The month in women, peace and security: July 2018

Progress report: Australia’s National Action Plan

The government has released its third progress report on the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2012–2018. The report affirms Australia’s continued leadership in promoting the WPS agenda ‘as an integral part of the international rules-based order’. The government is working on the next action plan, due to be released in the middle of next year. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet held a series of roundtables seeking public comment on a discussion paper. One of the questions put to participants was whether any of the plan’s five pillars (prevention, participation, protection, relief and recovery, and normative) should be given more priority than the others. The Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women Peace and Security has published six issues papers that focus on some of those core themes.

Security Council WPS briefing on the Sahel

The UN Security Council received its first region-specific WPS briefing following the joint African Union – United Nations delegation’s visit to the Sahel. The delegation interviewed women in South Sudan, Chad and Niger, including victims of violence and women working to address violence in their communities, such as female religious leaders. In her remarks to the council, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said that women could be ‘agents of new and necessary approaches’ and emphasised the need ‘to move from frameworks to action’. If it’s to achieve that goal, the Security Council will have to improve—a report by the NGO working group on WPS revealed that, despite some progress, the WPS agenda is still inconsistently implemented.

Somali women’s groups unite for peace

Somali women’s organisations recently resolved to form a united front in the country’s peace and reconciliation efforts. In June, UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo said Somalia is at a critical juncture for unity, peace and development. Michael Keating, UN special representative to Somalia, said that these objectives cannot be realised without women at front and centre. The nationwide women’s peace consultations facilitated dialogue on fostering women’s leadership in communities and government and combating young people’s interest in violent extremism. The forum concluded that there’s a baseline necessity to improve communication networks at the civil society, security sector and women-to-women levels.

Jordan establishes female team for quicker responses

A new all-female unit in Jordan will be trained by female soldiers from the Canadian military. The Jordanian army is establishing a female engagement team to respond quickly to situations in which women can’t be engaged by male soldiers, such as physical body searches. The team may also respond to incidents in Jordan’s refugee camps, where over 140,000 refugees live. Female teams were initially formed on an ad hoc basis by the US military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Progress and setback in gender equality in the South African army

South Africa has stepped up its efforts to recruit women to the military to address gender inequality in its national army. Focused recruitment and the introduction of quotas, among other approaches, has resulted in women now making up almost 24% of South Africa’s full-time forces—a tremendous improvement for post-apartheid South Africa. Despite women taking part in combat roles, perceptions and stereotypes mean that women are viewed as ‘civilians and secondarily soldiers’. Sexualisation of women because of their gender is a major concern as they’re ‘seen as victims’ in need of the protection of male soldiers, rather than as a normal part of the military.

Destroying landmines

In a male-dominated occupation and culture, local female de-miners are stripping the Nagorno-Karabakh region of landmines. In the two decades following the Armenia–Azerbaijan conflict, nearly 400 civilians have been killed by landmines in the region—a third of them children. In 2015, HALO Trust recruited a female team to excavate the area; now, more women are in training. An upcoming documentary, Forgotten Fields, follows these women as they locate, extract and detonate landmines, in a concerted effort to protect and rebuild their nation. Emphasising the necessity of women’s engagement, HALO’s initiative is having a tangible effect on gender attitudes, family stability and economic independence.

Forced foster mothers in El Salvador

Gangs in El Salvador have found another way to exploit women in poor communities by forcing them to foster the children of members who are dead or in jail. Already-struggling women are being saddled with the responsibility of feeding extra mouths, often through intimidation, threat and blackmail. This is bound to have long-term ramifications for the future of these women, who in many cases have been forced to leave work or study to care for the foster children. In the past few months, there have been several reports of persistent violence against El Salvadorian women, including rape, beatings and torture. Last year, the UN special rapporteur on human rights of internally displaced persons, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, called the gang violence crisis ‘a hidden tragedy’ and urged the government increase its efforts to address the problem.