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Peace missions

Women make peace

by Rita Schäfer
A female soldier from India on duty in Liberia in 2007

A female soldier from India on duty in Liberia in 2007

Ten years ago, on 31 October 2000, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security”. It is time to take stock. [ By Rita Schäfer ]

Prevention, protection and participation – these are the three “Ps” of UN Resolution 1325 which aims to reduce sexualised violence and strengthen the role of women in all peace-building and -keeping measures. The Resolution states that women and their organisations should take part in decision-­making at all levels, including in conflict de-escalation through peace talks and agreements as well as in disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration. The UN itself, moreover, was to serve as a role model by improving institutional prospects for women and deploying more women in peace-keeping missions as heads of both civilian and mili­tary contingents. It was argued that increasing the number of female police officers and soldiers as well as women judges would serve the goal of prosecuting gender-specific violence in post-war states. Consequently, all governments as well as the UN were called upon to implement the Resolution.

The Resolution was the fruit of persistent political lobbying by women peace activists. Mass rapes in the Balkans and Rwanda during the 90s had woken up the international community. It was no longer possible to deny that sexualised crimes in wartime and gender-specific violence in post-conflict societies undermine the chances for peace and security.

The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security campaigned for the Resolution. It included members like Amnesty International and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The decision by the UN Security Council, moreover, built on previous international treaties that strengthened the rights of women in order to protect them from violence. Forerunners also included the action platform of the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995 as well as the UN Decade for Women from 1975 to 1985.

The unanimous passage of Resolution 1325 led to further related decisions by the Security Council. Examples include Resolution 1820 in the year 2000, which condemned sexualised violence as a war crime and crime against humanity, or Resolutions 1888 and 1889 in autumn 2009. The former aimed to prevent sexualised violence in times of war by appointing a woman as special rapporteur; the latter re-­iterated the demand that women be more strongly represented in all peace-related processes and called for better gender mainstreaming.

Just how challenging Resolution 1325 is, is evident within the UN itself. The results achieved in the past decade are mixed at best. Gender desks and ­gender-sensitivity trainings were introduced for blue helmet peacekeepers. Anne-Marie Orler was appointed head of the UN Police in March this year. In 2007, an exclusively female police unit was deployed in Liberia – a model case for the UN as well as the country concerned.

But all summed up, security remains an area dominated by men, even though women are increasingly given leadership positions in UN missions. In June this year, a mere two per cent of all UN peacekeepers were women, and among UN police officers, women made up a more respectable eight per cent. In August last year, a campaign was started to increase the share of women serving in UN peace-­keeping missions to 10 % of the military deployments and to 20 % of the civilian components.

Blue helmets as perpetrators

Sexualised abuse by bluehelmet soldiers remains a major issue despite a new code of conduct, and it is not only women who suffer the consequences. Demobilised soldiers and ex-combatants who lack prospects often feel that the possessive sexual behaviour of some peacekeepers is undermining their own masculinity. Many have reacted violently, and not just against the women peacekeepers showed interest in.

Peacekeepers who are found to be involved in sexual abuse or even assault are sent home and face prosecution there. An unintended consequence of the practice is that the victims and the local communities of post-crisis countries never learn about the legal consequences.

Unequal justice

The judiciaries in the post-crisis countries themselves, however, also tend to do too little to enforce justice. In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for instance, women’s organisations and human-rights pressure groups have condemned corrupt justice officials for letting known rapists off the hook because the perpetrators were high-ranking army officers.

Women who make such issues public must fear for their lives; their relatives are threatened too. Ever since the DRC government approved a comprehensive action plan on sexualised violence in April 2009, implementation has remained slow. The plan was drafted in cooperation of DRC institutions and UN organisations.

In East Timor, rape by Indonesian soldiers led to a rapid rise of sexual and domestic violence. Once again, the justice system did not tackle the matter adequately.

The UN Security Council has criticised the insufficient criminal prosecution of sexualised crimes, pointing out that impunity undermines the trust of citizens in government institutions and thus prevents the re-establishment of the rule of law. The Council has also criticised recent family-law reforms in Afghanistan and Somalia because such legislation only serves the interests of those in position of relative power and helps to legitimise discrimination against women. Resolution 1325 demanded that national action plans be put in place, but success is disputable.

EU difficulties

The example of the EU shows just how hard it is to pass national action plans. So far, only nine EU members have such a plan. In order to implement UN ­Resolution 1325, the European Parliament and the European Council have passed several resolutions of their own, and they also defined guidelines and published position papers. In December 2008, the EU agreed on a comprehensive programme that took into account experience from EU peace-keeping contingents as well as some demands made by women's organisations. The EU also provided an operation plan along with checklists and toolkits in order to make implementation easier.

Nonetheless, the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), a civil-society outfit that unites women’s and peace organisations from several European countries, says that the EU approach remains inadequate. It has also pointed out conflicts of interest between the EU, its members and its partner countries.

Germany does not have a national action plan, but many things are being done to implement UN Resolution 1325. In relation to the EU, Germany has organised seminars on gender issues and published studies. Germany has also contributed a manual on gender mainstreaming in the context of European security and defence policy. At the national level, gender-related topics have been tackled in the training of peacekeepers.

The GTZ has come up with some practice-­oriented publications which are worthy of praise, for instance on gender aspects of conflicts or the reform of the security sector. In Cambodia, the GTZ is promoting government programmes to stem violence and boost women’s rights. In Colombia, it is working to improve the safety and legal protection of in­ternally displaced women.

Civil-society organisations are doing innovative work too. One example is OWEN, a Berlin-based “mobile academy for gender democracy and peace promotion”. OWEN is active in the Caucasus, for instance, strengthening networks among women’s peace initiatives, journalists and teachers.

The gender action plan of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development provides a solid framework for both state-run and non-governmental programmes. It emphasises the importance of gender equality, and promotes the participation of women in decision-making bodies. A further issue of relevance is to promote alternative notions of manhood in order to reduce men’s potential for resorting to violence. This is a crucial step to protect women from gender-specific violence, especially in fragile states (see box on page 372).

Some development agencies and peace-research institutes still believe that, before anything else can be achieved, first ethnic tensions have to be resolved and a presumably neutral state apparatus put in place in a post-crisis country. The 10th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 provides an opportunity to ­finally change such short-sighted views. Women’s ­security is a priority right from the start.

Sexual violence has destabilised entire societies in many countries, paralysing any kind of positive development. Rape is often among the reasons for the rapid spread of HIV and always violates a woman’s fundamental rights to health and self-determination.

For years, researchers have documented that sexualised violence does not only affect women and girls. Rapists are quite aware of their behaviour also humiliating the victims’ husbands, brothers and fathers. Men who are forced to watch helplessly as their female relatives are subjected to mass rape tend to become violent themselves. Domestic violence is a consequence, and so is the escalation of violence between men – which again often takes the form of sexual abuse. Such dynamics can undermine fragile peace processes, and they always threaten security in both private and public life.

Several studies document these facts, but international decision-makers are only beginning to take them into account. Despite many calls for a comprehensive understanding of gender issues, many still apparently find it hard to accept that war shapes and damages notions of masculinity in ways that are politically relevant.

At least it has been recognised that comprehensive preventative measures are necessary, and that sanctions must be comprehensive too. Therefore, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325 unanimously. The participation of women in decision-making bodies and peace processes has a preventative and de-escalating effect. (rs)