Category Archives: Women

#R2P10: The Impact of the Syrian Conflict on Women

The international community has begun to recognize the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls, and the necessity to include women in the prevention and resolution of crises. In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted historic Resolution 1325 – the first resolution on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS). Since then, the UN Security Council has adopted Resolutions 1820(2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), and 2106 (2013), which address sexual violence in conflict, and Resolution 2122(2013), which focuses on women’s participation, empowerment, and human rights.

The scope and purpose of the WPS agenda and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) are different. Nevertheless, there are several ways they overlap and have the potential to reinforce one another. Firstly, gender-based human rights violations can serve as early warning indicators for atrocity crimes. Secondly, RtoP crimes and violations have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, and can amount to atrocity crimes as recognized in UNSC Resolution 2106. Thus, both agendas also work to strengthen mechanisms to prevent such violations from occurring. Additionally, WPS and RtoP seek to increase the recognition of women’s role in the prevention and response to mass atrocities.

The following is the latest submission for the #R2P10 blog series. ICRtoP had the privilege of speaking to Laila Alodaat, a human rights lawyer and MENA Project Coordinator at Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, to discuss the impact of the Syrian conflict on women.

 

The Syrian crisis continues to show the detrimental impact that the spread of arms and the use of explosive weapons has on civilian populations. How has the widespread use of such weapons impacted women in Syria and what are likely long-term consequences?

The Assad regime spared no effort to turn the peaceful uprising that called for freedom and dignity into an armed conflict. While brutally targeting pacifist activists,  lawyers and political figures who were demanding civil and legal reforms, it also applied indirect measures like releasing extremist convicted criminals from prisons, turning the political seen into chaos. Such actions, combined with aggressive repression, abuse, torture and use of propaganda, resulted in civilians taking up arms as self-defence, a phenomena that later on turned into an element of the armed conflict feeding on the uncontrolled influx of arms to the country.

Today, the increased militarisation and the proliferation of arms have devastating impacts on the structure of society and on the wellbeing of civilians who are suffering far beyond numbers of casualties. And while small arms have a devastating impact on women, the greatest threat still revolves around the extensive use of explosive weapons, which has been the main strategy of the Assad regime to impose corporal punishment on entire communities and to retain control of areas that fell out of its control.

Since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, 53% of civilians died by explosive weapons. As a result of the Assad regime doubling the use of explosive weapons in 2014, over 35% of the death toll in Syria (76000 of an estimated 220000 casualties) took place in that year. Furthermore, almost half of the global casualty by explosive weapons in the world between 2011-2013 occurred in Syria. This has a devastating impact on women and girls, as 74% of the casualties are a result of explosive weapons and 17% of small arms.

UN observers document damage done by shelling in Homs, Syria

UN observers document damage done by shelling in Homs, Syria

Beyond casualties, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has a great impact on health care systems due to the destruction of infrastructure and hospitals, and a general fear of moving around in an armed conflict setting. This is particularly right in the Syrian context where attacks on health facilities and personnel by different parties to the conflict have become commonplace. A recent publication showed that between February 2014 and February 2015, at least 83 separate attacks on health facilities were reported.

As for women, the lack of access to reproductive health can be a death sentence especially in places where maternal mortality is already high. No recent information on maternal mortality in Syria is available. However, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) stated that 80% of maternal mortality could be prevented by better access to health care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. We believe similar, if not worse, statistics are applicable to Syria.

It is also crucial to mention that the survivors of explosive weapon attacks suffer from long-term challenges such as disability, psychological harm, and thus social and economic exclusion that have a greater impact on women in a society where they have less access, more restrictions and limited freedom of action compared to men.

To what extent has the failing rule of law and rampant impunity in Syria disproportionately affected women and what issues need to be prioritized to address these matters going forward?

During the armed conflict, the already shaky rule of law completely failed; firstly when the Syrian regime transformed the judiciary into a tool of repression through a combination of unconstitutional laws and emergency military courts, and secondly when it gave unlimited power to the notorious security branches that took pride in the horrifying reputation of torture, abuse and being the place where the best and brightest disappear.

This failure resulted in more power given to arms and force against those who do not have access to it (women, children, elderly civilians, disabled people) or do not wish to use it (again women, ideologically pacifists, etc.) leaving them marginalised, disempowered, and with no access to justice.

