On September 21, I had the privilege of making a presentation at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, WI on the importance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 as part of their celebration of the International Day of Peace. The presentation was co-sponsored by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom as part of their Advancing Women As Peacemakers Program in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of UNSCR 1325. Below is a web-version of the material I presented on the importance and context of 1325. I am indebted to everyone who made this presentation possible.
Resolution 1325 addresses for the first time the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognizes the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building as well as the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security. It is binding upon all UN Member States.
Key Provisions of UNSCR 1325 include:
- Increased participation and representation of women at all levels of decision-making.
- Attention to specific protection needs of women and girls in conflict.
- Gender perspective in post-conflict processes.
- Gender perspective in UN programming, reporting and in Security Council missions.
- Gender perspective & training in UN peace support operations.
The passage of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security by the Security Council of the United Nations 10 years ago was an historical accomplishment that resulted from the hard work, courage and determination of women throughout the world who insisted that we should have an equal role in bringing and maintaining peace in our global community.
While much work has been done to implement 1325, the results so far are discouraging. Since 2000, women averaged 7 percent of negotiators in five major U.N. peace processes. Fewer than 3 percent of the signatories in 14 peace talks were women. For a comprehensive look at efforts to implement 1325, please see this checklist on progress made on implementation of 1325.
To truly understand why 1325 is so important, we need to take a look at the impact of militarism from a gendered lens and ask what is it about military conflict that makes women particularly vulnerable?
Several points to consider:
Wars are not fought on battlefields anymore–they are fought in cities and towns and villages. Civilian casualties now make up as much as 70% of the total casualties of any military action. Since women and children are the majority of these civilian populations, they make up the majority of civilian casualties.
In warfare, women’s bodies frequently become part of the battle ground over which opposing forces struggle. Their bodies are often considered the spoils of war, or invisibilized under the catchall euphemism, ‘collateral damage’.
It is important to understand the primary ways in which women are sexually victimized as a result of militarism, which include:
- Rape/Sexual Assault
- Sexual Slavery/Trafficking
- Forced Marriages and Pregnancies
Other factors that make women particularly vulnerable include: the loss of homes, being separated from family (especially men who may have provided protection), becoming a refugee (and not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of refugees from conflict are women), and loss of jobs and income leaving women to resort to desperate means such as prostituting themselves to put food on their family’s table.
Finally, it is important to remember that violence against women does not end when the fighting ends. We’ve all heard reports of rapes committed by U.N. peacekeepers, of soldiers who come home and assault or murder their wives and in a minute we’ll look at what this means in Iraq now that we’ve declared an end to combat operations.
Before we go any further however, I want to talk about how I usually approach talking about militarism. When I talk about militarism, I tend to focus on U.S. militarism for 2 reasons. The first is because we have the biggest military in the world, so our actions rather literally pack the biggest punch.
Secondly, most of us are U.S. citizens, we live here, and it is important to look first at the impact of our own actions and how we can change them before examining those of others. So when we talk about 1325, we should consider that becoming more aware of its potential in addressing conflict and pushing for its use by the U.S. can have an enormous impact.
I do want to note however that it isn’t just us, although our inaction in conflicts such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Darfur, the DRC and so on makes us complicit in these atrocities.
- Rwanda Genocide–As many as 500,000 women raped
- 64,000 women raped during conflict in Sierra Leone
- 40,000 women raped in Bosnia/Herzogovina
- 4,500 Rapes in just 6 months in one province of the DRC
- Hundreds of women raped every day in Darfur
In any case, it is precisely because of these incredible, large numbers of victims that we know that violence against women is systemic to militarism.
Two recent examples of how U.S. militarism impacts women are instructive.
- The majority of Afghan women are vulnerable to violence in their homes. Violence against women is definitely not just something that we can say is because of the Taliban.
- The judiciary system provides scant recourse for survivors of that violence. If there are no witnesses to these crimes, the women can be convicted of adultery.
- Victims are often jailed or murdered. Women who face domestic violence can be pushed to tragic extremes, including suicide; self-immolation is often the method of choice. The burn hospital in Herat recently reported 90 cases of self-immolation in an 11 month period. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where the suicide rate for women is higher than for men.
