The month in women, peace and security: May 2018

Sexual violence in Myanmar

Researchers at Monash University have compiled a new ‘Preventing mass sexual violence in Asia–Pacific’ dataset, which documents reports of sexual violence and gender-based violence across the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Based on the dataset, Sara Davies and Jacqui True argue that the sexual violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya was entirely predictable: sexual violence occurs just before and during periods of heightened conflict intensity.

This interview with Razia Sultana, a human rights lawyer and activist, provides a candid discussion about the widespread sexual violence perpetrated by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya population. From atrocities committed in conflict, to the need for protections across the border in Bangladesh, to the delivery of retributive (and restorative) justice, the situation is desperate. Sultana argues that the international community needs to urgently pressure the Myanmar government for more information. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ annual report on sexual violence in conflict similarly urges unfettered access of human rights monitors, and identifies the Myanmar military as a perpetrator of sexual violence for the first time.

El Salvador’s gender-based violence

El Salvador’s President Sanchez Ceren called for ‘forceful’ actions to address violence against women. El Salvador has one of the highest rates of femicide globally, with 154 women murdered in the first four months of this year alone—up 21% from last year. In part, gang violence is to blame. But US border policies are also disproportionately affecting women’s security in Latin America. The situation is likely to become more dire as US Attorney General Jeff Sessions works to overturn protections for victims of domestic violence who seek asylum in the US.

Women and violent extremism

Worldwide, countries face dilemmas to prevent violent extremism. A paper by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism showed that imprisonment or capital punishment can lead to further radicalisation. But other solutions may reflect a male-oriented approach to preventing and countering violent extremism. The need to integrate gender perspectives in efforts to counter violent extremism has become apparent in the last few years as concerns about terrorism have put a spotlight on the relationship between terrorism policies and gender.

ASPI’s Sofia Patel wrote last week that the current approaches don’t sufficiently address the variety of roles women play in extremism. In addition, they rely heavily on traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, and discount the different roles women and men occupy in particular communities. And Rebecca Turkington notes in this article for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security that reintegration programs tend to neglect the female experiences of extremism and radicalisation—despite women representing ‘up to 20% of Western recruits to Islamic State’ and Boko Haram using ‘female suicide bombers at unprecedented levels’.

Susan Hutchinson analyses some of the gaps in Australia’s approach for Broad Agenda by examining the implications of the Surabaya bombings, where an entire family—including two daughters—carried out coordinated suicide attacks. She argues that preventing such attacks will require comprehensive social policies that reflect women’s participation in communities.

These analyses came just as the Iraqi courts sentenced 15 women to death for their involvement with Islamic State. They join the dozens of other women who have met a similar fate. Many of the women received 10-minute hearings, and described being forced to come to the Islamic State by relatives. Others remained avowedly pro-IS, belying dominant narratives of ‘brainwashed jihadi brides’.

Protests in Gaza

A quick search for Gaza in the news is dominated by gendered images: Palestinian men protesting, while women weep for their buried children or treat the wounded ‘near’ the battlefield. But Palestinian women have a significant presence as militant activists. According to Reuters, at least 250 women have been injured in the protests to date in the so-called Women’s March of Gaza.

Female leaders and women’s rights across the Arab world

A record number of women participated in Iraq’s general election on 12 May, with 2,592 women standing for office. The campaigns of some candidates drew the ire of some of Iraq’s conservative groups, forcing the UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Iraq to issue a statement condemning harassment of female candidates who have faced ‘death threats, harassment and cyberbullying with one aim—to undermine their engagement in the political process, and further shrink their political space.’ Despite the widespread intimidation, 19 women were elected to parliament.

Souad Abderrahim became the first female mayor of Tunis. The elevation of a woman to the position comes at a time of great change for Tunisian women. Legislation passed last year outlawed domestic rape, repealed a ‘marry your rapist’ law that allowed a rapist to marry his victim in order to lessen his sentence, and recommended opening shelters and facilities to protect women in domestic violence emergencies. The New York Times explores how the lives of women have changed in the months since the laws were introduced.

Syrian war transforms women’s roles

A new report, Idlib lives: the untold story of heroes, documents the remarkable efforts of civil society in Idlib, Syria. Many of the informal civil initiatives are run by women, who since the war have taken up leadership and sole-provider roles. Articles in the Guardian and Defense One provide an interesting glimpse into women leading the way in civil society and the workforce amid the Syrian conflict—from White Helmets leadership, to public servants, to store managers.

The UN is also adapting its facilities to target women’s access to job opportunities. Around 60% of Syrian refugees currently attending UN courses in Şanliurfa, Turkey, are women—which is an incredible number given that women made up only 13% of the workforce before the war started.

Practise what you preach

While multilateral institutions say they want to give women a voice in peacebuilding processes, traditional male-dominated cultures in many of these organisations can often sideline women’s participation. Female staffers in the African Union publicly condemned the organisation for prejudice against women, arguing that its leaders paid only lip service to the mandate of gender equality. They focused particularly on the Peace and Security Commission. The African Union’s deputy chair promised an investigation following the revelations, but some staffers have argued the investigation ‘risks becoming nothing more than “window dressing”’.

Women’s participation in international security

CSIS’s annual Future Strategy Forum confronts the barriers to participation of female scholars and practitioners in international security by featuring an all-women line-up. Its inaugural conference on the Future of Force canvasses the perspectives of 25 experts working as scholars, practitioners, policymakers and activists. If you’re interested in US foreign policy and the changing nature of warfare, you can watch the full conference here.

ASPI’s inaugural Women in Defence and Security speed mentoring event held on 10 May also showcased and shared the experiences of many prominent women in the field. Check out some insights from the night here and here.