To make sustainable peace possible, women must be included in decision-making processes: this is something that was enshrined 21 years ago, but progress is slow in coming
The UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security will be held again this year on 21 October, the month that marks the anniversary of Resolution 1325. This is an annual event that has taken place every year since the adoption of the Landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security on 31 October 2000 and has often led to the implementation of new resolutions, most recently in 2015.
Last month, in preparation for this event, the NGO Working Group on Women Peace and Security sent its customary open letter to UN member states, signed by 373 civil society organisations from various countries around the world.
The document explicitly asks to “stand with the women human rights defenders, peacebuilders, advocates for gender equality and other civil society leaders who play a critical role in advancing our common goal of peace, human rights and gender justice, yet are under relentless attack for doing so”.
More importantly, it points out that women human rights defenders and peacebuilders under threat are mainly those reporting to the Security Council and working with the United Nations.
This represents a critical protection gap that has to be addressed and solved not by limiting the number of women engaged in these activities, but by fully ensuring their protection: “women’s agency, in all spheres, must not be sacrificed in the name of protection, but actively supported through concrete efforts to ensure they can fully participate.
To this end, we call on all Member States, the UN and international leaders to prioritize, resource and actively support the full, equal and meaningful participation of women, in all their diversity, in all aspects of peace and security”.
In particular, the letter mentions the Burmese women who were arrested, tortured and sexually abused for defending democracy and human rights following the Tatmadaw coup in February this year, while it also refers to the Colombian, South Sudanese, Yemeni and Palestinian women activists who were subjected to constant violence and restrictions to prevent them from defending their rights and making demands.
It also talks about the Afghan crisis and the many peacebuilders, human rights defenders and journalists who have been forced to flee or hide when trapped in the country after the ascent of the Taliban, whose previous rule was characterised by gender segregated policies and repression of women rights.
It is precisely on Afghan women that many words have been spent in recent months.
Last week, the Deputy Representative for UN Women in Afghanistan, Alison Davidian, again brought attention to this fact by pointing out that the situation for women and girls in the country is worsening following the Taliban takeover.
This is true from the point of view of security, both in the domestic sphere – we know that Afghan women experience some of the highest levels of violence globally, most of which occurs in the home, and things have worsened following the pandemic – and in the public one – women who have been present in the media or have been critical advocates and activists are persecuted –, but also from the social and institutional points of view.
By way of example, in some provinces women are forbidden to leave their homes or go to work without being accompanied by a male relative; there is uncertainty about girls’ going to school; women protection centres are regularly attacked and the people who work there harassed; safe houses for women human rights defenders are full.
The situation has worsened even if we consider the role of women in institutions: no women has been included in the appointed cabinet; Deputy Ministers includes no feminine figure; severely, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been abolished.
In spite of all this, women want to continue to fight for their rights, as they have done for centuries. Thus, they need resources and protection. But, above all, recognition.
Hasina Safi, Afghanistan’s Acting Minister for Women from May 202 until August 2021, recalls that Afghan women have been active, over the past two decades, in politics – through their presence in Parliament and the Cabinet, in foreign embassies and in the security, cultural and economic sectors – and at the grassroot level, and they have no intention of going backwards.
Yet now, the social and political presence of women is sought to be obscured. They have been excluded from contributing to the country’s recovery, that, nonetheless, also depends on their participation, without which no lasting and sustainable peace can be achieved.
The case of Afghanistan extends to all the countries mentioned at the beginning of this written and to many others. The hope is that the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security can lead to stronger action to support the action of women.
In this sense, the role of the international community is indispensable and will be even more so when the spotlight that is now on those countries in view of recent events is turned off.
As Hasina Safi says, “the first thing is attention. Keep reaching out, keep listening and keep paying attention”.