SIERRA LEONE: Women, Peace & Security: Actualising UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in Sierra Leone

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Awareness Times
Western Africa
Sierra Leone
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

In war, men more often than not suffer only one consequence-death. On the other hand, in addition to being killed, women are subjected to the most despicable and horrendous violations including but not limited to rape, abduction, gang rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and at times forced conscription.

These dreadful and inerasable images from the civil wars of the 1990s that engulfed the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, among others galvanised women not only from war-torn societies, but around the globe to lobby and demand from national governments, sub-regional and regional organisations and the UN Security Council that women's rights should be protected not only in war but also during peace times. Their efforts resulted in the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on "Women, Peace and Security" on 31st October 2000.

Although Resolution 1325 builds on previous conventions and treaties such as the Convention Eliminating Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, the Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Plan of Action on Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations, among others, it is unique and historic because it is the first UN resolution to focus specifically on the impact of war and conflict on women's lives, as well as their contributions to peacebuilding efforts at the local level. The resolution seeks to protect women's rights in post-conflict societies as well as promote their participation in reconstruction and recovery processes. The resolution is being implemented by the Security Council, the Secretary General of the UN, Member States, non state actors including Civil Society Organisations and parties to armed conflicts. The 18 paragraph resolution focuses on four interrelated areas: the participation of women in decision making and formal peace processes, gender perspectives and training in peace keeping, the protection of women, and gender mainstreaming in the UN.

The resolution stresses the need to increase women's participation in decision-making levels in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. It emphasises the need to adopt a gender perspective in the design of refugee camps, in repatriation and resettlement, in post-conflict reconstruction, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. It further calls on parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and adopt special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape, end impunity and prosecute those responsible for war crimes including sexual and other violence against women and girls. It calls for the inclusion of women in UN field-based operations, especially as military observers, civilian police, human rights and humanitarian officials; and the adoption of measures to protect and respect the human rights of women and girls, in the constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary.

The significance of Resolution 1325 lies is in the way it weaves together the impact of war and conflict on women on one hand, and promotes their participation in various peace and security mechanisms such as in peace negotiations, constitutional and electoral reforms and reconstruction and reintegration processes on the other.

Resolution 1325 is relevant in Sierra Leone not only because it is a post-war country, it has the added advantage of being one of the first beneficiaries of the Peacebuilding Commission's funding. This means that Sierra Leone is no longer considered as transiting from war but as a country moving to consolidate peace and sustainable development. As a result, our assessment of the implementation of Resolution 1325 is justified.

Since the official declaration ending the war in January 2002, two general and two local government elections have been held in which women played a pivotal role. However that has not translated into an adequate female representation in governance. Women comprise only ten percent of the current cabinet while 124-member legislature is made up of only 13.2 percent of women. That is down from the previous cycle. In the 2002 - 2007 Parliament, women constituted 14.5 per cent, 14.2 per cent of Cabinet Ministers and 30 per cent of Deputy Ministerial Positions.

At the local government level, in the 2004 - 2008 electoral cycle 11. 8 per cent of elected councillors were women, while only one woman served as Chair of a Council and two were elected Deputy Chairs. In the paramount chieftaincy elections of 2004, women won 7.4 per cent of the contested seats. In the current 2008 - 2012 local government elections, the number of female councillors increased to 18.9 per cent, with three elected as Deputy Chairs but none as Chair. The low participation rate of women in governance and public decision-making positions is not only below the Beijing bench mark of 30 per cent, but has affected the way women's issues are articulated in policy discourses and programme implementation.

Sierra Leone's report card in relation to the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence and abuse is much better than in the arena of governance. In 2001, the Family Support Unit was established within the Sierra Leone Police to respond to cases of domestic violence. Between 2003 and 2004 the Sierra Leone Law Reform Commission drafted a Bill on Sexual Offences. The Bill codified and modernised the law of rape, including marital rape, and made comprehensive provisions to deal with sexual offences. In 2007, Parliament passed the Domestic Violence Act. The Act criminalised domestic violence and provides protection for victims.

The sentencing of senior members of the three main factions in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war by the UN-backed Special Court for rape and other acts of sexual violence against women was a step in the right direction. However, the government's refusal to investigate the recent incidence of rape that occurred during political clashes in Freetown in March 2009 will roll back the gains women have achieved since the end of the war.

Sierra Leone's mediocre performance in the implementation of Resolution 1325 seven years after the end of the civil war and on the eve of the celebrated Resolution's 10th anniversary, demonstrates the need for a concerted effort to ensure government's commitment to implementing such an important international instrument for women's empowerment in post-war societies.

As a result, the Research Project Consortium on Women's Empowerment (RPC), which comprises a network of institutions and individuals based in West Africa, South Asia, Latin America, North Africa, the Middle East and the U.K, is taking the lead to launch a research project to monitor and evaluate the implementation of Resolution 1325 in post-conflict Sierra Leone. The research will critically analyse the activities and programmes of all actors responsible for the implementation of the resolution and make necessary recommendations to push the process forward.

The RPC seeks to ask new questions about empowerment through dialogue with a diversity of actors, from grassroots women's movements to international agencies. Its research seeks to ground emerging understandings of empowerment in women's everyday lives, tracing the trajectories of policies affecting such and exploring promising stories of change to find out what works and why. The RPC's research projects are built around four overarching themes: Conceptions of Women's Empowerment, Empowering Work, Building Constituencies for Equality and Justice and Changing Narratives of Sexuality.

Three projects are underway in Sierra Leone: Analysing Discourses of Empowerment in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone, Women in Local Governance and Measuring the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. These are projects that should be allowed to succeed, if women are to get the foothold they deserve in the Sierra Leonean society.