The month in women, peace and security: August 2017

Populism and WPS

The recent populist surge, as seen in Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and the electoral gains of the far right in much of Europe, exhibits a rising global conservatism. The reversion to traditional roles could be a threat to the WPS agenda. But Laura Shepherd, associate professor of international relations at UNSW, proposes a ‘different kind of populism’ and an opportunity for the WPS agenda. She argues that populism’s urge to breakdown the distinction between elites and non-elites should be channelled to stimulate recognition of the ‘everyday peace and security actors’ who are so important in implementing the WPS agenda. The women peace activists at the coalface ‘are the peace and security experts to whom we should pay heed’, she says. 

Pakistan—greater female presence in policing 

Pakistan has appointed its first female police chief in Khyber Paktunkhwa province, where women make up less than 10% of the police force. Rizwana Hameed believes her presence at the police station has encouraged more women to come forward and report problems that they otherwise would not have revealed, and may even contribute to more women joining the police force in the future. Hameed’s appointment and the impact on the community highlights the importance of having a gender balance in security roles to ensure that all members of the community feel safe to communicate their grievances.

Townsville—female leadership in defence and community

The inaugural North Queensland Defence Women’s Leadership Forum was held earlier this month, featuring influential women from the defence and community sectors, such as Major General Kathryn Toohey and Mayor Jenny Hill. The 3rd Brigade and the Townsville Business Women’s Circle have made it their aim to increase cooperation between defence and community, particularly to ‘decrease barriers for women in the workforce’ by discussing ‘opportunities for leadership and mentoring’.

Gender and conflict resolution

In a recent article, Catherine Turner of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy has called for increased representation of women in conflict mediation. The call comes in response to persistently low rates of women’s involvement in peacebuilding and peacemaking, despite international commitments to bolster women’s roles. Catherine provides five recommendations for nation-states and NGOs to address this imbalance, including that they move away from exclusively focusing on empowering women at the local level during ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard’ peacebuilding work, and that they recast the role of ‘mediator’ to better fit women’s contributions.

Breaking down barriers in Africa

The 2017 Africa Endeavor exercise had the highest number of female participants in the 11-year history of the event, with 16 out of 40 nations sending women to take part. Africa Endeavor is a communications training exercise run by US AFRICOM that helps to build relationships between African nations and enhance security. US AFRICOM’s gender adviser says that increased female representation in events such as Africa Endeavor helps shape attitudes and beliefs surrounding women’s participation in the military and contributes to breaking down stereotypes about women in the military for both US and African participants’.

Indonesian women and countering violent extremism

In a brief released by Monash University, Jacqui True and Sri Eddyono examine the role of women in countering violent extremism. The pilot study, which included interviews with 100 Indonesian women, showed that due to familial and social roles, women are often well placed to identify early signs of violent extremism. For example, the research showed that gender-based violence is a warning sign for extremism, and that gender equality has proven a successful counter-discourse to extremist ideologies. Despite the potential of women in countering violent extremism, there is currently no framework or mechanism in Southeast Asia to facilitate their involvement.

Justice for ISIL victims

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report examining the challenges faced by the thousands of women and girls who have been subjected to conflict-related sexual violence by ISIL. The report contains policy recommendations for the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government on numerous issues related to women who lived under ISIL control. These include willful and forced marriages, rape and enslavement, reprisals, health care and pregnancy, and children.

Addressing sexual exploitation and abuse

Earlier this month, Australian Jane Connors was appointed as the first UN rights advocate for victims of sexual exploitation. Ms Connors is currently the International Advocacy Director, Law and Policy, for Amnesty International in Geneva and previously worked at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The appointment fulfils a commitment by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to ensure that victims are at the forefront of efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse. Further analysis on other needed UN reforms to deal with this problem is provided in a new report by Jeni Whalan for the International Peace Institute. As the UN secretary-general’s report on the issue in March 2017 noted, increasing the number of women in UN activities will assist with efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Islamic State women in combat roles

While most women who join the Islamic State go into traditional gender roles, several stories suggest that a small number have also joined the front line (see, for example, the case of Linda Wenzel, reported on in last month’s WPS wrap). Some women have conducted suicide attacks, which are yet to be claimed by IS though, or joined the all-female Al-Khansa brigade. Jennifer Philippa Eggert from the University of Warwick argues that ‘external security pressures’ can drive even extremely gender-restrictive groups to allow women to participate in combat roles. The CTC Sentinel also features an in-depth look at female combatants in IS and the recent observations of changing roles of women on IS territory.

September read

If you’re still unsure of what to pick as your spring (or autumn) read, The unwomanly face of war by Svetlana Alexievich has finally been published uncensored for the first time. The Belarusian Nobel Prize for Literature laureate from 2015 presents oral histories of Russian women who fought in World War II. By focusing on a group whose role is often neglected, the book contributes to the discourse on women in combat.