The month in women, peace and security: August 2019

Samoa holds WPS summit

On 22 and 23 August, New Zealand’s defence ministry and Samoa’s foreign affairs ministry co-hosted a summit on women, peace and security in Apia. Military and police personnel, government officials, academics and civil society members from Pacific island nations, Australia, Canada, France, the US and UK attended. The summit’s goals were to promote women’s roles in security in the Pacific and globally and to discuss the region’s ‘expanded concept of security’ as outlined in the Pacific Island Forum’s 2018 Boe Declaration.

Samoa’s deputy prime minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, said the role of women and traditional village systems in Pacific island communities should be acknowledged in all aspects of the peace and security agenda. She noted that villages are the first line of defence against crime and natural disasters, and are crucial in maintaining a resilient peace in the Pacific. Fiame reflected on the old Samoan saying O le tama’ita’i ole malu o le aiga (‘Women are protectors of families’) to highlight the longstanding role women have played in the security of the region.

NZ launches Pacific Defence Gender Network

New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark launched the Pacific Defence Gender Network at the WPS summit in Apia. The network will operate on a foundation of inclusion and collaboration to ‘promote gender equality in regional defence forces while encouraging men to become champions and advocates’ for women in defence. The network will work in tandem with the Women’s Advisory Network, established in 2003 by Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police, to encourage women into leadership roles.

Celebrating the WPS agenda’s 20th anniversary with action

As the WPS agenda nears its 20th anniversary, Donald Steinberg suggests the way to ‘truly celebrate’ the milestone would be to ‘take a hardline approach’. He argues that progress on implementing UN resolution 1325 has been slow and sporadic, and that a key factor has been the resolution’s language, which ‘encourages, urges, [and] requests actions rather than demanding them’. However, Steinberg says adopting a new resolution would be problematic and could result in a loss of support from UN members due to increasing levels of authoritarianism.

Countries are failing to implement weapons treaty’s gender provisions

Susan Hutchinson has examined the Arms Trade Treaty’s articles on weapons that facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence. Despite the treaty’s legally binding nature, Hutchinson argues that countries still aren’t meeting its provisions. She uses Australia as an example of current processes failing to comply with the treaty. Despite ratifying the treaty, the Australian government doesn’t consider gender-based violence when assessing applications for defence export permits.

Women’s safety in India highlighted

On 15 August, India celebrated its 73rd independence day. Despite the country’s overall progress, Shruti Rajagopalan argues that Indian women today are still struggling to achieve independence themselves. Rajagopalan highlights how the concept of public safety and security differs for men and women. The many issues Indian women face, including harassment, sexual assault and violence, restrict their ability to occupy physical space in the same way men do. Rajagopalan says better enforcement of legal rules is needed to bring about change.

Celebrating women in humanitarian roles

On 19 August, the UN celebrated the 10th World Humanitarian Day. This year’s campaign recognised ‘#WomenHumanitarians’ and the role they play in fostering peace and security, with women often ‘the first to respond and the last to leave’ when a crisis hits their communities. As part of the campaign, the UN shared the stories of 24 women over a 24-hour period, highlighting the diverse nature of their humanitarian work.

Unlocking the potential of refugee women in the workforce

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the International Rescue Committee have released a report titled Unlocking refugee women’s potential. Focusing on the untapped economic and societal value of refugee women, the authors conclude that gainfully employed refugee women could ‘contribute to global GDP by at least $5 billion and as much as $1.4 trillion’. The beneficiaries of that extra economic activity would be not only the women themselves, but their host countries too.

Using the WPS agenda to uncover crimes against the environment

Benjamin Duerr has examined how the WPS agenda can inform efforts to make ‘crimes against the Earth visible’. He argues that crimes against the environment in times of conflict are viewed in the same way that crimes against women were viewed before the advent of the WPS agenda, ‘as collateral damage and as an inevitable consequence of war’. He notes that a key lesson to take from the success of the WPS agenda is that if the environment is recognised as needing and being entitled to protection, at least it becomes a ‘part of the discourse’ from which change can happen.

Countering negative narratives on women’s military participation

Vanessa Newby has written for The Strategist on the need to normalise the participation of women in militaries—particularly in Western democracies—with few women staying in the military and advancing their careers over the long term. One of the issues Newby notes is the lack of relevant research and evidence about women’s performance in the military and the history of women’s participation in warfighting. She argues that bolstering research in this area could counter negative narratives about women’s suitability for combat, and provide a better understanding of the positive contributions women make in military roles.

Moving on from ‘manels’

The Washington Post has published a five-part series on the gender gap in political science. The fifth and final article considers the absence of female experts on foreign policy panels in Washington. The authors found that, women comprised 34% of experts on foreign policy panels in 2018, and many were moderators rather than speakers.