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cedaw and women, peace and security

REPORT BY RACHEL BABECOFF, ICJW Representative at UN Geneva

2015 marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Security Council’s famous Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS).

CEDAW is the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in the UN. In 2000, the United Nations Security Council formally acknowledged through the creation of Resolution 1325 the changing nature of warfare, in which civilians are increasingly targeted, and women continue to be excluded from participation in peace processes. UNSCR 1325 addresses not only the inordinate impact of war on women, but also the pivotal role women should and do play in conflict management, conflict resolution, and sustainable peace 
during conflict.

As the empowerment of women and girls, and the achievement of gender equality are critical for maintaining international peace and security, the political framework of this resolution and follow-up resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, and CEDAW share a common gender equality agenda.

On the 19th of November 2015, I attended a side event whose panelists discussed the added value of integrating a human rights element in the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the monitoring role that CEDAW could play for an increased and more effective implementation of this agenda.

This side event took place during the 62nd session of CEDAW and was also part of an event series on “Women and Girls in Conflict, Crisis and Disaster”, launched in 2014 by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs for a wider dialogue on gender issues in conflict, crisis and disaster.

Opening remarks were given by Ms. Flavia Pansieri, UN Deputy High Commissioner for the Human Rights, and Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, Swiss Ambassador to the UN. It was followed by a panel discussion, including:
- Pramila Patten, from the Mauritius, member of the CEDAW and member of the High-level Advisory Group for Global Study on UNSCR 1325;
- Zainab Hawa Bangura, from Sierra Leone, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict;
- Dr. Chaloka Beyani, from Zambia, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of internally displaced persons;
- Sarah Abu Assali, Member of the Syrian Women League;

During the side-event, two remarks struck me.

The first one, made by Zainab Hawa Bangura, basically saying “if you treat your women bad in peace time, it will be worst in conflict time” i.e. if the legal framework for women is already weak during peace time, war will exclude any legal framework to protect women. Where women are isolated, illiterate and weak, there are higher risks of sexual violence in war times. The legal status of women in pre-conflict society is a clear indication of what might happen

The second observation was made by Sarah Abu Assali, currently working for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in South Turkey/Northern Syria. As a field person, she spoke about day-to day life and reality. In the Syrian conflict for example, the journalists speak of rape. Of course there are rapes, but women and girls are also deprived of everything: education, healthcare, nationality (women cannot transmit Syrian nationality to their children), dignity… so for Sarah (and for most people working in the field) there are issues, which are much more immediate and real than the resolution 1325. She said that the first priority for her was to protect the victims, whilst services for women are so limited there, especially for the ones who have been raped or for victims of violence as well as adding impunity for the perpetrators.

Working myself in the largest women refugees’ resettlement center of Switzerland (and being its Vice-President), I can only agree: there is too much of a gap between all the Conventions, the committees, the resolutions and the reality. We are trying hard to restrict the gap, but it is a long and painful road for the victims, most of whom are women.