The women, peace and security update

WPS and Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic is exacting a disproportionate toll on women, in both developed and developing countries. Global justice researcher Rachele Marconi examines the gendered effects of the crisis in Italy. She outlines how the health emergency and associated lockdown measures have heightened the inequalities faced by women, including the threat of domestic violence and reduced access to abortion services.

Njoki Kinyanjui of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations notes that in conflict-affected and post-conflict settings, the pandemic is deepening the exclusion of and discrimination against women. Rohingya women in Bangladeshi refugee camps, for example, face significant challenges in accessing health information and services and traditional gender roles mean that they are particularly vulnerable as the primary caregiver to children, the elderly and the sick. Women and girls are also at risk of domestic and other forms of violence as social tensions and panic rise in the camps.

Global estimates indicate that more than two-thirds of women experience gender-based violence in crisis settings. The UNHCR has warned that refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls are among the most at risk of abuse and violence. The agency is adapting its program for women and girls to focus on these problems and is distributing emergency cash assistance to at-risk women and survivors.

Women leaders and the response to Covid-19

Writing for the Peace Research Institute Oslo, Jacqui True describes how gender-balanced leadership has resulted in effective responses to Covid-19 in a number of countries. By combining empathy and care with decisiveness and reliance on rational science, female leaders have been able to foster solidarity and compassion. Their approach has also helped to prevent a descent into debate focused on the health of the population versus the health of the economy.

An Australian feminist foreign policy

The International Women’s Development Agency partnered with the International Center for Research on Women to identify seven key principles and accountability mechanisms that define feminist foreign policy. The research covered all areas of foreign policy and focused on actions that will result in meaningful and deliberate shifts in practice.

The IWDA has also produced a comparative analysis of global policies and a position paper on a possible Australian feminist foreign policy covering trade, diplomacy, defence, security and development cooperation. The authors found that Australia is in a good position to follow other countries and align its domestic and foreign policies on issues related to gender equality.

Pacific women responding to climate change and natural disasters

Global women’s rights organisation Action Aid is collaborating with women-led organisations in the South Pacific to provide training, network-building and information to local women engaged in responding to the effects of climate change and humanitarian disasters in their communities. The Women’s Weather Watch hub in Vanuatu is enabling women to assume leadership role in disaster planning and adaptation. Information about weather events and requests for supplies are relayed to relevant departments so that they can provide targeted help to affected communities.

Women are often first responders for their families and communities when natural disasters occur. Involving women in decision-making on climate action and having women in leadership positions in emergencies enhances gender equality and ensures that the needs of women and girls are addressed.

Civil society and the fourth Swiss national action plan on WPS

A report published by Swisspeace outlines some of the challenges with integrating the WPS and P/CVE (preventing and countering violent extremism) agendas in civil-society organisations. In particular, the report finds that organisations working on violence prevention tend to be extremely critical of the P/CVE agenda. A 2017 report found that violent extremism is often conflated with terrorism, which can marginalise and stigmatise ethnic and religious minorities. A 2018 report argues that implementation of the P/CVE and WPS agendas often leads to the imposition of externally devised approaches rather than more effective context-specific solutions.

The Swisspeace reports notes that the P/CVE agenda is largely perceived by civil-society organisations in Kenya as ‘an industry’ that prioritises the needs of donors, the international community and the state over the needs of communities. It concludes that trying superficially to integrate the WPS and P/CVE agendas may have the unwanted effect of endorsing a militant or stigmatised counterterrorism approach. Instead, it argues, the WPS agenda should inform all approaches to violent extremism, so that a gendered lens is always at the forefront.

Yemeni women as peacebuilders

In the midst of the five-year long armed conflict in Yemen, women have been playing a key role in peacebuilding efforts in the country. Women have been taking the lead in complex operations such as opening humanitarian corridors and acting as dispute mediators. Their knowledge and understanding of their communities has enabled them to bring local perspectives to peacebuilding and to addressing the problems women face, which have been exacerbated by the war, such as gender-based violence, discrimination and poverty.

Yemeni women received recognition for securing the release of hundreds of detainees in 2019, but the stereotypical portrayal of women as victims and not as active peacebuilders persists and UN efforts to increase gender inclusion are still insufficient in many ways.