The month in women, peace and security: December 2018

‘New authoritarians’ undermine women’s rights

The Atlantic has examined how leaders including US President Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte have manipulated the role and position of women in society to bolster their positions of power. Exploring trends across multiple regions, author Peter Beinart shows how women’s rights deteriorate under the ‘new authoritarians’, who portray women’s empowerment as a threat to the natural order of things.

Rewriting wartime history

Japan’s most prominent English newspaper, the Japan Times, is replacing certain terms with other phrases—for example, ‘forced laborers’ with ‘wartime laborers’ and ‘comfort women’ with ‘women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers’—that arguably downplay the culpability of Japanese forces in World War II. These issues continue to strain Japan’s relations with countries like South Korea, and some analysts argue that altering the descriptors used alters history, buries atrocities and deflects responsibility.

Moving on from ‘men with guns’ in Myanmar peace talks

Gender activists in Myanmar are campaigning for the inclusion of more women in the country’s peace process to increase the likelihood of its success. Attendees at a recent conference for women of ethnic political parties in the country emphasised that it’s important to strengthen the role of political parties and civil society organisations in negotiations often dominated by ‘men with guns’. Women from minority backgrounds suffer most from conflict in Myanmar, and the marginalisation of their voices only adds to their trauma.

WPS for space security

A Space News opinion piece advocates adopting a gender perspective in the analysis of space security. Joan Johnson-Freese and Sahana Dharmapuri argue that the WPS agenda’s emphasis on cooperation through dialogue, engagement and consultative mechanisms offers more sustainable options for peace in space when compared to realist, zero-sum perspectives.

Women to take on more roles in India’s military

India is looking to increase the number of women in noncombat roles in its army. The proposed intake will allow women to be trained as officers and join the military police. Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat told graduates that women will play a greater role in the information warfare domain as cyber specialists and interpreters but that the army wasn’t yet ready to have women serve in combat roles.

US trains gender advisers

The US Joint Staff and US Southern Command have conducted their second gender adviser course, which focuses on integrating gender perspectives into military operations. According to Southern Command’s commander, Admiral Craig Faller, integrating gender perspectives in the military will increase its operational effectiveness. Graduates of the program are qualified to serve as gender advisers on operations and exercises.

Peace talks give hope in Yemen

For the first time since 2016, Yemen’s warring parties have held peace talks. With greater international attention on the protracted conflict and interest from major players in discussing its end, there’s growing optimism that a resolution may be reached. However, women continue to be overlooked in the peace process, raising concerns that any agreement will be unsustainable.

Cultivating talent in Ghana

The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping and Training Centre has introduced a training program for women in leadership positions in Ghana. The centre’s deputy, Irvine Aryeetey, says the initiative will provide women with opportunities to expand their knowledge in the security sector and hone their leadership skills. The three-day workshop was supported by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and attended by representatives of various African governments, regional organisations and civil society groups.

Fighting social taboos and climate change in Syria

The ‘Yalla Let’s Bike’ movement in Syria is breaking down gender barriers and helping to address climate change by teaching women to ride and making the city of Damascus more bicycle friendly. In Syria, it’s taboo for women to ride bikes, but driving and public transport are increasingly slow due to checkpoints. Since the initiative started in 2014, 4,000 women have participated in events and now 40% of bicycle buyers are women. Lobbying from the group has also resulted in 10 kilometres of bike paths being built in Damascus, which previously had none. Yalla Let’s Bike received a 2018 UN climate action award in September.

‘Table banking’ gives Kenyan women financial empowerment

Women in Kenya’s slums are gaining financial security through so-called table banking groups. The women in the groups save and invest together and can access loans from the pooled funds. One of the groups also started a day care centre after realising that affordable childcare was a major barrier to women’s employment. It’s well known that economic empowerment for women is crucial to gender equality.

Best and worst judicial decisions for gender equality named

Women’s Link Worldwide has announced the winners of its ‘Gender Justice Uncovered’ awards, which recognise judicial decisions that promote gender equality with gavels and those that negatively affect it with bludgeons. The 2018 gold gavel winner was the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its ruling that Mali’s family code violated international law. The Central Criminal Court of Omdurman was awarded the golden bludgeon for its decision to give the death sentence to a 19-year-old in Sudan who killed her husband in self-defence.

Time for a ‘positive disruption’ in diplomacy

In Broad Agenda, Griffith University scholar Elise Stephenson touches upon the difficulties faced by LGBTI women in male-dominated corridors of power, especially in countries where homophobia is prevalent. She argues that diversity in leadership ‘lowers interstate violence, builds collaboration and consensus, and delivers greater success in peace and security negotiations’. Overall, diversity in ‘gender and sexuality, as well as ethnicity and ability’, may have a positively disruptive effect on diplomacy.

Feminism and international law

The London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace and Security hosted the launch of ‘A feminist international law of peace and security’, a research project that seeks to investigate the merits of applying a feminist perspective to international law in furthering disarmament and promoting peace. Click here for the podcast.

Women, peace and security masterclass

In February, ASPI will host a one-day masterclass examining the challenges facing the global WPS agenda. Participants will hear from a range of specialists, including the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, Clare Hutchinson. Click here to register.