Sexual Violence in Conflict Addressed at the UN Security Council

On June 24, 2013, the UN Security Council held an open session to vote on another resolution under the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda with a particular focus on sexual violence in conflict. UN Security Council Resolution 2106 was passed by unanimous vote by the 15 members of the Council, and it builds on the commitments of previous resolutions (1325, 1820, 1888, and 1960) in the WPS framework.


The June 24 debate was led by the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has been focused on this issue through his country’s Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and was presiding over the Security Council (SC) in June. Hague, who led the G8 foreign ministers in adopting the Declarationon Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict in April, exhorted the SC to make better commitments toward ending sexual violence in conflict and providing resources to mitigate the causes and affects of this form of gender-based violence.

Hague told the assembled participants, “We can grasp the opportunity to shatter the culture of impunity once and for all, or we can let it slip away, and with it the hopes of survivors and vulnerable women, children, and men worldwide.”

Echoing the Resolution under vote in the chamber, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told the Security Council, “Sexual violence occurs wherever conflict rages. It has devastating effects on survivors and destroys the social fabric of whole communities…[and] when used as a weapon of war, it can significantly exacerbate conflict and seriously hamper reconciliation.” He called on States to take ownership in addressing sexual violence that occurs under their jurisdiction.

UN Special Representative of the SG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, told the Council that it is “cost-free to rape a woman, child, or man in conflict” and it is possible today for the international community to “reverse this reality…[which] will require leadership and political courage, and a relentless determination to match the cold, calculating brutality of those who would rape the innocent for military or political gain.”

Women at the Center

Adding to the earlier resolutions in the WPS framework, Resolution 2106 calls for more women in the security sector reform process and in peacekeeping missions as security sectors as “Women Protection Advisors” (mentioned in UN SCR 1820) in peace building missions.

The Resolution also acknowledges the important role of civil society, women’s organizations and networks at the community level for protection against sexual violence. It recognizes that sexual violence (SV) occurs against men and boys in the conflict context, and they must not be left out of conversation. SC members and attending member states generally agreed that sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war, and is a violation of human rights; that the stigma of sexual violence must be placed on the perpetrators of these crimes, and no longer on the victims. Many states in their individual statements echoed the words of the Resolution: that women are not just passive victims of sexual violence or of history and that they must be included in peace processes and stabilization programs, as experts and as decision-makers. There was great emphasis on providing services for victims including psychological and physical rehabilitation. States urged the Security Council that more must be done to address the root causes of conflict in order to end the frequency of conflict and of sexual violence in conflict.

Participants agreed on the need for collaboration between national and international justice mechanisms in combating sexual violence, but with the greater onus on states to create policies and legislation conducive to this effort, and that perpetrators of SV see prosecution and punishment.

Going Forward

The Resolution also called on the response to sexual violence prevention and protection efforts to focus both on protecting women, but also improving the space for women as actors and active stakeholders in ending sexual violence.

Some states voiced their worry that dividing elements of the WPS framework into specific resolutions puts stress on specific issues, but may also weaken the holistic strength of the WPS agenda. Those concerned with long-term empowerment of women in the WPS framework worry that this resolution serves to overshadow efforts to bring women on as peacemakers and decision-makers in the political realm. Sweden on behalf of the Nordic countries called on the SC to be mindful not to sideline the larger WPS agenda with increasing attention on ending sexual violence in conflict.

The lack of enforcement mechanisms that can monitor and hold governments accountable when they fail to address sexual violence committed by perpetrators living in the state’s national jurisdiction is a continuing problem. Despite the Resolution calling on States to support the office of Zainab Hawa Bangura, the provision of more Women Protection Advisors in peace building and justice and security sector reform efforts still do not ensure how many resources will be available and what implementation will look like.

The Resolution does not provide for a clear mechanism that can bring perpetrators to justice at the international level or sue government officials who look the other way when crimes are committed. The use of the International Criminal Court is limited in this regard because not only many states have yet to sign and ratify the Rome Statute, the emphasis on State responsibility to bring perpetrators to justice begs the question – who do criminals have to answer to? Tribunals and other transitional justice mechanisms are created on a case by case basis and the prosecution of sexual violence cases depend on which grievances are given attention, how willing victims are in talking, and what evidence exists to bring criminals to justice.

The usefulness of this Resolution remains to be seen. Previous resolutions under the Women, Peace, and Security framework have still to be fully implemented, and another resolution in its chest of drawers adds to the clutter of rhetoric. It is hoped that UN SCR 2106 is not merely another symbolic gesture on the part of world leaders.

by Zarin Hamid, Gender-Based Violence Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University


Community Radio – A Tool for Peace?

So why does community radio matter? Shouldn’t we be mainstreaming and making news, shaking things up in the mainstream media? I only wish it were that easy. After departing from a career in corporate media where I was constantly trying to find ways to take the messages from our women’s movement beyond the confines of International Women’s Day and 16 Days Campaign events, it has been more than a decade since I connected my work with the vision of Virginia Woolf for women to have the resources to define our spaces, including to be able to challenge war and violence.

