The month in women, peace and security: September 2017

Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017

The Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 has passed both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. President Trump signed the bipartisan legislation into law last Friday. This historic legislation makes it a core priority of US diplomatic, development and military engagement to include women in preventing and resolving conflicts. The act was five years in the making. The need for action is obvious—between 1992 and 2011, only 9% of negotiators at official peace talks were women.

One year on in Colombia

A year after the peace agreement was negotiated between the FARC rebels and Colombia’s government, the peace process is still in its infancy. The international women’s human rights organisation MADRE interviewed Colombian women and girls on what peace means to them. The seven short clips show varying opinions: for Yisel, peace is the feeling of walking safely on the streets; for Heidy, peace is a ‘society that cares for the safety and well-being of land, women, and girls’; and for Nimia it means having access to food.

WPS action in the Pacific

A meeting of Pacific Islands Forum leaders and members of the EU has resulted in the signing of a new financing agreement that will help combat gender inequality. The €13 million in funding will be used to promote and safeguard equal opportunities and improve services for women who have experienced abuse, in order to combat the high personal, social and economic cost of gender inequality.

The Samoan Red Cross Society (SRCS) has been recognised for its commitment to promoting the WPS agenda through humanitarian assistance programs. SRCS is ensuring that women play an active role in disaster relief. A UN representative has noted that it’s crucial that women ‘are at the decision-making table during disaster response—especially in a region with high levels of gender inequality’.

Washington Post interview on gender and conflict

The Washington Post conducted a fantastic interview with two academics on a forthcoming special issue of Conflict Management and Peace Science on gender and political violence. Assistant professor Sarah Shair-Rosenfield and associate professor Kelly Kadera discuss the importance of challenging academic conventions, the difficulties of obtaining high-quality data, and the challenges faced in bridging the gap between academia and policy.

Breaking the (glass) ceiling

The first female officer graduated from the US Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course (IOC) and is now qualified to lead an infantry platoon. The IOC is known as ‘one of the Corps’ toughest schools’ and first ‘opened all military occupational specialties to women in April 2016’. The graduate wishes to remain anonymous, but some video footage of her during training has been released.

For more inspiration and role models, check out TIME’s special project ‘Firsts’, which features powerful women who were the first in their respective industries. Among them are Ann Dunwoody (the first woman to become a four-star general in the US Army) and Lori Robinson (the first woman to lead a top-tier US Combat Command).

This piece by Dr Aisling Swaine highlights the importance of the recent adoption of General Recommendation 35 by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and details the connection between gender and violence in conflict and non-conflict settings.

A movement in India to criminalise marital rape has attracted significant controversy. Government lawyers are saying that it would increase the possibility of harassment directed toward husbands. The petitioners argue that the current law allows men ‘to violate the sexual autonomy of [their] own lawfully wedded wife’, but the government contends that rape is subjective, saying that ‘what may appear to be marital rape to an individual wife may not appear so to others’. There are still 10 countries in which marital rape is protected by law, giving perpetrators a loophole to escape prosecution if they marry their victims.

UN agencies unite to provide services for women in Pakistan

Four UN agencies have come together to provide important services for women in Pakistan who have experienced violence based on their gender. The services will not just act as a band aid for victims, but will address ‘the root causes of violence, to bring about women[’s] empowerment and gender equality’. As part of the Essential Services Programme, women will have access to a range of social, judicial and health services.

Women’s life under ISIS

With the self-proclaimed caliphate crumbling, ISIS supporters are fleeing the former strongholds in Iraq and Syria, which for many means ending up in detention camps or jail. Among them are several women who migrated from their home countries to the conflict zone. An article in Syria Deeply sheds light on the contrasting experiences of these women: some are disillusioned, while others still believe in the cause. German magazine Der Spiegel has published a long feature on a young woman in a detention camp who regrets joining ISIS and wants to return home.

Sexual violence by peacekeepers

The darker side of peacekeeping was in the spotlight in September. The Associated Press released a shocking story that details personal accounts of sexual violence by peacekeepers in the Congo, and the resulting poverty imposed on the victims and their children. In an article in Africa Independent, Azad Essa maintains that additional training for peacekeepers isn’t the answer, and that the real problem with the force is a culture of ‘militarized masculinity’. Paul Donovan from New York NGO Aids Free World argued that it’s time for the idea of peacekeeping to be revisited, interrogated and reconsidered.

As part of the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hosted a high-level meeting in New York on sexual exploitation and abuse. The aim of the meeting was to highlight existing UN approaches to address sexual exploitation and abuse as well as to seek further policy suggestions. The president of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajcak, also delivered a statement on the matter.

Female victims suffering oppressors’ fate

News Deeply has produced some interesting insights into the lives of women imprisoned in Yemen and Syria, many of whom are wrongly incarcerated and must endure horrific living conditions. In this piece, UN Population Fund communication analyst Fahmia al-Fotih, who has met many of the women imprisoned in Yemen, describes some of the horrors she has seen and heard. Several of the women who have been convicted are actually the victims not the perpetrators, but an unfair system and lack of gender equality have decided their fate. This article considers the ongoing psychological effects of incarceration on Syrian women after their release from detention. Female prisoners are seen to have ‘brought disgrace on their families, particularly because of the stigma associated with sexual assault’.