As the state completely abandoned its role in protecting citizens, constructing a fair society and ensuring safety and security, arms became the sole source of power and justice. And while they are only available to men, Syrian women were left with no power or protection and had to retreat quickly from being active right-bearers into subjects in need of protection by men, reaffirming masculine stereotypes that harms men and women alike.

The empowerment of women requires recognition and criminalisation of gender-based crimes and a comprehensive approach to combat impunity for crimes perpetrated by all groups in control. Dealing with these crimes requires adapting a culture of reform, restitution and rehabilitation, rather than mere punitive justice. Only a victim-centred approach to justice will allow space for rehabilitation, social and psychosocial support, empowerment and growth for both women and men.

Conflicts often force women to take on new roles and responsibilities as a result of the gendered impact of war and the commission of atrocity crimes. Can you explain how this has been the case, particularly with regards to the economic impact on Syrian women?

It is crucial to adapt a viable political economy approach to understand the depth of women’s suffering in the on-going conflict. The Syrian conflict is yet another example of how women’s experiences of violence cannot be separated from the new roles dictated upon them by the emerging war economy.

The Syrian regime’s targeting of civilians and civilian-populated territory with explosive weapons among other devastating means resulted in a widespread destruction of infrastructure. The enormous increase in military expenditures and the subsequent collapse of traditional income sources and local currency gave place to emerging war trades that enforced masculine constructions and resulted in a war economy that brought additional burdens on women. These women now bear new responsibilities as heads of household and primary carers for a large number of children, elderly and orphans while their rights to work, education and movement have been almost entirely compromised.

Today, with 12.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, 7.6 million people internally displaced by violence, and 4 million registered refugees (statistics of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as of March 2015) and only 15% of the required fund met (US$ 1,135,217,169 received of the US$ 7,426,692,851 required), Syria is a case study of the feminisation of poverty. Women form the majority of poor people not solely due to the lack of income or inability to work, but also due to the lack of access to productive resources and gender biases in law and practice.

It is widely acknowledged that women are crucial actors in peace processes and that equal participation in such efforts is necessary to uphold the rights of all civilians and ensure the sustainability of peace agreements. That said, women remain disproportionately represented in efforts at all levels to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes. How have women in Syria organized to impact global peace processes, and how has the international community received such efforts?

Syrian women showed great abilities when equipped with the space and choice. In January 2014, 47 Syrian women of diverse backgrounds and positions came together to set up the Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy with the aim of contributing to a peace process that ensures an immediate stop of the fighting, lifts the siege in civilian areas, releases political detainees and ensures effective participation of women on all levels of decision making as well as the negotiation process and transitional period. They have also offered to send a delegation to observe the Geneva II negotiation process and ensure that demands and experiences of Syrian women will be respected.

The document issued by the Initiative proved to be the most inclusive, balanced and civilian-centred document since the Syrian uprising started, however, despite the tireless efforts of the initiative’s members, the consecutive UN envoys to Syria failed to translate their promised support into action. Hence, Syrian women continue to be absent from formal negotiations.

The participation of women in opposition fronts also continues to be minimal and the concerns of women remain sidelined. This marginalisation has had devastating consequences, including the lack of gendered aspect in the emerging policy, absence of women experiences, and an emphasis on arming and militarisation vs. development, conflict resolution and peace making.

 

What steps must domestic and international actors take in order to address the war’s impact on women and ensure women’s full participation in resolving this crisis as it wages into its fifth year?

A sustainable peace in Syria cannot be achieved without the active participation of women and the incorporation of their perspectives at all levels of decision-making. We cannot afford to wait for a resolution to the conflict in order to start containing its devastating impact on women. It is imperative that all stakeholders stop compromising the effective participation of women at all levels, whether in constitutional and legislative councils, temporary or permanent local councils, judiciary, local courts, law enforcement and police authorities.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefs the UNSC on the situation in Syria.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefs the UNSC on the situation in Syria.

National and international organizations must take women’s issues and experiences into account and act effectively to support and rehabilitate them to allow for full and substantial participation, whether individually or through groups and initiatives. This would also be in line with UN Resolution 1325, which calls upon all conflict parties to include women in the management and resolution of armed conflicts.

Finally, the participation of women in solving the Syrian dilemma should go beyond mere token representation to focus on structural changes that allow space for women issues to be tackled, as well as for their opinions, and that of civil society and peaceful actors, to weigh as much as those of parties to the conflict.

