The month in women, peace and security: April 2018

The security challenge of conflict-related sexual violence

The UN Security Council (UNSC) debated strategies for preventing and reducing conflict-related sexual violence in its annual debate on the issue  last month. Speakers addressed structural discrimination and cultures of impunity. The debate followed the release of the Secretary-General’s 2017 report into conflict-related sexual violence, which noted that the reporting period featured some positive aspects, such as the liberation or escape of women and girls held by armed groups. However, this raised fears related to the stigmatisation of, and further violence against, escapees. The Security Council’s consideration of this topic recognises that conflict-related sexual violence is an ongoing security challenge, fuelling displacement, undermining governance and imperilling long-term stability.

Myanmar and the crisis of the Rohingya

The UN Secretary-General’s report also found that sexual violence continued to be used to secure control of land and resources. Razia Sultana, the first Rohingya ever to brief the UNSC, spoke to this point. She said member states that are serious about reducing conflict-related sexual violence must not turn a blind eye to the issue in order to pursue trade opportunities. The criticism coincided with the UN’s blacklisting of Myanmar’s military for crimes against the Rohingya, including its threat and use of sexual violence as a strategic tool of terror.

Education ending violence against women in India

Protesters have taken to the streets in Kashmir, outside the White House and across the globe over systemic sexual violence in Kashmir. The rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim nomad girl in the disputed area drew attention to the use of rape as a weapon in the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan—in this case Hindu rapists targeted the girl in an attempt to terrorise the Muslim nomads into leaving. Similarly, female genital mutilation remains rife in India, to such an extent that the Indian government demanded that the country’s Supreme Court ‘step in and issue directions’ to stop the practice. India has since tightened its laws on sexual violence. However, Sivananthi Thanenthiran offers a different means to address India’s violence epidemic: comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). While the UN Population Fund already uses CSE in India, there’s still an immensely long way to go.

Education, conflict and Malala’s homecoming

Malala Yousafzai has also given visibility to the consequences of conflict on the education of children, particularly that of girls. This month Malala travelled to Pakistan for the first time since she was shot by a Taliban gunman five years ago. Following Malala’s visit to her hometown, Brookings raised questions about the extent to which education can help combat extremism.

A tour du monde in women, peace and security

It has been well demonstrated that increasing women’s participation in peacebuilding processes improves the chances of creating lasting peace. The sharing of best practices on how to better incorporate gender perspectives into peace agreements is an important tool to understand what methods are most effective. Monash GPS has launched a new tool that maps gender provisions in peace agreements around the world, providing an overview of both the constraints that women face—such as displacement and social conservatism—and the factors that enable their greater participation, such as a strong women’s civil society and activism. More details can be found in this policy brief by Katrina Lee-Koo and Jacqui True. Being able to track and see what countries around the world are doing provides an avenue to increase accountability to the women, peace and security agenda.

Agents of change

Video footage of Iranian morality police assaulting a woman because her hijab only loosely covered her hair has sparked outrage and ignited a new public debate around the requirement for women to cover themselves in public. Women face up to two months in jail and fines equivalent to US$25 for showing their hair in public in Iran. Two women were sentenced to a year in prison for participating in protests in February against the compulsory wearing of the hijab.

Women have proven themselves time and time again as agents for change across the Middle East, from marching against water shortages in Iran to participating in the Libyan rebellion. Having been denied a political voice in post-Qaddafi Libya, female veterans are forming dozens of private aid agencies and arguing ‘that the country’s development cannot be attained as long as the choices and contributions of women—half of society—are restricted and obstructed’.

Double standards and exceptionalism

On the front line, merely integrating women into the infantry is no panacea for resolving wider gender disparities in the armed forces. Contradictory expectations of women plague policy. All-female Engagement and Cultural Support Teams recognise the unique capabilities that women bring to the armed forces, but they put women in a double bind: women must be exceptional to be equal to men in the armed forces. Any perceived failure in the eyes of the military would be further anecdotal evidence that women don’t belong. Similar frustrations emerge in this candid discussion in which retired Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano examines gendered expectations and ‘exceptional women’ in the US Marine Corps.

Media distorts women’s potential in the military

This piece in The Conversation explores another way that women’s contributions to the military are distorted and contradicted, this time by the media. Analysis of Australian reporting finds that the vast majority of journalism about female ADF personnel documented instances of gendered violence. Depicting women in relation to crimes committed against them reinforces ideas that women don’t belong in the military, covertly sexualises them and denies their agency. So, to avoid reproducing these same shortcomings, here’s a nice wrap-up of the (mostly) good news on women in combat.