Earlier this month, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2122, designed to highlight the importance of women’s involvement in conflict prevention, resolution and peace-building.
The adoption of this Resolution represents a continuation in the UN’s focus on the role of women in conflict zones, which began with Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, adopted in 2000. The progression that such Resolutions represent, in terms of women’s role in conflict, is to recognise that women are more than simply victims of human rights abuses. Rather, as the Council acknowledged, they are “pivotal actors,” and as such, should be involved in all conflict-management decisions, from the ground up.
In adopting the resolution, the Council considered a recent report of the UN Secretary-General on women and peace and security. This report noted that whilst there was pervasive sexual violence against women in conflict zones, greater attention also needed to be paid to the full range of human rights violations experienced by women. These included gender-specific impacts of forced displacement, family separation, withholding of humanitarian assistance and loss of land, property and livelihood. The report also cited the Commission on the Status of Women, which in its 57th session earlier this year, stressed the need to address the root causes of structural violence against women, and all physical, mental and sexual and reproductive health consequences of violence against women. This highlights the danger of focusing too specifically on the individual issue of sexual violence affecting women in conflict zones. The risk is that this issue comes to define the position of such women, and that broader human rights violations committed against them is ignored.
This is not to say that the issue of sexual violence against women during conflict is overlooked by the Resolution. On the contrary, a bold inclusion is its recognition of the need for access to “the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including regarding pregnancies resulting from rape, without discrimination.” By advocating an institutional response to the problem, the Resolution publicises the extent to which it occurs, and therefore seeks to encourage member states to invest in long-term structural solutions.
As well as focusing on the specific issue of gender-based violence against women, Resolution 2122 also has a broad ambit, which allows it to perceive women as more than just the victims of war. It is concerned not only with the protection of women from human rights violations during conflict, but also with their proactive role both in the prevention of conflict, and in the process of conflict resolution. For instance, it encourages troop- and police-contributing countries to increase the percentage of women military and police personnel in deployments to UN peace-keeping operations, and to provide them with adequate training. It also states its intention to include provisions to facilitate women’s full participation in post-conflict political processes, for example by providing training for women who wish to contest elections. As it notes in its preamble, the economic empowerment of women greatly contributes to the stabilisation of societies emerging from armed conflict. It also allows for gender-specific issues to be pushed up the post-conflict agenda in the long-term.
The Resolution’s focus upon encouraging the participation of women in all areas of conflict management is a welcome step forward in the UN’s mission to tackle the gender-specific effects of conflict upon women. By harnessing the views and experience of the women who suffer from these effects, the likelihood of long-term remedies to gender-specific human rights violations during conflict is increased. The Resolution notes that it is particularly important to include socially and / or economically excluded groups of women in such long-term strategies. By increasing the representation of such groups in conflict-resolution organisations, it is more likely to lead to fundamental changes in attitudes towards female victims of conflict. Further, it will encourage the empowerment of women who, as victims of conflict, have typically been those with the least influence.
Claire Overman is studying for the BPTC at Kaplan Law School, having completed the BCL at the University of Oxford. She is a frequent contributor to the OxHRH Blog.