As atrocities mount in South Sudan, with reports of government and non-government soldiers killing and raping, the UK is preparing to send peacekeeping troops there. How will the UN peacekeeping summit, hosted this week in London, make maintaining peace and security more effective, in particular the protection of women and girls?
Globally, there are 16 UN peacekeeping operations. They cover some of the world’s most unstable and violent countries. The UK wields influence at the UN security council in developing mission mandates, and is the fifth largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping.
In 2015, the British military committed to “conduct operations to restore peace and stability” and double the number of personnel contributed by the UK (336 as of 31 July 2016). The military also emphasised that the UK would champion reform to increase the efficiency and impact of UN engagement, as well as setting up a cross-Whitehall joint UN peacekeeping policy unit.
As evidenced in countries like Iraq and Libya, regime change can be achieved, but attaining peace afterwards can be elusive. Too often, the post-conflict phase spirals down into a situation of lawlessness, lack of governance and corruption. There is a tendency for violence, including sexual violence, to become endemic, leaving a large number of citizens still at risk.
Peace and security mean different things to different parts of the population. For some it may mean an end to armed hostility and opportunities for formal government power. But for women and girls it may mean being able to walk down the street without being attacked or raped, and having access to legal redress when threatened or beaten behind closed doors.
Current conflicts disproportionately affect women. It is conservatively estimated that 70% of those killed in today’s conflicts are civilians, many of them women and children, who become especially vulnerable when law and order break down. There are also documented incidents of UN peacekeepers perpetrating sexual violence, and recent reports of peacekeepers standing by as women are raped. Yet security for everyone is a vital part of any peacekeeping operation.
The impact of conflict on women was recognised 16 years ago with the adoption of UN security council resolution 1325. The resolution called for measures including the presence of women at the peace table. Yet women in war-torn countries remain mostly ignored, despite research showing that, where women are included, the likelihood of achieving peace is much higher.
The UK was one of the first countries to sign up to resolution 1325 and adopt a national action plan. By the 15th anniversary last year, 55 countries had committed to the measure and others had pledged to do so. Our military have been making strides to engage on this agenda. The preventing sexual violence initiative, launched by William Hague and Angelina Jolie, and now led in government by Foreign Office minister Lady Anelay, has also highlighted the extent of women’s disempowerment in conflict and post-conflict countries.
In some countries there is a taboo about women talking to men outside their families, which makes it impossible for male soldiers to communicate directly with them. Yet speaking to women is vital if they are to protect them properly and understand the threats they face. Any peacekeeping force must contain women, and to achieve this the UN must create a formal mechanism that ensures female peacekeepers are deployed to engage with local communities.
The need to ensure countries emerging from conflict can create long-term stability has never been greater. As well as ensuring that women are well-represented at the conference, both on peace-building panels and among the audience, we need:
Concrete targets on increasing women in peace operations.
A formal mechanism for peacekeepers to connect with NGOs and organisations representing women’s rights.
A commitment to resourcing gender analysis among peacekeeping operations to understand what local women are experiencing.
Accountability for crimes by peacekeepers.
Last year, during celebrations at the UN to mark the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325, the UK pledged to include support for women at all UK peace-building events. Let us hope that this will be translated into action. The summit offers the UK a golden opportunity to influence the agenda and to create positive change in the way the UN addresses peacekeeping, especially civilian protection. Click here to access the source of this story.