For the last 3 years, FemLINKPACIFIC has linked the annual 16 Days Campaign to our rural women’s community media network “1325” network, building on the monthly meetings where rural women leaders share and articulate their Women, Peace and Human Security priorities using a United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 lens.

Last year 139 rural women and 24 young women shared their personal stories, the stories of their families, their community groups and clubs during our 16 Days Campaign in Suva, Labasa and Nausori.

UNSCR 1325 reaffirms that women are crucial partners in shoring up the three pillars of lasting peace: economic recovery, social cohesion and political system. But our political reality is that we still have a long way to go to be able to claim spaces in a legitimate political system, even to simply challenge spending priorities by the state.

The 2012 theme of UN Security Council Open Debate on 1325 reiterates the need to support women’s civil society roles in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, and that means that local and national action plans must be inclusive of women’s definitions of peace and human security. It also requires a transformation of structures to ensure the full and equal participation of women in decision making.

Here in Fiji, we are also awaiting the announcement of the 2013 national budget. The 2012 budget brief coincides with the 16 Days Campaign and we heard with dismay that there would be an increase in Fiji’s military budget by $5.2 million “due to the additional 42 troops for the Iraq Mission” with an additional $550,000 allocated for military infrastructure upgrade. This is the same amount allocated to the Women’s Plan of Action, which is focused on “(providing) training to women in the rural and urban areas and in the process assist in the implementing of their projects that promotes the social and empowerment of women,” while an additional $300K is provided for repairs and maintenance of health facilities, including health centres and 103 nursing stations in the 4 divisions.

This will be the 3rd year that FemLINKPACIFIC’s 16 days of community radio campaign will be staged in Suva, Labasa and other rural centres. Ahead of the campaign we organised an interactive learning programme for our current young women producers and broadcasters and a group of potential volunteers from the capital city and from our Nausori “1325” network to work with two outstanding feminist communicators – Vanessa Griffen and Shirley Tagi. They worked together to enhance their collective knowledge of the 16 Days Campaign as well as develop a series of messages which are airing during our 16 Days Campaign.

These are the spaces we have created to enable women including young women to talk about issues closest to them. To connect processes and define where the transformation is needed, especially as here in Fiji in the democratization process of our country.

This is thinking globally and acting locally.

by Sharon Bhagwan Rolls

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is a broadcaster by profession and co-founder of FemLINKPACIFIC (Media Initiatives for Women) established in Suva, Fiji Islands in 2000 following the May 2000 coup. Today she is the Executive Director of the organisation which supports a “1325media and policy network” that includes a cadre of young women producers and broadcasters.

For True Peace and Security: Welcoming the 16 Days Campaign

Worldwide, militarism continues to be a significant source of violence against women, from the domestic sphere of the home to civil war and international conflict.  This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign seeks to highlight the linkages between gender-based violence and militarism through our 2012 Campaign theme, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Gender-Based Violence!  Coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, the 16 Days Campaign serves as a global advocacy campaign to increase awareness about gender-based violence and call on governments to respond, protect, and prevent such violence. 

Militarism not only undermines women’s rights as a whole, but also women’s dignity and bodily integrity. Militarism creates a culture of fear, supporting the use of violence, aggression, and military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests. While often being used in the name of “security,” militarism typically has the opposite effect, causing violence and preventing peace.

Women and men worldwide are organizing hundreds of initiatives to challenge militarism and gender-based violence in their communities and world.   Activities range from dialogues with local policymakers in Botswana and documentary film screenings in Egypt, to pledges by police and firefighters against domestic violence in England and a 940 kilometer walk across Malaysia. 

For the 2012 16 Days Campaign, CWGL joins women’s, peace, and human rights groups across the globe in challenging militarism, ending gender-based violence, and promoting a culture of peace.  I am thrilled to kick off the CWGL 16 Days Blog, which will feature insights by activists worldwide on their experiences working to end violence in their communities.  Guest bloggers include Masa Amir, researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies, writing on state response to women human rights defenders; Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Executive Director of FemLINKPACIFIC, discussing radio as a tool for social change; and Mabel Bianco, President of Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer, on challenging cultural norms through art.  

In addition, the Center has launched The Security Project, aimed at questioning traditional definitions of security to consider what human security really means to all of us.  Often when we hear about security, it is defined by the state, in terms such as the presence of military personnel, checkpoints, and the right to bear arms.  But do we define our own sense of security in these same terms? 

We invite readers to share your thoughts through our anonymous, three-question survey.  Your feedback will help guide our advocacy on state spending priorities and national budgets, work toward developing a renewed understanding of what human security means for all of us, and help us realize human rights and peace for all.

Already in the responses we have received thus far, key patterns are emerging in how members of civil society envision a more peaceful world, hinting at the steps necessary to achieve sustainable development and long-lasting peace.  To end violence against women, women’s rights must not be seen as one dimensional.  Women’s experiences of violence are manifested in multiple forms of discrimination, and greatly influence their access to economic, social and cultural rights.  Violence against women cannot be adequately addressed unless States also address land rights, healthcare, education, access to justice and legal mechanisms, and the larger economic, social, cultural, and political context in which women and men live.  Only then can we truly have an equitable and peaceful world.

by Julie Ann Salthouse, Violence Against Women Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University