

When WPS Met CEDAW (and Broke Up with R2P?)

This piece was first published by E-IR and is available here. It has been shared with the author’s permission under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.

You may not have noticed, but 18 October 2013 was a red letter day for global women’s rights. On this day, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), expert guardians of the UN Convention, released General Recommendation 30 in Geneva. On this day, the United Nations Security Council released Resolution 2122 in New York as part of their Women Peace and Security thematic focus under the Presidency of Azerbaijan, the culmination of a year’s worth of attention to the agenda.

Both documents seek to revolutionise the situation of women in conflict prevention, conflict & post-conflict situations, and both have legal import, even if not binding.  How should we read these events? Do IR theories of gradual institutional change and discursive institutionalism explain what occurred, and what is the significance of these international documents?

My argument is that the Committee was striking back at the Security Council in an attempt to swing the Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda back towards a human rights foundation, away from the increasing focus on protection from sexual violence in conflict at the expense of other aspects of the agenda.  Partly this protection focus is due to the impact of norm entrepreneurs promoting the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, seeking convergence between R2P norms and the WPS agenda to increase the legitimacy of the norm after Libya.

About CEDAW: Slowly Building the Legal Framework for Rights

The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and now has 186 state parties (but with many states making serious reservations to certain provisions). The 23-member elected expert Committee overseeing the Convention puts out opinions (‘general comments’) about how the treaty should be interpreted, responds to periodic state reports about compliance with the Convention, and deals with state complaints and individual complaints under the Optional Protocol.  There are also special protections for women and girls under international humanitarian law (including the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court).[i]

Aside from the hard law of conventions, there is also increasing ‘soft law’ in the area of women’s rights at the United Nations. The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1993. The Beijing Conference for Women in 1995 adopted a Platform for Action which is reviewed by the Commission for the Status of Women every five years.

In this context, General Comment 30: Women in conflict prevention, conflict & post-conflict situations adds to the soft law on the human rights of women, and shows a willingness to expand into an area of activity where there is no clear provision in the text of the treaty, and where the Security Council has been active for the last 13 years.  Paragraph 26 states:

The Committee reiterates the need for a concerted and integrated approach that places the implementation of the Security Council agenda on women, peace and security into the broader framework of the implementation of the Convention and its Optional Protocol.

The Committee seeks to use its power to oversee state periodic reporting to achieve this aim.  Under paragraph 27, it has asked that all state parties to CEDAW to develop national action plans with adequate budgets:

…Using the reporting procedure to include information on the implementation of Security Council commitments can consolidate the Convention and the Council’s agenda and therefore broaden, strengthen and operationalize gender equality.

(a) Ensure that national action plans and strategies to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions are compliant with the Convention, and that adequate budgets are allocated for their implementation…

(c) Cooperate with all United Nations networks, departments, agencies, funds and programmes in relation to the full spectrum of conflict processes, including conflict prevention, conflict, conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction to give effect to the provisions of the Convention

Most importantly, the Committee takes the liberty of telling the Security Council how to interpret gender equality in the text of its resolutions, and to take a broader focus than ‘rape as a weapon of war’:

(b) Ensure that the implementation of Security Council commitments reflects a model of substantive equality and takes into account the impact of conflict and post-conflict contexts on all rights enshrined in the Convention, in addition to those violations concerning conflict-related gender-based violence, including sexual violence.

There is little precedent for norms being generated by the human rights treaty bodies, and adopted by the UNSC, and vice versa, it is even rarer.  More often, the office of the Secretary-General is the bridge.  For example the Secretary-General of the UN launched the ‘era of application’ campaign for the enforcement of international norms and standards for the protection of the rights of children involved in armed conflict in his 2005 report to the Security Council and the General Assembly on children and armed conflict (A/59/695-S/2005/72). The campaign resulted in a UNSC resolution establishing, among other things, a monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave violations against children in situations of conflict, as well as a commitment to implement targeted measures against those parties to conflict that commit such grave violations (Security Council resolution 1612 of 26 July 2005).  What the Committee is doing in General Comment 30 is different, trying to draw the UNSC back to the rights basis of the norm.

About the Women Peace and Security Agenda: Agency and Participation

What brought about this frankness from the Committee? A cluster of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) comprise the WPS agenda. Those resolutions are UNSCR 1325 (2000), UNSCR 1820 (2008), UNSCR 1888 (2009), UNSCR 1889 (2009) and UNSCR 1960 (2010), then the two resolutions in 2013 UNSC 2106 (2013) and UNSC 2122 (2013). [ii]  In July 2013, a new Resolution 2106 was passed during the UK’s Presidency, the fourth to focus on conflict-related sexual violence. This resolution adds greater operational detail and a focus on Women Protection Advisers, strengthens the role of the Special Rapporteur to intervene in the field, and reiterates that all actors, including not only the Security Council and parties to armed conflict, but all Member States and United Nations entities, must do more to implement previous mandates and combat impunity for these crimes.[iii]  In October 2013, after an open debate on ‘Women, rule of law and transitional justice in conflict affected situations’, Resolution 2122 was adopted to request more regular briefings from relevant UN agencies, more attention to WPS issues when issuing or renewing mandates of UN missions, and committing to a High Level Review of implementation of WPS in 2015.

