Category Archives: 8 Days

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 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 Shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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

The International Criminal Court (josef.stuefer). Retrieved from, 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)

The Sisters are Doing it For Themselves: All-Female Formed Police Units in UN Peacekeeping

In January 2007, the first all-female formed police unit (FFPU) was deployed in UN peacekeeping. The contingent was made up of 105 women peacekeepers recruited from across India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a paramilitary police organization. The first group was deemed a success and a rotation system was put in place so that the contingent is replaced on an annual basis. The first Commander of the FFPU, Seema Dhundia, said of her team,  ‘These girls are experienced and have been trained. They have worked in areas of India where there was insurgency. They will do a good job and the Liberian ladies will get motivated and inspired to come forward and join the regular police’. She may well have been right on that front: since the FFPU’s introduction, Liberia has seen a significant increase in women joining the national police, and the mission has reached the highest proportion of women police globally, at 16.67% compared to 8.2% in UN policing overall.

The FFPUs highlight important and interesting questions around what gender mainstreaming is and should look like. Before and since the introductions of the UN’s ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda, gender mainstreaming has been understood as the UN’s central tool for better including women, and has been espoused and taken on by the majority of the biggest, most powerful international agencies. According to the UN Economic and Social Council, gender mainstreaming is:

A Bangladeshi Female Police Unit arrives in Haiti (UN Photo/Marco Dormino). Retrieved from, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

A Bangladeshi Female Police Unit arrives in Haiti (UN Photo/Marco Dormino). Retrieved from, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.

Nevertheless, gender mainstreaming has been criticized for being abstract and therefore understood differently within and between governments and NGOs. In particular, women have been asked to adapt to fit into existing institutions and norms in gender-integrated programming that was created with men’s needs, abilities, and interests at the forefront.  The

FFPUs challenge the business as usual model of gender mainstreaming through offering a new venue for women’s involvement. Research shows that presently mixed-gender units may pose significant barriers to increased participation by women. Likewise, FFPUs may provide an alternative or additional option for women wishing to pursue roles as peacekeepers yet not wishing to take on many burdens women in male-majority units have reportedly faced.

While the approach of creating all-female units is not perfect, nor does it yet meet the UN’s stated end-goal of women and men being able to work together side by side to achieve peace and security, it is a timely measure that pragmatically seeks to pursue long-term goals while working with available options in the short-term. In doing so, FFPUs may enhance security for women and men here and now. In fact it seems they have. As the former formed police unit coordinator for Liberia said of them,

They were proven in a riot in a deadly situation. They don’t flinch. That caught the eye of President Sirleaf. When her mansion caught on fire they stepped up to provide security in the adjacent building. She was so happy they were female, professional, and doing, what did she say? ‘A bang up job!’

Lesley Pruitt, The University of Melbourne

2014 – The Year of Women, Peace and Security for ASEAN

Amongst the member states of the Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), civil unrest, conflict and post conflict situations have been significantly reduced from its violent past.  This is a commendable success.  However, there remain serious situations where civilians are at high risk of human rights violence, physical abuse and death.  Myanmar continues to experience high level violence and conflict across its territory, the Philippine government and military continue to seek a ceasefire and peaceful resolution to the Mindanao secessionist movement, and over the last 15 years the state of Indonesia has undergone dramatic democratic transition, ceded independence to East Timor after a bloody protracted conflict and secured a ceasefire with secessionist guerrilla movement in autonomous province of Aceh.  Thailand is struggling with ongoing domestic political instability, and Cambodia is still recovering from one of the worst genocides witnessed in the 20th century.

All of these events dramatically affect the peace and security of civilians. As noted in landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), however, these situations of civil unrest and conflict affect women differently to men. Specifically, women are more likely to be politically excluded, financially disadvantaged and face a higher risk of personal insecurity in conflict and post conflict situations.

ASEAN flags by Prachatai. Retrieved from, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

ASEAN flags by Prachatai. Retrieved from, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Despite the pressing need of the three-pillar Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda (prevention, peace building and political participation) to frame regional engagement in these situations; to date, the institutional structure of ASEAN has precluded deeper engagement with WPS as a political-security concern.  As we outline in our forthcoming article in the Special Issue on Women, Peace and Security for the Australian Journal of International Affairs (2014), when the role and participation of women is discussed in ASEAN documents and dialogue on the political security agenda, the primary focus is on women’s protection. There are few references to women as actors who can engage in peacebuilding, security sector reform and conflict prevention.

