This action toolkit address two intertwined issues affecting women in conflict situations all around the world: the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the role of women in peacebuilding. The Gender and Peacebuilding Working Group and the Canadian Federation of University Women are launching it as reports emerge that a new law curtailing women’s rights is in the works in Afghanistan, and as the tally of victims of sexual violence in East Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reaches 40 women a day. This is modern conflict, where in the words of a seasoned peacekeeper, it is now “more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier”. For a long time, rape and other forms of sexual violence were thought to be a side effect of conflict, a rare and isolated type of collateral damage. However, new understandings of gender and conflict have revealed a different picture: rape is a war within a war. In conflict situations, what is occurring is not rape out of control – it is rape under orders. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse are now systematically used by armed groups as a means of achieving political and military ends.

Perpetrators know that rape has a devastating effect on families, villages, communities and nations. They know that it makes peace less possible. They know that it keeps women imprisoned by shame and destroys their access to a reliable income. They know it is cheaper than conventional weapons. Above all, they know that they are unlikely to ever be brought to justice. This unique experience of conflict, and the central role women play in families and communities, makes their participation in peacebuilding vital to success. Research in Sudan, DRC and Uganda has shown that peace agreements, post-conflict reconstruction, and governance do better when women are involved. Women make a difference because they have a more inclusive idea of security and bring forward key social and economic issues that would otherwise be ignored. Despite this, women continue to be widely excluded from decision-making in peace negotiations and reconstruction talks.: according to a recent study that examined peace agreements, only 2.4% of signatories to were women and women’s participation in negotiating delegations averaged a dismal 5.9%. The UN has already developed key international policy tools to begin to put a stop to sexual violence in conflict and support women building peace. Canada was integral to the adoption o f two groundbreaking Security Council resolutions that provide frameworks for addressing sexual violence and including women in peacebuilding.

However, almost ten years after the issue of women in conflict was first seriously dealt with by the UN Security Council, Canada still lacks a national action plan to implement these resolutions. This toolkit is a call to act in solidarity with women in conflict, to hold the Canadian government accountable to its international commitments, and to press forward the struggle for women’s equality. We hope you find it both helpful and inspiring