Peace and security policy needs gender analyses


  1. Introdction
  2. Decisions with dramatic consequences 
  3. Gender stereotypes
  4. Sexualised violence as a weapon of war 
  5. Exclusion of women under aspects of international law
  6. Big on paper, small on outcomes 


Germany has fundamentally altered its peace and security strategy over the past few decades. As Germany’s status as an international player has risen, the image of the citizen in uniform, including in its public presentation, has given way to that of the combatant, and been extended to include the cyber warrior, as can be seen in the USA’s current use of drones as part of its warfare tactics. Admittedly, leading politicians continue to highlight the primacy of civil conflict resolution and crisis prevention, but in reality these concepts have been eclipsed. Foreign and security policy has become militarised. The reason given for such a development is the change in threats in the globalised world such as international terrorism and the potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Ever-decreasing resources, regional conflicts, instable nations, poverty and climate change are also viewed as threats to global security. In turn, political and scientific circles are largely blocking out two other factors which are essential to sustainable security and peace policy: the significance of women to peace solutions and the role of gender relations in societies for the dynamics of crises and armed conflicts.

The commitment shown by women in their opposition to war and violations of women’s and human rights, and in their support of reconciliation between the respective conflicting parties, contributes significantly to achieving crisis prevention and conflict resolution, to consolidating devastated societies and to developing a democratic setting. Regrettably, they go virtually unrecognised in mainstream politics and science. True: women now also have a say in the decisions taken by parliaments and governments on security strategies and military interventions. However, in spite of all the claims heralding gender equality, the institutions of conflict are dominated by men. They occupy virtually every key position and determine the structures, the policy framework and the evaluation benchmarks.

This is true of the United Nations (UN), the UN Security Council, the UN missions and of peace and post-war negotiations, and most certainly of the traditional institutions of conflict such as the armed forces, (para-)military organisations or militias. According to sociologist Rolf Pohl, those institutions still socialise a type of masculinity, which includes violence, subordination and the relinquishment of self-dependent 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."

According to a study conducted by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in 2009, in 22 peace processes carried out since 1992, for example, only 7.5 percent of the negotiators, 2 percent of the intermediaries, and not even 3 percent of the signatories were women.(1)  In their over 60 years of existence, the UN has never had a female secretary-general, and only one woman (in Liberia) has ever run a peacekeeping mission, that being in 2008. Not even the promise of staffing all peacekeeping missions at least with gender advisors has been kept to date.
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Decisions with dramatic consequences 
Political decision-makers, but also peace and conflict researchers frequently use the lack of qualifications or availability of women as an excuse for their being excluded from the process. This is irrational, not least of all since numerous qualified women have been working in this subject area for decades. At the same time, decisions taken against this backdrop have dramatic consequences, as the example of the Kosovo has shown. During the negotiations and the treaty on the status of the Kosovo (1999 and 2007), the Kosova Women's Network tried in vain to bring in their cross-ethnic approaches to conflict resolution. Even the transitional government formed in 2000 at the instigation of UN Special Representative Bernhard Kouchner remained a wholly “male domain”, despite the efforts of local aid organisations, until a female OSCE worker contacted then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. As a consequence, a woman was added to the national transitional council, but the female OSCE worker was dismissed. Her engagement for women’s rights was obviously deemed to be overly zealous.

Another example is the Camp David negotiations in 2000 which were designed to resolve the Middle East conflict, where Israeli and Palestinian women peace activists such as the Coalition of Women for Peace, that had already created the conditions for reconciliation with each other long before the official negotiations initiatives, were left out in the cold despite all efforts and international support. "If we’d had women at Camp David, we would have reached an agreement," was then US President Bill Clinton’s comment on the failed negotiations – an insight which came too late and resulted in sweeping consequences such as the escalation of violence between the two parties in the conflict.
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Gender stereotypes 
"Women have an important role … in terms of preventing and resolving conflict and in peace consolidation," is a core statement of the UNIFEM study conducted in 2002.(2) The "nature" of the dialogue changes when they take part. Needless to say, this does not mean that women are "naturally" more peaceful and better peace activists. In most societies, however – not just in those of the "south", but also those in western states – traditionally different gender images and role allocations prevail. Men are deemed to be dominantly aggressive combatants and guardians, and women to be peaceful providers in need of protection. Given their different horizon of experience, they develop other competencies and behavioural strategies than men. For this reason, they often take on a more mediatory role in ceasefire and peace negotiations and bring other issues and points of view to the table such as food, health, education and ownership. Thus, with women, more permanent outcomes tend to be achieved – provided that they do not act individually: only a critical mass of 30 to 35 percent of women can exert sustained influence on the decisions taken by associations and boards; only through such a number of women can their rights and interests be adequately represented, the emphasis placed on topics influenced and new issues and structures asserted.

Conversely, the systematic exclusion of women from official peace processes brings damaging effects on the sustainability of peace agreements as "[t]heir full participation in decision-making, conflict prevention and resolution and all peace initiatives is essential to the realisation of lasting peace" according to a resolution passed in the year 2000 by the European Parliament.(3) Countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq are lamentable examples of this. The political relationships there are extremely weak; at the decision-making and control levels in government, parliament, security apparatus and justice systems, women are the exception to the rule and they usually have no influence; their rights have been sidelined and their safety jeopardised.
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Sexualised violence as a weapon of war 
In armed conflicts, but also in the reconstruction phase in post-war societies, women and girls are especially in danger of becoming victims of sexualised violence. Public and political recognition of this gender-based type of violence as a form of warfare has been a long time coming. Mass rape, violent abductions and slavery as the "spoils of war" are intended to humiliate and demoralise the enemy and to raise the propensity of one’s own fighters to resort to violence. Thus, gender-related violence has become an integral part of armed hostilities with a high symbolic value. By way of example, around 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Over the past few years, “epidemic dimensions” of sexual crimes of violence of the most brutal nature against women in the Congo have been publicised. Yet, the perpetrators are only rarely prosecuted and sentenced.

