Protecting women in conflict

27 activists, international development professionals, and academics met in The Hague on 4 June for the third annual Women Peace and Security Global Training.

This two week training focused on several subject areas to enable participants to:

  • Lobby, at various levels, for the effective implementation of the Security Council Resolutions that seek to
    • protect women in conflict,
    • promote participation of women in all phases of peace processes,
  • Take measures to prevent and address impunity for sexual violence [prevent sexual violence and have perpetrators prosecuted].

Farah Karimi, the Executive Director of Oxfam Novib, opened the training with a reflection on the relevance of this work for Oxfam: as an organization guided by a rights based approach working in many countries affected by conflict, it is crucial to support initiatives and to facilitate learning and networking in order to successfully implement the Security Council resolutions. Although the Security Council Resolutions are high on the women’s rights agenda [what does that mean? whose agenda?] as a result of lobby and advocacy work on the part of women’s movements, implementation still depends on pressure from civil society and women’s organizations.

This training on women, peace and security comes at a critical time. To achieve justice, laws and treaties must be upheld and perpetrators must be prosecuted; but traditional justice mechanisms and reconciliation efforts can also play a critical role if and when women are active participants, and gender inequalities are not perpetuated through the implementation of those mechanisms.

For example, in Northern Uganda, as a result of the peace agreement, the “Peace, Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda” program was launched. But the program has not been able to reach those communities in need. Many women affected by the conflict (particularly due to sexualized violence) have not been able to receive livelihood and psychosocial support. Sexualized violence targeting men, too, is also a widespread problem; too often it is denied or ignored due to harmful gender norms and expectations.

Diverse perspectives

The first week of the training offered courses on:

Among the presenters were Professor Flinterman, who spoke about his personal experience working on the CEDAW Commission, and Kate Orlovsky, from the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice (WIGJ).

These presentations contributed to rich debates among the diverse perspectives, whose complex professional and personal realities shaped the real world implications of the discourse:

  • Those working for international organizations, often as lawyers, were able to learn about realities facing those who live and work in conflict areas from women’s groups and other civil society organization participants.
  • Participants working at the grassroots level were able to learn about the role and limits of the international justice system, and the impact of local and national initiatives.

Participants, who represented 22 nationalities, shared experiences from Myanmar, Sudan, Uganda, DRC, Burundi, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Indonesia. Questions around how to address impunity, challenging the lack of political will, and changing discriminatory attitudes and beliefs were evident as common themes throughout the presentations.

News stories related to women and conflict tend to be dominated by the trope of ‘women as victims’ and ‘women as vulnerable people.’ But women also play critical roles in lobbying, organizing movements, and campaigning for change in conflict and post-conflict states, despite often immense obstacles to their participation at every level. During the training, we have heard moments of despair mixed with celebrated positive developments. At the close of the first week of the workshop, participants concluded that mutual support, shared learning and networking is crucial to long lasting and transformative change.

So what next -- what's your experience with women, peace and creating security?

The trainings were organized by Oxfam Novib in partnership with the International Law School of Leiden University (The Hague Campus) as part of their academic summer school courses, the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and foreign policy think tank Clingendael.

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