Aspects of a sustainable peace and security policy with gender perspective

November 2010



Germany has fundamentally altered its peace and security strategy in recent decades. Gone is the notion that the German army should only engage in warfare to defend its borders against direct attacks. To the extent that Germany has become an international player, the image of citizens in uniform has also given way in the public arena to that of fighters, supplemented by the cyber warrior, as demonstrated, for example, by current US warfare with drones. Admittedly, leading politicians still assert the primacy of civil conflict resolution and crisis prevention, but their concepts have, in actual fact, been pushed into the background. German foreign and security policy has been militarised and is justified on the basis of changing threats in a globalised world. Right on top of the agenda is international terrorism and the possible proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Resources that are becoming more and more scarce, regional conflicts, fragile states, poverty and climate change are considered to be global security threats. In contrast, two other factors are glossed over in political and academic circles, namely the significance of women in terms of peace solutions and the role of gender relations in societies for the dynamics of crises and armed conflict. Both are, however, essential for a stable and sustainable peace policy.

Poor opportunities for women in male domains

The commitment of women against war, against the violation of women’s and other human rights and to the reconciliation of the respective conflict parties worldwide makes a significant contribution to crisis prevention, conflict resolution, the consolidation of societies that have been destroyed and to the development of democratic conditions. Women often achieve, in local or regional groups, what, at present, appears to be virtually impossible in armed conflicts at the highest political level: they work with women from the opposing side, forge peace alliances and develop conflict resolution strategies. Instead of seizing their political strategies as an opportunity, they are barely recognised in mainstream politics and the academic world. And although women now also make decisions on security strategies and military intervention in parliaments and governments, men still dominate in all proclamations of gender equality. Virtually everywhere they occupy key positions and impose the structures, policy guidelines and assessment criteria.

This applies to the UN, the UN Security Council, UN peace-keeping missions and to peace and post-conflict negotiations, but even more to the traditional conflict resolution institutions, such as armed forces, (para)military organisations or militia. These are almost exclusively male domains. According to sociologist, Rolf Pohl, a type of masculinity is socialised even today which encompasses violence, sub-ordination and surrender to autonomous action. “Duty, loyalty, bravery, camaraderie, aggressive readiness for combat, toughness and willingness to make sacrifices are some of the classic hallmarks of military, belligerent masculinity and in terms of military socialisation must be inscribed in a soldier’s body and soul.” 1

According to a 2009 UNIFEM study, for example, in 22 peace processes since 1992, only 7.5% of the negotiators, 2% of the facilitators and barely 3% of the signatories were women. In over 60 years of its existence the UN has never had a female Secretary-General, and just one woman – in Liberia – headed up a peace mission in 2008.2 The promise to furnish all peace missions with female gender advisors at the very least has not been kept to date.

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Irrational decisions with dramatic consequences

Not only political decision makers, but peace and conflict researchers too, often plead lack of qualifications or availability on the part of women as an explanation for their exclusion. However, this is often due to their own patriarchal attitude and overestimation of their own abilities, coupled with fear of competition. Decisions based on such a motivation are irrational and have dramatic consequences, as the examples of Kosovo and the Middle East show. The Kosova Women’s Network3 made a futile attempt to apply its cross-ethnic approach to conflict resolution to the negotiations and the Kosovo Status Settlement (1999 and 2007). The interim government formed at the instigation of UN Special Envoy, Bernhard Kouchner, in 2000 remained a purely male affair, in spite of the efforts made by aid organisations on the ground, until a female OSCE worker approached the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. A woman was subsequently appointed to the Interim Governing Council, but the OSCE worker was dismissed. Her mission in support of women’s rights appeared too overzealous; a scandal that was barely noticed in the political arena or in the media.

During the Middle East conflict too, Israeli and Palestinian female peace activists developed conditions for reconciliation in the 1990s as ‘Jerusalem Link’ and later as the ‘Coalition of Women for Peace’4 long before official negotiating initiatives. In spite of all efforts and international support they were also excluded from the Middle East peace negotiations in Oslo in the 1990s and from Camp David in 2000. ‘If we’d had women at Camp David we would have reached an agreement,’5 said then US President Clinton on the failure of the negotiations. An insight that came too late and had far-reaching consequences, as the escalation of violence and entrenchment between Israel and Palestine demonstrates. ‘Women have an important role … in terms of preventing and resolving conflict and in peace consolidation,’ according to the findings of a UNIFEM study in 20026. When women are involved, the nature of the dialogue changes.

