The work program for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) identifies the following as a theme area in 2004:
'Women's equal participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and in post-conflict peace-building.'
A United Nations’ Experts Group will examine the issue and report to CSW in October this year. The Group’s report will then set the framework for an issues paper to be discussed at the meeting in New York (1-12 March 2004). One of the aims of CSW 48 will be to produce an ‘Agreed Conclusions’ document which will outline current and emerging issues, and make recommendations and strategies for governments, the international community and general society to adopt.
The purpose of this paper is to facilitate discussion of the CSW issue amongst the women’s sector and to encourage comments to be forwarded to OSW. Women’s views will be taken into account as part of the Office of the Status of Women’s (OSW) preparation for CSW 48.
Formal and informal peace processes
Peace processes comprise a range of informal and formal activities. Women are active in informal activities but are seldom included in the formal processes. Formal processes include early warning, preventative diplomacy, conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace-building, and global disarmament. Activities cover conflict resolution, peace negotiations, reconciliation, reconstruction of infrastructure and humanitarian aid. Key actors involved in these include political leaders, the military, international organisations and regional and sub-regional organisations. OSW is preparing a ‘peace process’ map outlining the various informal and formal processes and the key stages for integrating gender issues at the international, regional and domestic levels.
Some key issues relating to women’s participation in formal processes are outlined below.
- Women are not generally represented among decision-makers and military leaders in societies that are affected by conflict.
- Women are significantly under-represented in formal peace negotiations including as local participants representing warring factions and as representatives of international authorities that oversee or mediate deliberations and institutions invited to the negotiating table. Very few women are appointed as Special Representatives, Special Envoys or regional directors in peace missions.
- Participation in formal processes generally requires specific skills and access to resources and institutional support. Women’s capacity for effective participation is often limited because many women do not have these.
- Women traditionally excluded from decision-making can become more actively involved in formal peace processes with support from local and international actors.
- Issues of concern to women often do not reach the negotiating table, in part because of their limited participation in formal peace negotiations.
UN’s role on the issue of women and armed conflict
- The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which specified women and armed conflict as one of the twelve critical areas of concern which required strategic action by governments, the international community and civil society.
- In 1998, CSW produced resolutions on the twelve critical areas of concern, including women and armed conflict. The resolution called on governments, international organisations and civil society to take action to address the needs of women affected by armed conflict, increase the participation of women in peacekeeping, post conflict decision-making, preventing conflict, and promoting a culture of peace and disarmament.
- In October 2000, the Security Council held a session on Women, Peace and Security, and adopted resolution 1325. It called for a number of actions to increase the participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution, including a study on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace building and the gender dimensions of the peace processes and conflict resolution. Some examples of how the resolution has been implemented include:
- In 2000, the UN department of peacekeeping operations undertook a project on developing operational tools and mechanisms to mainstream gender in peace operations. The project was part of ECOSOC agreed conclusions on gender mainstreaming but also contributed to the implementation of Resolution 1325.
- A UN study on women and armed conflict was submitted to the Secretary General in 2002 and reported to the Security Council. Australia contributed a substantial amount of funding to the study.
- In 2002, UNIFEM produced a publication “Progress of the World’s Women” with a theme of Women, Peace and Security. Two independent experts carried out a global assessment of the impact of conflict on women, and grass roots initiatives by women.
- The UN Commission on Human Rights has a Special Rapporteur mandated with the task of reporting on violence against women. The Rapporteur has reported on violence against women during conflicts in Sierra Leone, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other UN bodies have had special representatives report on internally displaced people, and children in armed conflict. The Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations reviews gender mainstreaming and gender balance issues.
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Impact of armed conflict on women and the role of women in peace processes
Background information on the impact of armed conflict on women and the important role that women can play in peace processes is attached.
Some areas of the peace process where women can be involved
Women are significantly under-represented in formalised peace and rebuilding processes including negotiations, peace accords and reconstruction plans. Women often comprise a very small proportion of participants in the various conflict resolution and peacekeeping forums. In countries affected by conflicts, women are often marginalised and their contributions under-valued. Women are not necessarily passive participants, but are strong contributors and potential leaders with expertise in assisting with conflict resolution and reconstruction. Women are poorly represented in delegations to the United Nations and other international forums.
Responsibility lies in part with countries to identify and nominate qualified and capable women to sit on negotiations at national, regional and international levels. If women aren’t at the negotiating table, then it is difficult to integrate their interests and concerns into discussions. There have been calls for the Security Council to set an example by having female representatives (Ethiopia’s request in 2000).
Women seldom play a role in peace negotiations or peace operations at any level. There are currently no women acting as the United Nation’s Secretary-General’s Special Rapporteurs or Envoys. Women have not been involved in sufficient numbers in peace keeping operational and field based duties – as observers, civilian police and human rights personnel. Generally, women play a less visible role during the conflict and are then denied an opportunity to participation in peace discussions. Peace negotiations are conducted by individuals representing the armed forces and government representatives. In the post-conflict phase, the formal systems of government tends to exclude women in reconstruction and peace building activities.
