Fighting violence against women both in peace and war

The Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security”, unanimously approved by the UN Security Council on 31 October 2000, is the first ever to explicitly mention the impact of war on women and their contribution to conflict resolution for lasting peace.

Since its creation, the “Women, Peace and Security” agenda (WPS) has emerged as a key component of the international security framework and in this agenda the location of Resolution 1325 is well recognized and appreciated. The historic resolution marked the international community’s full attention to the gender aspects of peace and conflict and its commitment to the active involvement of women in formal peace processes.

It was one of the most crucial UN resolutions on peace and security policy as it mandated all Member States to adopt specific policies to ensure women’s active involvement in peace. It made a case for gender-inclusive peacebuilding and called for full participation of women in all efforts toward peacemaking, conflict prevention and resolution, and post-conflict reconstruction. But twenty-two years later, the recent dramatic events in Ukraine and the consequent humanitarian crisis highlight once again the need to more explicitly and comprehensively develop and integrate a human rights strategy that shifts the focus from a reactive to a proactive model that pursues gender equality and women’s rights regardless of whether conflicts break out or not.

Despite the complex network of frameworks, initiatives, plans and training programmes, the overall participation of women in peace processes is still troubling. The numerical strength of women at peace tables remains alarmingly low. The UN Women’s 2015 report, while appreciating limited progress, notes that much of the progress towards the implementation of resolution 1325 continues to be measured in “firsts”, rather than as standard practice. Obstacles and challenges still persist and hinder gender equality in peace processes, sexual and gender-based violence in conflict areas remains high, women remain marginal in peace processes with less than 4% as signatories to peace agreements and less than 10% as negotiators at peace tables and processes.

However, the rather modest substantial progress in increasing women’s participation in peace and security structures and processes should not diminish the importance and necessity of such action, but it should alert us to the fact that the women and security aspect of the WPS agenda is limited in its ability to produce more transformative responses and to alter gender power relations and the subordination of women in society.

It is widely accepted that in particular women and children are the population most affected by the consequences of a conflict, this is evident nowadays when looking at the reckless wave of violence in Ukraine against the civilian population and especially against women. Reports of violence against Ukrainian women have increased since the start of the Russian invasion. In this regard, the lawyer Yulia Anosova – who was involved in defending women in Ukraine even before all this started – pointed out the difficulty of collecting the testimonies and complaints of these understandably frightened and traumatised women.

Considering the above and the fact that the WPS agenda has pursued a reactive paradigm whereby policies and institutional responses have been oriented towards addressing conflict and post-conflict situations, paying little attention to the concept of “women and peace”, it is true that the “women and peace” and “women and conflict” aspects of WPS may be on a continuum but it is also true that they require distinct modes of intervention. A human rights-infused WPS preventive agenda should be preceded on the one hand by a clear understanding and endorsement of the meaning of gender equality and on the other by the creation of mechanisms and processes that strengthen the role of international and regional human rights regimes. In particular, strong regional human rights systems have the potential to create forums for participation and interaction with national constituencies in the region. This may in turn lead to the development of participatory and context-sensitive solutions based on international human rights law to existing forms of discrimination against women, which during conflicts can be exacerbated, for example, in the form of sexual slavery and abduction as reported in recent and older conflicts.

Francesca Teresi

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