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No Protection without Participation: The Responsibility to Include Displaced Women

On October 28, 2014, the Security Council held its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) focusing on women as refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The urgency of this matter cannot be understated, as the world reaches a grim milestone.

Security Council meeting on Women and peace and  security

Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Security Council meeting on Women and peace and security. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Currently, the global population of displaced sits at approximately 50 million people – the largest number since the Second World War. What’s more appalling is that an astounding 80 percent of this population consists of women and children.

It was noted throughout the debate that in this context, women are at risk of a range of human rights abuses. These include gender-based discrimination in access to economic resources, education and employment, poor reproductive health care, and exclusion from decision-making and participation in most peace processes.

Furthermore, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Recalling Security Council Resolution 1820, rape and other forms of sexual violence are recognized as a threat to international peace and security, as well as serve as indicators of and/or constitute potential genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, making this an important issue for both the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and WPS.

The debate was part of the ongoing effort to evaluate implementation of Resolution 1325, a landmark Security Council decision that followed many incremental precedents in the advancement of women’s human rights, and subsequent resolutions that make up the WPS framework. The discussions held at this session made it clear that, while progress has been made with regards to upholding women’s rights and ensuring equal participation, there is still much progress to be made, especially as it concerns women who are refugees or IDPs.  The experience of women IDPs in countries plagued by atrocities such as Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan demonstrate the stunning lack of progress, as well as a failure of national authorities to uphold their primary responsibility to protect displaced persons within their borders.

 

Horrifying Conditions for Displaced Women

The latest Secretary-General’s report on Women’s Peace and Security takes special note of the plight of displaced women. The report explains that driving factors such as discriminatory gender norms, a lack of access to livelihoods and basic services, as well as unequal citizenship rights leave women and girls especially vulnerable to a range of rights violations.

Among the risks mentioned are exposures to sex and labour trafficking, SGBV, and early and forced marriage. In addition, women are experiencing a curtailment of their rights in relation to dress, travel, education and employment – particularly in areas where extremism is rampant.

The Secretary-General’s report notes several countries as being particularly affected, including atrocity-ridden Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Reports emerging from these countries bring the Secretary-General’s warnings to life, and shed light on the dire situations faced by displaced women.

For example, in South Sudan, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura told horrific tales of sexual violence that will “…haunt South Sudan for generations to come” and include “rapes, gang rapes, rapes with guns and bullets and sexual slavery,” committed by forces loyal to both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.  Many of these have occurred in the supposed safety of UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites and IDP camps.

In the Central African Republic, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that “where 20 per cent of the country’s population is internally displaced, 68 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.” They also note that access to education has been severely restricted, decrying that “ In Bossangoa region, education has ground to a halt almost completely, and in the country as  whole more than 70 per cent of potential pupils – at least 450,000 children – are currently out of school.”

Views of the Zaatri Refugee Camp

Syrian Refugees Crossing into the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

In Syria, the Assistant UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that displacement has been “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.”

A July 2014 Human Rights Watch report documented the abuses inflicted on women fleeing the frontlines of the country’s civil war. The organization warned that “Women in Syria have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured during Syria’s conflict by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed groups opposed to the government.”

The examples from these countries are but a sample of the very real dangers faced by displaced women and girls, and the risks that they will become victims of RtoP crimes.

 

RtoP and Women’s Participation in the Context of Displacement

The deplorable conditions facing displaced women in South Sudan, Syria, and CAR represent a wider failure of national authorities to uphold their obligations to adequately protect IDPs and refugees within their borders.

Indeed, the broad range of rights abuses faced by displaced women are identified by the new  Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes, recently published by the Joint Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, as being a precursor to the commission of atrocity crimes.

The framework explains that of particular concern are “violations of civil and political rights” that may include “…severe restrictions to economic, social and cultural rights, often linked to patterns of discrimination or exclusion of protected groups, populations or individuals.”

Furthermore, as noted above, Resolution 1820 recognized for the first time that sexual violence could potentially constitute three of the four mass atrocity crimes and violations under RtoP, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Framework of Analysis also warns that increasing acts of sexual violence “may indicate an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes, or suggest a trajectory towards their perpetration. “

English classes for displaced women

UNAMID police facilitate English classes for displaced women in Darfur. UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

While a range of actions need to be in focus when addressing these crimes, a partial explanation of the failure to curb these violations is the exclusion of women from decision-making–including on policies regarding IDPs/refugees and peace processes in general. This exclusionary trend is at odds with the commitments set out in the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and in particular, the Women, Peace and Security agenda, including Resolutions 1325 and 2122.

