Period of Time and Topic: This report by the Secretary-General is on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Women, Peace and Security
The Secretary-General’s report gives account on major developments in Syria, including both political/military and humanitarian aspects, and considers the humanitarian situation to be in “complete disregard for international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular with regard to civilians, including women and children, in the context of hostilities.” While the report gives detailed account on human rights violations against civilians from both the Syrian government and non-state armed groups, including ISIL and the Nusrah Front, and informs on humanitarian provisions and protection of civilian measures, it does not apply a gender lens to consider how women are specifically affected by the severe security and humanitarian situation. The report does not include any specific references to the WPS agenda, such as mentions of WPS resolutions, and only sporadically reports on women casualties, women’s human rights abuses, and lacking humanitarian assistance to women. While the report details the number of child casualties in several instances, it only references one particular incident where a woman was executed by ISIL. It further reports on cases of torture and death, including of women detainees, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) inside government detention centers. Regarding the humanitarian response, the report accounts for the successful delivery of “315,000 reproductive health and gender-based violence services, including emergency obstetric care and family planning in support of 106,000 people” by UNFPA. It further recognizes the lack of life-saving health services, including pediatric and maternal health provisions, in hard-to-reach and besieged areas. It reports on one particular incident where Syrian authorities restricted “the inclusion of 37 midwifery kits and water, sanitation and hygiene items […], which would have benefited 1,850 pregnant women” in an UN inter-agency convoy.
References in Need of Improvement and Missed Opportunities
Given the technical limits on the reporting of civilian casualties in active war zones and the non-existent investigation mechanisms for human rights abuses in (illegitimate) detention facilities of both the government and non-state armed groups, it is to be accepted that identifying the precise number of women casualties might be challenging. However, given the fact that the number of child fatalities is specified in several instances, one can assume an overall unawareness for gender-sensitive coverage. Reporting on women’s concerns in accordance with the WPS agenda could have been stronger on several occasions.
The report would have highly benefited from commenting on whether any of the UN agencies or partner organizations operating in Syria had conducted gender-sensitive needs assessments to identify whether and how women are affected differently in order to effectively tailor humanitarian assistance to their needs. Additionally, information on whether local civil society organizations, particularly women’s civil society, were consulted in the design and implementation of delivery mechanisms for humanitarian assistance would have been desirable.
In its mention of the continuous challenges regarding humanitarian access, the report would have been stronger if it had specified whether organizations working on women’s health issues, including reproductive health and family planning provisions, face additional challenges or restrictions. Calling to fully implement resolution 2139 (2014) on facilitating humanitarian access in Syria, including by “addressing the relentless and indiscriminate attacks on civilians” and ““ensuring access for delivery of medical and surgical supplies to all parts of the country”, the recommendations in the report could have been stronger by providing information on how to specifically cater to women’s needs such as secure access to sanitation facilities as well as hygiene and health assistance, including reproductive health, family planning and maternal health services. Further, the report would have benefited from detailing whether specific provisions have been made or are planned to assist women in hard-to-reach areas and besieged areas.
Considering the severe security situation for civilians due to, inter alia, the deliberate targeting of civilian institutions, the report could have further specified how women are adversely affected, particularly by the use of sexual and gender-based violence as a tool of war. Additional references to women’s protection concerns, again in relation to SGBV, could have been included in the mentions of IDPs and cross-border refugees. The report could have been stronger by providing information on whether gender-sensitive provisions to ensure women’s safety are available or in the process of planning at IDP sites.
Reporting on the execution of seven men because of their allegedly homosexual orientation by ISIL, the report could have further benefited from highlighting the severe security situation for LGBTQ individuals and calling for heightened awareness among humanitarian organizations, including ensuring specific protection mechanisms for those affected.
Ideal Asks for WPS Transformation
Pursuant to resolution 2043 (2012), which mandates UNSMIS to monitor and support the full implementation of the Envoy’s six-point proposal (annexed to resolution 2042 (2012)) to bring an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations and securing humanitarian access; resolution 2139 (2014); and resolution 2165 (2014), future reports by the Secretary-General must reflect the Security Council’s commitment to the WPS agenda and provide updates on the implementation of gender-sensitive programming regarding both participation and protection concerns. Applying a gender lens throughout the report will ensure that all genders are adequately represented and their particular needs in regards to the severe security, political and humanitarian situation are being met.