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Gender stereotypes and their impact

Of course, this doesn’t mean that women are ‘by nature’ and because of their biological sex more peaceful and better peace players. However, in most societies - not just in ‘Southern’ societies, but in western countries, too - different gender images and gender role allocations traditionally prevail. Men are more likely seen as dominant, aggressive fighters and protectors, whilst women are seen as in need of protection and as peaceable carers. It is women who ultimately assume the care of and responsibility for the livelihood and survival of the family and, from a different realm of experience, develop different skills and behavioural strategies than men. That said, they often play a more mediating role in ceasefire and peace negotiations and bring other subjects and perspectives, such as food, health, education and ownership issues to the table.7 Therefore, when women are involved, rather more permanent results are sought after provided they do not occur in isolation. Only a critical mass of 30-35% of women can have a sustained influence on and change board decisions. Only then do they have a chance of representing their rights and interests appropriately, influencing the emphasis placed on different subjects and putting forward new subjects and structures.

Conversely, the systematic exclusion of women from official peace processes has ‘damaging effects on the sustainability of peace agreements,’ according to an EU report published in 20008. Countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq are pitiful examples of this. Political circumstances there are extremely unstable, women at decision-making and control levels in the government, parliament, security and justice systems are the exception and they have no influence; their safety, primarily the safety of political activists through to female members of parliament, is in extreme jeopardy. Women’s rights are non-existent there in spite of being anchored in the constitutions.

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Sexualised violence as a weapon of war

Not only in armed conflicts, but also in the reconstruction phase of post-war societies are women particularly threatened by sexualised violence.9 It has taken a long time for this gender-based form of violence to be acknowledged publicly and politically as being an element of warfare.10 Mass rape, violent abductions and enslavement of ‘war booty’ are intended to humiliate and demoralise the enemy and increase the willingness of individual combatants to engage in violence. Thus, gender-related violence is an integral part of armed conflict and is highly symbolic. Approximately, 20-50,000 women were raped during the course of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.11 Details of sexual crimes of violence of the most brutal nature in ‘epidemic proportions’12 against women in the Congo have been published in recent years. However, only rarely have perpetrators been tried and sentenced.13

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Men as victims of militarised masculinity constructs

According to more recent findings from conflict researchers, men and boys also become victims of such large-scale sexualised violence. This is the case in the former Yugoslavia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as in many other trouble spots. It is a particularly taboo subject since it undermines traditional images of masculinity. Men as the victims (not just) of sexualised violence destroys the myth of masculine resilience and inviolability and of women as victims (in need of protection),14 all the more so if this violence is, as for example in Abu Graib, also meted out by women. The "taboo of taboos"15 is the rape of men, according to Dubravka Zarkov, a social scientist who conducted research into this in the Balkan wars. The consequences are particularly devastating since these acts of violence further fuel the spiral of violence. Violence researchers work on the premise that male victims of sexualised violence are especially susceptible to again becoming perpetrators of violence. This is based on the concept of hegemonic masculinity, that of ‘militarised masculinity’. According to this concept, men, whose traditional identities are under threat of collapse, violently approach ‘enemies’ brandishing weapons in order to demonstrate that they are ‘real’ men. However, such violence can also be directed against their own wives. After armed conflicts, women often experience domestic violence and rape at the hands of men returning home on an exponential scale during the (re)construction of democratic structures.

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Peace policy needs gender analyses

Clearly, there is a link here between domestic and military violence, but also the collapse of the usual gender-blind peace and security policy. In order to break this circle of violence, gender-based strategies for conflict resolution are indispensible. However, they must be applied when analysing the occurrence of crises and military conflict. In addition to recognised factors, such as ethnicity, culture, religion, conflicts of interests, the relationships and dynamics between the genders within a society and the respectively dominating gender identities play an important role here. Sociologist, Marina Blagojevic, analysed this, for example, in respect of the former Yugoslavia.16 As a result of the economic changes, many men lost their traditional role as breadwinner and head of the family in the 1990s. The gap between social reality and images of male identity inherent in the culture widened and led to a dramatic crisis of masculinity, since many women were expanding their horizons and were able to consolidate their positions. In order to reoccupy the familiar positions of power, a lively nationalistic, sexist and ethnocentric debate ensued. Gender processes overlapped with political and economic processes and lead to military conflict. In general terms, this means that a shift in gender relations within a society and the jeopardising of traditional (male) gender identities may, along with other factors, increase the risk of armed conflict.

These findings are important not only for analysing the causes of conflicts, but also for their resolution. What are the consequences, for example, if ex-combatants, e.g. in Afghanistan, whose image of masculinity traditionally includes the possession of weapons, are required to surrender their weapons, and to do so under the supervision of foreign military forces which are themselves carrying weapons? Or if men bewildered after a defeat learn how their wives are encouraged to become independent and more self-confident through empowerment programmes? We need differentiated research and political concepts of action on these questions. It is clear that ceasefire agreements and civil conflict resolution programmes to date fall short when they fail to consider the potential dynamics of gender relations. Sustainability and future viability fall by the wayside.

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Prevailing security policy breaches international law

The exclusion of the gender dimension as well as the marginalisation of women is not just politically short-sighted and a breach of democratic principles. It is also a breach of applicable international law, namely UN Resolution 1325 which was passed by the UN Security Council on 31 October 2000. It was eked out by national and international female peace campaigners and is seen as a milestone and pioneering in terms of women and gender-equitable peace and security policy. Its key content can be summarised using three words beginning with P:

  • Participation of women in peace and security policy

  • Prevention of armed conflicts by including gender policy measures and

  • Protection against sexualised violence in the context of war.