Resolution 1325 served as a landmark document, marking the UN Security Council’s recognition of the unique effects of conflict on women, and that their voices must be included in all stages of the peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding process. Through the adoption of Resolution 2122, the Council sought to strengthen the WPS agenda by explicitly focusing on the need to take further action to ensure women’s participation in all stages of conflict prevention and response. Without the recognition and inclusion of women, it is widely acknowledged that any strategy implemented will be “faulty” and unsustainable.

Thus, states hosting a displaced population have an urgent responsibility to protect women from these crimes, while the international community has a responsibility to provide assistance when authorities are failing as spectacularly as in the cases above. However, due to the indispensable nature of women’s involvement, protection cannot be fully achieved without their active participation and the facilitation of these efforts.

 

Ending Abuse through Gendered Strategies

Both civil society advocates and member states that participated in the open debate have offered recommendations that could help ensure protection obligations are upheld, and that the voices of women are included in the design and implementation of policies for the protection of the displaced.

In their civil society statement delivered at the WPS debate, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security called for a comprehensive and gender-sensitive protection effort for women in displaced situations.  They stressed that:

“…women must fully participate and be consulted systematically in decision-making, across all displacement settings, in humanitarian programming, and, of course, in the broader political, security and peace processes.”  To these ends, the provision of political and financial support, as well as specialized training to civil society and women’s human rights defenders were recommended.

The Permanent Representative of Lithuania highlighted  the importance of ensuring personnel involved in the protection of IDPs are well-versed in gender-sensitivity by “providing gender awareness training to peacekeepers, field staff and humanitarian actors, appointing gender advisors, and developing concrete indicators to assess implementation of gender mainstreaming policies.”

Suggesting examples of best practices, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet identified steps that have been taken to incorporate a gender perspective into IDP protection in peacekeeping operations.

UNAMID Civil Affairs Officers Meet IDP Camp Residents. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot.

One such practice was UNAMID’s establishment of a Women’s Protection Network in Darfuri IDP camps to elicit their participation in formulating protection strategies.  Another was the UNMISS advocacy efforts that led to a gendered approach to IDP camp management, including the appointment of female camp managers.

An important recurring theme was the extension of women’s empowerment to the socioeconomic sphere, as horizontal inequalities exacerbated by displacement create the conditions that leave women vulnerable to exploitation. They are also considered a common indicator of atrocity risk under the Special Advisers’ Framework of Analysis.

As the Nordic countries remarked in their joint statement delivered by Sweden, “Gender inequalities lie at the heart of the issue. Gender equality in political, economic, and social life is a goal in itself and also contributes to preventing sexual violence and armed conflict.” Recommendations made by states for reducing inequalities, including by improving access to services and livelihoods, are therefore critical.

No Protection without True Participation

By implementing gendered protection strategies, and ensuring the full participation of women in all matters related to the protection of IDPs, a double purpose is being served. Not only are national and international actors doing their part to satisfy obligations laid out in the WPS agenda, but they are taking steps towards fulfilling their responsibility to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. Furthermore, they are upholding their responsibilities to help improve the capacity of national actors to live up to their primary RtoP obligations.

As Edmond Mulet stated “We have a responsibility to better protect women, but protection cannot exist without genuine understanding of women’s rights and acceptance of their full participation, as demanded by resolution 1325 and all subsequent mandates on women, peace, and security.”

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Women and the Responsibility to Protect

In the context of contemporary armed conflict, the general discourse often assumes that women, one of the most vulnerable and impacted groups, are disempowered. Discussion on the role of women in conflict and post-conflict settings frequently reflects this by emphasizing the narrative of women as victims, overlooking the crucial role of women as actors.

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, which was celebrated on 8 March, we want to reiterate that women have a critical role – as well as an inalienable right – in the implementation of the full spectrum of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).

In the norm’s framework, women must be included as equal players in the international community who can contribute to preventing mass atrocities, assisting in protection, resolving conflict, and securing lasting peace and justice.

