Women, War and Peace: Mobilizing for Security and Justice in the 21st Century

The Dag Hammarskjold Lecture 2004

22 September 2004, Uppsala, Sweden


 Introduction

I am deeply touched by this great honour to deliver this year’s Dag Hammarskjold Lecture. I was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year, invited by women leaders who were frustrated by the inadequate implementation of the Peace accord and by the violence that had broken out in Ituri and Bunia. Even though we had facilitated their participation to influence the official peace process in Sun City, South Africa from February to April 2002, resulting in Article 51 of the Transitional Constitution on the involvement and rights of women, the women were not being taken seriously in its implementation. They knew that the United Nation’s Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM, had provided much of the technical support to the Namibian Presidency of the Security Council in October 2000 and facilitated women in conflict zones to meet, for the first time, members of the Security Council. All this had contributed to Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. At that time, I had promised to work with women in conflict zones to ensure accountability and implementation of this resolution on the ground. These women now wanted to know what could be done to amend this, and how their own efforts in organizing and mobilizing their communities could be recognized and supported by this process.

In the midst of these meetings, a colleague reminded me that the world lost a Secretary-General of the United Nations during his efforts to bring about peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was then that the legacy and spirit of Dag Hammarskjold came to life for me, as I met with Congolese women, forty-two years after his death. I thought to myself, if Dag Hammarskjold were here, he would be proud of where we are today. For despite the factions, challenges, and continuing violence in certain areas, the UN did not abandon the people of the DRC, so that there is today a formal peace accord, and, for the first time, women are engaged in the rebuilding process.

If the UN today is still regarded by many as the moral force capable of bringing diverse interests together to forge common security , it is because of the vision that Dag Hammarskjold helped to create. He was a Secretary-General that made sure that the resolutions of the UN lived up to the words with which its charter begins, and touched the lives of “We the Peoples of the United Nations.” He saw his tasks as “working on the edge of the development of human society.” He saw the UN as a “venture in progress towards an international community living in peace under the laws of justice.” He was a hands-on Secretary-General who dared to deal with the major conflicts of his time, a champion of peace with justice, who tried to bring fractured communities together, a person of great stature, integrity and moral courage who dared to go to the edge to guide the world so that coming generations can inherit a more peaceful and just future. You can imagine the profound experience and exhilaration I had when on my return to New York one of the first letters that I opened was your invitation.

Humanity’s entry into the 21st century has been both painful and dangerous. In particular, terrorism and the “war on terror” that followed, made clear to us that our destinies are linked and our lives intertwined. Global security more than ever is linked with national and human security. The fear and violence that now characterize our world demonstrate, especially after the invasion of Iraq, that no one country, agency or sector of society, however powerful, can alone ensure global peace and human security. The common goals, norms and standards that we develop to guide our interactions with each other — whether as states or local communities, organizations or individuals — are the best, and maybe the only, guarantors of human security.

As shown most clearly by the history of Afghanistan over the last three decades, the intertwining forces of internal and external conflict and social and gender injustice undermine the capacity of countries to move towards sustainable peace and development and threaten global peace and security. If we are to find just and equitable responses to the great challenges of this era and increase all forms of human security – economic, political, and social – then those who are most affected by insecurities and injustices must be involved in finding solutions. Decision makers must take into account current problems of injustice at every level, as well as people’s own solutions to them. Because some of the most entrenched social, economic, political, and cultural injustices are endured by women, half of the world’s population, it is necessary to make their voices heard, their perspectives visible, and their solutions legitimate; they must become leaders of communities and institutions, with the power to shape policies and agendas. In an increasingly insecure world, the vision of women who advocate for peace and justice must finally come to the fore as the dominant, rather than the alternative, perspective. Unless we take seriously the theme of the United Nations Women’s World Conferences, “Equality, Development and Peace,” we are going to lose out on the possibility of long-term peace and stability.

In this lecture dedicated to the memory of Dag Hammarskjold, I would like to address how the United Nations has been engaged and, indeed, challenged, by women around the world to urgently and effectively respond to the realities, needs, and priorities of women in situations of conflict. Specifically, I will consider how women, based on their experiences of war and conflict, have mobilized for the formulation and adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, an agreed upon mechanism by which to ensure that women’s rights are protected during conflict, and their participation is supported at all stages and levels of peace-making, peace-keeping, and peace-building.

I shall first examine some of the root causes of conflict, as well as the forms of mobilization taken by various groups in these contexts. I will then look at how the nature of warfare has changed, the impact of contemporary conflict on women’s lives, and the role of the United Nations in establishing, in accordance with international norms and standards, frameworks and processes for bringing about an end to violence, enhanced protection, the realization of justice, and broad-based peace-building for women and men affected by conflict.

I will then examine some of the issues that resolution 1325 helped open up for analysis: protection of women during war, ensuring women’s participation in peace processes, and the challenge of building the foundations of justice during post-conflict reconstruction. I will look at some of the work that UNIFEM has done and is doing to support the implementation of this landmark resolution. In conclusion, I will consider some of the gaps that remain, and suggest some ways forward in our mission for peace, justice, and dignity for all people.

The Roots of Conflict and Political Mobilization

Before addressing the specific challenges posed by women’s experience in war and conflict, we need to understand better the roots of current conflicts, and the dynamics that perpetuate them, so that these can be seriously addressed in efforts to prevent or end conflict. Today, we know that every major conflict involves an interaction between economic, political, historical, and cultural factors. Some conflicts arise when groups of people feel economically or politically deprived, others arise when people have their lands or natural resources taken away from them, or their control. Patterns of economic and political governance that perpetuate and reproduce inequalities and exclusion often fuel political mobilization. In many cases, group mobilization often occurs along lines of ethnic, religious or ideological identity, enhanced by sharp inequalities and various forms of exclusion.

