The women, peace and security update

WPS and the response to Covid-19

The United Nations Development Programme and UN Women recently launched the ‘Covid-19 global gender response tracker’. It examines more than 2,500 pandemic-related measures across 206 countries and territories, looking at governments’ efforts to address ‘violence against women and girls …, support unpaid care, and strengthen women’s economic security’. Twenty per cent of the countries analysed were found to have no gender-sensitive Covid-19 programs, and only 12% had instituted measures in all three categories. Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand are leading on addressing violence against women and unpaid care, and Latin America and the Caribbean are leading on enhancing women’s economic security.

In response to the pandemic’s effects on the women, peace and security agenda and peacebuilding, the International Peace Institute has recommended that UN member states continue to advocate for action on WPS in multilateral forums, the participation of women in formal peace processes, the protection and resourcing of women peacebuilders, and the coordinated collection of data to better understand how Covid-19 is affecting women.

Women lead protests in Belarus and Thailand

Women have taken a central role in opposition movements and demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. Lukashenko had banned or jailed many of Belarus’s male opposition figures prior to the election to prevent them from declaring their candidacies. This, along with the misogynist rhetoric and deteriorating political situation, prompted women at all levels to step forward. Three female figures have become the face of Belarus’s opposition: Maria Kolesnikova, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo. Following Lukashenko’s violent crackdown against earlier protests, thousands of women have conducted peaceful marches, wearing all white, carrying flowers and linking arms in ‘solidarity chains’ calling for Lukashenko to step down.

In Thailand, young women have also taken centre stage in recent pro-democracy protests, drawing attention to the patriarchal nature of the country’s power structures. Alongside LGBTQ activists, they have broken the taboo of challenging Thailand’s military government and monarchy. Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, one of the movement’s leaders, said ‘men have almost all the power in Thailand’, while Chumaporn Taengkliang, co-founder of Women for Freedom and Democracy, said ‘the male supremacy society has been growing since the coup’.

Studies on gender in protests revealed that those with higher levels of gender diversity are more likely to succeed. Increased participation of women in political demonstrations often results in less violence and a greater variety of protest approaches—including boycotts, strikes and other forms of non-cooperation.

The UN and the WPS agenda

As Indonesia’s term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council draws to an end, researchers at Monash University have evaluated the country’s efforts in progressing the WPS agenda over the past two years. The article focuses on the council’s landmark resolution 2538, passed during Indonesia’s presidency in August, which seeks to increase the number of women enrolled in military and police forces and make peacekeeping training more gender sensitive. The resolution is seen as historic because it brings significant changes in the language and official discourse around women in peacekeeping.

In other UN news, Afghanistan was voted onto the UN Commission on the Status of Women for the first time and secured one of the two spots assigned to Asia–Pacific countries. Afghanistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Adela Raz, said the win is of ‘critical importance’, especially as the country is engaged in peace negotiations with the Taliban, where women’s and other minorities’ rights are taking up the prominent spot they deserve. India won the other seat, beating China in a highly contested race. Both Afghanistan and India will assume their seats between 2021 and 2025.

On a negative note, observers have highlighted that the UN General Assembly is still dominated by men. At this year’s opening session, the first 52 spots in the line-up of speakers were reserved for male leaders. This attracted criticism from several nations, especially those led by women, who are planning to file an official complaint.

A gender-based disaster recovery effort in Lebanon

Feminist activists and women’s rights organisations in Lebanon have put together a charter of demands to inform the response to the Beirut explosion. The demands focus on ensuring women’s representation and leadership, providing food and shelter, combating gendered violence, and ensuring full access to health services for all. The charter aims to address the deep gender and economic inequalities that existed before the explosion and to use the crisis as an opportunity to rebuild Beirut as a more feminist and inclusive city.

Writing in The Independent, Lina Abirafeh and Rachel Dore-Weeks see the crisis as an opportunity for change. They note that Lebanon ranks 145 out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index. The significant increase in international aid provided to Lebanon in the wake of the disaster, they argue, gives Beirut room to invest more in health and education and in supporting women to enter or re-enter the economy.

Women are often at the heart of any disaster recovery or relief effort, and the response to the Beirut explosion is no exception. Whether governments and civil groups can capitalise on disaster responses to rebuild Beirut into a more gender-inclusive city remains to be seen.

Turkish women fight gender-based violence

Women in Turkey are rising up to fight against gender-based oppression and structural inequality, as the Turkish government considers withdrawing from the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (commonly known as the Istanbul Convention). Human Rights Watch has found that more than 11 million Turkish women have faced domestic and sexual violence, and more than 400 women are killed each year by their partners or families. These numbers have significantly increased as a result of Covid-19 lockdown measures. Gursimran Kaur Bakshi writes that the Turkish government must guarantee basic rights to women by introducing gender-responsive policies and implementing a constitution that respects women and gender-diverse people.