International: Women in peace and gendered reinforcements

International: Women in peace and gendered reinforcements

Date: September 20, 2013
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Women soldiers celebrating Madagascar National Day Photo: Zotonantenaina Razanadratefa Johannesburg, 20 September: Tomorrow is International Peace Day. The focus this year is peace education pledging, “to teach our children the value of tolerance and mutual respect. Let us invest in the schools and teachers that will build a fair and inclusive world that embraces diversity.”

A recent Gender Links Study on the prevalence of violence against women (VAW) in the Limpopo province of South Africa found that more than half (57%) of women who had attended school said they had been sexually harassed at school or university. They referred to incidents where a teacher, principal or lecturer hinted or threatened that they would fail exams, get bad marks and that their schooling would be adversely affected, if they did not provide sexual favours.

The global theme highlights the notion that peace is not only about a ceasefire between nation states and in conflict areas, but also reducing the violence within all areas of our communities.

This year’s call for a Global Truce Campaign serves to remind us about the war that exists in homes, offices, schools and communities all over the world, every day. Violence against women remains one of the primary inhibitors towards achieving peace and democracy.

The unequal power relations between men and women fuel violence against women. The struggle to increase the role of women in all sectors of society also extends to peace and security sectors, charged with the mitigation and prevention of war and conflict. Women remain underrepresented in security forces, peacekeeping operations and conflict resolution across the globe.

The gendered dimension of conflict and the necessity for gender sensitive approaches to peace building, is highlighted when formal security institutions and even the peacekeepers, to which women turn for redress and security, are often among the perpetrators of violence against them. Female peacekeepers and security personnel are also subject to the same sexual violence, committed either by colleagues or by opposing forces.

The lack of awareness around these issues is one of the reasons why the UN is failing to reach the targets established by UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Only 4% of global peacekeepers, 2% of the UN military and 9.8% of the UN police are women. Very few women are included in negotiating parties and peace processes. The UN has also been slow in allocating at least 15% of post-conflict recovery funding to women’s empowerment.

The SADC Gender and Development Protocol includes peace building and conflict resolution as one of the 28 targets to achieve gender equality by 2015. The Protocol recognises that women bear a disproportionate burden of conflict wherever it occurs, yet are absent from peace operations and decision-making.

According to the 2013 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer, within SADC the DRC and Mauritius have the lowest number of women in their police forces at only 6%. With 2%, the DRC has the lowest number of women in peacekeeping forces. Mauritius has the lowest number of women in correctional services at 8% and Madagascar’s proportion of women in defence is a negligible 0.1%.

Some countries are making progress in achieving a gender balance. Women constitute 27% of the defence forces in South Africa, 38% of the police in Seychelles and 52% of correctional services staff in Seychelles. Eight SADC countries now contribute women to UN peacekeeping forces, with Namibia contributing 46%, the highest proportion of women. A woman chairs Angola’s Commission on Defence and Public, which has a female representation of 56.2%.

As much as these strides toward gender balance are commendable, we need to be very clear about why it is important that women participate equally in security and peace processes. Including women in peace and security should not be founded on persistent stereotypes that women are innately peaceful, non-violent, submissive, and ultimately capable of waging peace and not war.

Similarly, not all men are inherently aggressive, sexual predators, or suited for combat. These gendered assumptions not only reinforce inequality and trivialise women, but also reduce both men and women to their genders, negating all agency and accountability.

The presence of women in these forces should not serve to romanticise war, justify human rights abuses, or to serve as yet another opportunity to sexualise women’s bodies. In 2007, Israel’s Foreign Ministry backed a public relations campaign showing former female soldiers of the Israeli Defence Force on its beaches in bikinis.

Women’s inclusion is also not just about numbers, where they are relegated to support roles such as cooking, cleaning and nursing. It is about changing the dominant sexist gender discourse in these operations and including their voices in all negotiation processes.

Women in peace and security, is about democracy and full participation in all decision-making. It is about serving and protecting an entire population. The right to participation, protection and peace is a human right. As Bob Marley once sang, “Until that day… the dream of lasting peace will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued.”

Katherine Robinson is the Editor and Communications Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.


One thought on “International: Women in peace and gendered reinforcements”

Hastings Makunda says:

Thank you for your articles. They are very helpful. Keep them rolling!

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