For the first time, the Security Council officially recognises the significance of civil society women’s groups for peace processes. Another P can now be added:

  • Prosecution: the criminal prosecution of the perpetrators of gender-based violence during wars and armed conflicts.

Two years ago the UN Security Council set out the details of and extended UNSCR 1325 through a further resolution, UNSCR 1820. This is aimed expressly at sexualised violence. According to this resolution ‘Rape and other forms of sexual violence can represent a war crime, a crime against humanity or action displaying the features of genocide.’ 17 The perpetrators of such violence should no longer remain unpunished and the victims should be given on-going support. Two further resolutions, UNSCR 1888 and 1889, in the areas of peace, women and security finally set out specific measures in 2009 for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and 1820, including the deployment of special envoys and systematic data collection.

Stock-taking, which was implemented on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 at the end of October 2010 in Germany as well as in many regions and also in the UN Security Council was extraordinarily poor. Plenty of paperwork and very little action would be one way of putting it. In 2005, the previous UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, had already asked for National Action Plans (NAPs) for implementing UN Resolution 1325 to be drawn up by the 192 UN Member States. Only 24 states produced an NAP - 13 European and 8 African states. Even Germany, an increasingly significant player in the area of international peace and security policy, refuses to compile one. The reason given by the current CDU-FDP government under Chancellor Merkel is that such a plan is superfluous, gender-mainstreaming, two action plans on civil crisis prevention and violence against women as well as regular implementation reports relating to the Resolution are sufficient.18 This reasoning shows that the government has neither understood the core of UNSCR 1325 nor of gender-mainstreaming. The content of these action plans has nothing to do with UNSCR 1325, and the implementation reports are embarrassing examples of an unsystematic, random application of UNSCR 1325 without sustainable effect. This stance is all the more dramatic since the Federal Republic of Germany has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council since 2010, i.e. the body which had to push for compliance with its resolutions in all Member States. How do the UN Security Council or Germany want to be credible to other countries? Germany provides a negative example of how important specific and binding requirements in the form of evaluation benchmarks and criteria are for the effective implementation of the Resolution. Civil society campaigners, such as the German Women’s Security Council, have been demanding them for years.

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Summary: Learn from civil society

Progress in the area of gender policy cannot be achieved without strong pressure from civil society peace groups. It is up to the peace and gender policy players to expand their networks, to make intensive efforts to find allies, tread new paths and seek new forms of interference. It is high time for the German government, like other European states, to take the suggestions made by civil society groups on board and launch a sustainable gender-political peace policy – not just on paper, but in practice, too.

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1 Rolf Pohl 'Rohe Schweineleber, Hefe-Rollmöpse und nackte Männerkörper' (PDF)
2 Quoted from Ute Scheub Lokale Friedensakteure brauchen mehr Unterstützung
3 See website: (24.11.2010)
4 See website: Coalition of Women for Peace (24.11.2010)
5 Swanee Hunt, Cristina Posa: Foreign Policy, July 2004
6 Elisabeth Rehn/Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Women, War and Peace, UNIFEM (Hg.), New York. 2002.
7 Women, War and Peace, p. 79.
8 David Bloomfield/Ben Reilly, Characteristics of Deep-Rooted Conflict, quoted from: Report on the participation of women in the peaceful resolution of conflicts (2000/2005(INI)) 2000, presented by the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, p. 27.
9 Sibylle Mathis, Ein- und Ausblicke feministischer Friedensarbeit, p. 111, in: Cilja Harders/Bettina Roß (Hg.); Women, Peace and Security, p. 2.
10 Report on the participation of women in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, l.c. p. 15-17.
11 Mary Valentich, Rape Revisited: Sexual Violence against Women in the Former Yugoslavia, in: Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 3, 1 (1994), p. 53.
12 DR Kongo: Gewalt gegen Frauen ist „epidemisch“
13 Gabriele Mischkowski, „....damit es niemandem in der Welt widerfährt“. medica mondiale e.v. study, Cologne 2009
14 Ute Scheub, Heldendämmerung. Die Krise der Männer und warum sie auch für Frauen gefährlich ist, Pantheon 2010, p. 96
15 taz- Interview No. 7063 of 26.5.2003, page 6, by Ute Scheub
16 See Ruth Seifert, 'Gender und Konfliktentstehung: Eine Skizzierung der Problemlage' (PDF)
17 Quoted in: Die Tageszeitung of 21.6.2008.
18 Letter from the Federal Chancellor’s Office, signed by Knut Abraham, in the name of the Federal Chancellor on 6 June 2007 to the author, and verbal communication from a representative from the Foreign Office on 9 August 2009 as part of a round of talks entitled ‘Podium Globale Fragen’

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