ACTION: Petition to include women in Geneva II peace talks on Syria

Peace talks on the Syrian crisis are happening soon in Geneva but there is a real risk that Syrian women will be excluded.  If you would like to support the inclusion of women in the talks, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) is petitioning the UN’s negotiator, Lakhdar Brahimi, and the foreign ministers of the USA, UK, France, Germany and Russia.  WILPF is urging all concerned individuals and organisations to sign.

As WILPF writes:

The peace talks to bring a political settlement to the war in Syria have been postponed yet again. In the interim, the slaughter of civilians continues. There will be thousands more deaths as winter encroaches, and as humanitarian aid fails to reach the most vulnerable. Those deaths will be mainly women and children.

Yet, still women are kept out of the peace talks, as if their stake in their future and the future of their country is somehow less important than the voices of the men with the guns. The international community must recognize its legal obligations, moral responsibilities and the practical necessity to ensure women’s participation: peace treaties without women do not work. If women are not a part of peace negotiations, then the peace will reflect only the interests of the most powerful and will ultimately fail.

Women have been organizing, through an inclusive and representative process, and they are prepared to participate in negotiation. Instead, they are told by the United Nations that the political situation is complicated. Women already know that. Yet, they are told that they should look for alternative models and lobby mediators in corridors.

This is untenable and wrong. We must join our Syrian sisters in raising our voices, so that Syrian women are not just included but have a real role in deciding the future of their country.

You can view the full text of the petition here

To sign the petition, send an email to secretariat@wilpf.ch with your or your organisation’s name (and logo, if possible) and they will add you to its list of supporters.

16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women Start Today!

Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation. It is violence against families, communities, nations and humanity.  It is a threat to international peace and security, as recognized by the UN Security Council. It has reached a crisis point and demands action from all of us, young and old, women and men.

Today on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and every day, we must stand up, speak out and be part of creating solutions to end these human rights violations.

- UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (read the full statement here)

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  It also marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism, which ends on Human Rights Day on the 10th of December.  During this time, people across the world will be raising awareness and acting to end violence against women and girls.

1in3Violence affects women of all ages, ethnicities, religions, classes and countries.  Violence against women is not just physical – it can also include psychological, emotional and financial control and abuse.  It happens in times of war and peace.  Globally, 1 in 3 women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.  Violence against women thrives in environments that condone discrimination, either actively or through the silence of good people.  It is a problem that both women and men need to tackle.

Despite the depressing statistics, there is some good news.  Campaigns such as White Ribbon, which engages men in the effort to stop violence against women, are growing internationally.  Their website has a lot of further information about the causes and effects of violence against women.

There are also plenty of opportunities for taking action during the 16 Days.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Add your name to the White Ribbon Campaign by taking an oath
  • Share images of yourself wearing orange (the colour of the 16 Days) with the hashtag #orangeurworld
  • Join the official 16 Days facebook page
  • Start a conversation about violence with your friends and family.
  • Wear a white ribbon today.

Free journal articles on gender, conflict and violence

Access to academic journals often requires you to be enrolled at a university or willing to pay a lot of money.  Good news – Gender and Development journal, which is published jointly by OXFAM Great Britain and Taylor & Francis, provides free access to individual articles via www.genderanddevelopment.org

The November 2013 issue focuses on conflict and violence.  The articles cover a wide range of topics, including war, security, peacebuilding, sexual violence, the new Arms Trade Treaty and female soldiers.   Contributors to the issue are researchers, activists and practitioners.  Cynthia Cockburn’s article, ‘War and security, women and gender: an overview of the issues’, provides a very accessible introduction to those new to the field.

Happy reading!

News: UN Security Council adopts resolution 2122 on women, peace and security

The UN Security Council chamber

The UN Security Council has just adopted a new resolution on women, peace and security.  The Council agreed upon resolution 2122 during a day-long thematic debate, which came after a briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on these issues.

The resolution has been welcomed by UN Women, the UN’s entity for women’s empowerment and gender equality, as providing a ‘roadmap’ for fulfilling the vision set out in earlier resolutions, like resolution 1325, adopted in 2000.

Some of the measures in resolution 2122 include:

  • technical assistance on gender issues to peacekeeping missions and UN mediation teams in peace negotiations;
  • improving access to information about the effects of conflict on women and women’s participation in conflict resolution; and
  • strengthened committment to consult with women and directly involve them in negotiations.

The new agreement helps to advance debate on women, peace and security by recognising that women suffer disproportionately from conflict because of inequality.  It also addresses women’s sexual and reproductive health during conflict and recognises the rights and needs of women who are pregnant as a result of rape.  Significantly, it puts gender equality and women’s empowerment at the centre of efforts to promote international peace and security.

Read more about the resolution here.

News: Launch of civil society report card on Australia and 1325

A coalition of civil society groups, including UN Women Australia, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Australian National University Gender Institute, are today launching a report card on the progress of Australia’s National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325. 

Australia launched its National Action Plan in 2012 and it outlines how the government will make good on the provisions set out in resolution 1325 to mitigate the impact of conflict on women and girls and ensure their participation in all aspects of conflict resolution.  The report assesses how the government is doing on implementing its strategies, one year down the track.  It finds that progress has been slow, with little transparency and communication of progress to civil society groups.  It calls on the Australian government to increase meaningful action to meet the needs of women and to ensure that the plan’s objectives are fulfilled by its deadline in 2018.

For an overview of the report, check out this article on Women’s Agenda by UN Women Australia Executive Director Julie McKay and Joanna Lindner of ACFID.

