The women, peace and security update

WPS potential in great-power rivalry

Pacific Forum has released an Issues and Insights report outlining how Australia and the US can utilise the women, peace and security agenda as an ‘edge’ in their strategic competition with China. The report explains how WPS can be utilised as both a capability multiplier and security apparatus in deterring and preparing for conflict.

The report argues that China doesn’t fully utilise ‘the advantages women offer to security’, and that the US and Australia should widen their ‘advantage gap’ over China in this area. It specifies that both nations should increase women’s participation within security communities to utilise the ‘margins of excellence they can offer’ and use existing equality-focused development work as a contrast to China’s methods of exerting influence in the Indo-Pacific.

While the report supports women’s leadership, participation and gender equality, its focused framing of WPS as a security apparatus in global competition stands in some contrast to the broader WPS agenda and its overarching focus on peace and conflict prevention.

Sexual and gender-based violence in Kenyan politics

This London School of Economics WPS article examines the link between sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and the desire to gain or retain political power in Kenya. In December, the High Court of Kenya ruled in favour of four female survivors of violence following the country’s 2007 general election. The court found that the Kenyan government failed to effectively investigate and prosecute SGBV crimes, and that there were significant barriers to survivors seeking accountability for these crimes during times of political unrest.

Author Tchérina Jerolon explains that since Kenya adopted a ‘two-thirds’ gender rule in its 2010 constitution, female politicians have experienced unprecedented levels of violence during elections, largely motivated by opposition to the quota policy. She argues that while Kenya’s 2020–2024 WPS action plan recognises the increase in ‘more aggressive electoral processes not conducive to the effective participation of women’, it doesn’t explicitly highlight how political violence targets women in particular or make any suggestions to address it.

To prevent normalising election-related violence against Kenyan women, Jerolon recommends that the violence be officially recognised and its root causes identified and prevented, including dismantling the unequal power relations between men and women in the country.

New sexual violence prosecution act for US Military

The Military Justice Improvement and Prevention Act, a bipartisan bill brought to the US Senate on 29 April, reportedly has enough votes to pass. If passed, the act would introduce legislation to reform the traditional military judicial system on sexual violence, helping to address the longstanding issue of sexual assault in the US military. According to the latest report from the US Department of Defense, the rate of the sexual violence in the military rose nearly 40% between the 2016 and 2018 US financial years. Yet, these numbers don’t fully reflect reality. In 2018, 76% of victims chose not to report incidents of sexual violence because of high rates of retaliation from within chains of command and the increased risk of being discharged after filing a complaint.

The bill aims not only to improve the reporting system for sexual violence, but also increase prevention actions. It recommends the military withdraw commanders from roles as prosecutors in cases of sexual assault in order to put survivors in a safer position to speak against perpetrators. In addition, it requires the department to take passive security measures like installing cameras and locks, as well as proactive measures like using education and training to prevent sexual violence.

Facilitating uniformed women’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations

The UN’s Elsie Initiative Fund is providing finance designed to increase the participation of uniformed women in peacekeeping operations. Liberia, Mexico, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone will be the first five countries to receive funding and they are conducting assessments to identify systemic barriers to women’s deployment to international peace operations. The fund was launched in 2019 to increase the number of uniformed women serving as UN peacekeepers, which at the time was just over 5%. The five selected countries are implementing initiatives including gender equality strategies, targeted campaigns and maintaining rosters of trained women police and military personnel suitable for deployment.

Analysing Australia’s second WPS national action plan

An analysis by Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Centre examines the successes and shortcomings of Australia’s second WPS national action plan. The report praises parts of the plan for recognising the broad factors impacting women’s peace and security globally, including the intersectionality of sexual orientation and gender identity and the effects of climate change that will adversely impact women in the Indo-Pacific region. The analysis points out, however, that the omission of measurable targets, timelines and funding from the plan means government agencies will face ongoing challenges to implementing new programs without duplicating others from different departments. The piece concludes that the plan could potentially deliver positive results for women affected by conflict but greater political leadership is needed to successfully drive Australia’s WPS efforts.