This blog post is part of the Women and Foreign Policy program’s interview series on Gender Equality in Foreign Policy, featuring global and U.S. officials leading initiatives to promote gender equality in the defense, development, and diplomatic sectors. This interview is with Joanna Roper, the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s first Special Envoy for Gender Equality.
Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry that’s provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here.
Religious women often face a double discrimination as regards inclusion into political mediation processes: They are not only discriminated against as women but also as religious actors. While there is an increasing consensus that effective, legitimate and sustainable agreements require the inclusion of both women and religious actors in the contexts where they play a role, the nexus between the two – i.e. religious women – is often neglected. Existing mediation guidelines rarely offer insights on how to better include this actor group in mediation processes. This blog argues that the role of religious women needs to be carefully considered and offers four key reflections for including religious women in mediation processes.
In September, US Senator Barbara Boxer introduced legislation calling for the active recruitment of women into global military and police forces because, as she notes, “when women are deployed… there are fewer allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation.” This follows a string of proposals from government officials and international organizations – as well as findings from academics – suggesting that integrating women into armed groups mitigates conflict-related sexual violence. For example, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 explicitly calls for gender mainstreaming in armed institutions as a solution for sexual abuse and violence against women. Some academic research supports this idea, concluding that groups may commit fewer rapes when they have high proportions of female combatants.
This argument’s core logic, however, makes a series of flawed assumptions about gender and sexual violence. First, and perhaps most significantly, it assumes that female combatants are innately less violent than their male counterparts – it suggests women’s passivity should tame otherwise violent groups. Yet women’s wartime brutality is well documented and, in many cases, female combatants also commit rape. Indeed, sexual violence persists in many groups despite female integration: high rates of ‘blue on blue’ assault in the US military and testimony from female rebels in Nepal, Colombia, and other conflicts illustrate that many female-inclusive groups abuse their own cadre in addition to civilians.
Deploying more female soldiers in peacekeeping missions will not in itself prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. Strengthening gender training and investigative capacities are small, yet feasible steps forward.
- The UN and troop-contributing countries (TCCs) should enhance cooperation between the UN conduct and discipline teams and the national investigation teams.
- The UN and TCCs should strengthen in-mission investigative capacities to ensure the availability of reliable evidence and local witnesses.
- The UN should put pressure on TCCs to hold their defence leadership accountable for effective command and control enforcement.
- There should be a focus on continuous gender training in all units, both prior to and during deployment.
According to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (UNSCR 1325), increasing the number of female peacekeepers will reduce sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in peace operations. However, this does not seem to be the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where UN peacekeepers from South Africa have been more involved in SEA than peacekeepers from other nations, even though the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has the highest number of female peacekeepers deployed in the DRC. In the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), 243 of the 1351 SANDF troops deployed (18%) are women. However, changing a military culture that tacitly accepts SEA as a part of everyday life in the camps requires more profound measures than simply deploying more women.
In recent years, cases of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) of vulnerable individuals by UN peacekeepers and police have been surfacing with alarming regularity. The extent of the crisis was revealed by Human Rights Watch, which documented that between December 2013 and June 2014 children residing near the M’Poko Internationally Displaced Person Camps in Bagui, Central African Republic (CAR), reported that they had been abused or had witnessed other children being abused by French Sangaris Forces, who used food or money as incentives. After demands that the UN investigate these allegations, an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic was established. Its report, published in December 2015, found that:
Some of the children described witnessing the rape of other child victims (who were not interviewed by the HRO [Human Rights Officer]); others indicated that it was known that they could approach certain Sangaris soldiers for food, but would be compelled to submit to sexual abuse in exchange. In several cases soldiers reportedly acknowledged or coordinated with each other, for example by bringing a child onto the base, past guards, where civilians were not authorized to be, or by calling out to children and instructing them to approach.