UN Should Focus More on Preventing War, Not Making War Safer for Women

1325_logo_v_blue
Oct. 14, 2015 –  In the fifteen years since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace & security, the world has become far more violent and the impact of armed conflict on women is far greater than when the landmark text was adopted.

The Global Study on Resolution 1325, released on Tuesday, notes that peacekeeping, with a $9 billion annual budget, could now be considered the core mandate of the United Nations, whereas back in 2000, the UN “was primarily seen as a development organization.”

It is against this backdrop of increasing militarization since 2001 – which includes the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Syrian conflict, the rise of groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram, alarming reports of sexual violence in South Sudan and Darfur, attacks on school girls, girls schools and female teachers in Afghanistan and the shift of resources away from development to peace operations – that the United Nations is taking stock of its women, peace and security agenda.

The 1325 resolution consists of three pillars – protection of women, participation of women in peace processes, and conflict prevention – and it is the latter that is an increasing focus of civil society advocates. A recent paper from Oxfam notes that Resolution 2122, adopted in 2013, “helped close a gap in interpretation [of Res 1325] that previously focused entirely on the prevention of gender-based violence in conflict, rather than the prevention of conflict itself.” The goal should not be making war safer for women but preventing war.

Advocates are calling for a more holistic approach to the root causes and drivers of conflict which include social and economic inequalities and unequal access to resources and services as well as the structural barriers that are obstacles to women’s participation in conflict prevention, which may include child care, transportation and personal safety.

The Global Study, whose lead author is Radhika Coomoraswamy, former UN envoy for children in armed conflict, states that “prevention and protection through nonviolent means should be emphasized more by the international system, and more resources should be dedicated to this endeavor.”

“If force is used, even for the protection of civilians, there must be clarity and clear, attainable objectives,” it adds. “Conflict prevention and resolution, as practiced today, continues to focus on neutralizing potential spoilers and perpetrators of violence, rather than investing in resources for peace.”

It may be time for the UN to return to making development its core mandate and shifting some of the $9 billion it invests in peacekeeping to investing in preventing conflict.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related Stories:

Security Council Inconsistent on Women, Peace and Security

The UN’s Poor Record on Gender Equality

Security Council Inconsistent on Women, Peace and Security

Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts
Jan 6, 2015 – The Security Council, as well as UN officials and member states, lack commitment to the women, peace and security agenda.

A new policy brief from the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security notes while there has been improvement in some country situations and in thematic agenda items, overall there is “inconsistency in the Council’s discussion of gender…from the information provided by the UN system, to the discussion in the Council, to the action taken and to implementation on the ground.”

Security Council Resolution 1325, which will mark its 15th anniversary this year, recognized the different ways conflict affects men and women and the important roles both have to play in peace and security. In particular, it calls for the participation of women in peace processes, the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, and the prevention of violence against women through gender equality, accountability and justice.

The policy brief, which examines the 2013/14 Council, states that the 15-nation body has not “truly internalized” the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda.

“When considering crisis situations in countries that have peacekeeping or political mandates, the Council rarely addressed WPS concerns… Similarly, briefings from senior UN officials included reference to WPS inconsistently, regardless of the inclusion of WPS in the mandate on which they were briefing,” the paper says.

It adds that while the Council has strengthened the language of several peacekeeping mandates with regard to WPS, this is not matched by financial and human resources. It also says that on-the-ground missions are failing to consult local civil society organizations “despite being well connected and established in their area.”

“Further, there is often a gender-blind approach to civil society engagement; engagement with women’s organizations is not referenced or identified as a priority. Despite some gains, civil society and women human rights defenders are
increasingly targeted, and their rights impinged upon with little official Council recognition of the need for better protective mechanisms,” it says.

While the protection of women in armed conflict is receiving greater attention from the Council, this is still a massive gulf in the number of men and women participating in peace negotiation teams.