UNSC Resolution 2122 (2013) has some similar preoccupations as General Comment 30, but is more narrowly focused on building accountability into UN processes.  It is more focused on UN reporting than state party responsibility, but does talk for the first time about addressing the ‘root causes of armed conflict’. One exception is the ongoing charge for states to develop National Action Plans. The pillars on Prevention and Relief & Recovery have potential for redistribution of resources – in the case of OECD countries this is in the form of development assistance, as can be seen in the Australian National Action Plan (2012-2018).

In essence, the 1325 agenda states that women and girls experience conflict differently from men and boys.  Women have an essential role in conflict prevention, peace building and post-conflict reconstruction, and States are required to ensure women are represented in all decision-making.[iv] The later resolutions focus on ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict, and increasing the participation of more women in the UN’s own ‘good offices’ roles in mediating conflict and negotiating peace.

Resolution 1325 was ground-breaking. The agenda has led to new architecture and process at the UN, with the appointment of a new Special Rapporteur on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström in 2010, now Zainab Hawa Bangura; as well as annual reporting by the Secretary-General.[v] One of the key actions under the WPS agenda is for states to design and implement National Action Plans.  Thus far, only around 40 countries have implemented National Action Plans, few are funded, and there is little or no baseline data for many of the actions.[vi] This has led to claims that the institutional commitment is more rhetorical than real. Katrina Lee-Koo argues cogently that the participation of local women in peace processes is particularly weak in implementation[vii], and many country situations and regions have not received sustained attention from the UNSC, such as the Pacific.

Even the rhetoric has proven controversial. In the last two years, debates on the thematic agendas have been criticised by Russia and China as extending beyond the Security Council’s mandate (such as the focus on sexual violence during election violence).[viii] But there is some evidence that WPS issues are being considered more routinely in debates, affecting mandate design and adding weight to the ‘zero tolerance’ policy for UN peacekeeping forces.[ix]  Australia claims during its term as an elected member to have made progress on language in crafting the Mali mission mandate in 2013.

Other commentators feel that the resolutions and resulting actions have focused too much on protection of civilians agenda, focused on sexual violence and not enough on participation and conflict prevention, in other words, ‘women’s agency’[x]  There are critiques that WPS has struggled with gender mainstreaming, the gendered nature of peace and security institutions,[xi]  and the lack of sex-disaggregated data required to underpin policy.[xii]

Civil Society Reactions to 18 October 2013

Reactions were surprisingly muted from the wide global constituency for CEDAW and the WPS agenda in October 2013.  As a piece of polylateral diplomacy,[xiii] linked to both regional and global social movements, the Women Peace and Security agenda is strong, despite wide acknowledgement of its flaws.[xiv]  Advocates, including myself, argue that the core premise of the WPS agenda remains being attentive to the security needs of half the world’s population, and thereby builds the legitimacy of the Security Council as a normative actor.  CEDAW was hard-won and is slowly building its influence with states as a regulatory framework enforceable in domestic jurisdictions.

DAWN stated that General Comment 30 was a ‘landmark resolution’ and focused on the Committee’s expansive definition of armed conflict and ‘other forms of occupation and conflict’, as well as extraterritorial jurisdiction and the inclusion of sexual and reproductive rights.  They note the importance of the Committee advising the UNSC on a substantive equality approach.

The Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) stated in relation to Resolution 2122 that it represented a ‘high-water mark’ in commitment and the ‘pendulum’ swinging back to a more holistic approach to peace and security away from sexual violence, and celebrated the first mention of ‘root causes of armed conflict’.

But very few civil society groups noted or commented on the interaction between the two announcements that day or commented on the unusual step the Committee was making in telling the UNSC how to think about substantive equality.  Vivien Schmidt would urge us to use the theory of discursive institutionalism to examine this further.  Discursive institutionalism scholars consider the discursive processes by which such ideas are constructed in a ‘coordinative’ policy sphere and deliberated in a ‘communicative’ political sphere.[xv]  We could see the Committee’s comments as lying in the sphere of coordinative discourse, as one of a range of policy actors engaged in “the construction of policy ideas” trying to influence the communicative sphere.

Why did civil society actors not seize on the comments? Was the Committee too subtle? For international lawyers, it is a seminal moment when a discretionary policy framework, even one that is promulgated by the strength of the UNSC, crosses the line to a legal reporting framework, linked to a binding treaty.  It is also a legal norm entrepreneur’s dream.   Where were the celebrations?  States are legally bound to report to CEDAW on a periodic basis on how much money they are spending to promote women’s participation in peace-building and conflict prevention processes. Is this not a paradigmatic shift?

