Research points to persistent under-representation of women in UN

Women continue to be vastly under- represented in UN peace negotiations, new research from the University of Edinburgh suggests.

Over the last 15 years, references to women in peace negotiations have increased from 11 to 27 per cent. In peace deals where the UN was directly involved, references to women increased further from 14 to 38 per cent.

Yet researchers say that these figures are still unacceptably low.

In an interview with The Student, lead researcher Professor Claire Mitchell said that even in negotiations where women’s issues were represented, measures were often superficial, rarely reflected good practice, and often ultimately failed to be implemented.

“Very few agreements have what might be seen as good practice on women’s issues. The counting that we’ve done is probably over-inclusive, in that a lot of the references are still meaningless. There were very few reviews that came anywhere close to a gendered perspective – sometimes there was just one line.”

One example Mitchell cited was in negotiations between Israel and Palestine, where the only reference to women’s issues was the statement “women will be prioritised for safe passage.”

In cases such as this, issues such as sexual violence are entirely overlooked.

“It is striking for me, going through these agreements now, that nowhere in those agreements was there a need to either stop sexual violence, or give due reparation for sexual violence or accountability for sexual violence” Mitchell told The Student. “If you have a peace agreement and it doesn’t mention sexual violence as a violation of the peace agreement, then nobody will monitor sexual violence.”

She continued: “It’s very key that women often don’t get to participate in peace processes. Often they have to fight very hard to have their voices heard at all.”

In 2000, the UN unanimously voted to adopt the United Nations Security Council 1325 Resolution on Women, Peace and Security. The research, commissioned for UN Women as part of a major review of UN Policy, raises serious questions as to how effective the UN’s efforts have been.

Ghazal Rahmanpanah, Programme Associate at The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (PeaceWomen), told The Student that whilst the WPS Agenda has led to a change in the rhetoric used in negotiations, change has often been superficial.

“There is no action being taken. 15 years later, many women living in conflict and post-conflict situations have come to New York and are asking, ‘why are we still asking for the same things?’ It shows that no actual grounded progress has been made.

“The WPS Agenda is continuing to be undermined by the suffocation of civil society space; by attacks on human rights defenders; and by lack of accountability against governments that do not ensure women’s full and effective participation.”

Rahmanpanah concluded: “The time is now for governments to embrace a truly feminist foreign policy; to radically shift perspectives, policies, and priorities away from militarism and towards sustainable peace; to support an integrated approach to human security and human rights; to do more than just pay lip service to the women fighting for their seat at the table.”

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Programme Director in Scotland, told The Student that that it was crucial to continue to raise the political profile of women’s issues: “The uncomfortable truth is women and girls are uniquely and disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

“They bear the brunt of war and are the vast majority of casualties resulting from war. Rape and sexual violence targeting women and girls are routinely used as strategic tools of war and instruments of genocide.

“Women and girls are not only victims of war; it is important to recognise that they are also powerful peace-builders whose efforts to prevent conflict and secure peace have been essential, yet largely unrecognised, under-resourced, and not integrated into formal peace processes.”

Image: US State Department

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