Women must be part of peacebuilding and conflict response
As the war in Ukraine continues with rising levels of sexual violence, the insecurity in Afghanistan endures and protests rage in Iran against the restrictions to their rights, we can all clearly see how women and girls pay a very heavy price in conflict and instability.
This is why we are supporting a Women, Peace and Security Bill that is having its second reading in the House of Lords on 28 October.
Gender inequality comes in all forms and one of the most pervasive is that women are more likely to live in poverty than men. Women are less likely to be in stable work or own land, are more likely to be responsible for unpaid care work and girls are much less likely to be in school than boys. These issues all worsen when women face war, and contribute to the fact that war and crises disproportionately affect women and girls. We see the gendered impacts of war in Afghanistan, in Ethiopia, in Yemen – any country where conflict and instability are rife, women are worse affected.
Many women in eastern Ukraine have been subjected to conflict-related sexual violence
For example, 90 per cent of Ukrainian refugees and 60 per cent of the internally displaced population of Ukraine are women and children. Many women in eastern Ukraine have been subjected to conflict-related sexual violence – including sexual exploitation and a lack of access to food, water, shelter and medicines. However, when it comes to peace negotiations and the rebuilding of their country, women are excluded and thus the voices of half the population are ignored. The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been living through decades of devastating conflict with over hundred armed groups involved. Currently 5.6m people are internally displaced within the state and nearly a million refugees have fled to other African countries. Due to the war an estimated one million women have been subject to rape in the DRC, and Congolese women are more likely to live in poverty than men yet comprise only 13 per cent of positions at the highest level of decision making in the DRC national parliament.
These are just some examples but we know that in every conflict, sexual violence is highly prevalent although it may be hidden for many years. Globally, only 13 per cent of negotiators, 6 per cent of mediators, and 6 per cent of signatories in major peace processes are women. Women deserve to be part of peacebuilding and conflict response because unless they are given the opportunity to voice their demands and needs they may be left in danger even though the fighting appears to have stopped.
The United Kingdom has supported the women, peace and security agenda for many years, including setting up a network of women mediators, and is currently the pen holder at the UN Security Council. This November the UK are also hosting the international PSVI (preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative) conference focussing on ending conflict-related sexual violence. However we have also missed many key opportunities to shape this agenda and make a real difference for women and girls living through conflict around the world. Our commitment may be strong, but we can – and must – do more.
Baroness Hodgson has tabled a Private Members’ Bill, which will support and ensure the participation of women in UK-sponsored and supported conflict prevention, peacebuilding, mediation and diplomatic delegations in UK foreign and defence policy. It will enshrine the Women, Peace and Security agenda in law and put our words into action. We cannot forget the suffering of many women and girls around the world who are not lucky enough to live in a country where decisions are made at a ballot box and not by a bullet. We must support these most vulnerable women and girls and continue the life-saving vital work of Women Peace and Security.
Thus far the United States is the only country to have their own dedicated Women, Peace and Security Act. The passing of this Private Members’ Bill would bolster existing work and show the world what leadership can look like, and demonstrate yet again that the UK can be at the forefront of this agenda.
Our bill would require the Secretary of State to present an annual report on progress of the National Action Plan, a crucial accountability mechanism that is already a common (though not always consistent) event. The bill would also enshrine requirements for the UK to include women in the formulation and implementation of our foreign policy, considering a commitment to gender equality and justice for survivors. By voting for the bill, we would also finally be able to respond to the practical and evidence-based recommendations that women human rights defenders have been calling for for many years, including requirements for gender experts and pre-deployment training in diplomatic and peacekeeping missions, and commitment to funding for local women’s peacebuilding organisations.
At this time of turmoil in the world, this is a golden moment when we can ensure that the UK will safeguard this agenda for the future by enshrining it in UK law and encouraging other countries to do the same. We encourage all our colleagues in Parliament to support this bill and show our support for women and girls in conflict-affected countries.
Lord McConnell, Labour peer. Baroness Hodgson, Conservative peer.
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