Possible Theoretical Readings of 18 October 2013

What would feminist IR and international law theorists say? Janet Halley might say it is a shining example of successful norm entrepreneurship, leading to more ‘governance feminism’ in the halls of power.[xvi]  Hilary Charlesworth might cautiously welcome the CEDAW comments, but warn of ritualism by states in the human rights treaty body system, and in the rhetorical commitment of states to the WPS agenda. Di Otto might agree with the Committee’s concerns that the narrowing of WPS to protection of women from a specific formula or ‘rape as a weapon of war’ is a dangerous trend, and may represent co-option of a feminist agenda:

These problems include a pattern of selective engagement with feminist ideas as they are instrumentalised to serve institutional purposes; an across-the-board absence of strong accountability mechanisms, even as the outside pressure for accountability grows; and the tendency for protective stereotypes of women to normatively re-emerge following an initial flirtation with more active and autonomous representations.[xvii]

Another useful way to think about the day might be theories of incremental institutional change, as WPS has developed to the point where there are resource implications for states.  As Mahoney and Thelen describe:

In our approach, institutions are fraught with tensions because they inevitably raise resource considerations and invariably have distributional consequences. Any given set of rules or expectations – formal or informal – that patterns action will have unequal implications for resource allocation, and clearly many formal institutions are specifically intended to distribute resources to particular kinds of actors and not to others. This is true for precisely those institutions that mobilize significant and highly valued resources (e.g., most political and political-economic institutions).[xviii]

Therefore we could argue that the WPS agenda represents incremental change by the UNSC into the realm of human security, but the recent UNSC narrowing of focus on sexual violence in conflict does not yield up power in either a discursive sense (women need protection) or a distributional sense. The CEDAW Committee as a discursive community could be seen as playing the role of a mediator in the civil society demand for more accountability and budget allocations.  The timing of the pincer movement on 18 October suggests discursive institutionalism at work.  The new links between CEDAW and the UNSC WPS agenda may have the potential for brokering a more powerful regulatory regime, especially around the collection of data.  The transformative agenda proposed by the Committee to make the UNSC widen its focus seems less clear of success.

Is 18 October 2013 One in the Eye for R2P Advocates?

By way of a provocation to conclude this examination of 18 October 2013 (W-Day), we might ask why WPS, supported by big pledges from the Group of 8 led by the UK, has become so narrowly focused on protection of women from a particular (but worthy) manifestation of conflict violence, ‘rape as a weapon of war’.  Laura Shepherd and Lucy Hall have taken up Di Otto’s concerns that as ‘R2P is still considered ‘high politics’ while WPS is a marginal issue’, then the fear is that wholesale integration could ‘subsume and silence WPS within R2P’.[xix]  I believe the sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) focus plays to a wide ideological group, both morally conservative and progressive on issues of gender identity, much like the anti-trafficking movement, plus it does not entail radical resource distribution or offer a real challenge to militarism or armament industries.  There is a concerted effort post-Libya critique for R2P advocates to push the alignment of the WPS agenda with R2P, which also has a very narrow focus on prosecution of SGBV in the context of the mass atrocities.

In 2010, Australian jurist Hilary Charlesworth published the seminal article ‘Feminist Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect’ in the lead journal Global Responsibility to Protect.[xx] At that juncture, she found that it was ‘worth engaging with concepts such as the responsibility to protect because they can unsettle the standard boundaries of the discipline and increase the possibility of its transformation’ but that the design of the R2P doctrine has been ‘influenced by men’s lives and the dominance of masculine modes of reasoning’.[xxi]  But she also found that the doctrine in fact offers ‘gendered and racialised accounts of peace and conflict and the capacity of intervention to defuse violence’.[xxii]

I argue that this remains the case based on my reading of contemporary conflicts before the Council in 2013 such as Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Syria and Afghanistan, and may have become more entrenched. The urge to intervene militarily was resisted in Syria, but so was the urge to provide humanitarian assistance.  But there has undoubtedly been recognition of this critique and more movement around the protection agenda of R2P advocates, in the area of the prevention of, and increased accountability for sexual and gender-based violence. This could be interpreted as a sign of engagement with a feminist agenda of women’s empowerment and participation, but also interpreted as a sign of the paternalist and essentialist gender politics observed in the founding documents of R2P, ‘bred in the bone’ as a concept.

The choice of language used by the Committee in paragraph 27(b) of the General Comment reminded me that in 2010, Charlesworth made very similar observations of R2P that the Committee is making of WPS:

For the doctrine to offer support for women’s equality, it would need to take into account a broader set of factors that impinge on women’s lives, including women’s economic marginalisation, the effect of militarisation and systemic discrimination against women. It would need to engage with the private subordination of women and the widespread violence against them outside the formal structures of the state. It would need to problematise the idea of intervention, recognising that it can exacerbate injustices by reinforcing particular forms of world order.  The responsibility to protect principle would also need to be framed more modestly, not as a single solution to atrocities, but as one strand of a complex response that draws inspiration and ideas from everyone affected by violence.[xxiii]

Let us see whether the events of 18 October 2013 represent a step in this direction.


Bell, Christine. ‘Women and peace processes, negotiations, and agreements: operational opportunities and challenges’, Policy Brief, The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, 13 March 2013.

Charlesworth, Hilary 2010, ‘Feminist Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 2(3): 232-249.

Chinkin, Christine and Hilary Charlesworth, ‘Building Women into Peace: the international legal framework’,Third World Quarterly, (2006) 27(5): 937–957.

Chinkin, Christine and Charlesworth, Hilary The boundaries of international law: a feminist analysis. Melland Schill studies in international law . Manchester University Press, Manchester, UK. 2000.