Overall the UN system, the Security Council, and all Member States must more consistently address WPS issues across their work in order to meet their obligations, the paper concludes, and it outlines a number of recommendations, including stronger efforts to ensure accountability matched by greater leadership efforts by UN actors, and that Ban Ki-moon’s special envoys and representatives report explicitly on the implementation of the WPS components of their mandates.

Less than 20 percent of the more than 100 personal and special representatives, envoys and advisors appointed by Ban Ki-moon are women while about one-third of his senior cabinet are women.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Related Story: The UN’s Poor Record on Gender Equality

Turkey’s Erdogan on Women Contradicts UN Charter and UDHR

Recep_Tayyip_Erdogan
Nov. 24, 2014 – Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s remarks on Monday that women are not equal to men contradict both the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing,” he told a women’s conference in Istanbul. “It is against nature.”

The preamble of the UN Charter states that, “We the peoples of the United Nations determined… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

Meanwhile, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by Turkey in 1949, declares that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Turkey ranks 69th in the UNDP Gender Equality Index with particular gaps in women’s participation in the workforce, politics, and education. Fourteen percent of Turkish Parliament members are women, or 79 MPs out of 548. with Turkey ranking 96th out of 188 countries for participation in politics according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

As for employment, only 24 percent of Turkish women are employed outside the home, typically in low-paying jobs such as in the textile industry or farming.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Female Genital Mutilation Affecting 3.6M Girls Annually

The 29 Countries Where FGM is Most Common and the Percentage of Girls Affected ©UNICEF

The 29 Countries Where FGM is Most Common and the Percentage of Girls Affected © UNICEF

July 22, 2014 – The number of girls who will undergo female genital mutilation is set to increase by at least 15 percent in the coming decades, data released on Tuesday by the UN children’s agency shows.

The practice of FGM is most common in 29 countries in the Middle East and Africa with some 133 million women and girls living today having undergone the practice, according to UNICEF.

The risks of FGM, which is typically carried out between infancy and the age of 15, include infertility, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn deaths.

“In addition to excruciating pain, cutting can cause girls to bleed profusely,” the agency said. “It may also lead to infections, including HIV, since typically the same unsterilized blade is used for all girls being cut.”

While the practice has been reduced in a number of the 29 countries, 90 percent or more girls born in Egypt, Djibouti, Guinea and Somalia have been cut.

UNICEF projects that by 2050 one in three child births will occur in the 29 countries where FGM is practiced with almost 500 million more women and girls living in those countries than there are today.

The agency projects that if the rate of decline in FGM is maintained, the number of girls affected annually will go from 3.6 million today to 4.1 million in 2050 but if there is no progress it will increase to 6.6 million.

More than half the female population in Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gambia and Egypt think the practice should continue but in 19 of the 29 countries most women and girls think it should end, according to UNICEF’s research.

Prevalence in Somalia stands at 98 percent, where the number of girls and women will more than double by 2050 while in Mali, where prevalence is 89 per cent, the female population will nearly triple.

UNICEF cites Kenya and Tanzania as positive examples – countries where FGM was highly prevalent in 1990, but despite a surge in the number of women and girls born since then, the number who have undergone FGM has declined from 1990 figures.

It says that “finding ways to make hidden attitudes” favoring the abandonment of FGM more visible is key to eliminating the practice.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

The UN’s Poor Record on Gender Equality

The eight UN secretaries-general.

The eight UN secretaries-general.

March 7, 2014 – The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) convenes at the UN’s New York headquarters next week for its annual review of progress the world is making toward gender equality and it will do so in a building where few women are appointed to senior positions and among member states who are often indifferent to women’s rights.

Only 19 of the 108 personal and special representatives, envoys and advisors appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are women. There’s also never been a female secretary-general and the heads of peacekeeping and political affairs have always been men.

The Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1325 in October 2000, the first to address the impact of armed violence on women, called for the participation of women in peace processes, the prevention of violence against women and the protection of women and children during armed conflict. But its application has been uneven, with a greater emphasis on the protection of women and children and far less on its other two pillars.

