Australia’s efforts for women, peace and security require 360-degree monitoring
15 Nov 2016|

Image courtesy of Flickr user UN Women.

Late last month, the United Nations Security Council held their annual open debate on women, peace and security (WPS). 80 representatives spoke, 72 of whom were representatives of member states. The president of the Security Council called on representatives to focus their statements on the progress achieved in implementing commitments made last year for the 15th anniversary of UNSCR 1325.

The WPS agenda is based on eight UN Security Council Resolutions. The first of those resolutions, UNSCR 1325, which passed on 31 October 2000, acknowledged that men and women experience conflict differently. It required women’s protection from the effects of violence (particularly sexual violence); and their participation in the prevention, mitigation, resolution and recovery from conflict. Since then, subsequent resolutions have gone into detail about a range of activities including peace negotiations; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration; security sector reform; the rule of law; and countering violent extremism.

In this year’s debate, Australia’s Ambassador to the UN, Gillian Bird, reported on research by Monash University into the role women play in combatting extremism so we can better understand how to tap into their valuable experiences. She also spoke of other concrete commitments, including support for the Global Acceleration Instrument facilitating grassroots women’s participation in peace processes.

In closing, the Ambassador stated that ‘to sustain peace we must include women; not just in our words, but in our actions.’ This sentiment was echoed by Germany’s representative, who articulated that ‘the shortcomings in the implementation of the women and peace and security framework are due not to a lack of words, but to a lack of action.’

Australia’s National Action Plan (NAP) on WPS expires in 2018. It’s a whole-of-government policy document, coordinated by the Office for Women in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Attorney General’s Department, Australian Civil–Military Centre, the AFP, DFAT and the Department of Defence all have responsibility for its implementation.

Outside of government, a range of non-government organisations like World Vision, the Red Cross, ActionAid and Care implement a range of programs within the WPS agenda. It’s largely due to the advocacy of organisations like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom that Australia even has a NAP. Community groups like Diaspora Action Australia localise the agenda, and academics from a range of universities undertake research that can be used to inform policy.

Australia’s NAP is flexible enough to address some of the peace and security challenges we currently face. However, more work needs to be done to mainstream the agenda and implement it in our foreign policy, peace and security operations.

Situations in our near neighbourhood—Bougainville and Myanmar—require close scrutiny with the WPS agenda in mind, as do conflicts that are further afield, such as Iraq and Syria.

In Bougainville, women are key peacemakers. As their independence referendum draws nearer and negotiations on the reopening of the Panguna copper mine continue, we must heed the voices of women to prevent a resurgence of conflict.

In Myanmar, the Army uses rape as a tactic of war, particularly against minority ethnic groups, blatantly ignoring Security Council Resolution 2106. Australia is simultaneously normalising its relations with Myanmar and increasing its WPS activities in Australia’s Defence Cooperation Program. It’s paramount that Burmese military personnel are proactively screened for allegations of sexual violence before being included in training and education opportunities and the Defence Cooperation Program.

In Syria and Iraq, gendered war crimes have driven the conflict with Daesh. There’s an unprecedented opportunity to end impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict. Rape is being used as a tactic of war, as a constituent of genocide and in crimes against humanity. More than 30,000 foreign fighters that swelled the ranks of Daesh and other extremist organisations in Iraq and Syria last year. In countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity are outlawed in domestic legislation.  Finland and Sweden have already bought cases against their nationals.

In Australia, genocide is outlawed under the Genocide Convention Act of 1949. War crimes are criminal offences under the Geneva Conventions Act and the War Crimes Act which have been incorporated in Division 268 of the Criminal Code Act. Over 100 Australians have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with Daesh and other extremist groups. Investigations and prosecutions need to be bought against Australians who have perpetrated these crimes.

Australia has made great strides in implementing the WPS agenda since it launched its first NAP back in 2012. While actions such as provision of gender advisors throughout the Australian Defence Force are a notable advance, implementation of the agenda isn’t just about applying a general gender perspective. It requires consideration of the design and conduct of activities such as security sector reform, disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and the rule of law.

The key failing of the Australian NAP is monitoring and evaluation. Civil society is currently considering the recommendations it will make to government on the process and content of the next NAP. No doubt they will call for a good monitoring and evaluation framework. It will need to  incorporate pre-existing evaluation processes across government and integrate new frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals and General Recommendation 30 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. In so doing, it’ll ensure WPS is included in standard operating procedures for all government departments responsible for the specific activities outlined in the Security Council resolutions.