Cohn, Carol (ed). Women and Wars.  Cambridge: Polity. October 2012.

Davies Sara E., Zim Nwokora, Eli Stamnes, Sarah Teitt (eds) Responsibility to Protect and Women Peace and Security: Aligning the Protection Agenda. Leiden, Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013.

Engle, Karen. ‘“Calling in the Troops”: The Uneasy Relationship Among Women’s Rights, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Intervention’, 20 Harvard Human Rights Journal 189 (2007).

Gardam, Judith and Michelle Jarvis, Women, Armed Conflict and International Law, The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2001.

Halley, Janet, Split Decisions: How and why to take a break from feminism, Princeton University Press, 2006.

Mahoney, James and Kathleen Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change. Cambridge UP, 2009.

Olsson, Louise and Theodora-Ismene Gizelis, ‘An Introduction to UNSCR 1325’, International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations, (2013) 39(4): 425-434.

Otto, Dianne. ‘The Exile of Inclusion’ Melbourne Journal of International Law 10 (2009) 11-26

Schmidt, Vivien A. ‘Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’ European Political Science Review (2010) 2(1): 1-25.

Swaine. Aisling, ‘National implementation of the UN Security Council’s women, peace and security resolutions’ Policy Brief, The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, 14 March 2013.

[i] See further Christine Chinkin, and Hilary Charlesworth, ‘Building Women into Peace: the international legal framework’, Third World Quarterly, (2006) 27(5): 937–957. Gardam, Judith and Michelle Jarvis, Women, Armed Conflict and International Law, The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2001.

[ii] The full texts of the WPS core resolutions are available under the year of adoption from http://www.un.org/documents/scres.htm.

[iii] S/RES/2106 (2013), Adopted by the Security Council at its 6984th meeting, on 24 June 2013

[iv] Louise Olsson and Theodora-Ismene Gizelis, ‘An Introduction to UNSCR 1325’, International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations, (2013) 39(4): 425-434.

[v] Christine Bell, ‘Women and peace processes, negotiations, and agreements: operational opportunities and challenges’, Policy Brief, The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, 13 March 2013.

[vi] Aisling Swaine, ‘National implementation of the UN Security Council’s women, peace and security resolutions’ Policy Brief, The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, 14 March 2013.

[vii] Katrina Lee-Koo, ‘Translating 1325 into Practice: Lessons Learned and Obstacles Ahead’ in Sara E. Davies, Zim Nwokora, Eli Stamnes, Sarah Teitt (eds) Responsibility to Protect and Women Peace and Security: Aligning the Protection Agenda. Leiden, Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013.

[viii] Security Council Reporter, 2013. ‘Third Cross-Cutting Report on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda’ available at http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/cross-cutting-report/women-peace-and-security-sexual-violence-in-conflict-and-sanctions.php, accessed 13 March 2013, at p. 9.

[ix] Op cit.

[x] Inger Skjelsbaek, ‘Responsibility to Protect or Prevent? Victims and Perpetrators of Sexual Violence Crimes in Armed Conflicts’ Global Responsibility to Protect 4 (2012) 154-171 at p. 163.

[xi] For example, Charlesworth cites a UNIFEM study in 2009 found that only 2.4 per cent of signatories to peace agreements since 1992 had been women and that no woman had ever been designated as a ‘chief mediator’ by the United Nations, op cit at p. 245.

[xii] Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, ‘UNSCR 1325—Conundrums and Opportunities’, International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations, 39(4): 612-619.

[xiii] Geoffery Wiseman, ‘Polylateralism’ and New Modes of Global Dialogue, Discussion Papers No. 59(Leicester: Leicester Diplomatic Studies Programme, 1999), at p. 41.  ‘My working definition of this concept is: “the conduct of relations between official entities (such as a state, several states acting together, or a state-based international organisation) and at least one unofficial, non-state entity in which there is a reasonable expectation of systematic relationships, involving some form of reporting, communication, negotiation, and representation, but not involving mutual recognition as sovereign, equivalent entities”.’

[xiv] For example, see the NGO Working Group on WPS website http://www.womenpeacesecurity.org/about/, and Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) http://www.peacewomen.org/, as well as a wide array of academic and activist groups. For similar R2P groups, see The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) at http://icrtopblog.org/, and the Global Center for R2P, http://www.globalr2p.org/.

[xv] Vivien A. Schmidt, ‘Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’ European Political Science Review (2010) 2:1: 1-25 at 2.

[xvi] Janet Halley, Split Decisions: How and why to take a break from feminism, Princeton University Press, 2006, at p. 4.

[xvii] Dianne Otto, ‘The Exile of Inclusion’ Melbourne Journal of International Law 10 (2009) 11-26 at 24.  See further Dianne Otto, ‘Power and Danger: Feminist Engagement with International Law through the UN Security Council’ Australian Feminist Law Journal 2010 32(2): 97-121.

[xviii] James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change. Cambridge UP, 2009 at p.8.

[xix] Lucy Hall and Laura J Shepherd, ‘WPS and R2P: Theorising Responsibility and Protection’ in in Sara E. Davies, Zim Nwokora, Eli Stamnes, Sarah Teitt (eds) Responsibility to Protect and Women Peace and Security: Aligning the Protection Agenda. Leiden, Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013 at p. 76.

