Women, War & Peace
WomenWarPeace.org is intended to address the lack of consolidated data on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls as noted by Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). This portal is meant to serve as a centralized hub of information from a wide variety of sources, with links to reports and data from the UN system to information and analysis from experts, academics, NGOs and media sources. Views expressed in external sources may not necessarily reflect those of UNIFEM or other UN departments, agencies, programmes or funds.
War has always impacted men and women in different ways, but possibly never more so than in contemporary conflicts. While women remain a minority of combatants and perpetrators of war, they increasingly suffer the greatest harm.
In contemporary conflicts, as much as 90 percent of casualties are among civilians, most of whom are women and children. Women in war-torn societies can face specific and devastating forms of sexual violence, which are sometimes deployed systematically to achieve military or political objectives. Women are the first to be affected by infrastructure breakdown, as they struggle to keep families together and care for the wounded. And women may also be forced to turn to sexual exploitation in order to survive and support their families.
Even after conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persist, including unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and stigmatization. Widespread sexual violence itself may continue or even increase in the aftermath of conflict, as a consequence of insecurity and impunity. Coupled with discrimination and inequitable laws, sexual violence can prevent women from accessing education, becoming financially independent and from participating in governance and peacebuilding.
Moreover, women continue to be poorly represented in formal peace processes, although they contribute in many informal ways to conflict resolution. In recent peace negotiations, for which such information is available, women have represented fewer than 8 percent of participants and fewer than 3 percent of signatories, and no woman has ever been appointed chief or lead mediator in UN-sponsored peace talks. Such exclusion invariably leads to a failure to adequately address women’s concerns, such as sexual and gender-based violence, women’s rights and post-conflict accountability.
United Nations Resolutions
However, the UN Security Council now recognizes that women’s exclusion from peace processes contravenes their rights, and that including women and gender perspectives in decision-making can strengthen prospects for sustainable peace. This recognition was formalized in October 2000 with the unanimous adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The landmark resolution specifically addresses the situation of women in armed conflict and calls for their participation at all levels of decision-making on conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
Since the agenda was set with the core principles of resolution 1325, three supporting resolutions have been adopted by the Security Council — 1820, 1888 and 1889. The four resolutions focus on two key goals:
- Strengthening women’s participation in decision-making— Resolution 1325 (2000) calls for strengthening women’s agency as peacemakers and peacebuilders, including their participation in conflict prevention and peace processes, early recovery, governance and in peace operations. Resolution 1889 (2009) complements 1325 by calling for the establishment of global indicators to measure progress on its implementation.
- Ending sexual violence and impunity — Resolution 1820 (2008) calls for an end to widespread conflict-related sexual violence and for accountability in order to end impunity. Resolution 1888 (2009) focuses on strengthening leadership, expertise and other institutional capacities within the United Nations and in member states to help put an end to conflict-related sexual violence.
Together, these resolutions provide a powerful framework and mandate for implementing and measuring change in the lives of women in conflict-affected countries. A number of other thematic resolutions, policies and legal instruments also overlap and complement this agenda.
Since the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1325, UNIFEM’s work on peace and security issues has been driven by its goals. UNIFEM supports projects that focus on increasing women’s participation in decision-making, promoting the use of gender perspectives in policy development, strengthening the protection of women affected by conflict, countering conflict-related sexual violence, amplifying calls for accountability and advancing the status of women in post-conflict settings.
UNIFEM programming focuses on four key thematic areas:
- Security & Justice
- Sexual & Gender-Based Violence
- Post-Conflict & Humanitarian Planning
Today’s conflicts are mostly civil wars fought in the world’s poorest countries, where state capacity is often weak. Civilians now account for the vast majority of casualties, and are in many cases deliberately targeted by armed groups. Moreover, many countries recovering from conflict are at high risk of relapse within the first five to ten years, because previous recovery processes have failed to address the root causes of conflict and due to lack of effective institutions to provide security, good governance and core services to citizens.
The United Nations has responded by expanding the scope and reach of international peace interventions from traditional peacekeeping operations to more broad-based peacebuilding strategies. Beyond monitoring ceasefire arrangements, these strategies aim to protect civilians under threat of imminent violence, strengthen institutional capacity and establish the foundations for lasting peace.
