“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict.” Major General Patrick Cammaert, former UN Peacekeeping Operation Commander in DRC.
Enraged by this, one delegate challenged the NGO to collate this evidence to build a criminal case against the perpetrators and hold them accountable. This would prevent further horrors. The NGOs response was that their funding had been cut to such an extent that this was simply not possible. Mary Robinson and many others are convinced that holding perpetrators accountable for such actions is far more affective in addressing and eradicating gender based violence in conflict than simply fire-fighting and living with the consequences of shattered societies.
According to the Irish Joint Consortium on Gender based Violence, up to 90% of causalities in contemporary conflict are civilians, most of them women and children. Violence against them is often sexualised. Peace brings scant relief. Crime rates and violence against women and girls soars after war as returning combatants inflict their trauma and frustration on them. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, it is estimated by the UN that over 200,000 women have been raped since the beginning of the war.
Dr. Thelma Awori is a consultant on gender and development and a board member of a number of prominent African civil society organizations. She says, “Women continue to pay a heavy price in both conflicts and post-conflict situations around the world. Too many women have become shocking statistics of one horror or another, be it rape in Eastern Congo; acid thrown in the faces of girls walking to school in Afghanistan; impunity for crimes against women in conflict-affected countries. When women stand up and make their voices heard in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconciliation they often face security risks, they are denied seats at the table, and are excluded from planning and resources that determine their futures.”
Women, so often the victims of conflict, have little input into its resolution. One in forty peace negotiations have a woman present and, according to www.unifem.org, just 2.5% of signatories to peace agreements have been women. Although many post-conflict countries now have much improved female representation in government, unequal participation in parliament, civil society and business means that women’s voices are largely absent.
After listening to the experiences and perspectives of women from conflict zones, the UN unanimously adopted Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000. This resolution addresses the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognizes that the contribution women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building is significantly undervalued. The UN has called for equal and full participation from women as active agents in achieving peace and security and has officially endorsed the active participation of civil society groups, in particular woman’s organizations, in peace processes and peace talks. A key element is the call for an end to impunity in relation to conflict-related violence against women.
All nation states, including Ireland, whether they are affected by conflict or attempting to resolve it, must now implement the resolution and are legally obliged to take responsibility in four key areas in relation to women, peace and security.
- The protection of women and girls during conflict
- The participation of women in decision making in relation to prevention, management and resolution of conflict.
- The inclusion of gender perspectives in conflict analysis and training of military and civilian personnel in peacekeeping. (Women account for just 5.7% of the Irish permanent defence forces and just 2.5% of peacekeepers serving in conflict regions worldwide are women according to the UN. Yet, these women perform a vital role in winning the trust of local civilian women who are more likely to report gender based violence to them)
- Gender mainstreaming in the UN implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889
A high level task force of UN heads of agencies is progressing the implementation of resolution 1325 along with the Civil Society Advisory Group, co-chaired by Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and Bineta Drop, Executive Director, Femmes Africa Solidarité.
Mary Robinson was in Dublin in her role as special advisor to the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence. The consortium is comprised of 16 bodies, including human rights, humanitarian and development organisations, together with Irish Aid and the Defence Forces and is charged with formulating Ireland’s implementation plan (due by March 2011). In the midst of our deepening crisis it may seem that Ireland has little to offer the rest of the world in any respect. Yet there are areas in which we are still well regarded and one of these is conflict resolution. Ireland has a role to play in a wider EU context as one of a handful of countries developing an implementation plan.
As a northern European nation with a recent history of conflict, a close connection with NGOs operating in the worst conflict zones and a respected peace-keeping role we are uniquely placed to help rebuild some of the most damaged societies on the planet. The focus in achieving this has now been place firmly on the experience and role of women in the process. Joint Consortium Chairperson and Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O’ Gorman, is certain that “Ireland can play a key role in working to eliminate gender-based violence”. Our plan will be the result of a long, complex and “unique globally” process requiring “civil society and the state to work together.” The final stage involves consultations with women living in Ireland who have been affected by conflict and whose experiences and opinions will feed into our final plan.