[xx] Hilary Charlesworth, 2010, ‘Feminist Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 2(3): 232-249.

[xxi] Charlesworth, op cit at p. 249.

[xxii] Charlesworth, op cit, at p. 249.

[xxiii] Ibid.

Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian National University

Will Australia Stand up for the Rights of Women and Girls in Afghanistan in 2014?

Image by Lauras Eye

Image by Lauras Eye. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com and shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

As we celebrate the 104th International Women’s Day there is a vicious power struggle over women’s human rights and survival going on in Afghanistan. It is a struggle that the Australian government – on behalf of all Australians – needs to weigh in on by strongly advocating for the protection of all human rights in Afghanistan. We must advocate especially for the rights of Afghan women and girls when they are most under threat with the withdrawal of international troops from the country at the end of 2014.

“Women axed to death in Badghis”, “Pregnant teacher and policewoman hanged”, “Man guns down wife”, “Women beaten to death by husband”, “Female parliamentarian kidnapped”… The news headlines over the past six months, featured on the website of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) make for harrowing reading. Such is the reality in Afghanistan. The evidence from 2013 on violence against women and girls is shocking. That everyday violence includes targeted femicide of women in public roles by Taliban insurgents, the female share of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries, wilful honour killings, and family and intimate partner violence. The United Nations Secretary-General’s 22 November 2013 report on the protection of civilians (S/2013/689 para 9) notes that “[t]he first half of  2013 saw the number of women killed and injured increase by 61 per cent compared  with the same period in 2012. Child casualties increased by 30 per cent compared with 2012.”

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reported the alarming increase in civilian casualties in 2013 with women and children civilians making up nearly half of the 2959 deaths and 5656 injuries – the worst proportions since 2009 – and this does not include reported domestic violence. We know that virtually every woman and girl in Afghanistan has experienced violence perpetrated by a male relative [Living With Violence: A National Report on Domestic Abuse in Afghanistan, p1]. All these forms of violence and harm disproportionately affecting women and girls, whether they have occurred in the home, in a café, on the road or a village square, should be seen on a continuum given the culture of impunity toward this violence as the Taliban increases its presence in Afghanistan. The presence of fundamentalism and the return of the Taliban mean that every male relative is empowered to lash out against wives, daughters and sisters without any consequence.

In its 2013 worldwide report, Human Rights Watch expressed grave concern that “with international interest in Afghanistan rapidly waning, opponents of women’s rights [have] seized the opportunity to begin rolling back the progress made since the end of Taliban rule.”

Examples of this rollback in 2013 include the reduction in the gender quota for women’s representation in parliament from 25 per cent to 20 per cent; the parliamentary challenge to the 2009 Elimination against Violence Against Women law that almost annulled it; the attempt to alter the criminal code to prevent relatives of an accused person, for instance a perpetrator of sexual or gender-based violence, from testifying against them which was fortunately repealed by President Karzai due to large street protests for women’s organisations this month. But Karzai’s days as President as numbered with a national election in April and a slate of 11 candidates for president that is “dominated by warlords and fundamentalists who share the Taliban’s view that women should never be allowed out of their homes”.

The question arises then what should we as citizens and our government do?

In January, a Oxfam Australia-led Joint Agency report “Afghanistan at a Crossroads” by 24 Australian and civil society organisations contained a number of recommendations to the Australian government to consider as the penholder for the UN Security Council on Afghanistan and the resolutions on the UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan) mandate renewal on 19 March. Some key recommendations included: requesting UNAMA to support the implementation plans of the National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan and to finalise the forthcoming Afghanistan National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; and to stress the need for the Afghan government to ensure sufficient female police and searchers are available to enable women to safely exercise their rights to vote in the 2014 Presidential election”.

Amnesty International Australia is also extremely concerned about women’s rights being trade away in the peace negotiations with the Taliban and notes the absence of women from those peace talks involved the United States and Afghan governments. AI Australia stresses “Australia should follow the recommendations made last year during the Senate inquiry on aid to Afghanistan, and directly fund Afghan women’s organisations, so that they can continue to hold their government to account.”

This is a crucial recommendation given the powerful, collective voice of Afghan women’s networks and organisations and their role in resisting any political moves to further roll back of women’s rights.

Foreign Minister, the Hon. Julie Bishop in during question time in Parliament on 11 February affirmed Australian support for UNAMA and the protection of women’s human rights in Afghanistan. She noted that Australia would continue to “encourage Afghanistan to finalise and implement a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and hold elections that maximise voter participation, especially the participation of women.”

WPSAC is keen to redouble these Australian efforts particularly in its UN Security Council role. In a letter to the Hon. Julie Bishop on February 14th, stated that

“we would like to see Australia visibly promote the rights of women and girls in that country by hosting a UN Security Council Arria Meeting of Afghan women politicians and civil society leaders. If as Minister of Foreign Affairs with a strong record of commitment to women’s participation and leadership you chaired this UN SC meeting during Australia’s Presidency in November 2014 we believe this would seriously advance the role of women in the Afghan peace process, transition and reconciliation”.

