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How should Australia’s WPS National Action Plan tackle terrorism?

Posted By on March 29, 2017 @ 10:00

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This article is part of a series on ‘Women, Peace and Security’ that The Strategist is publishing in recognition of International Women’s Day 2017.

Julie Bishop’s new aid policy framework [1] which seeks to include countering violent extremism (CVE) programs across Australia’s foreign aid development projects is a welcome step in the right direction.

The framework directly refers to the roles women play in ‘perpetuating and/or preventing violent extremism [2]’, after much international debate on how gender can be used to tackle aspects of terrorism (see UNSCR 2242 [3], and the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism [4]).

We now need to consider whether integrating counterterrorism (CT) and CVE in Australia’s forthcoming National Action Plan could add real value. The complexity of CT/CVE operations domestically and internationally and their varying objectives and practices means that a successful integration into the NAP would only be achieved through a careful, highly nuanced, approach.

A recent global study [5] conducted by the UN indicates that development and human rights practitioners are wary about integrating WPS and CT/CVE. This stems from the hard security practices (military operations and intelligence) within which CT strategy is rooted, which some practitioners consider incongruous with the rest of the WPS strategy.

Laura Shepherd has further highlighted, the considerable challenges to successfully integrating CT/CVE with WPS [6]. At an operational level, CVE practitioners may not have appropriate levels of gender training. At a conceptual level, incorporating CT/CVE practices within a framework to empower women within their communities might lead to contradictory practices being developed that could negatively impact the broad WPS and CVE agendas.

For example, the UN study’s recommendations on how to integrate CVE within WPS says all ‘capacity building should be through civilian agencies [7], far removed from military processes. This approach has been hotly debated between peacebuilding and security professionals. The latter aren’t convinced that such a soft approach is appropriate when dealing with issues of national security while the former argue that counter-terrorism frameworks are confusingly positioned somewhere between police operations and warfare [8], which may contribute towards compromising both women’s rights and human rights.

Clearly both arguments raise valid issues, but Bishop’s comments demonstrate that lessons should be taken from both approaches. I have argued that CVE in Australia would benefit from a re-focus that distances itself from CT operations [9]. In the same way, I would suggest that a NAP should separate the two agendas to avoid confusing their very different objectives.

CT in the NAP should be addressed separately from CVE as it can be seen as a vehicle that uses women in international communities to advance security operations. CT operations need to be highly sensitive to situations on the ground, prioritising long-term solutions rather than immediate transformation.

CVE should be approached through a nation building agenda [8] rather than under a CT strategy. Engaging civil society appropriately will incorporate varied strategies across sectors including development, healthcare, education and law enforcement. Women are already highly organised and engaged in these fields, and their existing participation, autonomy and leadership in such areas would greatly benefit CVE operations. The framework of the NAP would need to be able to reflect the diversity within different international communities when tackling CVE or CT.

The NAP has been criticised [10] in the past for its approach to monitoring and evaluation processes. If CVE/CT were to be integrated, issues of accountability, transparency and efficiency with regard to WPS and CT/CVE must be adequately monitored and measured in accordance with specific guidelines and objectives. If this doesn’t happen, this could exacerbate conditions which can produce terrorism or violent extremism.

The Foreign Minister’s commitment to re-focusing CVE is welcome, and her mission to cultivate a cross-sector approach will hopefully prove beneficial. At present, ‘many initiatives incorporating women within CVE remain haphazard and simplistic, resulting in ill-equipped and poorly resourced program structures [9]’ that neither benefit gender equality nor help counter violent extremism.

Although the NAP could be a good vehicle to help move CVE away from security-oriented policies, the challenges of untangling processes from existing CT/security led initiatives could be complex and difficult. It must be carefully thought through.

In its own words, the NAP is ‘a living document that will provide ongoing guidance to inform the work and policies of Australian Government agencies and departments. [11]’ It would be timely to integrate CT and CVE within it, but it will take time and careful training of practitioners. Unless we get it right, it might do more harm than good.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australias-wps-national-action-plan-tackle-terrorism/

URLs in this post:

[1] new aid policy framework: http://dfat.gov.au/aid/topics/development-issues/Pages/development-approaches-to-countering-violent-extremism.aspx

[2] perpetuating and/or preventing violent extremism: http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Pages/development-approaches-to-countering-violent-extremism.aspx

[3] UNSCR 2242: http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_res_2242.pdf

[4] Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/70/674

[5] global study: http://wps.unwomen.org/about/

[6] considerable challenges to successfully integrating CT/CVE with WPS: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/role-wps-agenda-countering-violent-extremism/

[7] capacity building should be through civilian agencies: http://wps.unwomen.org/resources/

[8] positioned somewhere between police operations and warfare: http://wps.unwomen.org/cve/

[9] CVE in Australia would benefit from a re-focus that distances itself from CT operations: https://www.aspi.org.au/publications/the-sultanate-of-women-exploring-female-roles-in-perpetrating-and-preventing-violent-extremism

[10] criticised: https://www.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/nap-interim-review-report.pdf

[11] a living document that will provide ongoing guidance to inform the work and policies of Australian Government agencies and departments.: https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/05_2012/aus_nap_on_women_2012_2018.pdf

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