“Yes, we need to have women protected but just the protection aspect leaves women as victims. Women should be negotiators,” Carolyn Stephenson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, told UN Tribune. “The emphasis of the resolution was equal but in terms of success, the success has been more on the protection. Women need to be protected. Then there’s the ‘women and children’ – one word – are to be protected. Well women and children are very different.”

“It is certainly easier to talk about protecting women than advocating for their participation, in peace negotiations, for example. It fits in well with the popular representation of women as a vulnerable group – women can be outsiders whose protection hinges upon the interest, will and resources of the powers-that-be,” said Soumita Basu, Professor of International Relations at the South Asian University in Delhi, India, in an interview with UN Tribune. “It is harder to open up spaces for greater participation of women within the system, or even more radically, talk about conflict prevention in ways that would challenge the status quo-ist nature of politics that sustains the UNSC.”

According to research conducted by UN Women, of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011, only 4 per cent of signatories, 2.4 per cent of chief mediators, 3.7 percent of witnesses and nine percent of negotiators were women.

The theme of this year’s CSW is achievements and challenges of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. The challenges outweigh the achievements, according to a draft of the outcome document. One positive is that gender parity has been achieved in primary school education, but women are underrepresented in second and third-level education. It also says there are an unacceptably high number of maternal deaths, that the number of women living with HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases is increasing globally since 2001, and that the target for safe sanitation will not be met, with serious implications for women and girls.

Moreover, it says that “several critical gender equality issues were not covered by the MDGs such as violence against women and girls, women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work, women’s equal access to assets and productive resources, the gender wage gap, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and women’s equal participation at all levels of decision-making.”

These are the shortcomings that UN member states and Ban Ki-moon’s panel advising him on the post-2015 agenda will have to address in devising goals to succeed the MDGs in September 2015. Ultimately, it is the 193 member states that has to approve the post-2015 goals.

“Understandably, much of the UN’s work depends on the contributions of its member states and the lack of political will when it comes to women’s issues is widely recognized,” Soumita Basu says. “In spite of this, the women’s agenda has made many important advances since 1945,” she says, citing Resolution 1325 and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“To move forward with this, it is important that the UN takes more seriously the notion that people are central to its work and that women – in all their diversity – are an integral part of this constituency.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Lag on Female Peacekeepers

 June 24, 2013 – Less than four percent of the UN’s 90,551 uniformed peacekeepers deployed in 16 missions throughout the world are women, according to the most recent figures available from the Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations.

These numbers came into focus today as the Security Council debated Resolution 1325, passed in 2000 and which calls for women’s full and equal participation in peacemaking and for an end to sexual violence in conflict. According to the resolution, recruiting more female military or police officers is a means of better protecting the safety and rights of women and girls.

In 2009, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a campaign to increase the number of  women peacekeepers to 20 percent in police units by 2014, and to 10 percent in military contingents.

Those targets are nowhere near being met. Women comprise about 10 percent of UN peacekeeping police units (1,251/12,480) and less than 3 percent of the military contingents (2,259/78,091). 

But the UN is hardly to blame for these numbers as it relies on member states to contribute troops for its peacekeeping missions and, globally, women are under-represented in police and army forces.

Just 7 percent of Delhi’s police force are women and 16 percent of the NYPD’s most recent graduating class were women.

On the military side, women make up about 15 percent of active US army service members, while in Norway, which tops many gender equality indexes, only about 10 percent of the country’s military is female. 

– Denis Fitzgerald

(photo: UN Photo/Saw Lwin)       

Swapped for Sheep – Women and Girls in Afghanistan


The  following are excerpts from a U.N. report released Thursday on the human rights situation in Afghanistan for women and girls. The report was prepared by the human rights division of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

“A 20-year-old pregnant woman set herself on fire in Panjsher province in July 2009. Before she died, she explained to UNAMA HR that she had endured daily beatings from her husband and abuse from her sisters-in-law since her marriage in 2007. On the day of the incident, her husband had accused her of not being virgin on their wedding day. She poured kerosene over herself and set herself alight. She died of her injuries a few days later.