Please join us in these key actions to support those struggling to sustain and progress women’s rights in Afghanistan during the 8 days of Activism on Women, Peace and Security and throughout 2014.

Jacqui True, Monash University.

Syrian Women: Present in the War, Absent in the Peace?

In March 2011, the protests that swept through the Middle East during the Arab Spring spread to Syria, sparked by the arrest and torture of fourteen schoolchildren who wrote the popular Arab Spring slogan ‘The people want the downfall of the regime’ on their school walls.  They did so after their teacher was arrested for expressing her hope that revolution would come to Syria.

When the protests began in Syrian towns and cities, women marched alongside men in the streets, often in equal numbers, calling for an end to the Assad regime and for genuine progressive change in Syrian society.  They led sit-ins demanding the fair release of prisoners unfairly jailed by the regime, they set up committees and groups that met, organised and protested independently, and they worked to encourage more men to participate in the uprising.  Some men have said that it was the fact that women kept going into the streets and protesting, despite the dangers it entailed, that motivated them to do so too.

As the crisis deepened into a civil war, women responded to the human impact of the regime’s crackdown, caring for and providing food to the displaced and nursing the wounded. They joined the opposition armed forces, and have been involved in everything from cooking for and delivering supplies to the rebels, to fighting on the frontline alongside their male counterparts, working as snipers in Aleppo, and running military operations themselves.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has estimated that around 5000 revolutionary women are involved in military combat and logistics.  On the other side of the battlements, a 500 strong women-only battalion named the ‘Lionesses for National Defence’ has been established within Assad’s National Defence Force.

During this war, rape and sexual violence has been the most common form of violence experienced by women and girls, and when women have fled the country, they have faced increased rates of intimate partner violence, forced early marriage and ‘survival sex’ in refugee camps.

And against this backdrop, women have been working for peace, through groups like Building the Syrian State, one of the first opposition groups in Syria which was co-founded by a woman, and the Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace, which brings together women from all parts of Syrian society to ensure women’s inclusion in decision-making, policy-making and responding to issues of women’s security in the war.  These and other civil society groups have done important caucusing and peacebuilding work to build the constituency for peace within Syria, to bring people together across political and conflict lines, and develop priorities and principles around inclusivity, justice, grassroots engagement, and post-war reconstruction on which that peace can be built.

However, despite the varied and important roles women have played in the uprising and the war, despite their particular experiences of violence, humiliation, and displacement, and despite their role in peacebuilding, they have been virtually absent from the formal Syrian peace process.  Women were absent from all

Syrian Women Activists speak at UN Women Press Conference. Photo by UN Women, retrieved from Flickr.com. Shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Syrian Women Activists speak at UN Women Press Conference. Photo by UN Women, retrieved from Flickr.com. Shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

delegations to the peace negotiations, including the UN delegation, until significant international pressure meant that a number of women were added at the last minute to the government and opposition delegations to the Geneva II talks in January 2014, although none had speaking roles.  In fact it took months of activism by Syrian and international women’s groups to convince the lead UN-Arab League negotiator, Lakhdar Brahimi, of the importance of including women in the peace process.  In early January 2014, he walked out of an event in Geneva at which Syrian women shared their perspectives on the roles women were playing in the country, including in negotiating local truces, alleviating suffering, and building a road to peace, and it took months of lobbying before he agreed to include a gender advisor on his staff despite the clear gender dimensions of the war.

The exclusion of women’s voices and perspectives from peace processes is not unique to the Syrian peace process.  Women’s participation in peace negotiation delegations between 1992 and 2012 averaged at around 9 percent in the cases surveyed by a 2012 UN Women investigation, and only 4 percent of the signatories to peace agreements were women.  Women were absent from the chief-mediating roles in UN-brokered talks during the same period. Perhaps more strikingly, there has been little appreciable increase in women’s participation since the landmark UNSC Resolution 1325 mandated the inclusion of women at all levels of decision-making and peace processes in October 2000.

This suggests that peace processes are still largely seen as a space in which the men with guns negotiate the conditions under which they will put their guns down.  While the security aspect of peace processes is undeniably important, it goes hand in hand with negotiations around the shape a post-war state and society will take: how governance and political competition will be organised, whether justice for war-time crimes will be pursued, how different groups will be ascribed rights and responsibilities under a post-war constitution, how reconstruction and reconciliation will be pursued, and so on.

Excluding women from these discussions results in the establishment of post-war political and social structures that further disenfranchise women, and ignores their roles as agents of social and political change.  This not only constitutes an unjust foundation for a post-conflict society, but weakens peace settlements by making them reflect the interests and concerns of only a small segment of the population at the expense of the wider cross-section of society, which includes not only women, but also minority groups.

In contrast, when peace negotiations have included women, the range of issues brought to the table has been broader, and traditional security concerns have been addressed in tandem with issues around health, education, nutrition, gender, disability, childcare and human security.  As a result, it is not just the men with guns whose interests, experiences and concerns are reflected in the peace agreement: it has a much broader relevance to the society at hand.  We don’t yet know if these peace processes have been more successful, but we do know that they have been fairer, more inclusive processes of social and political negotiation.