- 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages often before the age of 12. There are actually markets where women are bought and sold.
- Going to school is risky for girls because of fire bombings and acid attacks.
- The assassinations of several prominent women leaders have gone unpunished.
- And finally, women and children frequently find themselves in the line of fire during military actions. In addition, obtaining food and shelter or medical care, finding a hospital to deliver a baby can become all but impossible when there is fighting going on.
And in Iraq, again we used the justification of liberating women as a reason for war. And while we’ve declared an official end to combat there, for Iraqi women, the war is far from over:
- 740,000 widows in Iraq due to the last war with little or no means of support.
- Many women have become refugees in Jordan and Syria, often away from families who could provide protection and support.
- The new Constitution, which we gave our blessing to gives precedence to Islamic law over civil law.
- Honor killings have increased dramatically.
- Sexual Trafficking where women are being forced to prostitute themselves to feed their families, or are being sold to sex traffickers has increased dramatically.
But it is not only civilian women who are at risk.
According to several studies, 30% of women in the U.S. military are raped while serving, 71% are sexually assaulted and 90% are sexually harassed. It is believed that 90% of sexual assaults in the military are never reported. As one Congresswoman noted recently, women serving in the military are more at risk of being harmed by their fellow soldiers than by any enemy.
It’s also important to note that the problems described apropos of the military also apply to women working for private contractors such as KBR/Halliburton, Blackwater (now known as Xe), etc. which is very relevant since while we are officially withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, there are still many, many private contractors there.
So that gives you some context about why 1325 is so important. Before I close I do also want to note that in addition to 1325, there are a number of other vehicles that in part address the impact of militarism on women and the need to include women in conflict resolution. They include:
CEDAW (1979) which stands for The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and defines violence against women as a violation of women’s human rights and is often described as an international bill of rights for women. As of August, 2009, 185 countries had ratified CEDAW. The United States is one of the few that have not yet ratified it, along with countries such as Iran and Sudan.
Resolution 1820 (2008), urges all parties to armed conflicts to immediately stop acts of sexual violence against civilians and calls for the protection of women and girls from all forms of sexual violence.
We also have the International Criminal Court which was created in 1998. It classify sexual violence as a war crime and provides a means by which perpetrators can be held accountable. The U.S. however, opposes the ICC and does not participate.
And finally, here in the U.S., the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) was reintroduced in Congress last February. It would be the first of its kind to comprehensively incorporate US foreign assistance programs to help stop gender-based violence and poverty, promote economic opportunities for women, halt violence against girls in schools, and ultimately empower women.
Those are some of the tools available to us on an international and national level, but you and I—we’re not members of Congress or delegates to the United Nations. So the thought that I want to leave you with is what we—those of us here today—can do to change this paradigm. I like to frame this in terms of what I call the Peace Agenda, not the War Agenda, because after all, isn’t peace what we say we are trying to achieve?
Make Violence Against Women a Part of the Peace Agenda:
- We need to make the connection between the othering that enables militarism and the othering that enables sexual violence.
- We need to take intimate violence as seriously as the other violences of war.
- We need to admit that sexual violence is a tool of war. When men go to war, women and children are overwhelmingly the innocent victims. We need to own up to this and make it a front and center issue.
We need to make a fundamental paradigm shift away from Power Over thinking and move towards partnership thinking. Rather than seeing others as adversaries, let’s look at how can we partner to create solutions and make meaningful and just relationships. Then we will be truly empowered.
It is crucial that we look at conflict resolution from a gendered lens. When we discuss the impact of militarism and how to end it, we are simply not looking at the full picture unless we include the ways it affects women and also listen, really listen, to women’s voices when we look towards resolution of conflict and the creation of peace and I believe that 1325 is one of the best tools we have for truly creating a women-inclusive peace and am grateful to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) for all their work in working towards its implementation.
For a further discussion of 1325 particularly in the context of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, here is the interview I did on these topics on Pacifica’s KPFK’s Feminist Magazine.
Also, to learn more about 1325 and the organizations that are working to promote its implementation, the following links may be useful.