WPS 2018: Defence’s commitment to women, peace and security

This article is the first in a series on ‘Women, Peace and Security’ that The Strategist will publish over coming weeks in recognition of International Women’s Day 2018. Eds.

Women and children suffer disproportionately in wars and during civil instability before and after conflicts. A conscious effort to create and enforce clear and specific protective and preventative measures is needed to secure them from harm.

But women are vastly under-represented in peace negotiations, the formulation of security initiatives, and in programs of peace and security enhancement, enforcement, compliance and verification. This fundamentally lessens the likelihood of the long-term success of peace and stability operations. Significant work is required to promote female participation in operations and peace negotiations, and to include in our planning and calculations a perspective that accounts for the needs of women and children.

We need only look as far as the mass kidnappings of girls from schools in Africa to be used as sex slaves and hostages by the Boko Haram terrorist group. We know the horror stories of mass rape during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the Rwanda genocide and at the hands of Daesh in Iraq.

The ‘forces of good’ also have cause to hang their heads, as we recall known cases of UN and military forces, as well as of charitable aid organisations, exploiting women and children for sexual purposes. The genuine success of our peace, security and humanitarian intervention operations goes beyond simply dealing with the ‘enemy holding the guns’. We must do more than that, and we must do better.

The value of women’s participation was clear in the Northern Ireland peace process, particularly in the Good Friday Agreement. Much closer to home was the role of women’s groups in Bougainville before, during and after the Lincoln and Burnham Accords, and in other peace negotiations since.

Clear-eyed peace and stability operations have as an objective the restoration of the whole of society’s fabric, and that relies on formal and informal peace and restorative justice processes. Women, being half of the population, are central to that and have a strong focus on the survival of their families, their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers.

Studies of micro-finance and micro-credit consistently tell us that the small-community economic activity of women injects stability and assurance into the life of the broader society. Ensuring the formal involvement of women and their perspectives simply makes sense if we want viable and durable peace and security.

Australia’s military approach to implementing the WPS agenda includes all four components: prevention, protection, perspective and participation.

In Afghanistan, an Australia senior gender adviser embedded at the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission headquarters currently leads a team of advisers from coalition partners to ensure that women have meaningful participation in their defence and security forces.

This includes developing recruitment and career progression plans and providing a gender perspective on all planning and activities in the mission. It’s a fact of life in Afghanistan that men cannot enter a woman’s home if her husband isn’t present. If women aren’t serving in Afghan military and security forces, then Afghanistan’s government can’t ensure the security of the population and neither can it safely carry out counter-terrorism operations.

Engaging women in peace and reconciliation efforts is well understood by the leadership in Afghanistan, and President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and I discussed the progress being made during our meeting in Kabul in February. The First Lady of Afghanistan, Mrs Rula Ghani, is empowering Afghan women—urban and rural—including through her leadership of an annual symposium on women and peace. Afghanistan has used international support in its efforts to restore the fabric of society after the brutalisation of the Taliban.

An example is the dramatic increase in female school enrolments, from around one million in 2001, none of whom were girls, to over nine million today, of whom around 40% are girls. This is a truly remarkable achievement, and one that Australia is proud to have supported through our aid program. To sustain female participation in the Afghan security forces, Australia has supported female-centric facilities at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, and female-specific facilities for the Afghan Air Force in Kabul.

In Iraq, Australia provided the first gender adviser to the counter-Daesh coalition in October 2017 to help return female participation in its security forces to pre-2003 norms of around 8%, or 100,000 women. Increasing female participation will increase operational effectiveness and build trust with civil communities.

The ravages of Daesh control of Iraqi territory have been devastating for women. Daesh murdered men and boys they saw as threats, and sold women and girls to fund their campaign and to exert control over communities. The security environment in many Iraqi provinces remains challenging. Families, many now headed by women, face a return to homes without basic services, the risk of bombs hidden by Daesh, communal tensions and reprisal attacks. Any durable restoration of social cohesion and peace must take into account the perspectives of women, especially those who now head their households, and must actively foster the participation of women in formal and informal peace processes.

The recruitment of female police officers has already made a difference. In Diyala province, the Daughters of Iraq supplement security forces at both government buildings and check points. This program gives women who’ve lost family members to violence the opportunity to make a living while increasing security. These female security officers are trained alongside female soldiers and learn search techniques to find contraband and to detect improvised bombs. This increases female participation in community self-protection security programs while contributing to peace and security measures.

Closer to home, the Women in Pacific Defence Forces Seminar was held late last year as part of a program to integrate a gender perspective into the region’s peace and security efforts, and to strengthen female military participation in conflict prevention and resolution. The seminar included defence force officers and senior non-commissioned officers from Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Chile, New Zealand and Australia, and was a direct outcome of the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting, of which Australia is an active member.

Indonesia and Australia co-chair the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting—Plus experts’ working group on peacekeeping operations. At its most recent conference in Canberra in October 2017, I emphasised that women are critical to improving the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping missions, and the experts group continues to draw up practical ways to include women in peace operations decision-making, conflict prevention and resolution.

I am committed to ensuring that the Defence portion of Australia’s National WPS Action Plan generates practical, realistic and attainable objectives for the ADF. This will ensure our contributions to humanitarian operations, regional stability and security operations, and combat operations demonstrate world’s best practice for the protection of women and children; the prevention of harm; the inclusion of women’s perspectives on operational, peace, and security plans and activities; and the participation of women in peace processes, negotiations and agreements.

In this way, fragile and tentative steps towards stability and recovery will have a durable and dependable impact on whole societies.