To date, however, gaps remain as steps have not been taken to truly engender RtoP. This post will expand on the missed opportunities, as well as the challenges ahead for engendering the norm, to ensure the full participation of women in the RtoP’s framework.

Leadership in the Prevention and Resolution of Conflict and Mass Atrocities

The United Nations has increasingly recognized the leadership position of women preventing and resolving conflict. At the 1995 World Conference on Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPA) called for the establishment of an “active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective” when addressing armed and other conflict, noting the important role of women “during times of armed conflict and the collapse of communities.”

Furthermore, the UN Security Council has taken up a robust case of work with its Women, Peace, and Security agenda, and with the adoption of notable resolutions, such as Security Council Resolutions (SCR) 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008), has reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to the empowerment and protection of women.

SCR 1325 specifically calls for greater participation of women at all levels of decision-making, and stressed the “importance of their (women’s) equal participation and full involvement in all efforts of the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

And SCR 1820 was the first Resolution that recognized violence against women, particularly conflict-related sexual violence, as a threat to international peace and security. The SCR also called for the UN and its various peace operations to develop mechanisms to prevent and respond to sexual violence, including through the training of personnel and the deployment of more women in peace operations.

Despite this, the role of women in the prevention of mass atrocities has yet to be formally recognized in the context of RtoP, and is reflective of a broader gap in the number of women participating in prevention, protection, and rebuilding in a conflict setting.

UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, created in July 2010 by the UN General Assembly, cites the percentage of women participating in peace processes remains very low compared to their male counterparts.

In 11 peace processes for which statistics are available, UN Women indicates that less than 8% of participants in and fewer than 3% of signatories to peace treaties are women. Furthermore, no women have been appointed Chief or Lead mediators in UN-sponsored peace talks, and women remain substantially underrepresented in UN peace operations.

Thus, despite the institutional realization of the important leadership role for women, women’s voices are noticeably silent in the context of post-conflict peace processes and reconstruction in any given country-specific situation around the world.

This situation must be remedied. And it must be remedied not only because women have a right to participate, but also because we have seen important examples, like Liberia, where women were crucial actors in peace processes. Civil society organizations like the West-Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), one of our member organizations, mobilized during the Liberian civil wars and played a crucial role in including women in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction. The world’s first all-female peacekeeping unit was also deployed serve as armed police and assist in stabilizing the country after years of internal strife.

Women and Mass Atrocities

Alongside the recognition of the important role of women in prevention, protection, and reconstruction has been the steady establishment of a broader international narrative that contemporary conflict and post-conflict situations affect women very differently from men.

The protection of women’s rights has been codified in international law through the BPDA, UN SCR’s 1325 and 1820, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). These documents outline the rights and responsibilities of the international community, governments, and civil society regarding women and conflict.

Regarding the ICC, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice stated in a press release to commemorate International Women’s Day that, “The Rome Statute contains the most advanced articulation in the history of international criminal and humanitarian law of acts of violence, gendered in nature, predominantly sexual and most commonly perpetrated against women.”  It also remains, the press release states, “the most significant global institution for addressing gender-based crimes because for many women the Court represents their only hope of accountability for crimes their state is unable or unwilling to prosecute.”

In his 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon drew on these documents and reiterated, for the first time in the context of the norm, that rape and other forms of sexual violence could constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, or constitutive acts with respect to genocide.

It was also mentioned in the report that gender-based violence was an early warning indicator of mass atrocities. This was reaffirmed in the Secretary-General’s 2010 report on Early Warning, Assessment and the RtoP and his 2011 report on the Role of Regional and Sub-Regional Arrangements in Implementing RtoP.

The systematic nature of sexual violence in conflicted-related scenarios has also led to the appointment of Margot Wallström as the Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) on the matter, with the mandate of intensifying efforts to end sexual violence against women.

Despite the obligations placed on parties to conflict to protect women’s rights, and the renewed effort at the UN to stem conflict-related sexual violence, atrocities against women in armed and other conflict remain rampant in the context of particular country-specific cases.

A particularly enlightening example of this is the Secretary-General’s recent 13 January 2012 report on Conflict-related Sexual Violence. The report highlights a number of situations, including but not limited to Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR), Egypt, Guinea, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Timor-Leste, where violence against women has been widespread and remains a risk on a daily basis.

The report also names and shames some of the world’s worst offenders, including the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan, armed militias in Côte d’Ivoire, and the armed forces of the DRC, where tens, if not hundreds of thousands of women have been systematically raped by combatants since 2003.