The Irish plan is not being developed in isolation. We have a unique opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and avoid the pitfall of implementation deficit disorder. Mary Robinson believes that, “Ireland is well positioned to prepare an exemplary plan”. We are in a position to draw on our recent experience of conflict on the island of Ireland. But, in addition, there is now a strong working relationship between a number of government departments and NGOs on the issue of gender-based violence. This can be leveraged to produce a strong and effective plan that protects women in conflict and gives them a meaningful role in conflict resolution”, she adds. A strong plan alone is not sufficient. Colm O’Gorman stresses the importance of incorporating an effective mechanism for monitoring and evaluation into the process.
Sitting alongside Mary Robinson yesterday was Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She spoke of the role of Resolution 1325 in “establishing a context to put women into the picture for peace and security issues” and views the initiative as an integral part of a wider plan to tackle sexual violence. The adoption of the resolution amounts to a clear admission that not enough was being done to eradicate what is still “a tactic in most areas of conflict”. Margot Wallström stresses that, “this is not a women’s issue rather a security and human rights issue and one relevant to wider society”. She believes that, “It is vitally important that Ireland gets its plan right. Having a plan would greatly bolster Ireland’s human rights record and, by involving the widest range of stakeholders and putting in place strong monitoring, the plan would be very significant in advancing the protection of women in conflict.”
The five point agenda adopted by the UN in this respect and reflected in any plan focuses on: fighting impunity; empowering and supporting women to move from being victims to becoming agents for change; mobilising leaders; deepening our knowledge of the incidence and effects of sexual violence in conflict; and co-ordinating and harmonising UN efforts to tackle and prevent such actions. Mary Robinson wants to see the Security Council “use all of the tools available to it – naming & shaming, freezing assets, sanctions, visa bans – to implement policy”.
This is a two-way process and Ireland can benefit hugely from participation. As Colm O’Gorman eloquently puts it, “Ireland is very progressive when we are out in the wider world. What is it that stops us translating those values back into our own society?” Mary Robinson emphasises the importance of treating our involvement as a “cross-learning process”. Ireland has already participated in a ground-breaking cross learning initiative on women, peace and security with representatives from Liberia and Timor–Leste, chaired by Baroness Nuala O’Loan, first Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland.
Ireland should look to Liberia and other African nations such as Rwanda when it comes to gender representation in government too. Mary Robinson passionately describes a meeting in the Angie Brooks centre in Liberia where she witnessed “the expectant enthusiastic faces of young women who wanted desperately to be involved in the political process”. Their participation makes a difference. Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has pledged to tackle the scourge of rape using new legislation that came into force the day after her inauguration in 2006. “I know of the struggle because I have been a part of it,” she said. “I recall the inhumanity of confinement, the terror of attempted rape.”
Little value is placed on women in many conflict and post-conflict zones. Rape and sexual violence are often treated as the lowest crime on a scale of war horrors that puts death and torture at the top. There is no link made between the perpetration of these acts and the way in which they impede the building of a working, healthy society. Any economic consequences are disregarded. When soldiers in DRC were asked what they felt the cost of raping a woman was they answered perhaps the loss of a goat or a few days in prison. For this reason Margot Wallström is keen to measure the economic impact of intergenerational rape and sexual violence. Women, often the backbone of an economy, become totally depressed and are impeded from assuming their traditional coping role. Peacekeepers are now advised to assume rape and be watchful for the early warning signals. Although prepared to report the rape of children, many women are still too ashamed or disillusioned to report their own experiences. Resources can also be thin on the ground. Liberia has asked for help in developing an anti-rape campaign. Finally, attitudes have to change. In the past “enticement” was too often considered a legitimate defence.
This shift in focus has already produced results and Margot Wallström attributes the arrests of a number of players on charges of perpetrating and facilitating such crimes to the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions. Change is essential. Dr Thelma Awori is adamant that “communities rebuilding after conflict cannot afford to omit more than 50% of their population in these efforts. To do so would mean institutionalizing inequality and that is a recipe for further conflict and instability.” There is still a long road to travel but by developing and implementing a strong, workable and measurable plan Ireland has an opportunity to help create a better and fairer world.