In the last year, however, we have seen promising signs from the ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN Human Rights Working Group, in cooperation with UN Women, to address this gap and we would like to suggest 2014 to mobilise activity and events to support this movement towards addressing the WPS gap in the ASEAN membership and regional organization.

The Importance of Regional Commitments

Regional action plans serve to amplify the comparative strengths of WPS policy and programming among member states, exchange and record expert knowledge and best practice, pool financial and human resources, and apply positive pressure for member states to share responsibility and accountability for reaching common WPS objectives. The benefits are not operational alone: by committing to support member states to implement the WPS agenda, regional arrangements send a strong normative message to national peace and security institutions that their legitimacy is enhanced by WPS responsive policies and priorities.  This investment requires considered donor support to facilitate such institutional investment.

The ASEAN Secretariat, with the assistance of supportive donor states such as United States of America, Australia, European Union and Canada, would be well placed to host a workshop dedicated on Women, Peace and Security that engages cross-pillar attendance. For example, a Joint Dialogue Workshop on 1325, co-hosted by the ASEAN Political-Security Community and Socio-Economic Community, could be convened to discuss the process for cross-community regional engagement in the development of an ASEAN 1325 action plan.  Specifically, this would be an opportunity to consult ASEAN members and Secretariat concerning the creation of a WPS expert role or a gender team within the political-security division of the ASEAN Secretariat.

ASEAN is under constant financial pressure: in order to maintain the‘one voice, one vote’ principle, member contributions are equal but this means that the contribution has to be affordable for both low-income and high-income states.  As a result, the Jakarta based Secretariat is approximately 260 staff, with a budget of $15 million per annum, compared to European Union budget of $120 billion.  Australia is regionally and diplomatically well placed to recognise and provide institutional support required by the ASEAN Secretariat.  As Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, Penny Williams, signalled at a regional conference in 2013:

We have identified gender equality as a critical cross-cutting theme across Australia’s aid program and all our aid activities must satisfy the criteria that they advance gender equality and promote the role of women at the design, implementation and evaluation stages.

While Australia has a strong record of supporting regional workshops and initiatives on the prevention of violence against women, gender equality and gender political participation, often in partnership with ASEAN members, there remains a need for greater investment by donors on regional institutional capacity concerning gender issues in situations where conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building is taking place. Given the international commitments that Australia outlined just last year, and our existing relationship with ASEAN concerning gender mainstreaming, there is the potential for Australian government to provide a supportive role in assisting ASEAN engage in dialogue on a regional WPS action plan.

Sara Davies, Kimberly Nackers and Sarah Teitt, Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Climate Change and Adaptation in the Pacific Islands: Watering Down Women’s Security?

Recently the Centre for Climate and Security posed a provocative new question for our near Pacific Islands region, when it asked: Is climate change driving a new security architecture in the Pacific?.  In answering this query, the analysis made reference to the Australian Government’s Defense White Paper 2013. Here it has been predicted that existing regional security challenges such as unstable and sometimes unaccountable governance, and a widespread citizen marginalization from organized politics, will be compounded by the worsening social impacts of environmental insecurity in the coming decade.  Such views make the question of climate change a issue of strategic concern for Pacific Island states and for the region’s near neighbours.

Photo by UNFPAsia. Retrieved from, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Photo by UNFPAsia. Retrieved from, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Pacific Islanders are often described as living at the ‘front line’ of global climate change.  Their particular vulnerability to a global future of more frequent extreme weather events such as flooding, cyclones and drought, rising sea levels, and other forms of ecological damage such as rising salinity in soil and fresh water sources has seen them often likened to ‘canaries in a coal mine’.  Their plight, depicted in recent films such as the Hungry Tide, Paradise Drowned, and There Once was an Island, illustrates a ‘fragile paradise’ doomed to extinction.  Alongside images of habitat and food garden inundation, we also see palm trees swaying in a dappled sunlight, Islanders performing traditional dance, their children running playfully along the water’s edge, and aerial shots which show the terrestrial insecurity of atoll dwelling peoples wedged by a menacing sea.

Where are the Pacific Island women in these works?  One recent example of this genre, entitled Land is Life, shot in Kiribati and Tuvalu, depicts women’s and men’s responses to climate change in quite specific ways.  Local male politicians, bureaucrats and community leaders are encouraged to ruminate in a detached fashion – behind desks, in offices, in front of computers – on the risks posed to their populations.  Women’s authority is, rather, as first-hand witnesses, who testify how the invading sea has disrupted their cultivating, fishing or caring roles. Women shed many tears in these films as they reflect on the fate of their children.   Sometimes the mood is a little more upbeat when these stories are complimented with those demonstrating women’s adaptability; their efforts to develop new cultivation methods, new fishing practices, or their involvement in coastal regeneration projects such as mangrove nurseries.  Amongst the images that depict women at the heart of family and community life, viewers are also encouraged to reflect on their resilience and their capacity for adaptation to new environmental security challenges.

