The women, peace and security update

Debate over fitness tests in US Army

With efforts underway in the US Army to re-examine its combat fitness test, Captain Kristen Griest, one of the few women to graduate from US Army Ranger School and the first female US infantry officer, has argued that male and female soldiers should be held to the same fitness standards. Griest contends that different fitness standards for men and women will not only make women question their capability, but also decrease the army’s effectiveness. She says that any test should reassure women that they are qualified to work in combat arms.

The army’s revised combat fitness test was rolled out in 2020; however, some lawmakers in the US Senate have called for a study into the new test, which they argue is based on flawed data given the representation of gender and age in the test phase. They also argue that the test sets unrealistic standards given the breadth of operational requirements for personnel across the army.

The role of female political exclusion in Myanmar’s coup

Garbrille Bardall and Elin Bjarnegard, writing for The Conversation, examine how the exclusion of women in the key stages of Myanmar’s democratic transition contributed to the military coup in early February. They highlight that Myanmar’s important public institutions generally mirrored conservative attitudes and limited women’s political inclusion. Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, for example, states that some positions ‘are suitable for men only’, and 25% of legislative seats and key ministerial positions are subject to appointment by Myanmar’s almost all-male military.

The authors outline the ways in which female political exclusion helped the Myanmar military maintain power over the country. They argue that including women and civil-society organisations in the peace process to de-escalate the country’s civil conflict would have helped foster more sustainable peace, and note that women’s groups contributed new models of collaborative governance by negotiating peace through informal channels to bridge ethnic differences. Women’s rights organisations have sent a clear message: Myanmar’s coup represents a backward step for women and threatens to undo gains made on gender equality and women’s rights.

New program promotes WPS agenda in ASEAN

ASEAN, Canada and UN Women launched a five-year program to advance the women, peace and security agenda. The program aims to develop social cohesion in ASEAN nations and repress violence against women by amplifying female leadership and participation in conflict prevention, resolution and recovery. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender-based violence in conflict areas, including in ASEAN nations, where women’s participation and security remain a concern. Global Affairs Canada has provided funding of US$6.36 million for the program.

Syrian refugee women worst hit by pandemic

Analysis by Jasmin Diab for the London School of Economics has examined the disproportionately high impacts on Syrian refugee women in Lebanon of Covid-19 and the economic fallout of the 2020 Beirut explosion. The more than 1.5 million female Syrian refugees in Lebanon face systematic gender inequalities, leading to an increased risk of gender violence and poor access to resources, services and legal freedoms when compared with their male counterparts. There are debates surrounding Lebanon’s responsibility to vaccinate refugees, who account for a quarter of the country’s population, with the UN urging for the government to vaccinate displaced people.

Cyprus launches its first WPS action plan

Cyprus has commenced its first five-year WPS national action plan. Approved in December, the plan highlights women’s roles in peacekeeping and conflict resolution, and is expected to complement Cyprus’s existing programs in neighbouring conflict zones. Cyprus’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that the plan will be a key part of the country’s bilateral cooperation with other nations, emphasising that women’s equality is essential to sustainable development and regional prosperity.

Covid-19 threatens women’s economic progress in Latin America

A report by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimates that the impacts of Covid-19 could undo a decade of economic progress for Latin American women, with long-reaching effects on women’s autonomy. Despite strong improvements in women’s labour force participation in recent decades, the pandemic has already contributed to a significant increase in women’s unemployment. McKinsey’s Global Institute, quoted in Global Citizen, estimates that women’s jobs are 1.8 more vulnerable than men’s during crises, partly because women are expected to shoulder the burden of childcare and unpaid domestic labour in lockdown conditions.

Houti police official sanctioned for sexual violence

The UN Security Council has voted to impose sanctions on Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin for committing sexual violence. The director of the Houti’s Criminla Investigation Department is accused of systematically arresting, raping and torturing politically active women in Yemen. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, said imposing sanctions sends a clear message from the international community that weaponising sexual violence is considered a crime and will not be tolerated.