Investing in women’s participation and rights for peace is both important because women are part of humanity and also because it is critical to preventing violence and conflict and promoting peace. Here are a few cases that highlight how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.
The 2016 Political Agreement of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) committed to holding “free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful” election, consistent with the Constitution, which affirms the “achievement of parity between men and women” in national, provincial and local institutions (Article 14). DRC’s National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 also commits to strengthening women's political participation, preventing and addressing violence against women and institutionalising action on gender equality. However, continued postponement of elections and marginalisation of women’s issues, as well as reprisals against peaceful protests, including against women human rights defenders and peace activists, have provided obstacles to democratic reform, promotion of human rights, including women’s human rights and peace in the DRC.
Women’s political participation has significantly worsened. The recent January 2018 UNSG Report (S/2018/16) notes a 5% decrease in female voter registration. Moreover, the electoral law that was adopted by the parliament on 15 December 2017 and signed by President Kabila on 24 December 2017, has raised concerns as it reduces the likelihood of small political parties and independent candidates gaining seats; it also does not provide mechanisms to support gender parity, as enshrined in the Constitution. Women who want to run for elections independently face major obstacles. Some women are even forced to enter political parties and to take on certain positions by forced nomination by the government and without their consent. Given that women are 47% of the electorate in the DRC, there should be acknowledgement and analysis of the remaining significant barriers to women’s representation and meaningful participation in political and security processes.
Civil society space is also increasingly shrinking, and human rights defenders face numerous risks. Deteriorating violence in the country has included growing levels of extrajudicial executions and reprisals against human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders. There were violent repressions of peaceful protests in Kinshasa by security forces on 31 December 2017 and 21 January 2018. This has particularly affected women human rights defenders and peace activists, and contributed to increased levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which affected at least 150 women between September and November 2017. Survivors of SGBV receive inadequate and limited assistance. Civil society and women’s groups have also been left out of discussions about the streamlining of coordination mechanisms for humanitarian aid and reconciliation processes. The recent decision by the government of Belgium to re-allocate development aid from the government of the DRC to civil society has also created unanticipated vicious effects as the government of the DRC is now engaging in more intensive review of how and by whom civil society is funded.
Supporting women’s political participation and addressing the risks to women human rights defenders (including around intimidation, harassment, targeting, surveillance, physical security around protests, disappearances, and killings) will be critical to supporting a democratic transition process and peacebuilding efforts that enables women’s human rights and sustainable peace.
Justice for crimes against women in conflict and post-conflict settings must be delivered to challenge cultures of injustice and inequality. Bosnia’s experience showed the world this and that we cannot be silent about impunity.
During the Bosnian conflict (1992-1995), thousands of women and girls were brutally raped, held in prison camps, hotels, or private houses where they were sexually exploited. Most of these women are still waiting for justice in Bosnia.
There have been some judicial advancements, including in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which for the first time recognised rape as a form of torture and sexual enslavement as crime against humanity. However, there remains huge challenges. In the Tribunal, more than 70 individuals were charged with crimes of sexual violence including sexual assault and rape, but only 30 have been convicted. Rape was recognised as a powerful tool of war, used to intimidate, persecute, and terrorise. More prosecutions are required. Reparations are needed. Addressing sexual violence must be prioritised and this means impunity must end.
WILPF’s analysis highlights the importance of a two-track approach to post-conflict reconstruction which includes: 1) providing gender-sensitive reparations for the harms suffered by civilians and 2) guaranteeing strong social institutions and an economy for peace that guarantees women’s economic, social and cultural rights. Since reparations alone cannot guarantee rights across the board, and institutions alone do not ensure justice, both are needed. In the case of Bosnia, inadequate response to address these issues has led to substantial challenges. Although some reparations have been provided on a case-by-case basis, the government has not delivered comprehensive gender-sensitive reparations to this day. The current conflict and gender-blind reform agenda have no capacity to change the deeply-embedded root causes of gender inequality and conflict.
The political process to resolve the Libyan conflict faces many challenges, with significant implications on the situation of women. The Government of National Accord (GNA), appointed in 2015 to take on the Libyan Political Agreement, only reconfigured the conflict in a different way. This increased competition for political power and fueled violence. As a result, gender-based violence, including rape and forced prostitution, international military engagement, and gender stereotypes reinforced by a range of legal, social and cultural structures, are instruments in this competition. This leaves a very limited space for gender analysis and ensuring women’s meaningful participation in politics, peacebuilding, reconciliation and humanitarian work.
Despite this, Libyan women play an important role in bringing about positive change. Women are forging a new solidarity with women and men of all ages and backgrounds and strengthening reconstruction efforts across the country, often at considerable personal risk to themselves and their families. Civil society groups and organisations have gender analyses of the situation on the ground and can identify, design and implement practical strategies to overcome the challenges facing Libya. As Together We Build It Organization stated in January 2018, while briefing the UNSC on the situation in Libya: “The support from the international community continues to be greatly needed, but this support, moving forward, must be completely and urgently redesigned to empower the Libyan people, including women and youth to play an active role in peace-building”.
UNSC R 2376 (2017) requests UNSMIL to fully take into account a gender perspective throughout its mandate and to assist the GNA in ensuring the full and effective participation of women in the democratic transition, reconciliation efforts, the security sector and in national institutions in line with UNSC Resolution 1325 (2000) (OP 4). If the recent UNSMIL’s Action Plan for Libya is to be a common-agenda, where international interest and Libyans’ needs are met, then the implementation of every aspect of this Plan needs to systematically integrate gender analysis and the Women, Peace and Security provisions. These commitments, if fully implemented, have the great potential to ensure women’s meaningful participation for sustainable and feminist peace in Libya.
Post-conflict peace-making requires inclusive dialogue including women’s voices and rights. Nepal shows us these opportunities in post-conflict countries and communities. While developing their National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security in 2011, Nepal made a significant effort to incorporate the voices of civil society organisations (CSOs).
The NAP developed followed the Nepalese civil war (1996-2006) which killed over 16,000 people and displaced 150,000. Women’s organizations were involved in the development of the NAP by directing Steering Committees, developing Action Group to strategise and unify civil society, and incorporating the views of 52 districts.
The Nepal NAP was developed out of one of the most, if not the most, consultative process including 52 district level consultations, 10 regional consultations, and separate special consultations with women and girls directly affected by conflict.
These consultations were attended by over 3,000 participants and generated more than 1,500 action points which were clustered under the five pillars of the NAP. These action points included participation and access to justice and reparation as well as women’s rights that were previously unaddressed. The ongoing engagement of women civil society is important for implementation and monitoring of this National Plan.