The hidden story: male victims of sexual violence in conflict

The overwhelming focus on women as survivors of sexual violence in conflict has left many of us with the impression that there are few incidences of men and boys being targeted.  Kirthi Jayakumar at Insight on Conflict dispels the myths and shows that they suffer, too, and that the perpetrators’ motivations make pernicious use of gendered roles and stereotypes to degrade and humiliate victims.  As Jayakumar writes:

“As it happens with women who suffer sexual violence in conflict, sexual violence towards men is not about lust. It is directed towards men with the same intention as it is directed towards women with: that of dominance. The stakes are “higher” to the perpetrator if a man is subjected to sexual violence, for not only have they imposed dominance, but they have also emasculated their enemy, or “feminised” the enemy.”

The article demonstrates well that understanding how gender norms affect people during conflict is just as important for men as it is for women.

To read the full article, click here.

‘Even Wars Have Laws': International Humanitarian Law Journalism Competition

The Australian Red Cross, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is offering an International Humanitarian Law (IHL) competition for students of journalism. Research, investigate, write, shoot, and record your own feature story.

The winner will have their story published by the Australian Red Cross and will also have the opportunity to contribute as a sub-editor on a biannual IHL magazine themed around the protection of journalists in armed conflict. The winner will also receive return flights and accommodation to Sydney to attend a Humanitarian Forum during the International Red Cross & Red Crescent Movement’s Statutory Meetings in November 2013 (or a prize of similar value if from NSW or unable to attend) as well as an iPad. The runner-up will also receive an iPad.

Submit your written entry to or post broadcast entries saved onto a USB to IHL Officer Kyla Raby, GPO Box 81, Darwin, 0832 (alternatively contact Kyla for Dropbox details in order to submit file.  Full details will be posted soon on the IHL Competitions page on the Australian Red Cross website. For further information, contact Kyla Raby, NT IHL Officer kraby@redcross.org.au

Entries close at 5pm AEST on Friday 4th October 2013. Late entries will not be considered.

Video

Video: ‘Side by Side – Women, Peace & Security’

Jointly developed by the Australian Government’s Australian Civil-Military Centre and UN Women, “Side by Side — Women, Peace and Security” explores how the international community has and can meet its commitments on women, peace and security. The 30-minute documentary features an introduction by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as interviews with UN personnel, peacekeepers, mediators, humanitarian actors, policy makers and survivors of conflict.

Beyond the MDGs: UN Women’s New Goal for Achieving Gender Equality

The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015.  The MDGs, adopted in 2000 as a strategy for halving extreme poverty, included a specific goal on women’s empowerment, which is recognised as a key driver of development.  UN Women, the UN’s entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, has set out a stand-alone goal that will not only continue the progress made in the attainment of MDG 3, but also go one step further by seeking to transform gender relations.  It aims to achieve gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment.  UN Women notes that MDG 3 was not designed to do this:

“Progress on MDG3 was tracked through the target on gender parity in education, which was important yet insufficient to capture other important areas of progress on gender equality. These include overcoming gender-specific injustices such as violence against women and girls, gender-based wage discrimination, women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work, women’s limited asset and property ownership, and unequal participation in public and private decision-making.”

Transformation

Traditional approaches to promoting gender equality tend to attach specific measures onto existing programmes and institutional structures.  While these efforts are well-intentioned, they often fail to result in better outcomes because they do not deal with the fundamental drivers of gender inequality.  Remembering that gender is a social construct, norms come out on top as one of these drivers.  Social norms are beliefs held by a group about how people should act in particular circumstances.  These norms underpin a particular social order.  When it comes to gender, norms about men and women (e.g. men are natural leaders, women are natural homemakers) usually underpin patriarchal social relations.  These are often manifested in the various kinds of gender-based discrimination that we see around us.  This is a simplified explanation, but it points to the need to transform these underlying beliefs and attitudes in order to achieve gender equality.  This is what the new goal proposes to do, by addressing both proximate and ultimate forms of inequality and discrimination.

The strategy

UN Women has has identified three target areas within the goal: freedom from violence, capabilities and resources, and decision-making and voice.  Each of these target areas is accompanied by a set of strategies:

  1. Freedom from violence
    • Prevent and respond to violence against women and girls
    • Change perceptions, attitudes and behaviours that condone and justify violence against women
    • Ensure security, support services and justice for women
  2. Capabilities and resources
    • Eradicate women’ s poverty
    • Promote decent work for women
    • Build women’s access to, and control over, productive assets
    • Reduce women’s time burdens
    • Promote education and skills for women and girls
    • Improve women’s and girls’ health
    • Reduce maternal mortality and ensure women’s sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive
      rights
    • Ensure women’s sustainable access to energy
    • Ensure women’s sustainable access to water and sanitation
  3. Decision-making and voice
    • Promote equal decision making in households
    • Promote participation in public institutions
    • Promote women’s leadership in the private sector
    • Strengthen women’s collective action

Clearly many of these strategies are aimed at alleviating the disadvantage that women face, here and now, as well as at tackling social norms.  In many ways, normative change and increased women’s rights and participation are mutually-reinforcing goals.  Like many initiatives focussed on gender, the success of UN Women’s new strategy will be largely determined by the will of countries and other international organisations to provide resources for and implement the strategies.

New leadership

The person responsible for rolling out this strategy will be the new head of UN Women, Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She was the first woman to hold the position of Deputy President of South Africa and will be replacing Michele Bachelet, formerly President of Chile.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Click here for UN Women’s explanatory note on the new goal.