In Nimroz province, in May 2010, a 13-year-old girl died after dousing herself with petrol and setting herself on fire. She had been married when she was 10-years old and reportedly found life with her husband and his family intolerable.

In one case reported to UNAMA HR in Herat province, a 14-year-old girl who was engaged at the age of two and married at 10 to her cousin tried to kill herself four times due to the domestic violence she faced; her cousin refused to grant her a divorce.

In 2007, provincial health authorities in the western city of Herat established a special burns unit. It handles eight to 10 self immolation cases a month, 40 per cent more than in 2009. The doctors estimate there are likely an equal number of cases in the province they do not see, as such incidents occur far from the city, or the victims are left to die. One woman was found by accident 15 days after she had set herself alight; she had been raped by her father-in-law and brother-in-law and wanted to die. The vast majority of victims are women aged 15 to 25; most are poor and illiterate. The doctor in charge of the unit explained, “Forced marriages lead to problems. Young women married to old men, sold, swapped for sheep or even opium. Sometimes girls are engaged to babies.” These women are under pressure from “abusive husbands and equally from women, mainly mothers-in-law. They sometimes go to mullahs and community councils to ask for help, but even there they face humiliation and abuse.”

One woman was found by accident 15 days after she had set herself alight; she had been raped by her father-in-law and brother-in-law and wanted to die.

UNAMA HR investigated an incident in Farah province involving a 14-year-old girl who was abducted and forcibly married when she was 9-years old. The girl said that her father-in-law beat her because she refused to have sex with him. Her husband and mother-in-law also abused her because they believed she engaged in sexual relations with her father-in-law. UNAMA HR officers interviewed the girl and saw that she had two broken fingers and that oil had been poured on her body (allegedly by her father-in-law), her feet had also been burnt (allegedly by her mother-in-law). She also claimed that her husband had tied and hung her by her hands for one night.

In April 2010, the father and brother of a 15-year-old girl from Ghoryan district, Herat province, beat her when she refused to accept a forced marriage. She ran away from home. On the same day, unknown men in a car picked her up, raped her and released her on the street after several hours. An elder reported the incident to the district police who transferred the girl to a safe house for her own protection.

In January 2009, a 20-year-old woman, from Darqad district, Takhar province, who was engaged under baad at the age of four, sought protection from the Department of Women’s Affairs in Taloqan to avoid the forced marriage. After two months, DoWA, facing threats from local community elders and politicians, sent the girl to the district court in Darqad for a decision on the legality of the marriage. As the court session was about to start, a group of some 300 people who supported the forced marriage, attacked the district complex compound, abducted the girl and forcibly took her to her in-laws’ house. All efforts by UNAMA HR to contact the woman failed and her whereabouts remain unknown.

Baad (baad dadan) Giving away a girl or woman in marriage as blood price to settle a conflict over murder or a perceived affront to honour.

In October 2009, a 16-year-old girl from Logar province was forcibly engaged to a 65-year-old man. According to the girl, the man insisted on visiting her at her family home prior to the marriage, claiming that he had given the girl’s father a vast amount of money and was entitled to see her. During this time, the girl called a local radio station and discussed her problem with the male host. She and the male host became friends and continued to call each other. Later they both fled Logar and on their way to Laghman province where they intended to get married, police arrested them in Nangarhar province on charges of zina. The man was convicted to 13 years imprisonment and the girl to five years. The girl was reportedly raped while in detention. UNAMA HR learned that the 65- year-old man demanded another girl in “compensation” and the girl’s father gave his younger daughter, aged 14 or 15, in marriage to the man.