Peacebuilding efforts vary from country to country, depending on specific circumstances and needs. Peacekeeping missions can work to prevent and resolve conflicts before they begin. They facilitate peace negotiations, which shape decisions on post-conflict recovery and governance, and work to restore effective law and order. UN missions engage local actors in institutional reform and promote national reconciliation.
Activities outside the traditional realm of peacekeeping can include disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), security sector reform (SSR), protection of human rights and judicial reform, and support in the implementation and monitoring of legitimate electoral processes. Prevention strategies include the development of early warning indicators, which can signal that conflict is at risk of renewal.
Women and Peacebuilding
The importance of including women and gender perspectives in the planning and implementation of peace operations is increasingly recognized. This has led to some milestone achievements, such as the deployment of the first all-female peacekeeping unit in Liberia. However, many critical gaps remain, both at the local and international level.
Women are still significantly underrepresented in most areas of UN peace operations, in peace negotiations and in national governance, particularly at senior levels. Women’s issues are often given low priority and inadequate support. Attitudes towards women’s participation in many countries and steamer basket organizations pose a significant barrier to progress. Moreover, policies frequently fail to translate into operational targets and effective impact on the situation of women on the ground.
Nevertheless, peacebuilding offers important opportunities to support the advancement of gender equality in conflict-affected countries. Accordingly, efforts must be made to ensure that all peacebuilding strategies and activities consistently and effectively include women and gender perspectives.
UNIFEM has been a key actor in promoting the role of women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts, as well as advocating for the active participation of women at all levels of decision-making. This work builds largely on the resolutions of the UN Security Council on women, peace and security. Some examples of UNIFEM’s contributions include:
- supporting women’s involvement in peace negotiations, such as recently in mediation efforts to end conflicts in Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- supporting initiatives aimed at strengthening the presence and capacity of female officers in peace operations, such as inAfghanistan;
- strengthening the development of gender-sensitive early warning strategies to prevent the outbreak of conflict in Colombia and the Solomon Islands;
- advocating for women’s inclusion in the design, implementation and conduct of post-conflict elections in Burundi;
- providing gender expertise in a variety of peace operations.
Security & Justice
War creates serious challenges in regard to security, justice and accountability, which tend to persist long after fighting has ended. Left unaddressed, these challenges pose barriers to post-conflict recovery and increase the risk of countries relapsing into conflict.
Small arms, responsible for the majority of direct casualties during wartime, represent one of these challenges. Even after the cease of hostilities, their widespread availability increases the risk of civilians becoming victims of violent crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence. Landmines are another devastating legacy of conflict. They kill and maim people, limit access to waterways and agricultural lands, and restrict opportunities for development.
Conflict also leads to mass displacement of civilians, with women and children accounting for 80 percent of displaced populations. Displacement increases the vulnerability of civilians to many crimes, including forcible recruitment into armed groups, sexual and gender-based violence, enforced prostitution and human trafficking.
When conflict ends, peace operations implement policies to address these and other security issues in an effort to support early recovery and promote long-term stability. Early interventions focus on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of combatants, which consist of collecting weapons, disbanding armed groups, and reintegrating former combatants into communities.
In the medium to long term, these policies are complemented by security sector reform (SSR), which aims to build the capacity of security actors and institutions, restore trust in the security sector, enhance civilian oversight and strengthen rule of law. Other key priorities include the resettlement of displaced populations and the removal of landmines. Transitional justice mechanisms are set up to address crimes committed during conflict and promote national reconciliation.
Women, Security & Justice
Each of these issues has distinct implications for women, yet policy makers often ignore them and implement gender-blind policies that inadequately consider women’s needs and capacities.
For instance, economic support is often provided to reintegrating combatants, while women associated with armed groups are ignored. Moreover, victims of conflict often receive little or no assistance at all. Mine clearance policies often fail to consider places where women and girls collect water and food. In some cases, ex-combatants who are known to have committed rape or other crimes against civilians during conflict have been integrated into security sector institutions. And ineffectively designed transitional justice mechanisms discourage women from testifying about crimes like sexual violence before truth commissions or war crimes courts.
Such failures increase insecurity for all, reinforce socio-economic divides between men and women, and prevent women from realizing their potential.
Recognizing these critical challenges, UNIFEM has made key contributions to strengthening advocacy and gender-sensitive programming on security and justice. Examples of UNIFEM’s work include:
- Providing gender expertise and technical assistance to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Liberia and Sierra Leoneand the Commission of Inquiry for Guinea.