At a time when civil wars, and civil war resurgence, are some of the most prominent global security threats and causes of human suffering, environmental degradation and the spread of disease, a central concern for the international community must be the fairness and durability of the peace that results from the Syrian peace process.  The continued marginalisation of women from that process may weaken the final outcome of negotiations, and will send a strong message to the women of Syria, and the world, that international policymakers and peacemakers do not value women’s contributions to peace, civil society, and political processes, and do not recognise women as political actors within civil war contexts.

It will also send a strong message that states, and statesmen, are willing to make powerful statements at the United Nations about the importance of including women in peace processes, but remain unwilling to do more than pay lip service to the principles of gender equality in practice.

Jasmine-Kim Westendorf, La Trobe University

Unlucky for some? Year 13 of the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ Agenda

2013 brought activity related to the United Nation’s ‘Women, Peace and Security’ (WPS) agenda at an intensity not seen since 2009, when two resolutions (UNSCR 1888 and UNSCR 1889) were adopted ‘back to back’ by the UN Security Council. There were two new resolutions adopted in 2013 (UNSCR 2106 and UNSCR 2122), creating a suite of seven universally binding resolutions addressing gender dimensions of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction.

The WPS agenda provides a framework for, among other things: improving the protection of human rights in conflict and post-conflict settings (the violation of such rights is frequently, if not always, gendered); the prevention of gendered and sexualized violence; and enhancing the participation of women in peace and security governance. All United Nations entities, including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Peacebuilding Commission, are bound by the framework. By virtue of the legal status of UN Security Council resolutions, all Member States are similarly mandated to implement the provisions contained within the WPS resolutions, and many member states have developed ‘National Action Plans’ to govern the process of implementation.

Resolutions 2016 and 2122 both deal with questions of implementation, though in quite different ways. The differences in language and framing of the two resolutions is fascinating. UNSCR 2016 opens with a page and half of preamble and notes early that the Council is concerned with the slow ‘implementation’ of an earlier resolution, UNSCR 1960, which relates primarily to conflict-related sexualized violence (CRSV). Although UNSCR 2106 mentions the importance of broader gender equality and empowerment initiatives, these are associated with the prevention of CRSV.

The first operative paragraph of UNSCR 2106 states directly that CRSV can ‘exacerbate and prolong situations of armed conflict’ and is therefore a threat to international peace and security. As with earlier WPS resolutions, the significance of having the UN Security Council recognize gendered violence as a matter of ‘“security” and, thus, of high politics’ should not be underestimated.

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2122 (2013) at the October WPS Open Debate in 2013 (UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe). Retrieved from www.un.org, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2122 (2013) at the October WPS Open Debate in 2013 (UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe). Retrieved from http://www.un.org, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

There was concern at the time of its adoption, however, that UNSCR 2106 represented a narrowing of the WPS agenda such that its primary focus is reduced to sexualized violence in conflict. In June, civil society organisations noted the risk that initiatives related to women’s participation in peace and security governance were being overshadowed by the violence prevention agenda.  The adoption of UNSCR 2122 in October, then, was welcome, not least because it tackles ‘persisting barriers to full implementation of resolution 1325 (2000)’ head on, through a direct focus on ‘women’s empowerment, participation and human rights’.

UNSCR 2122 differs from UNSCR2106 in a number of interesting ways. First, resolution 2122 makes reference to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA, 1995) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979), while resolution 2106 does not. These two historic documents were foundational to the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda at the United Nations, and their mention in the most recent resolution is noteworthy. Both the BPfA and CEDAW were brought about through dedicated civil society organising; each in turn brought about different understandings of what political participation could mean in different contexts, and forged important links between women’s participation and lasting social change. Foregrounding this connection situates the resolution in a broader context of feminist activism, while UNSCR 2106 is introduced with reference to other UN SC resolutions and the G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Second, resolution 2122 does not focus solely on violence prevention, but rather expresses the Council’s ‘deep concern’ about ‘persistent implementation deficits’ across the whole of the WPS agenda and commits the Council to focusing ‘more attention on women’s leadership and participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding’ in the first operative paragraph. While there is still mention of ‘women’s exacerbated vulnerability’ in the resolution, the focus is very much on women as agents of positive change.

A third key difference is the pursuit of better, more comprehensive information. UNSCR 2122 contains many references to ‘briefings’, ‘reports’, ‘consultations’, and ultimately ‘Invites the Secretary-General … to commission a global study on the implementation of resolution 1325’. By contrast, UNSCR 2106 discusses ‘monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements’ (MARA) related to CRSV but does not acknowledge the dearth of information related to other aspects of the WPS agenda.

Finally, the two resolutions differ in their vision of peace and security. UNSCR 2106 is about the prevention of violence and the punishment of perpetrators. UNSCR 2122 depicts a different image of security, where ‘economic empowerment of women greatly contributes to the stabilization of societies emerging from armed conflict’ and sustainable peace relies not only on violence prevention but also on the ‘promotion of gender equality … in conflict and post-conflict situations’.

