Women, peace and security

International Alert recently attended the 54th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women which undertook a 15-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA).

In partnership with the Eastern Africa Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), Alert organised a panel discussion to present the preliminary results of a joint research project on the nature and impact of women’s political participation currently being carried out in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

The debate on ‘Changing Fortunes: Post-War Political and Economic Opportunities and their Implications for Women’s Participation and Empowerment – Some Lessons from Northern Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’ was informed by the lead researchers Immaculee Mukankubito (Rwanda), Catherine Odimba (DRC), Christophe Sebudandi (Burundi), and Josephine Ahikire (Uganda). Ndeye Sow (Alert) and Marren Akatsa Bukachi (EASSI) moderated the discussion.

The main focus of the research in Rwanda is on understanding the gender dimension of the decentralisation process currently under way in the country. In the DRC, the research takes stock of the nature and role of women in the “formal” and “informal” peace processes, and the impact of their participation at various levels of decision-making. In Burundi, the research evaluates the impact of women’s political participation on social transformations during the transition period. Finally, in Uganda, the research focuses on the position of women in the post-war economy and politics: what is the relationship between their economic effort, their empowerment, and their political participation?

The event was very successful and well attended, with participants from various parts of the world, especially from Asia, Latin America and Africa, allowing for rich and insightful interactions and sharing of experiences. Fundamentally, the discussions highlighted the fact that political participation is indeed a gendered process and the main challenge women in the region face is how to ensure that the gains they have made are institutionalised so as to translate into changes of women’s status and position in society as well as into gender-sensitive changes in political systems and institutions.

In addition to this panel debate, International Alert also attended a high-level panel discussion organised by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which considered the progress that has been made so far with the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The key speaker on the panel was the recently appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms Margaret Wallstrom.

Describing the challenge to address sexual violence in conflict as a “mission irresistible”, Ms Wallstrom provided the audience with an outline of her agenda for action and strategic vision. This includes punishment of perpetrators, ending impunity, justice for survivors as well as the protection and empowerment of women and girls living in conflict-affected environments. She also identified strong partnerships with civil society and the research community as a crucial basis for properly targeted interventions and evidence-based policy. Finally, Ms Wallstrom stated that she will seek to further empower ongoing efforts at the UN level to address sexual violence in conflict by strengthening political commitment and leadership at the highest levels.

On the final day of the 54th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, International Alert participated in a civil society consultation on ‘Accountability for Implementation of SCR 1325’. The rationale for this consultation was the fact that the United Nations Task Force on Women Peace and Security has constituted the Technical Working Group on Global Indicators for SCR 1325 mandated to systematically review all existing indicators being used to track the resolution’s enforcement and propose a shortlist of indicators with which global progress in the its implementation can be monitored. The final draft of shortlisted indicators will form the basis for the Secretary-General’s Report on Global Indicators for SCR 1325, which is due to the Security Council in April 2010.

Because the draft indicators were made available just three days before to the consultation, there was only a very short period to gather the views and recommendations of key civil society representatives. Despite the tight timeline, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, the coordinator for this consultation, received more than 150 suggestions from around the world. While incomplete as a consultation of civil society actors, the degree of expertise reflected demonstrates that it remains crucial to substantively engage with civil society on the issue of using of indicators for the monitoring of SCR 1325.