The plight of women during and after war

Posted on September 5, 2011


Ten years on – and not much has changed:

Despite periodic reminders in news bulletins about the abuse of women during and after wars, and a United Nations Security Council resolution a decade ago to try and prevent such tragedies, not much has changed.

This is highlighted in a new publication, ‘Women, peace and security: Moving from rhetoric to action,’ by La Trobe University researcher, Jasmine-Kim Westendorf.

Ms Westendorf says her study has found that ‘women are still targeted during war, their security needs overlooked during peace interventions, and they remain largely excluded from decision-making structures in both peace and post-war reconstruction processes’.

The study, published by the University’s Institute for Human Security, lists Australia among states reluctant to take meaningful action on human security issues for women.

‘For example, a closer look at our role in peace operations in the Solomon Islands reveals a wide gap between Australia’s rhetorical commitment to the norms enshrined in the United Nation’s resolution and the reality of their non-implementation in peace  operations,’ she says.

Ms Westendorf cites an incident where Australian soldiers from the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) stopped members of the local women’s league from entering their national parliament to take part in post-conflict decision making.

Need for Australian action plan

Ms Westendorf: Some progress, but ....

‘The women’s league had been a significant political force in bringing the conflict to an end. They were very well organised and had a lot of clout in that society, yet they were not engaged or consulted by the intervention forces.’

The incident, she says, illustrates the urgent need for Australia to develop a national action plan to implement the UN resolution’s mandates, particularly in terms of ensuring women are included at all levels of decision-making and peace-processes. 

‘We have made some progress by deploying female soldiers to peace operations, engaging women in truce monitoring missions and incorporating gender-training into pre-deployment training for peacekeepers.

‘Yet these actions are focused primarily on military engagement and do not address real issues of gender relations when it comes to conflict and peace-building, which see women excluded from most decision-making processes.’

Globally, Ms Westendorf says the most recent available statistics (2008) show that while women accounted for approximately 30 percent of international civilian staff in UN peace operations, only 10 percent of high-level management positions were held by women, and only 1.9 percent of military personnel were women. There were no military forces led by women.

Women made up only 7.3 percent of UN police and 19.6 percent of nationally recruited civilian staff, but most of these were low-level service and clerical posts.
Another major challenge is poverty, particularly ‘the feminization of poverty’. ‘War increases discrimination against women and women become more marginalised,’ she says.

 Read Ms Westendorf’s full report and her opinion piece in the Conversation .