2013 was a busy year in the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ sphere, for activists, advocates, policymakers and Member States. With the passage of UNSCR 2106 in June, those of us engaged in monitoring activity in this space may have felt conflicted: pleased that the Council had passed a new WPS resolution for the first time in three years; yet concerned about its close relation to the previous 2010 resolution (UNSCR 1960), which also addressed CRSV in relatively narrow terms. But it turned out that 2013 was nothing to fear – the opposite in fact – as the second of the two resolutions presents great opportunities for engagement and enhancement of the WPS agenda. The platform on which to ground WPS advocacy and engagement has never been stronger: 2013 was a year of positive energy, not of bad luck. Let’s hope that we can maintain that momentum into the future.

Laura J. Shepherd, UNSW Australia

Forging New Paths for Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court?

The International Criminal Court (josef.stuefer).  Retrieved from Flickr.com, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The International Criminal Court (josef.stuefer). Retrieved from Flickr.com, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

During the International Criminal Court’s first decade, Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was strongly criticised for his failure to use powers available under the Rome Statute to investigate and charge crimes involving sexual and gender violence. The ICC’s first case, concerning DRC warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, was emblematic of this problem. Prosecutor Ocampo came under fire from human rights groups for failing to include any sexual crimes on the arrest warrant, when there was evidence that Lubanga’s UPC-FPLC militia had committed sexual crimes against civilians in the Ituri region of the DRC and against female child soldiers in the group.

The absence of these charges reverberated throughout the Lubanga trial; when the majority of judges handed down their verdict in 2012 they declined to find Lubanga culpable for the acts of sexual violence against child soldiers highlighted by the prosecution at trial, because Prosecutor Ocampo had not included these allegations in the initial charging document. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito argued that sexual violence was ‘encoded in the charges’ of recruiting and using child soldiers, and stated that by excluding sexual violence from the definition of those charges, the majority was ‘making this critical aspect of the crime invisible.’

Fast-forward to 2014 and we see a marked improvement in the ICC’s efforts to address sexual violence. One clear sign of this shift comes with the current confirmation of charges hearing in The Hague against Bosco Ntaganda. In 2006,  Prosecutor Ocampo sought an arrest warrant against Ntaganda, also a commander of the UPC-FPLC. Unlike Lubanga, who was taken into ICC custody in 2006, Ntaganda remained a fugitive until March 2013 when in a dramatic move, he turned himself over to the ICC via the US Embassy in Rwanda.

Prosecutor Ocampo’s 2006 application for an arrest warrant against Ntaganda did not include sexual violence charges but Prosecutor Bensouda’s 2014 charging document represents a major change of course, not least because it makes sexual violence highly visible: the charging document, which is currently before the Court, refers to the UPC-FPLC’s sexual violence crimes against civilians and against the child recruits.

At the recent hearing, Prosecutor Bensouda further emphasized the centrality of rape and sexual enslavement in the UPC-FPLC’s campaign of ethnic persecution in Ituri. ‘Both property and women were considered spoils of war,’ the Prosecutor explained. She highlighted the evidence a woman who was raped and sexually enslaved by the UPC-FPLC, a man who found the bodies of 49 people murdered by the group including women whose bellies had been sliced open, and a child solder who stated that ‘the rapes continued throughout our training – sometimes the soldiers who raped us came in groups of three of four.’ Should the Pre-Trial Chamber confirm the charges, it will be the first time an individual is tried in the ICC for sexual violence crimes against child soldiers.

The focus on sexual violence in Ntaganda and not Lubanga can be explained by several factors: the Office of the Prosecutor has had eight extra years to investigate the case; the Office has been responsive to the demands of human rights groups, including the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, to pay greater attention to impunity for sexual violence after the Lubanga verdict; the influence of Judge Benito’s dissenting Lubanga opinion; and, perhaps most importantly, the change in leadership in the Office.

Since being elected as Prosecutor in 2012, Bensouda has made clear her intention to pursue sexual and gender violence as a priority of her seven-year term. Her promises are being realized through her persistence in adding charges to the Ntangada charges, and through other measures. The release in February 2014 of the Office of the Prosecutor’s long awaited draft Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender Based Crimes is one such initiative and suggests that this increasing focus on sexual and gender violence is set to continue.

The draft prosecution policy names the investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender based crimes as one of the Office’s key goals for its 2013-2015 strategic plan. It highlights the need to pay close attention to these crimes from the preliminary examination onwards, and train staff in interacting sensitively with victims and witnesses. It also recognizes while the ICC Statute explicitly enumerates sexual and gender based crimes as war crimes and crimes against humanity, other international crimes including the recruitment of child soldiers ‘may also contain gendered and sexual elements’ – a major development given the limited charges against Lubanga.

With these recent developments in the Ntaganda case and the release of the Office of the Prosecutor’s gender policy, there is reason to hope that the ICC has learnt important lessons from its initial failures and is establishing a path to achieve its gender justice aims. Key ‘insiders’ including feminist-inspired judges, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and ‘outsiders’ including Brigid Inder, the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice Director and Bensouda’s Gender Advisor, are at the forefront of forging this path. It is hoped that these actors are successful in ensuring that gender justice concerns are a hallmark of the next phase ICC’s efforts to address impunity in all its forms.

Louise Chappell and Rosemary Grey (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UNSW)