WAR, PEACE AND GENDER: WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION IN CONFLICT AND POST-CONFLICT SITUATIONS

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by Shrutika Pandey 18 February 2020

The cycle of conflict and peacemaking has been dominated by men for centuries, even though women constitute a vast majority of the civilians that are impacted in armed conflicts. Women are displaced, widowed, killed and raped on account of armed conflicts. The realization that women must have a role in preventing and resolving armed conflict is a relatively new one.

It was just four decades ago, that the need was felt for an agenda concerning women, peace and security. Since then, the agenda has been internationally recognised. Brought about as a tool to fight the stringent patriarchal structures, gendered inequalities, militarised masculinities, it broadly aimed towards two major aspects. One, measuring the impact of war on women and two, assessing their participation in conflict and peace-building activities. These two differentiated goals can be understood via the distinction between gender balancing (increasing the number of women in a given role, in a way that approaches parity), and gender mainstreaming (integrating a gender perspective into the activities of an organization). Despite their vulnerabilities attached to the female gender, in the situations created by conflict, women may be exposed to new knowledge and opportunities, which may have impacts on their lives. It is therefore important to recognise the ways that conflict may act as a vehicle change for women and enable to free themselves of the hardship and vulnerability.

The coming of the WPS Agenda:

Feminist scholars and gender activists studying and/or working in conflict areas had long highlighted the need to focus on the roles played by men and women during conflict, the gender differential impact of violent conflict, the need to address the challenges of women and to increase their participation in peace and security structures and processes. The security institutions themselves are in dire need of change. It is essential to incorporate a gender perspective into all peace and security work, which means that the impact on both women and men must be evaluated during each phase of the work. The need for an agenda such as the WPS can be very easily located by looking at the statistics of women involvement in the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations. Statistics from the UN Peacekeeping, show that of the total the total number of police personals in the UN Peacekeeping Operations (10,683), 89% are male, while female only constitute 11%. Also, of the total number of military personals in the UN Peacekeeping Operations, women constitute a meagre 4%. The coming of the WPS Agenda can be simply understood in the backdrop of the prevailing conflicts across the globe– and the targeting of women during these conflicts – that provided the impetus for advocacy for the international instruments that now exist on Women, Peace and Security. WPS can be seen to be a careful analysis of the intersection of gender, war and security practices. Inaugurated in 2000 with the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the WPS agenda now comprises eight resolutions addressing various dimensions of the prevention of violence, the participation of women in peace and security governance, and the protection of women’s rights and their bodies. It is indeed the perusal of WPS Agenda that women today are no more just the passive-victims but agents of change. Arguments about the importance of women’s participation in peace negotiations, and how this can lead to a sustainable peace are gaining in volume. Despite continuing efforts from 2005 (onwards), the tendency of parties to not integrate gender across post-conflict negotiations exists. The 2015 global study on the implementation of Resolution 1325 found that the proportion of peace agreements since 2000 making reference to women was 27 per cent, more than double the level over the period 1990–2000. Over the last 17 years, the WPS agenda developed into a comprehensive normative framework, backed up by seven subsequent UNSCRs. As of September 2017, 69 countries adopted National Action Plans (NAPs) for implementing 1325. A careful intersection of three main themes of the United Nations — security, human rights and development — the wide-ranging resolutions under the WPS Agenda are a step towards total transformation. Despite the evidence supporting the transformative power of this agenda, the clear and detailed road map provided through the recommendations of the 2015 global study on women, peace and security, the actual implementation of the women and peace and security agenda continues to fall short. Moreover, there is no doubt that the WPS agenda has evolved and grown considerably in the past 15 years—but it also signals that the nature of that growth is more divergent than convergent, reflecting particular or individual interests rather than global interests.

Resolution 1325 and the International Response:

We are about to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution in October 2000, passed to promote the role of women in global peace and security issues. In passing Resolution 1325 unanimously, the Council affirmed that the leadership and engagement of women is essential in armed conflicts and in successful peace operations. The resolution outlined 17 specific steps that the U.N., member states, civil society, and the broader international community should take to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment, and civilian protection in times of armed conflicts. It was unique in the sense that it intertwined the hard issues of international peace with the so called soft issues of women empowerment. Since its passing, the resolution ahs inspired several national action plans in this direction. But the progress has been slow, and has especially been slowed down by the rise of right-wing government regimes and extreme rhetorics of national sovereignty. Earlier this year, for example, when Germany proposed a forward-leaning resolution on sexual violence, the United States insisted on excluding references to the right of women to reproductive health care in humanitarian crises.

In times like this, we need to return to the progressive language of Resolution 1325 to increase women’s participation and leadership in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. This inclusion should not only be limited to women, and must also include other historically marginalized groups that suffer at the hands of war. This incorporation of a gender perspective into all peace operations will ensure that these issues are mainstreamed and integrated.

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