Women traditionally have not been involved in helping to design solutions to manage conflict and stop war.
“Does it matter for our ability to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts whether the women are engaged or not as soldiers, planners, desk officers, negotiators and decision makers? Is it a problem that the security sector is so male dominated?”, asks Mari Skåre, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security.
In an article recently published in NATO’s Diplomatic Courier publication, Skåre takes up the topic of a NATO resolution that was designed to help alleviate the disproportionate impact that war and conflicts have on women and children.
While United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was passed over a decade ago, the problem of civilians (most of them women and children) being harmed in global conflicts has escalated and persists today. That’s why Skåre and others in support of NATO’s efforts around this topic began speaking out about it last week.
Women, children and war
Women traditionally have not been involved in helping to design solutions to manage conflict and stop war. This problem is a chief concern for those who hope to turn the tide of violence against noncombatant women and children who are hurt in international conflicts.
As Skåre point out,
“There are many lines of arguments supporting the decisions of the Security Council calling for the greater inclusion of women. Men and women should always have equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities in their lives and works — including in the security sector. This is why the composition of the security institutions and armed forces needs to reflect the composition of the populations. In this context, like in all other work environments, we need to see better gender balance. It is a question of legitimacy.”
NATO and other NGOs are taking concerted action to support implementation of UNSCR 1325, which was adopted in October 2000. UNSCR 1325 highlights the fact that women have been historically left out of peace processes and stabilization efforts.
According to information provided by NATO, before the Second World War, 90 percent of casualties in conflicts were combatants. Today, 90 percent of casualties are noncombatants – and some 70 percent of those are women and children. The organization also reports that widespread sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations, the lack of institutional arrangements to protect women and continued underrepresentation of women in peace processes remain impediments to building sustainable peace.
The resolution formally acknowledges the changing nature of warfare, in which civilians are increasingly targeted, and women continue to be excluded from participation in peace processes.
UNSCR 1325 addresses not only the inordinate impact of war on women, but also the pivotal role women should and do play in conflict management, conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
Women must play a role in peace processes
While UNSCR 1325 was novel because it linked women’s experiences of conflict to the international peace and security agenda — acknowledging their peacemaking roles as well as the disproportionate impact of violent conflict on women — little action has been taken to make real its goals.
Noting this, the U.S. Institute of Peace recently co-hosted a three-day conference hoping to raise awareness and celebrate the goals of the resolution.
With an eye toward “translating the promise of Resolution 1325 into concrete action,” the U.S. Institute of Peace event focused on the varied experiences of women during wartime and how to make sustained progress toward greater global peace and security.
“War is not a computer-generated missile striking a digital map. War is the color of earth as it explodes in our faces, the sound of child pleading, the smell of smoke and fear,” writes Zainab Salbi, CEO and founder of Women for Women International. “Women survivors of war are not the single image portrayed on the television screen, but the glue that holds families and countries together. Perhaps by understanding women, and the other side of war…we will have more humility in our discussions of wars … perhaps it is time to listen to women’s side of history.”
Salbi was a featured speaker at the conference and is an advocate for women’s involvement in the international peacemaking process, speaking at other similar engagements and writing extensively on the topic. Born in 1970 in Baghdad, she grew up in Iraq while her father worked as personal pilot of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Experiencing immediate psychological abuse to her family from Hussein’s regime, Salbi chose to dedicate her adult life to the women around the world.
At age 19 she moved to the United States, where she graduated from George Mason University. Salbi’s experience with the Iran–Iraq War sensitized her to the plight of women in war worldwide. She has written and spoken extensively on the use of rape and other forms of violence against women during war.
She founded Women for Women International almost 20 years ago. The grassroots humanitarian and development organization to help women survivors of wars rebuild their lives.
Salbi was recently asked about why she started Women for Women International in 1993, by the Huffington Post.
“Unfortunately not much has changed in terms of violence against women. Women for women International started because the war in Bosnia and the rape camps that were organized there and 17 years later we have similar acts of mass rape taking place in Congo. Tolerance of violence against women has not changed that much since the founding of Women for Women International.”
Now is the time for the international community to seriously consider and commit to adopting UNSCR 1325.
“Growing up under Saddam’s rule, I witnessed many injustices occurring everyday in my country and yet I could not do anything to prevent them. Many years later, when I was living in the US, I learned about the atrocities and violence that were going on in the rape concentration camps in Bosnia and I realized that I could no longer stand aside and do nothing. The idea that women and girls were being raped without regard for their human rights outraged me. Around this time, I also learned about the Jewish Holocaust and how the world had said “never again” but was failing to keep its promise. I firmly believed then and still believe today that the only way to stop violence against women is to speak out and refused to be silenced,” says Salbi.
As Salbi contends, it is vitally important to help women stand up on their feet, be awarded their rights and let their voices be heard on peace issues. Today women and children continue to be the majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict.
UNSCR 1325 calls for full and equal participation of women at all levels in issues ranging from early conflict prevention to post-conflict reconstruction, peace and security. Efforts in this vein entail international countries to allow increased representation for women at all levels.
When the resolution was drafted, then Secretary-General Kofi Annan was requested to increase the participation of women at decision making levels in conflict resolution and peace process, appoint more women as Special Representatives and envoys and expand their role in peacekeeping operations, particularly among military observers, police, human rights and humanitarian personnel.
Now is the time to galvanize a global women’s movement in order to secure a future of peace and justice for all of humankind.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.