Recent findings have shown that boys and men also become victims of such mass sexualised violence. This is an especially taboo subject because it runs counter to conventional images of masculinity. That men become victims (not just) of sexualised violence blows the myth on male fortitude and inviolability, all the more so when such violence is also carried out by women, as was the case in Abu Ghraib. The “taboo within the taboo” is the term coined by Dubravka Zarkov, a sociologist who has researched the rape of men during the Balkan wars. The effects are particularly devastating as they further fuel the spiral of violence. Researchers on violence assume that male victims of sexualised violence are especially prone to resorting to violence again. Underlying this is a hegemonic masculinity concept, that of "militarised masculinity": according to this concept, men who believe there is an impending threat of their traditional identities being shattered resort to armed violence against their "enemies" in order to demonstrate that they are "real" men. At the same time, however, such violence may also be directed at their own wives. In the aftermath of armed conflicts – during the (re-)construction of democratic structures phase – women often suffer an exponentiated level of domestic violence and rape at the hands of their own husbands returning home from the conflict.

This makes evident the close correlation between domestic and military violence, but also the failure of a gender-blind peace and security policy. In order to break this circle of violence, gender-based conflict strategies for resolving and handling conflicts are essential. However, they must also be applied from the very moment the analysis of the emergence of crises and militant conflicts begins. Here, in addition to such recognised factors as ethnicity, culture, religion and conflicts of interest, the gender relations and gender dynamics in society play a vital role. For the shift in gender relations in a society and the endangering of traditional (male) gender identities can, when interacting with other factors, increase the risk of armed conflicts. These findings are important not only for analysing the causes of conflicts, but also for their resolution. What is the impact, for example, when former combatants – in Afghanistan, for instance, where owning a weapon is traditionally part of the country’s image of masculinity – are forced to surrender their weapons, and have to do so under the supervision of a foreign weapon-bearing military force? Or, when men bewildered after defeat see how their wives are encouraged to become more independent and self-confident through programmes designed to strengthen their position and empower them? In order to address such issues, we need differentiated research and political road maps. One thing is clear: hitherto reached ceasefire agreements and civil conflict resolution programmes come up short when they fail to consider the potential dynamics of gender relations. Sustainability and future viability fall by the wayside.
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Exclusion of women under aspects of international law 
The marginalisation of the gender dimension, and, equally, the exclusion of women, is not just political short-sightedness and a violation of democratic principles. It also breaches valid international law, namely UN Resolution 1325, which was passed by the UN Security Council on 31 October 2000. Its core content can be summarised by the three "Ps": prevention of armed conflict by including gender-policy measures; participation of women in peace and security policy; protection against sexualised violence in war contexts. Through this resolution, the Security Council officially recognises the value of civil society women’s groups for peace processes for the very first time. Since the resolution was passed, prosecution has been added to the list, i.e. the criminal prosecution of anyone committing gender-based acts of violence in wars and armed conflicts. This principle in UN Resolution 1820, which was passed in 2008, is explicitly directed at sexualised violence: "rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide."(4) Two other resolutions, 1888 and 1889, both passed in 2009, postulate concrete measures such as the appointment of special representatives and the systematic collection of data.
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Big on paper, small on outcomes 
The reviews submitted on the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 at the end of October 2010, which marked the 10th anniversary of the passing of the resolution, were exceptionally poor. Big on paper, small on outcomes would be one way to sum up the situation overall. Even Germany, an increasingly significant player in international peace and security policy, refuses to set up a national action plan on implementation of the resolution which then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for in 2005. It argues that such plans are superfluous and that two existing action plans on civil crisis prevention and violence against women, plus regular implementation reports, are sufficient.(5) How does Germany intend to present itself to other countries as being a credible nation in the UN Security Council? For Germany is setting a negative example of how important concrete and binding requirements are - in the shape of evaluation standards and criteria – for seeing the resolution through to its effective implementation.
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(1) According to Ute Scheub, Member of the Women’s Security Council, March 2010, online: Lokale Friedensakteure brauchen mehr Unterstützung (24.11.2010).

(2) Elisabeth Rehn/Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Women, War and Peace: The Independent Experts' Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women's Role in Peace-Building, New York 2002.

(3) Resolution No. 2000/2025(INI) of 30.11. 2000.

(4) UN-Resolution 1820 - UN-Resolutions – Gunda Werner Institute (24.11.2010).

(5) According to a Letter from the Federal Chancellor’s Office (signed by Knut Abraham on behalf of the Federal Chancellor) dated 6.6.2007 and addressed to the author, as well as information provided verbally by a representative of the Foreign Office during a round of talks held at the ‘Globale Fragen’ forum on 9 August 2010.






Gitti Hentschel

Executive Director Gunda-Werner-Institute
Phone: +49 - (0)30 - 285 34-122

About Gitti Hentschel