Male war, male peace

A survey of on-going peace processes confirms mere lip service is still being paid to women’s inclusion and participation within the powerfully embedded male tradition of diplomacy and peace building. Leer in Español.

Marcos Méndez
25 July 2013

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (1325) was unanimously adopted in October 2000 as a means “to reaffirm the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building and stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” In short, it represented the broadest political interpretation of gender issues ever articulated by the UN peace and security agenda.

Since then, there have been five more resolutions regarding this topic, the last one adopted three weeks ago. This landmark document focused mainly on enhancing women’s rights in armed conflicts and increasing women’s participation in peace processes, answering a call to introduce gender mainstreaming before, during and after armed conflicts erupt. As Nicola Pratt and Sophie Richter-Devroe point out, “previous UN resolutions had treated women as victims of war, in need of protection. However, 1325 also recognized women as agents in building peace and guaranteeing security.”

That said, until now its implementation and practical results have been uneven, to say the least, despite the UNSC establishing 26 measurable indicators since 2010. As far as women’s agency as peacemakers and peacebuilders is concerned, a study carried out by Sahla Aroussi 8 years after 1325 was adopted showed only 50 out of the 112 peace agreements signed since mentioned women or gender, and always in very vague terms. This is not a small achievement—since we started from scratch—but if we take a look at more specific issues, a very bleak picture can be painted.

For instance, in the same study Aroussi finds that only 7 out of 50 DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) plans included a gender perspective, when there is hard evidence of women’s involvement as combatants in almost every conflict. Not surprisingly, in 2007 Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, one of the world’s most respected experts on gender and security, affirmed that “peace talks continue to exclude women; peacekeepers, militaries, and rebel groups continue to exploit women sexually; and post-conflict reconstruction programs and funding… continue to bypass women.”

And according to UN Women, only two out of nine peace agreements signed in 2010 had gender-responsive provisions ensuring women’s rights (both signed by the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement). Worse still, despite all the rhetoric, women are still clearly underrepresented in the body of advisers, envoys and Special Representatives deployed worldwide, they represent less than 8% of participants in recent peace negotiations, and no woman has ever been appointed as a lead mediator in UN-sponsored peace talks.

Right now, one only has to look at the Syrian war and the impact of mass rape there and will be likely be tempted to think all these UN good intentions were nothing more than lip service, as some now see the humanitarian concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). But we must understand that this is a non-linear work-in-progress in which the greatest enemy is nothing less than a powerfully embedded male tradition of diplomacy and peacemaking. Things can evolve, but great reforms take time.

Political participation in peace processes

There is strong international recognition that women must be equally represented during the whole process of political negotiation, reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction. To grapple with the problems resulting from this process, every stage must answer to women’s concerns. The economic development and reconstruction programs, gender-based violence, appropriate resources allocation, DDR, unemployment, security sector reform or transitional justice, among other important issues, must all have a gendered response.

For example, a very different Afghanistan would have evolved if rural women’s demands regarding security and socio-economic provisions were heard when the Bonn Agreement was signed. At that time, the negotiating teams only included 9% women and no female mediators were invited. The paradox is that while Laura Bush and others in the West were advocating for the ‘liberation’ of the Afghan women, they were marginalized from the negotiating table while the reconstruction of their country was at stake.

Twelve years on, logic would suggest that we should expect something better regarding the peace processes taking place now.

In Colombia, the new peace talks between the government and FARC raised great expectations among women’s organizations, but so far negotiations to end the long-standing conflict remain dominated by men on both sides. There is known participation of three women, two from the government (out of thirty members) and one from the FARC, all of them in the ‘second tier’. If this situation remains unchanged, a lasting peace will become impossible. As Silke Pfeiffer, from the International Crisis Group, has pointed out:

Not only are women the main victims of the Colombian conflict but they make up about 50 percent of the Colombian population. Women bring different perspectives and qualities that should be at the negotiating table.” And more importantly, they have very specific demands, such as preventing impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence, which must be heard.

This neglect further decreases the opportunity for peacebuilding in a society where women are widely-recognized as agents of peace. Back in 2002, when the dialogues between the former President Andrés Pastrana and the FARC collapsed, 40,000 women from across the country marched in Bogotá demanding an end to the violence and positioning themselves as national political actors. In addition, women have been always at the forefront of the resistance against armed groups at the local level and many Afro-Colombian women are well-respected for their work in the fields of human rights, land restitution and community-based reconciliation.