There is considerable scope for women to have greater involvement in international law and enforcement mechanisms, at the national and international levels. International institutions that aim to prevent conflict, and protect women’s human rights provide important avenues for women’s involvement. The International Criminal Court is required to have a minimum number of female judges on its bench. The International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone all recognise gender dimensions of crimes within their jurisdictions. There are also opportunities for women to participate in greater numbers in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations.
Obstacles to increasing women’s participation
Key barriers that limit the participation of women are outlined below.
- Discriminatory attitudes and practices continue to disadvantage women and adversely affect their opportunities to participate in leadership and decision-making. Negative gender stereotyping of women, including through the media, persist and these reinforce the tendency for men to be predominantly nominated and selected for decision-making bodies.
- The traditional working patterns of leadership and decision-making bodies continues to act as a barrier to women’s participation. Participation in decision-making in the areas of conflict resolution and peacekeeping can often be difficult for women with family responsibilities. The UN system has ‘unfamily friendly’ hours (often working up to 4 am) and participation on peackeeping bodies frequently involves travel with long periods away from home.
- Many participants in formal peace processes have negative attitudes towards women’s involvement and have expectations that all participants should have a knowledge of international legal standards and United Nation’s protocols and terminology.
- There is a lack of women’s networks, female role models and critical mass of women (sufficient numbers of women, generally considered to be around 25 per cent) in decision-making bodies.
- Some highly qualified women have expertise in their particular field but do not have qualifications or experience in formal decision-making structures. International institutions and other high level decision-making bodies are typically male dominated with environments that are hostile and unfamiliar for many women.
- The marginalisation of women in many societies affected by conflicts including their significant under-representation in politics and the defence forces severely limits their capacity to participate in decision-making.
- While gender mainstreaming policies have been introduced in many countries and in international institutions, difficulties have continued with their implementation. The lack of resources and political commitment are key problem areas.
- Limited data is available on the representation of women in key decision-making bodies including in the areas of peace-keeping and conflict resolution. This lack of transparency can make governments and international institutions less accountable and removes pressure from them.
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While the participation of women in peace processes is an important objective, it is not a panacea to the problems that affect women in relation to conflict resolution and rebuilding. Sometimes the goal of increasing women’s representation can mask other important issues.
- The presence of women in peace processes is not a guarantee that gender equality issues will be placed on the peace agenda. Many women participants do not understand gender issues or may not advocate women’s issues.
- Many representatives of UN and regional bodies involved in peace processes do not understand gender issues and do not consult gender specialists. Gender perspectives have not been integrated into these bodies including systems to collect sex-disaggregated information.
- Minimal research has been undertaken on the potential impact of gender perspectives on peace processes. Information is not available on the ways the incorporation of gender perspectives has affected formal peace processes including preventative diplomacy and peace-building.
- Substantial efforts have been made to increase women’s involvement in decision-making in the post-conflict situation in Afghanistan. These included: UN activities to encourage Afghan parties to include women delegates in peace negotiations; the creation of a ministry for women’s affairs; and activities that ensured the participation of more than 200 women in the emergency general assembly established to elect the transitional government.
- There have been calls for the United Nations to set a quota for 50 per cent of its positions to be filled by women. While the Secretary-General has given support to this goal, the United Nations does not have a mandate to actively fulfil the goal. Some governments have established targets and other affirmative active measures to increase women’s representation on decision-making bodies and delegations.
- Networking mechanisms and women’s registers have been established in several countries to help build women’s confidence, skills and contacts.
- Resolution 1325 is an example of gender mainstreaming policy in this area. A group called Friends of Women, Peace and Security (Friends of 1325) was set up to promote support for the resolution. However, efforts need to be maintained to ensure its effective implementation.
- Various UN bodies and countries’ aid programs have funded community education or training projects to increase women’s capacity to participate in formal decision-making.
Women’s groups have indicated a strong interest in the need for strategies to be developed that:
- promote a culture of peace and preventative diplomacy;
- tackle a culture of violence against women in times of conflict and peace;
- provide capacity building opportunities to help women acquire the expertise required to participate in formal peace processes;
- promote the efforts of women who have participated in peace and rebuilding processes; and
- support women’s organisations in conflict zones and help them to become part of new political structures.
Key areas for discussion
The following questions may provide a starting point for discussions.
- Do women’s groups believe this is an important issue that requires greater attention and action?
- Are women’s groups in Australia working on this issue? Are you aware of other work in this area?
- What are the problems facing women’s participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution processes and post-conflict peacebuilding?
- What do you see are the best avenues for getting more women involved?
- How can women make the transition from participating in informal processes into formal processes?
- How can women exert greater influence through their informal activities?
- Do you have concerns about women playing an increasing role in armed conflicts as increasing numbers of women are employed in the armed forces including in frontline combat?
