In places experiencing or at risk of conflict, women, men, boys and girls face different security threats that require tailored responses. But these have received little attention in security reform, resulting, for example, in lost opportunities to recruit more women to security forces to broaden trust and act on gender-specific concerns such as sexual violence. The valuable knowledge and strategies that women and girls may have to shape safer communities are often overlooked. In disarmament and demobilization processes, women ex-combatants and those associated with fighting forces may be excluded from programmes that help them meet basic needs and transition to productive lives.
To assist security institutions in becoming more gender-responsive, UN Women promotes women’s leadership in decision-making, advocates for increasing the number of women in police and other security organizations, and supports national bodies to develop plans and initiatives focused on women and girls.
In Rwanda, we aided Gender Desks in the Rwanda National Police to establish a hotline for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and to conduct a recruitment campaign for female officers. This resulted in a dramatic increase in reported cases of violence. In 2011, Rwanda sent more female police officers to UN peacekeeping missions than any other country.
UN Women has joined partners in Haiti to convene Local Security Committees in nine communities. Composed of local police, justice officials, members of women’s organizations and community leaders, the committees meet monthly to discuss security challenges and devise solutions, such as the redeployment of police patrols to high-risk areas or the accompaniment of survivors of violence through the justice system to ensure they access judicial and other essential services.
Working with indigenous models of community peacebuilding in Liberia, UN Women helped establish local Peace Huts where women volunteers aid survivors of violence in accessing legal and other services, conduct mediation to prevent conflict and refer cases of sexual violence to the police. Community members and local police report a reduction in violence against women and girls as a result. In 2012, a mobile phone link was set up between the Peace Huts and Liberian National Police stations, so the police can be alerted to threats before they escalate into violence. Other Peace Hut services include livelihood resources and reproductive health information. Dialogues with men and boys encourage them to change attitudes about violence against women.
Conflict-related sexual violence
A particularly egregious security threat faced by women during and after conflict is widespread and/or systematic sexual violence. It has been called one of history’s greatest silences and the least condemned war crime. Even though it devastates the lives and livelihoods of millions of people and threatens collective peace and security, it has been ignored in peace talks and ceasefire agreements, neglected by institutions charged with protecting civilians, and left out of criminal indictments and reparations programmes.
Since the early 1990s, the international community has recognized sexual violence as a grave breach of international humanitarian law. In 2008, UN Security Council resolution 1820 identified widespread or systematic sexual violence as a tactic of war that requires a security and a political response. Resolution 1888 in 2009 called for a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on wartime sexual violence, a team of rule-of-law experts on the issue, and the deployment of women protection advisors in peacekeeping missions. Resolution 1960 in 2010 called for field-based monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements to provide the Security Council with real-time information on trends and perpetrators. Resolution 2106, adopted in 2013, adds greater operational details to previous resolutions on this topic, reiterates that all actors, including not only the Security Council and parties to armed conflict, but all Member States and United Nations entities, must do more to implement previous mandates and combat impunity for these crimes.
UN Women has been instrumental in building the case for changes in norms and practices to stop wartime sexual violence, including as a founder and active member of UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a network comprising 13 UN entities. The network has linked UN force commanders with women peace activists and victims of sexual violence, inventoried best practices by peacekeepers in detecting and preventing sexual violence, developed and disseminated innovative scenario-based training for military peacekeepers, convened peacemakers and mediators to discuss the neglect of sexual violence in peace negotiations and produce guidance to address it, and developed early warning indicators specific to conflict-related sexual violence.
Across the UN system, new practices encompass prioritizing sexual violence incidents in the security reports of peacekeeping missions, increasing prosecutions and convictions of armed actors on charges of sexual violence, distributing post-rape kits following conflict, and training magistrates or police on prevention and responses to survivors. Some peacekeeping missions have significantly increased patrols dedicated to protecting women and girls going to school or markets, or fetching firewood or water. In the first nine months of 2011, the African Union/UN Mission in Darfur conducted 26,000 patrols (one-third of the total) solely dedicated to protecting women and girls moving from camps for internally displaced people to firewood or water collection points, which immediately reduced the prevalence of rape.