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Wars and gender

October 30, 2010

Ten years ago, the UN passed a resolution underscoring the role of women in promoting peace and security. Yet despite the passage of three similar agreements since then, men still hold most of the influence.

Congolese women, rape victims
In places like Congo, women coninue to be victimized by war - despite resolutionsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Following the passage of the groundbreaking Resolution 1325 on Oct. 31, 2000, the United Nations women's fund UNIFEM appointed two women – Elisabeth Rehn, the former Finnish Minister of Defence, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is now president of Liberia – to conduct an independent, expert assessment on "women, war and peace."

Their findings confirmed the central idea at the heart of the resolution: "Without women's representation – without half the population – no country can truly claim to be engaged in democratic development and participatory governance."

Hillary Clinton speaking at the UN
Hillary Clinton pushed through new resolutions - to little availImage: AP

Resolution 1325 was the first to address war's consequences for women, as well as the female role in preventing conflict and securing and building peace.

The Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution a decade ago, marking a turning point in the history of international rights for women. The document called on all UN Member States to develop national action plans to help incorporate women into strategies for security and peace-building.

A Female Voice in Peace Talks

The resolution ensures that women around the world are entitled to a role in peace negotiations. But in many cases, their voices have yet to be heard by parties engaged in conflict.

According to UN statistics, only 7.5 percent of negotiators participating in 22 peace processes since 1992 were female. In 14 talks, only three percent of the signatories to peace deals were women.

Despite those figures, the UN Security Council has continued to stand up for women in conflict zones. On June 19, 2008, Resolution 1820 stated that rape and other forms of sexual violence could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as a constitutive act with respect to genocide.

The resolution was coupled with calls for a "zero-tolerance policy" on sexual abuse by UN staff engaged in peacekeeping and peace-building missions.

Sexual Violence on the Rise

But just a year later, a number of non-governmental organizations noted an increase in sex-related violence in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic. Only rarely were the perpetrators held accountable for their crimes.

UN peacekeepers in blue helmets, in haiti
The number of women civilians - if not troops - has risen in peacekeeping ranksImage: AP

The fact that 30 percent of civilian personnel for UN peacekeeping missions are women can be seen as a breakthrough – and a by-product of both resolutions. Out of 27 peacekeeping operations, five are led by women – a huge success over previous years. Yet women today make up less than three percent of the military.

Backed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the fall of 2009, the UN Security Council once again passed two resolutions, 1888 and 1889. They didn't strike off in any new directions, but they were more concrete than their predecessors. As a result of the resolutions, ex-EU Commissioner Margot Wallstroem, from Sweden, was named Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, a post that aims to fight violence against girls and women.

But it seems that overall the key strategy has been a disaster. Only 19 states have developed and passed a national action plan to enact Resolution 1325. Most countries don't have the money push it through.

More analysis, more money, legal action

Speaking about the strategy recently, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "We have made too little progress." Looking at the horrible violence against women in Congo, where more than 250,000 women have been raped in the past decade, Ban said it was clear the international community was still failing to protect the people who are the most vulnerable.

According to the UN Security Council, more steps are needed to make progress at last when it comes to women, peace and security. These include more financial support for national action plans, systematic information delivery, an analysis of the topic of women in conflicts, and prosecution of those who breach the human rights of women - or who order their rights to be breached in war.

Author: Ulrike Mast-Kirschning (jen)
Editor: Anke Rasper