The dire nature of continued violence against women was made abundantly clear at the 23 February meeting of the UN Security Council on Women, Peace, and Security by SRSG Wallström, who called conflict-related sexual violence a “global risk”. Wallström also stated that, “impunity fuels the cycle of violence”, highlighting the continued problem posed by a lack of justice for victims of violence both during and post-conflict.

Actual and threatened conflict-related sexual violence, as well as impunity for its perpetrators, thus poses a critical implication: While dialogue, public statements, and institutional advancements are important, they must be met with operational progress on the ground in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, the DRC, and Sri Lanka.

Moving Forward: Overcoming Challenges and Seizing Opportunities

While the threat against women in armed and other conflict remains as present as ever, the focus on women as victims cannot undermine their importance in the full spectrum of the Responsibility to Protect.

In order to realize the full potential of the role of women for the RtoP, important operational measures and concrete actions must be taken.

Realizing Women as Leaders in the RtoP Framework

Women must be more equally represented in prevention, as well as the resolution of conflict and reconstruction in a post-conflict setting. In this sense, there must be more women in leadership positions at all levels of decision-making. Increasing the involvement of women in conflict mediation and peace processes, including in the negotiations and drafting of peace accords and constitutions, is also integral to preventing the recurrence of violence.

In seeking justice during or in the aftermath of conflict, women must be included in accountability processes such as criminal proceedings and/or truth and reconciliation commissions, and be guaranteed legal support. The effort to ending impunity for violence committed against women is also an important challenge that must be overcome, and should be met with vigorous resolve at all levels of governance.

Furthermore, United Nations peace operations should strive to include women in military and civilian protection capacities, including in security sector reform (SSR) efforts and training initiatives in conflict settings. An all too important task for peace operations, whether at the UN or regional organization (RIGO) level, is providing training for relevant personnel to be aware of gender-based violence indicators and knowledgeable of how conflict affects men and women differently.

Ensuring Prevention and Protection: A 3-Pillar Approach

Gender-based violence continues largely unabated, but information and resources necessary to understand why are unavailable. Furthermore, gender-based indicators have not been employed to provide early warning for the threat of mass atrocities. These gaps must be filled to foster a better understanding of the “global risk” of violence against women, and to ensure more effective prevention when RtoP crimes are threatened.

Consistent with the primary protection responsibilities of the state, national actors must uphold their obligations under international law and prevent and protect women from befalling violence, particularly conflict-related sexual violence. Adopting national legislation to ensure equality of human rights and the effective protection of vulnerable populations is a necessary step, as well as ratifying relevant human rights treaties and abstaining from reservations that would adversely affect women. RIGOs should also continue to address the role of women in conflict in order to foster multi-level adherence to the respect for women’s rights.

Regional organizations, the UN, its Member States, and civil society must be ready and willing to provide assistance and capacity building to individual states as they work to include women and prevent violence from befalling them.

If a state is found manifestly failing to protect women from one or more of the RtoP crimes, early diplomatic and other non-violent measures must be taken. The establishment of a working group on women and RtoP by the Secretary-General would serve well in establishing and better integrating a gendered approach to the norm.

As the international community marks International Women’s Day, a renewed and vigorous effort to engender RtoP to reflect the important role of women within the norm’s framework would be welcome. If these steps are taken, the crucial task securing their full participation in the spectrum of the RtoP may soon be realized. Too often, however, words are not translated into deeds. This time, the promises made in New York and national capitals must be kept and translated to action around the world.

Our Civil Society Members Commemorate #IWD (International Women’s Day):

Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (GAPW) hosted an event entitled Integrating Gender Perspectives into the Third Pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) on 21 February, and their Women, Peace & Security programme Director, Melina Leto, published a blog post on empowering women in traditional communities.

Human Rights Watch publishes The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights

Minority and indigenous women deliberately targeted for sexual and other violence, says Minority Rights Group International on International Women’s Day

“A Priceless Investment: Protecting and Empowering Adolescent Refugee Girls” by Sarah Costa of the Women’s Refugee Commission and Samuel Witten

Oxfam International has a full page on their website dedicated to International Women’s Day 2012, and a featured blog post on one woman’s role in making a positive contribution to finding peace in Somalia and providing support for victims of gender-based violence.

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