by Jamie Hagen
As a political scientist concerned with securing minority rights, I have had to ask myself what “security” really means. Traditional methods of improving “security” — increasing military operations, protecting physical state borders, financing advanced weaponry — most often exacerbate problems of sexism, rape and economic instability for women and children.
“We should all know by now that [the] military doesn’t produce security, it only produces more wars — but people still think that having the biggest military is what makes you secure,”global activist Charlotte Bunch told me in an interview earlier this year.
But a feminist awareness of class, gender, sex and race issues focuses on security as improving human rights. For women seeking security on the ground, there are essential needs: disarmament, access to clean water and equal access to education. This paradigm of human security looks to secure the individual rather than the state.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325), passed in 2000, calls for a gendered perspective in peacekeeping, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, as well as the direct involvement of women in planning and implementing these concerns. Security Council Resolution 1325 has galvanized feminists to hold countries accountable through the international human rights framework. Human rights activist Cora Weiss points out that SCR 1325 “is virtually the first time that the Security Council has mentioned women.”
And, she notes, the resolution actually grew out of the pressure from nongovernmental organizations and civil society.
Mavic Cabrera Balleza, director of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilder’s (GNWP) in New York, further explains, “We women peace activists are concerned that women’s right to full participation in all matters of peace and security is being overlooked as women are increasingly being seen and treated mostly as passive victims of violence and abuse. We believe that it is very important to highlight the fundamental principle of women’s full and equal participation at all levels of decision making.”
SCR 1325 reminds us that countries often underutilize the most valuable resource they have in addressing human security: women.
Seeing How It Works In Practice
This year I have been serving as research consultant with the Global Network of Women’s Peacebuilders, working to bridge the gap between policy discussions and action on the ground for women, peace and security issues.
The Global Network for Women Peacebuilders has developed indicators to measure women’s empowerment and human security. For example, these indicators measure human security by looking at the role of women in the government, representation of women in the media, number of women in the police force and the percentage of government funding allocated to civil society organizations that focus on women, peace and security work.
The Women Count report, released in October, collects quantitative and qualitative data and analysis from grassroots organizations in nations across the globe on how SCR 1325 is being implemented in their countries. For the 2012 report, I’ve served as a point person for Liberia and Nepal on the report.
of the world
In Liberia, the Women’s NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL) and a local consultant are partners on the report. Over 51 groups collaborate in WONGOSOL to promote a just and equal society. The organization seeks to be a voice on gender and development issues, maintaining a database of women’s groups in the nation, offering training and strengthening links among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
In Nepal, I engaged directly with Bandana Rana and Samjhana Kachyapati from the women’s group, Saathi, an NGO working to eliminate injustice and violence against women and children and to provide support to victims. Nepal and Liberia are both nations that have developed National Action Plans (NAPs) to map out how the country plans to measure and improve these aspects of human security that affect women.
In localization workshops, participants look at ways to “implement locally” and “inspire globally.” The localization program “brings together local authorities, such as provincial governors, mayors, district councilors, traditional and religious leaders, the security sector, women leaders, civil society, and other key local actors to analyze UNSCRs 1325 and 1820 and National Action Plans (NAPs). Collectively, they identify provisions of the resolutions and the NAPs that are most relevant to their respective communities,” explained Helena Gronberg of the Global Network, following a workshop in Nepal.
Security Council Resolution 1820, which Gronberg mentions, was passed in 2008 and Security Council Resolution 1889 in 2009, adding to the international support for women. These resolutions recognize sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war that must be prosecuted. Last year, UNFPA and the Global Network for Women Peacebuilders presented findings about Nepal and Burundi, showing that victims of sexual and gender based violence in conflict-affected areas receive poor treatment. The organizations pointed to limited facilities to treat victims and to health care providers who are not skilled in best practices for handling them. Medical evidence is not collected properly and victims have inadequate access to justice systems that will prosecute sexual and gender based violence.
Recognizing Global Challenges
Other nations face different kinds of problems in human security for women. South Africa provides a startling example of a country where international and national documents tout one vision of human security, while the reality is far different. Sexual and gender-based violence is prevalent in South Africa, a disturbing backlash against those individuals fighting for gay rights and human rights.
This is so despite the existence of wide-ranging civil and political rights in the country: it has one of the most advanced systems worldwide with inclusions for LGBT rights, gay adoption rights, open military service for gays and the rejection of anti-gay sodomy laws. But on-the-ground reports from the country indicate that there are troubling levels of sexual violence in South Africa. The accounts have found that a woman is raped in South Africa every 17 seconds. One organization in Cape Town describes the killing of lesbians — at least 31 since 1998 — as hate crimes perpetrated by people acting in response to the women’s sexual orientation.
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With such alarming statistics, what role could monitoring this type of violence possibly play?
The answer is that civil society monitoring proves an invaluable resource to showcase progress by countries that are succeeding in implementing SCR 1325 and related documents, and it shames those lagging behind. At the very least, monitoring is a form of accountability, pushing countries to begin the necessary political work to affect change.
In truth, human security cannot be assured without local implementation and monitoring of these key resolutions.
Perhaps the reality of a global community of women committed to bringing the text of 1325 to life was most obvious during the annual Commission on the Status of Women celebrations in New York City in spring 2012. A global community of women from different corners of the world — Rwanda, Liberia, the Netherlands, Nepal and other countries — came together and discussed their work. In the hands of these women, UN resolutions like SCR 1325 can truly help establish real human security — in this lies the real potential within the walls of the United Nations.
Jamie J. Hagen is a New York City-based writer and research consultant, with a M.A. from CUNY Brooklyn College in Political Science, where she studied political theory. Hagan has written on feminism and women, peace and security, veganism, and LGBTQ politics for publications such as Autostraddle and One Green Planet.
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