When Aisha was 12 years-old, her father reportedly gave her and her younger sister away in marriage to settle a blood debt; her uncle had allegedly killed a relative of the man Aisha was sent to marry. At the husband’s house, the in-laws housed the girls with the livestock, used them like slaves and beat them frequently for their uncle’s crime. Aisha fled but her husband caught her and sliced off both her ears and her nose as punishment, leaving her bleeding and unconscious. (A man shamed by his wife is said to have lost his nose, so it seems that Aisha was punished in kind.) Aisha managed to survive the attack; Afghan women’s organizations assisted her and eventually she travelled to the USA for reconstructive surgery. Her 10-year-old sister remains in Uruzgan with the abusive in-laws.

In one high-profile case, reported in May 2010, involving two girls aged 13 and 14 from Ghor province who were reportedly forced into a marriage exchange, each girl was given to an elderly man in the others family. The girls’ husbands reportedly beat them when they tried to resist consummating the unions. Police picked up the girls and reportedly returned them to their remote village, where local mullahs and a former warlord publicly flogged them for daring to run away. The case was exposed when a video of the flogging was smuggled out of the district. The two girls were very fortunate, as eventually they were declared divorced and sent home.

Some honour killings seem to have the approval of entire communities. In August 2010 in Bamyan province, a girl died under suspicious circumstances the day after her wedding. The new husband reportedly took the girl back to her father’s house on the wedding night, saying that she was not a virgin. She died in her father’s house the next day. The police informed UNAMA HR that they started an inquiry but threats from local community members prevented them from investigating further. A team that included the head of the provincial criminal investigation department then visited the crime scene, but local people also prevented them from investigating the death. Following this, the authorities have taken no further action.

Police in Jalalabad…arrested and detained a 17-year-old girl when they discovered her alone in a hotel room accusing her of intending to commit adultery (zina). UNAMA HR’s investigation found that the girl had been forced to marry at the age of 13, denied an education, was ill treated by her in-laws and forbidden to leave the house even to visit her own family.

“Forced marriage is not a harmful tradition in our culture. I know my daughter’s best interests and since she does not leave the house, she does not understandthe world and it will not be possible or acceptable for her to choose her own husband. She has no right to select her own husband and I am in the best position to choose for her.” (Interview with male member of Faryab Provincial Council, April 2010)

“If you hit a girl with your hat and she doesn’t fall over, it’s time to marry her.” -saying quoted during discussion with group of Afghan women, Chimtal district, Balkh province, April 2010.

Adolescent pregnancy is one of the leading causes of high maternal mortality. Girls who give birth before the age of 15, at an age when their bodies are not ready for childbirth, are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s.

Afghanistan has the worst maternal mortality rate in the world. It is linked to early marriage, frequent pregnancies, and lack of awareness linked to low levels of literacy, among other factors. This amounts to around 24,000 deaths per year, many of them girls under the age of 18. A child born to a girl under the age of 18 has a 60 per cent greater chance of dying in the first year of life. In Afghanistan, maternal mortality represents ten times more deaths (24,000 per annum) than conflict-related civilian deaths (UNAMA HR recorded 2,412 conflict-related civilian deaths in 2009159).

Early marriage harms not only the girl child but also the infant she bears. Premature birth, low birth weight and poor mental and physical growth are frequent characteristics of babies born to young mothers.

Many women and medical personnel interviewed by UNAMA HR said that child brides often have little or no experience or understanding of how to care for newborn babies. They mentioned incidents where young inexperienced mothers accidentally burned or  suffocated babies…Medical practitioners described to UNAMA HR the gynaecological problems that arise from early sex and childbirth. They include vaginal laceration, ruptured uterus, and urethra-vaginal fistula.

The adult literacy rate for all Afghans over 15 years old is 28 per cent; for women alone it is 12.6 per cent. Girls who marry as children almost never continue with their education...Girls with eight or more years of education are less likely to marry young than girls with zero to three years of school. Compulsory education up until the age of 16 significantly decreases the chances of early marriage.

In 2009, the Khost health department reported a case to UNAMA HR where it admitted to hospital a 17-year-old girl whose father had attempted to cut her throat after she refused to marry a man he had selected. Authorities took no criminal action against the girl’s father, treating the case as a private family dispute.”