However, far beyond the formal peace process, the framework set up by 1325 may also be used as a supporting tool for a different kind of women’s advocacy and empowerment. In 2005 the Colombian government passed Law 975, the Peace and Justice Law. For many, this was an impunity law to protect the pro-state demobilized paramilitaries from prosecution. Two organizations, the Initiative of Colombian Women for Peace (IMP) and the National Women’s Network, lobbied the Colombian Congress to include a gender perspective into the law, and their efforts resulted in the addition of five articles regarding sexual violence against women and children, the protection of victims and witnesses of sexual aggression, representation of victims’ organizations and the Colombian ombudsman on the National Commission for Reparations and Reconciliation and the inclusion of two women on the commission. Both groups framed their advocacy as an implementation of 1325, even though Colombia still lacks a National Action Plan to put the resolution into practice.

In Mali, a preliminary peace agreement between the government and the Tuareg militias was signed last month. Malian women are usually portrayed in western media solely as victims of Islamic extremists, and the Transition Road Map issued by the government in January includes only one mention of women’s issues, stressing the need to fight impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence. There are no women sitting at the negotiating table.

Last November a group of more than sixty women’s organizations from around the world sent a letter to the then head of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, calling for women’s participation in the peace processes of Mali and Colombia. They were hardly heard.

Sexual violence in armed conflict

1325 also stressed “the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls.” Since then, four more resolutions focused on conflict-related sexual violence have been adopted. But words alone won’t end violence against women, as Lakshmi Puri, acting head of UN Women, has put it.

In Syria, mass rape is creating “a nation of traumatized survivors” that could lead to a total breakdown of the social fabric with unpredictable consequences for the future stability of the country. In fact, a report released in January by the International Rescue Committee identified rape as the first cause by which Syrian families are leaving the country. However, as I remarked in another piece, the countries that make up the G-8 are able to agree on a Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict but are at the same time completely paralyzed regarding the Syrian war.

We have no statistics for sex crimes around the world partly because many of these go unreported, but we have hard evidence that rape is being widely used as a weapon of war in the conflicts of Syria, Mali, Colombia, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Myanmar, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in many other places. In some of these countries, such as Somalia or the DRC, rape has been used in this way almost on a daily basis during the last two decades. Tellingly, for some of these crises, the term “genocidal rape” was coined by Catharine MacKinnon, one of the great American feminists to refer to

a rape under control. A rape unto death, rape as massacre, rape to kill and to make the victims wish they were dead. It is rape as an instrument of forced exile, rape to make you leave your home and never want to go back. It is rape to be seen and heard and watched and told to others; rape as spectacle. It is rape to drive a wedge through a community, to shatter a society, to destroy a people.

In this light, the events that occurred in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s do not seem so far off. And most of these crimes go unpunished, today as in the past.

Success on this front is of major importance given the tremendous, long-term physical, psychological and social consequences of rape. But in most places politics are still dominated by men. Beyond the realm of peace talks, in emerging democracies such as Egypt, decision-making power dynamics are also overwhelmingly male-biased. How can we understand the new events in this country, where the Army, accused of having raped many women through so-called “virginity tests”, is now presented as the arbiter of political power?

In today’s culturally conservative Libya, women’s advocates are trying to transform words into deeds. There, where Gaddafi-era crimes against women have become widely known, the parliament is on the verge of passing the world’s first new law that would make rape during armed conflict a war crime. Nonetheless, there are two pivotal, interconnected problems that must be solved without delay, one concerning the reparations for the victims and the other regarding the prevailing culture of impunity, as the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently noted. Clearly, further efforts remain to be made on documenting not just the Libyan crimes but many other sexual assaults in innumerable countries.

A brighter future?

In between this gloomy picture we must applaud the efforts made by the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, first lobbying SC to adopt 1325 and push for its full implementation. In this regard we can salvage some brighter developments.

For instance, 41 countries have adopted a National Actions Plan to implement 1325 and six more are in talks to develop them. In Mali, despite the absence of women in the peace talks and the impunity regarding mass rape, interim President Dioncounda Traoré appointed Mme. Traoré Oumou Touré as the vice-president of the Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission. In Kenya, the negotiations within the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Process launched following the outbreak of electoral violence in 2007 included 33% of women as mediators and another 25% among negotiators.

In Iraq, increasing pressure exerted by activists and the international community resulted in an Electoral Law making mandatory that at least 25 percent of the members of the Council of Representatives must be women. And, even more startling, Rwanda just superseded Sweden as number one in women’s parliamentary representation, with 56.3%.

In a world dominated by men, women are winning battles, but we all cannot afford to lose war.

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