A similar focus on adaptation to climate change is strongly evident within the regional aid and development sector.  Assisted by donor nations such as Australia and New Zealand, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community has recently developed a toolkit which instructs on how gender mainstreaming should occur in climate change adaptation projects to ensure women are provided with the necessary decision-making opportunities, material resources and practical knowledge to assist their resilience to rising sea levels as well as environmental disasters. The argument here seems to be that women should not only be seen as victims of environmental change in the Pacific, but agents who can play key roles in assisting and developing community adaptation to environmental insecurity if given the chance.

Both in the popular media environment, and within the policy realm, the discourse of adaptation has become a prominent lens for understanding and assessing the security needs of Pacific women in an era of climate change.

But we might also ask, in a more provocative vein, what is left out of the picture when the focus is situated so consistently on the capacities of Pacific Islanders for adaptation.  Assisting the adaptation capacities of others may make countries neighbouring the region feel like they are, in fact, taking some responsibility on this issue. But it would also be productive for debate about women’s security in this region if Pacific Rim countries also considered how they too might more effectively adapt their own policy responses to this issue.

Women activists from across the region have developed a sophisticated and eloquent language that seeks to make the region’s powers understand how their own actions have increased the threats posed to their communities by climate change.  This work has been done by figures such as Ursula Rakova from the Carteret Islands in PNG.  As the leader of one of the first Pacific island communities to lose territory to seawater inundation, Rakova has overseen her community’s forced migration to Bougainville (a territory which is itself, in a long-term transition from conflict and which has made the security of this incoming population fragile).  Rakova describes climate change as ‘the central poverty issue of our time, where we see the world’s most vulnerable facing greater droughts, floods, hunger and disease, despite being the least responsible for causing climate change’.

Similar resistance is voiced by Noelene Nabulivou from Fiji, a long-time, active and renowned campaigner whose work demands greater accountability on gender and environmental security from Pacific Rim ‘big brother’ countries.  As major carbon emitting nations, eager to protect their economic security, Pacific Rim states have been accused of an ‘aggressive backtracking‘ on their ‘commitments to climate action and financing’. In these debates, Nabulivou has argued that gender security can only be achieved when Pacific Rim nations show a willingness to create ‘ambitious and legally binding climate change mitigation commitments’.

This is an awkward and contentious politics for the major powers in the Pacific Islands. They are undoubtedly more comfortable with images of Pacific women in Tuvalu, Marshall Islands or Kiribati who demonstrate a quiet and dignified adaptability to the environmental dangers that lie before them, than women who express anger and fear about their future insecurity and lay the blame for this at their door.

Within regional institutions such as the Pacific Islands Forum, Australia and New Zealand are influential.  Yet, on the issue of legally binding commitments on carbon emissions, they hold a position that is widely divergent from the expectations and wishes of most other Pacific Island member states.  Indeed, according to anonymous sources, the New Zealand delegation at the recent 2013 Forum Regional Security Committee meeting questioned why climate change was even raised as a relevant issue of deliberation by civil society representatives in room.

It seems strangely ironic that such views continue in tandem with official security analysis material issued by the same states, which describes the impending social impacts of climate change as a serious strategic challenge for the Pacific Islands.  Strangely ironic too, that regional powers support the passive policy response of adaptation while ignoring the collective regional benefits that might accrue if they were to take a more activist stance internationally on the advantages of securing a legally binding treaty on carbon emissions.

As a feminist scholar working in our Pacific region, it also seems strangely contradictory to me, that our foreign minister is so keen to promote her government’s commitments to the Women, Peace and Security agenda on the world stage, but seems simultaneously immune to an issue which, according to her own government’s  Department of Defense advisors, will become a major source of regional instability, and as a result gendered insecurity, into the future.

As sea level rise continues, climate change adaptation, as it is currently practiced in the Pacific Islands, tinkers at the edge of the problem.  As such, it can only water down women’s security.  It is a response that emphasizes the importance of Pacific Islanders’ adaptation but ignores how Pacific Rim countries also contribute to this challenge. This is hardly the response Pacific Islanders should expect from countries such as Australia and New Zealand.  Our history of work in collectively resisting nuclear testing in the Pacific meant that we were once respectfully regarded as the region’s ‘big brothers’ to the region.  Today we are described as ‘rogue nations’.

Nicole George, University of Queensland