Preventing, Protecting and Empowering: Women, Peace and Security and R2P


Views and recommendations expressed in this piece are to be solely attributed to Sara Davies.

On Thursday 25 October, Griffith Asia Institute’s Human Protection Hub held a workshop on Women, Peace and Security (WPS): opportunities for alignment with Responsibility to Protect (R2P).  With the assistance of colleagues from the Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect (University of Queensland) and the Centre of Governance and Public Policy (Griffith University), this event was among the first of its kind in policy and academic circles.

We were honoured to host distinguished guests including Michael Bliss, Assistant Secretary of International Organizations branch at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with colleagues from the Human Rights and International Law branches; Rosemary Cassidy, Senior Specialist in the Gender Equality Policy Section of AusAID and colleagues from the Humanitarian Policy Section; Assistant Commissioner Mandy Newton, National Manager of the Australian Federal Police’s International Deployment Group; Mairi Steele, Branch Manager of the Women’s Branch in the Australian Government Office for Women, which is housed in the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and her colleagues; and Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women Australia.   Discussants and presenters also came from Oxfam Australia, the Australian Civil-Military Centre, Office of National Assessments, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Australia, Australian National University, University of NSW, University of Queensland and Monash University.

The dialogue focused on three central themes:

1)   What states should do to realise the goals set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

2)   The advantages and disadvantages associated with the alignment of R2P with WPS in the fields of international policing and peacekeeping, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and transitional justice.

3)   The extent to which the structural prevention ambitions of WPS can be assisted by association with early warning and assessment mechanisms relating to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

In relation to the first issue, participants found that the promotion of WPS National Action Plans (NAP) offers great potential for raising awareness of the expectations associated with Resolution 1325 among governments.  Measures towards equitable representation in positions of authority, gender equality in legislation and political participation, are measures that contribute to international peace and security.  However, thus far only 37 states have adopted NAPs. Moreover, most of these do not include clear implementation targets or mechanisms to ensure progress can be monitored. In the case of post-conflict states, it was noted that while some may argue 1325 National Action Plans (NAP) are an unnecessary burden on fragile states, the counter-argument was that these Plans open up opportunities for civil society groups and marginalised women in various government positions to ‘push back’ and demand positive action in accordance with the NAP.  When there is no NAP, there are fewer opportunities for women to demand gender responsive policies and action.

Recommendation: specific workshops on WPS NAP best practice should be encouraged at the highest political level, particularly amongst regional organizations with the involvement of civil society organizations.

Women remain under-represented in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping missions and policing. The persistent relative absence of women in key positions makes it difficult to know whether female peacekeepers, police, judges and senior officials make a positive difference.

Recommendation: States and international organizations should introduce positive gender discrimination to increase the number of women engaged in conflict prevention, resolution and rebuilding and in senior positions in peacekeeping, policing and special political missions.

This requires new thinking on the training, sourcing and deploying gender responsive policing units from Security Council members and Troop Contributing Countries.  The deployment of such specialists will contribute the evidence base for further positive gender empowerment. Such measures could also assist with the collection of evidence relating to sexual violence and the prosecution of perpetrators, especially in those countries where the lack of female officers and other structural impediments make it difficult for victims to access justice.

Since the passage of the first Women, Peace and Security resolution (1325) by the Security Council in 2000, successive Security Council discussions on WPS have narrowed the focus to sexual violence in armed conflict (Resolutions 1820, 1889, 1890, 1960).  The recent debate concerning the Secretary-General’s latest report on WPS, and the view of some member states that WPS be further limited, is part of this concerning trend.  This concern has raised questions about the political success since 1325 in establishing awareness of the link between armed conflict and women’s daily lived experience, often characterised by domestic violence, inequality before the law, lack of access to education and constrained economic opportunities.  Participants noted that violence against women is more likely in politically fragile situations. The failure thus far to draw links between WPS and R2P raises the likelihood that states and international organizations will continue to fail to prevent sexual and gender based violence, in part because gender-specific considerations have not been built into early warning and assessment mechanisms relating to the ‘R2P crimes’ (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity). Indeed, it was noted that the academic literature on early warning tended to overlook the role of gender, gender inequality and gendered violence.

Recommendation: there is a need to better understand how the political economy of violence against women is related to R2P crimes, to understand the structural preconditions that make SGBV crimes more likely, and measures that might help reduce those underlying risks.

However, a number of concerns were raised about downside risks associated with the alignment of R2P and WPS:

First, there were concerns as to whether WPS was better understood as a Protection of Civilians (PoC) related agenda. Some participants suggested that PoC was more widely accepted than R2P and that it could be used to facilitate protection and humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict.  By contrast, R2P, they worried, was a controversial concept. Aligning it with WPS might further stymie political progress without adding practical operational value.

Second, some participants worried that the R2P principle effectively reduced women to the status of passive victims in need of protection.  R2P is premised the notion of the state as the primary ‘protector’ of the individual.  However, some states that do a good job of preventing the four R2P crimes do a very poor job of protecting women.  By reinforcing state sovereignty, some suggested, R2P might actually give fresh legitimacy to systems of domination that endanger and marginalise women.  Moreover, this narrative tends to downplay the extent to which women might also be perpetrators of crimes and the measures that women adopt to protect themselves.

Alternatively, a more optimistic view that was expressed sees initiatives such as Resolution 1325, R2P, PoC, the Children in Armed Conflict agenda as well as other initiatives such as MDGs beyond 2015, the evolution of the Human Rights Council, the work of the CEDAW Committee, the International Criminal Court and Peacebuilding Commission as steps towards addressing some of these problems and reconstituting the relationship between states and their female populations.

Clearly, more work is needed to clarify the connections between R2P and WPS as well as to identify and mitigate potential downside risks. As such, this workshop marks only the beginning of a dialogue on this issue. Plans are afoot to publish some of the papers from the workshop with in early 2013 as a springboard for further research and dialogue on these issues.

Sara Davies, Human Protection Hub

Further details on the workshop – program and pictures – will be made available at Human Protection Hub Events page in the coming week.

Author: protectiongateway

Human Protection Hub

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