Women, peace and democracy

19 years after UN Resolution 1325, the gender discourse is reaching beyond traditional conflicts to embrace militarisation & communal hostilities.

Published: 02nd November 2019 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd November 2019 03:17 PM   |  A+A-

On October 31, 2019, the path-breaking UN Security Council Resolution mandating the inclusion of women in all stages of conflict resolution turned 19. This week, the secretary-general presented his annual progress report on its implementation to the Security Council. A few days before that, the second edition of the Georgetown Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Index was published. The secretary-general’s report minced no words, labelling the progress (not) made so far as “empty rhetoric”.

He cited data from a review yet to be released, and it is dismal when you consider the hype around implementation of the WPS agenda. Some examples: Even within the UN, women only make up 4.2% of military personnel in peacekeeping operations. Despite a ‘naming-shaming’ list, over 50 conflict parties are suspected to have used sexual violence. Nine out of 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are also conflict zones. World military expenditures are rising, even though conflict prevention is a key objective of the UN. Even countries that have committed to implementing the agenda have by and large not backed it with budget allocations. The secretary-general also noted the rising levels of violence faced by women human rights defenders.

The WPS Index is prepared by Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo. First published in 2017, it operationalises the main values of the WPS resolutions to measure how women fare across three dimensions of peace and security: inclusion, justice and security. The 2019 update finds that while individually, countries lag far behind on most measures, “the world seems to be moving in the right direction”. Representation in government is one measure of inclusion, and the index finds that across legislatures worldwide only 21.5% are women, so that it will take 52 years to approach parity.

The secretary-general observed: “Women’s equal participation is made more difficult when women face gender-based violence and discrimination.” The WPS Index reports that in 2018, 379 million women experienced intimate partner violence. Taken at face value, this number exceeds the population of the US. Both the secretary-general’s report and the WPS Index point to a correlation between conflict and violence, with the latter stating: “Large-scale conflicts can normalise violence against women within their homes and communities. Such general insecurity can promote a hypermasculine culture, which has widespread repercussions for women.” The latest WPS Resolution, 2467 (2019), pointed out that sexual violence in conflict is part of a continuum of violence experienced by women.

This edition of the index compiles subnational level data for India, which ranks 133 out of 167—ahead of Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan but trailing Nepal (which is one quintile ahead), Bangladesh and Bhutan. The correlation between conflict and gender inequality is on full display. Kerala, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka top the table while J&K, Tripura, Rajasthan and Manipur bring up the tail end. Somewhat anomalous at the two ends—if Mizoram women are reaping the peace dividend, the experience of Rajasthani women illustrates how patriarchal cultures undermine it.

The numbers for the erstwhile state of J&K are interesting. Women attend school for 5.44 years on average. 60.30% of women have bank accounts; 29% do paid work outside the home and 54.20% have cell phones. Impressive, until you match that to the gendered reality of conflict zones. Men tend to die, be wounded or disappear disproportionately more, so women become heads of households. J&K women are about 0.1% of the Indian Parliament but 84% of them report that they participate in household decisions. 72.8% of them would work if there were suitable jobs—but who decides what is ‘suitable’? Girls outnumber boys at birth, 9.4% of them experience intimate partner violence and they live with an organised violence (“total number of battle deaths from state-based, non-state, and one-sided conflicts per 100,000”) score of 175.93.

This is before the amendment of Article 370, the bifurcation of the state and the communications blockade. Several civil society fact-finding teams have travelled to Kashmir since August 5 and the participation of women has been striking—at least three have been all-women teams. What they document reinforces what we know about gender and militarisation—men and boys are more likely to be shot, tortured, or questioned; women are then left to cope. They live with the constant threat (or reality) of sexual violence as an act of control by all conflict parties including the side where they belong, and lack of access to essential services (like emergency care) affect women whose mobility is severely impaired. The lack of communication (and therefore, accountability) exacerbates this manifold.

Nineteen years after UN Resolution 1325, the discourse around ‘women, peace and security’ is reaching beyond traditional conflicts to embrace militarisation, communal hostilities and structural conflict, so that when we promote the WPS agenda, we are promoting the broader agenda of gender equality as laid out by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. From parliaments to peace tables; from domestic violence and sexual harassment to war-time rape; from protecting peace activists to human rights and space for association and dissent, 1325 is also an agenda for inclusive governance. To that end, it is not just the business of security experts, defence policy analysts and feminist peace activists but of anyone invested in the democratic and peaceful resolution of conflict—the essence of political life and activity in any society.

Swarna Rajagopalan
Political scientist and a member of the Women’s Regional Network
Email: swarnar@gmail.com

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