When the global is local: UN Security Council Resolutions on sexual violence are for all of us

Joining the Reclaim the Night march in London last weekend, Vanessa Alexander asks how can we advocate for the adoption of UN resolutions for peace and security for women in war time, when women world wide do not yet experience peace and security in peace time?
Vanessa Alexander
24 November 2009

Having closely followed the recent developments in UN legislation about Women, Peace and Security, such as Security Council Resolution 1820 and 1888 both relating to sexual violence in war, I was amazed, and a little embarrassed, to learn that women in Britain have just as much reason to need peace and security as those in war torn countries abroad. In fact, because it is so hidden and unexpected, perhaps they need help more.

It's cold and raining as we march through Trafalgar Square with our banners and signs, a curving tail of lights, drums and leaflets marching to protest violence against women. Reclaim the Night, a women-only march through London followed by a rally for women, men and children, has been an annual event in London for decades and has been organised by the London Feminist Network since 2004. I joined the march, curious to see what different stories or reasons women would have for taking part, and as I trotted up to different women as we marched through the rain I was astonished by what I learnt. In fact, it is exactly what it says on the collection tin: they joined to stop violence against women.

A look at the statistics (courtesy of the London Feminist Network):

  • there are over 40,000 rapes in Britain every year
  • the rape conviction rate is the lowest it has ever been - 5.3%
  • 30 years ago women who reported rape had a one in three chance of seeing a rapist convicted, compared to only one in twenty today
  • every week two women are killed by a male partner or ex-partner
  • one in four women live with domestic violence
  • an estimated 33,000 girls and young women are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK
  • the majority of women in the UK have no access to a rape crisis centre
  • police estimate there are over 5000 cases of forced marriage in the UK every year

The statistics are staggering and beg the question - how can we advocate for the adoption of UN resolutions for peace and security for women in war time, when women world wide do not yet experience peace and security in peace time?

This is not to diminish the importance of recent Security Council Resolutions, which have the potential to increase security in countries that have been devastated by war, but it does put into question whether these resolutions are enough, and what we in Britain should be doing for women here at home to feel safe?

In 2000 the UN Security Council passed resolution 1325 urging the international community to “ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels… and resolution of conflict.” 8 years later Security Council Resolution 1820 was passed, this time specifically addressing sexual violence as a weapon of war.

As we near the 10th anniversary of SCR 1325 the international community has seen a surge in interest and commitment to these issues including two further resolutions on women and security passed in 2009. SCR 1888, was passed in June with more detailed and context specific language, including that sexual violence when used deliberately and systematically against civilians can “significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security.” Then, in October, SCR 1889 was passed requesting that states track the implementation of SCR 1325. This flurry of activity at the international level surrounding women, peace and security has rewarded years of hard work by many peacebuilding and women’s NGOs all over the world, but has it distracted decision-makers from focusing on issues closer to home?

One important way to advocate change in Britain is through all-party parliamentary groups, (APPGs). There are APPGs on subjects such as climate change and autism, and even on beer and bees, but there is no APPG on sexual violence or rape. There is, however, an Associate Parliamentary Group on Women Peace and Security, specifically relating to SCR 1325.

“Sexual violence is not just a gender issue, it’s political” stated Nicky Dahrendorf In Rosemary Bechler’s article . It’s political, it’s strategic and it’s about power. The root issues being addressed in these UN SCRs are the same as those being tackled by women’s organizations in Britain, like the London Feminist Network. For example, one of the key issues addressed in SCR 1820 is the lack of prosecution in rape crimes, and the resolution called upon “member states to comply with their obligations for prosecuting persons responsible for such acts.” In May of this year, Britain was reported as having the lowest rape conviction rate out the 33 countries in Europe, due partly to a “failure to modernise investigation and prosecution practices” that continue to be influenced by stereotypes of rape victims and rapists- not dissimilar to the obstacles preventing rape from being prosecuted as a weapon of war.

As I listened on Saturday evening to women of all ages speak passionately about wanting to end violence against women in Britain, I felt the sharp pain of guilt that I had spent so much time and effort on contributing to the 1325 campaign, when these women that I run into buying shampoo at Boots and with whom I take the tube every morning are falling victim to the same crime. In fact, I could just as easily be one of those women.

So while everyone prepares for the upcoming anniversary of SCR 1325 in 2010, let’s spend a moment reminding ourselves and our parliamentarians about how relevant these resolutions are to women in peaceful Britain and across Europe- because, despite their international intent, their content is relevant to us all.


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