The German Women´s Security Council

Ute Scheub
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Ute Scheub


On March 20, 2003, the U.S. War against Iraq began. Almost simultaneously, on March 28, 2003, the German Women´s Security Council was founded in Bonn. It is a voluntary working network, formed by approximately fifty experts form political foundations, human right associations, development organisations, peace groups, and peace research institutes. As its first undertaking, the Women´s Security Council decided to keep a close watch on German federal government policy during Germany´s two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the UN-Security Council in 2003 and 2004.

The Women´s Security Council has no office and no paid stuff. It communicates through its website as well as through an internal and an open mailing list. The Women´s Security Council is steered by a committee of about ten women with three main goals:

  • to lobby and raise public awareness to promote the implementation of Resolution 1325
  • to promote civilian rather than military intervention
  • to empower and create networks of women working in the fields of development, foreign, and security policy and to raise sensitivity to gender issues among other individuals active in these areas.

Steering committee members have come from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the peace research institutes BICC and HSFK, the Women´s International League for Peace and Freedom, UNIFEM, the Platform for Peaceful Conflict Management, amnesty international, medica mondiale, the Women´s Network for Peace, the women´s action group Scheherazade, and others. The name „Women´s Security Council” was a reminding to the fact that in the past the UN Security Council was also an Insecurity Council, incapable of taking action when one or more oft its five permanent members felt the need to protect their special interests and exercised their power oft veto – also because they are indeed the largest arms exporters in the world, together with Germany.

Even thought a body that works purely on a volunteer basis has limited energy, the Women´s Security Council has been able to launch many different activities in the seven years of its existence: action coalitions, events, conferences (for example the international conference „Roadmap to 1325” in Berlin 2007), high-level meetings, panel discussions, campaigns, press releases, panel discussions with politicians, statements, and shadow reports on official government reports. The experiences of the Women´s Security Council with politicians and ministerial officers and their reactions to its proposals can be summed up in the apt words of sociologist Ulrich Beck: „Verbal openness coupled with almost complete behavioral paralysis.“ Beck was referring to the way in which German men act towards their wives, but it is just as true of the de facto behavioral paralysis with respect to gender issues at a policy level. The German government does in fact have an obligation under EU agreements on gender mainstreaming to assess the implications for women and men of all planned actions, but in reality there is rarely adherence to this legally mandatory obligation. There are a few individual politicians who proved themselves committed to the issues – but in their ministries or political parties they were lone voices in the wilderness. Representatives of the Women´s Security Council were invited into ministries or political committees - but this had no consequences, the foreign and security policy remained gender blind.

The coalition Green Party/ Social Democratic German government during Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder´s tenure was not willing to develop a national action plan, and the following two governments headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel also refused to do so. In defense of this decision the government argues that it already has two other action plans: the action plan „Civil Crisis Prevention” and the action plan on combating violence against women. This leaded to the fact that the German government has no coherent overall strategy for the implementation of Resolution 1325. In its two reports on the implementation of the resolution it only described minutely numerous small projects without any clear connecting thread.

One effective way that non-govermental organizations can speak up and express criticism is through so-called shadow reports, or counter-reports on official government reports. The Women´s Security Council has also used this tool and published detailed shadow reports on the government activities relating to UN Resolution 1325. These reports provoked quite scene behind the wings in some places. It could be summarized in the following points:

  • The government has no systematic strategy to implement Resolution 1325, only isolated actions.
  • In the government´s report there is only a very vague definition of security. This definition of security is modelled on the traditional idea of national security and on scenarios of perceived threats to the Federal Republic of Germany, not on the demands of the concrete and diverse realities facing women and men. No use is made of the concept of „human security“, innovative at least in parts and now implemented in many countries such as Canada or Switzerland.
  • There is absolutely no consideration of the fact that foreign and security policy – both national and international – is determined by men and thus by their cognitive and perceptual patterns. In most countries of the world, masculinity is equated with combativeness and carrying weapons, which can have fatal consequences in many respects.
  • Resolution 1325 is key to a sustainable, stable framework for lasting peace built on social justice and gender justice, as well as on nonviolence on the personal, structural, and cultural levels. In contrast, the government´s report is modelled on the objective of peace as short-term, one-dimensional stability.
  • In the government´s report, there is no sign that the government is using Resolution 1325 to catalyze the necessary policy reversal in current national and international foreign and security policy. Such a reversal would mean that foreign and security policy is no longer developed almost exclusively by men; and that in crises, wars, and postwar situations, women have a chance to work equally on the development of all processes and to take on leadership positions.

The situation of Afghan women was a big issue for the Women´s Security Council from the beginning. The terrible situation of Afghan women and girls and their nearly complete exclusion from nation building is typical for the faults and failings of the international community. To this day, the following problems remain unsolved:

  • Women are still dramatically underrepresented in peace negotiations, peace processes and peacebuilding. Examples include such developments in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, Sudan-Darfur, or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • The percentage of women in high UN posts is stagnant, as is the percentage of female security officers in UN peacekeeping operations.
  • UN missions are made up predominantly of male soldiers and civilians and are thus part of the problem instead of part of the solution. In Cambodia, Kosova, West Africa, and many other countries, UN personnel have stimulated prostitution, trafficking of women, and AIDS infection rates.
  • Mass rapes and sexual violence are still rarely indicted because female victims will not divulge these crimes to male UN security personnel.
  • As in German federal ministries, in other countries there is little knowledge about the interconnection of gender and conflicts, although the issue of gender is at the center of all conflicts in and with the Islamic world.

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This article is a short version of a text in the book "Roadmap to 1325", edited by the Gunda Werner Institute in the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Barbara Budrich Publishers, 2010.