- Supporting local Afghan initiatives to strengthen the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives in transitional justice mechanisms.
- Amplifying the voices of women displaced by conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
- Organizing workshops on security sector reform to share best practices from across the world.
The escalation of conflict typically coincides with an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in both the public and private spheres, targeting mainly women and girls, but also affecting men and boys. These crimes can have devastating, long-term effects in the lives of victims, their families and communities.
Armed actors have systematically deployed sexual violence against civilians as a means to achieve military and political ends. In recent conflicts, countless women and children have been abducted into armed groups and subjected to multiple forms of abuse, including sexual slavery. And heightened tension and militarization in society can spur increased violence at home, in schools and in the workplace. Both conflict and displacement significantly increase a country’s risk of becoming a source of human trafficking, enforced prostitution and other crimes.
Moreover, sexual and gender-based violence has persisted in some countries long after the end of conflict. These problems can be exacerbated by cultures of impunity that often arise out of conflict, as well as by the absence of effective institutions to protect citizens and bring perpetrators to justice.
Despite increased focus on the causes and consequences of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, as evidenced by the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions 1820 and 1888, the implementation of meaningful measures to address the problem is still lagging. An effective Steamer Basket response to SGBV in conflict requires political will from the highest levels at the United Nations and in Member States. It further requires coordinated efforts of international, regional and national actors to strengthen security sector institutions and justice systems, and to promote gender equality.
To this end, UNIFEM has mobilized a number of initiatives at the international, national and local levels, including:
- Co-hosting a Colloquium on Sexual Violence & Peace Negotiations, which brought together eminent mediators, thematic experts, peace activists and leaders of women’s organizations from conflict-affected countries to help overcome the absence of provisions on sexual violence in most mediation processes;
- Developing a multi-country programme to support community-led strategies aimed at addressing sexual and gender-based violence;
- Partnering with the Rwanda Defence Forces to train several thousand military officers to understand, prevent and respond to SGBV;
- Strengthening the capacity of organizations such as the African Union and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to effectively mainstream gender perspectives into policy responses at the regional level; and
- Supporting local women’s groups, such as women who have organized training workshops for police and community leaders on combating domestic violence and trafficking.
Within the framework of humanitarian response, UNIFEM participates in the Gender-Based Violence Area of Responsibility Working Groupunder the Global Protection Cluster Working Group, as well as GBV sub-clusters in countries affected by a humanitarian crisis caused by a conflict or a natural disaster.
Post-Conflict & Humanitarian Planning
When conflict-related emergencies arise, humanitarian organizations are often the first on the ground to respond, providing displaced and vulnerable populations with shelter, food, health care and other crucial services. As conflict subsides and early recovery processes begin, mechanisms are established to mobilize community-driven initiatives with quick impact, as well as interventions to support the transition to long-term development.
During both conflict and early recovery, women and children tend to be affected in very different ways from men. In such circumstances, women and girls increasingly become heads of households and the primary protectors and providers for dependent family members. Women and children make up the vast majority of displaced populations, more than 80 percent, while men represent the majority of armed actors. Forced to leave behind their homes and communities, displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to hunger, disease, sexual and gender-based violence, forced prostitution and trafficking.
Yet, in the rush to respond and mobilize support, humanitarian organizations often fail to consider the distinct needs, contributions and capacities of women and girls. That can result in unequal access to humanitarian support, lack of protection against sexual and gender-based violence, and inadequate engagement of women in decision-making processes. Moreover, if gender perspectives are ignored, aid may prove wasteful and even harmful, by reinforcing socio-economic disparities and cycles of dependency.
Through direct and representative dialogue with displaced populations, humanitarian agencies can involve different groups in the design and implementation of programmes, and empower them to contribute to recovery efforts. But even in missions and organizations where gender analysis informs the planning of humanitarian and early recovery activities, these efforts often fail to translate into the development of gender-sensitive targets and indicators, which ultimately drive budgeting allocations and actual expenditures.
UNIFEM has contributed in many ways to strengthening the inclusion of women and gender perspectives in post-conflict and humanitarian planning, with the aim of ensuring long-term effective protection for women and their meaningful participation in decision-making processes. For example, UNIFEM has supported the integration of gender into post-conflict needs assessments and conducted research on whether policies and programmes on gender translate effectively into budget allocations.