Open Debate: Women and peace and security: the role of women in conflict prevention and resolution in Africa.
28 March, 2016
On Monday March 28, 2016, under the Angolan presidency, the Security Council held an open debate under the theme, "Women and peace and security: the role of women in conflict prevention and resolution in Africa." Emphasizing the role of women in creating more peaceful and equitable societies on the continent, speakers demanded that women must be placed at the centre of efforts to prevent or resolve conflict in Africa, and in the Great Lakes region, in particular. The concept note circulated before the debate acknowledged the strong impact that conflicts have on women and the necessity of including women in peace processes, addressing their needs and views. Tété António, Permanent Observer of the African Union, said that “Africa cannot afford to ignore the role of women if we are to realize the vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent.” Additionally, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) reminded the public that women’s security was one of the most reliable indicators of a State’s peacefulness. “Women’s empowerment is our best line of defence against militarism and violent extremism,” she added. Similarly, some representatives of Members States, such as Kazakhstan and Brazil, reiterated the need to make financial contributions to support women in peace processes in order to prevent the militarization and radicalization of individuals in families and communities. Finally, speakers underscored women’s role as mediators and decision-makers and supported notable efforts of the African Union to ensure that gender was more systematically integrated into electoral processes. As action is taken forward on these issues, it is critical to ensure that women-led civil society receive holistic, ongoing support for their critical work as women human rights defenders, and are not instrumentalised and supported only for their contribution to preventing terrorism or violent extremism.
The majority of speakers expressed their disregard about the fact that while women remained excluded from many mediation and conflict-resolution initiatives, the experiences and opinions of the half of the world’s population are missing from consideration and keep being marginalized. However, women have proven themselves to be influential in the reintegration of former combatants, the identification and prevention of the spread of radicalization in areas where marginalization, poverty and inequality were rampant, etc. In this vein, the representative of the United Kingdom noted that the crisis in Burundi provided a heartening example of how powerful women’s organizations could be successful in mediation efforts. Women’s meaningful inclusion in conflict prevention and resolution processes is also directly linked to the sustainability of peace agreements and the decrease in levels of recurring violence. As suggested by the representative of Kenya, “women remain a resource that has not been effectively utilized or enabled to build sustainable peace.” Speakers remained that women take many roles in the conflict. They do serve as combatants, and, on the other hand, they are the main victims of armed conflicts. Many representatives condemned all acts of sexual violence and abuse against women and children, welcoming the International Criminal Court’s decision in the case of former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The representative of Brazil in this vein concluded that despite the strong African commitment to fight sexual and gender-based violence, some of the most despicable crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery, continued to occur in some regions of Africa.
In order to stabilize the situation and empower women, the speakers suggested to bolster education and health services, provide skills-building training and employment opportunities. The representative of the South-Sudan Empowerment Network also demanded gender-specific quota in local parliament. Similarly, the representative of Malaysia suggested to increase the number of women in the UN senior leadership and in peacekeeping missions. Conflict prevention requires the active engagement of civil society and the provision of necessary funding. The delegation of Poland, in this vein, highlighted that predictable and sustained funding mechanism is essential to support existing efforts to empower women and create new incentives to prevent conflicts. Minimization of the use of arms was also highlighted by 5 speakers. The delegation of Italy suggested the ban on supplying weapons, which will not only decrease the operative capacity of armed groups but also reduce harmful impact on civilians. All these initiatives, including increased funding and the ban on the use of weapons, will improve the conflict-prevention efforts in the region and contribute to the wider inclusion. However, the lack of political will is a key issue highlighted by 16 speakers. As suggested by the president of the Council, “with strong political will and commitment, women would make a tangible contribution to building a more just and peaceful world.”
Out of nearly 45 statements delivered, 82% of speakers spoke about the role of women in conflict prevention, which supposed to be a topic of the debate. Instead, all speakers addressed the participation of women in more general terms talking about the need to engage women in all post-conflict reconstruction, disarmament, demobilization and reconstruction efforts. Many speakers highlighted the importance of the African Union’s appointment of the Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security as a significant step forward in bolstering the role of women in mediation, promoting a culture of peace and establishing early warning systems. 83% of speakers discussed the role of women in peacebuilding. Noting that women had been the primary victims of that violence, speakers suggested to support the participation of women in local peacebuilding initiatives because that would be an important step in addressing their basic needs and security. Similarly, 54% of speakers addressed the role of women in peacekeeping claiming the need to include more women not only on the ground but also in senior positions. New Zealand, Kazakhstan, China, among others, highlighted their initiatives to provide male and female peacekeepers with conflict-prevention training in various regions across Africa. Sexual and gender-based violence in conflict was noted by 52 % of speakers who expressed serious concerns for vulnerable populations and some of the most despicable crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery, that are currently frequently occur in some regions of Africa. The representative of South Africa, in this vein, concluded that the Member States have the primary responsibility to end impunity and prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence. 40% of speakers reminded the Member States about the need to continue to prioritize the implementation of the Resolution 1325 and other related agreements. Speakers commended both the African Union and the United Nations for increasing the number of female military and police officers in peacekeeping missions and noted that the African continent has the largest number of countries developed the National Action plans. The need for further inclusion of women in DDR processes and the Security Sector Reform was highlighted by 13% of Member States. Supporting this argument, the representative of France suggested the international community to work further to ensure that former women-combatants and the victims of SGBV will be able to return to the society. Less frequently, Member States referred to issues related to human rights (24%), justice (11%), and displacement (7%). While Security Council is charged with maintaining peace and security, many speakers critiqued the work of the Council for its failure to comprehensively include women in its everyday agenda.