- What do you think are the most important issues and problems that Australia should focus on during negotiations on this at CSW 48?
- What do you think are the best strategies for tackling these problems (that should be included in the Agreed Conclusions statement)?
- Do you think more attention should be given to other mechanisms to ensure that gender issues are addressed during peace processes, besides increasing women’s representation? Do you think that the Agreed Conclusions statement should note the importance of these other avenues?
How will this information be used?
These consultations will provide useful background information for OSW and the Australian Delegation to CSW 48. The Delegation will participate in negotiations to develop the Agreed Conclusions document (see page 1) consistent with Australian Government policies. The Delegation will also meet informally with government delegates and women’s groups about activities in their respective countries.
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- Beijing Plus Five fact sheet on armed conflict. (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/followup/session/presskit/fs5.htm).
- Beijing Plus Five critical area of concern. (www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/armed.htm).
- Commission on the Status of Women agreed conclusion on women and armed conflict. (www.un.org/documents/ecosoc/docs/1998/e1998-27.htm).
- UN study 'Women, Peace and Security' PDF [1MB]. (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/eWPS.pdf)
- UN Secretary-General’s report on women, peace and security (s/2002/1154). (www.un.org).
- UNIFEM study (2002) 'Women, War and Peace'- to to resources page. (www.unifem.org).
- Olsson, L & Tryggestad, T ed (2001) Women and International Peacekeeping.
- Wehner, M & Denoon, D ed (2001) Without a Gun: Australians Experiences Monitoring Peace in Bougainville, 1997-2001.
Impact of armed conflict on women and the role of women in peace processes
The world has seen an increase in armed conflict and a change in the nature of armed conflict since the creation of the UN in 1945. In recent years, 90% of conflict casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are women. Proliferation of arms, growth of militias and an increase in internal conflicts as opposed to external ones are all characteristics of modern conflict. Increasingly, civilians outnumber military casualties, not always as a by-product of conflict, but as targets either by direct force or by withdrawal of food, water and services, internal displacement, and sexual violence.
The escalation of sexual crimes during conflict has made women and girls particularly vulnerable. Gender-based violence included systemic rape, trafficking, sexual slavery, abuse, abduction, forced pregnancy, forced abortions, acts of sexual violence, and intentional spreading of sexually transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS. Violence suffered during conflict continues to affect the lives of women through ongoing trauma, isolation, and social ostracism. This results in increased female mortality rates.
Sexual crimes against women during conflict can be used as a military instrument to degrade women, their men and the community as a whole, and are seen as an effective way to attack a society’s culture.
The scarcity of resources (land, food, water and energy) and access to clean resources (including sanitation) disproportionately affects women especially when men are absent during or after conflict. Women’s social roles in many societies can limit their mobility and therefore increase their vulnerability to attack. Women constitute a disproportionate amount of displaced civilians (up to 80 per cent).
The daily responsibilities on women during and after conflict often become onerous. When men are fighting, in exile or killed, women inevitably become the main providers. Increased responsibilities can sometimes result in an increase in status and power. This role, however, tends to be transitory. When conflict ceases, women’s role often changes back to the traditional role they play in society. This can lead to additional stress for women.
Why should women be involved in peacekeeping and conflict resolution?
Women play an important role in grass roots levels to advocate against conflict, manage during conflict and to rebuild society (economically/culturally/socially) after conflict. However, this involvement rarely equates to participation at higher levels through negotiation of peace instruments. Women’s role in society is still primarily a caring one. Women’s participation in formal peacekeeping and reconstruction processes helps ensure that issues affecting women and children are effectively addressed. This benefits the whole society and increases the chances of long-term stability and economic and social recovery.
There are increasing calls to integrate women into all levels of the peace process, and some arguments to support this include:
- It will lead to improvement in the design of solutions to conflict that will be effective at community level and produce a lasting, durable peace. If 50 per cent of the population isn’t involved in designing processes to keep peace then the solutions are unlikely to be effective.
- The lack of women in peace keeping and operational roles can send a message to the local community that it is a male run operation. This can create barriers for local women and prevent them approaching peace keepers. Good relations with the local community are essential for effective peace-keeping as they allow easier flow of information between peacekeepers and civilians, and also lead to better security for both groups. Reflections of one female peace monitor in Bougainville noted that the local women came to her to voice their opinions and not her male colleagues. The women were extremely active in facilitating contact and discussion between disputing factions and galvanising the peace, however did not feel comfortable dealing with male peace-keepers.
- Women tend to have strong networks and an effective ability to raise public awareness about issues through the community.
- Women have reported that humanitarian aid programs need to promote gender equality and self-reliance for women as opposed to a humanitarian welfare system of reliance. Women seek an investment in a country’s future as opposed to a short-term crisis fix, and they want a gender dimension in the planning, design and implementation of humanitarian assistance.
- Women’s active involvement in peace negotiations and rebuilding processes can result in the inclusion of gender equality into new constitutional, judicial and electoral structures.