Wars produce winners and losers, at global, regional, and local levels, with costs and benefits unequally shared. Wars permit marginalized groups and individuals to be employed as soldiers; they promote transnational production and trade in arms, trafficking in drugs, diamonds, and other resources. They also create the conditions for the trafficking of women, children, and men. Where economic opportunities are few and not able to provide for decent livelihoods, the possibilities of enrichment by war are considerable, including opportunities to loot, and to profit from shortages and aid. For certain people, conflict is more profitable than peace, and violence provides a real alternative for those marginalized under present arrangements which they perceive as inequitable and unjust. It is not only the disadvantaged groups, however, that resort to violence to further their cause; privileged groups, including states, also wage brutal campaigns against political adversaries.

In many cases, however, political mobilization for war is based on lived realities of injustice. In situations where official policies, institutions, and leaders have failed to provide equal security, opportunity, and dignity, a sense of injustice and desperation prevails among certain sections of the population. Under such circumstances, engaging in group mobilization can be a form or process of empowerment, enabling people who feel themselves victims of injustice to become part of a collective movement, with the conviction and hope that they are taking their lives and destinies into their own hands. In conflict societies, where the majority of people are robbed of their capacity to shape the conditions of their lives, political mobilization can be an act of collective self-determination, an attempt by ordinary people to reclaim ownership and direction over their own lives, sometimes even through violent means.

Because inequalities and injustices are often reproduced along the fault lines of social identity, including ethnicity, religion and tribe, political mobilization frequently also takes place along these political identities, which are often codified legally and institutionally. In many post-colonial countries, racial, ethnic, and religious identities became politically and legally institutionalized through processes of decolonization and nation-building, clearly differentiating populations within bounded categories of identity, as well along binaries of majority and minority. In many of these countries, group privilege and rights are officially entrenched in the institutions, processes, and practices of the nation-state, thereby reproducing multiple disparities among groups who have been classified and administered as distinct and unequal. As a result, group mobilization against real and perceived injustice often takes place along the fault lines of identity. While such mobilization need not employ violent means, in many places it does, particularly when other channels of redress have proven to be ineffective.

Political mobilization along the lines of identity occurs not only horizontally within nation-states; it also occurs vertically, such as in cases of state violence against rebel groups, and globally, as we have seen in today’s borderless “war against terror.” Rapidly changing international security policies also produce new political identities. The increased suspicion, monitoring, and profiling of Muslims in the United States following the September 11 attacks is a clear example of this, as is the current indiscriminate targeting by insurgents in Iraq of anyone perceived as supporting the occupying forces, including Iraqi civilians.

But group mobilization in situations of conflict need not lead to further hostilities between communities, nor to embracing violence as a means of achieving their goals. There are forms of collective agency which engage universal principles, norms and standards that promote the protection of rights of all human beings. Women in conflict zones throughout the world have mobilized within their communities and across borders to demand that the international community put an end to violence, to urgently address the impact of war on women and their communities, and protect the future of their societies, as well as women’s role in shaping that future. Based on their realities in conflict, women demanded the creation of an internationally agreed upon mechanism that could highlight the impact of war on women’s lives, ensure the protection of their fundamental human rights, and guarantee their participation in processes of peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. It was this mobilization, with the support of UNIFEM, that helped result in the formulation and adoption of Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. With this landmark resolution, women have shown it is possible to redefine international frameworks and policies using their own diverse experiences in conflict areas around the world.

It is important for those who represent the international system to identify, support, and respond seriously to people’s efforts to mobilize in ways compatible with international values, to make viable non-violent forms of mobilization. It is not simply a question of recognizing people’s aspiration to find alternatives to violence; it is a matter of making legitimate people’s realities, grievances, and struggles, giving people reason to trust in an international system that protects and defends their rights, empowering local constituencies for reform, and promising people a stake in a common future. This means, among other things, assisting local constituencies in their efforts to address the injustices of the present and the past. The challenge to the international system is an urgent one. Failure to respond in a timely and effective manner could result in an irreversible loss of faith in international norms, as well as in aspirations for an inclusive future that defends the dignity and rights of all people.

Such a loss of faith will only deepen people’s sense of betrayal and distrust, and generate the conditions for more hostility and revenge. In short, the challenge to respond effectively is a matter of life and death and demands a rethinking of how we mobilize to create a more secure and just world.

Women, War and Peace

Wars are a major source of devastation, human suffering and poverty, affecting all aspects of economic, social and political life. The nature of warfare has changed: it is no longer soldiers who comprise the largest number of casualties, but civilians. In World War I, 14 per cent of the deaths were civilians; today it is estimated that this number has risen to over 75 per cent. The nature of the battlefield has changed: warfare is no longer fought in remote battlefields between armies but is fought in our homes, our schools, our communities and increasingly on women’s bodies.

In this context, it is important to understand the conditions and difficulties of women’s lives in times of war and conflict, and to understand how women seek to connect these experiences at the local level to global policy making and action. I would like to refer to SC Resolution 1325 and focus here on the three interrelated dimensions that affect women’s lives during violent conflict and in the transition to peace: first, the specific impact that war has on women’s lives, including various forms of violence and the erosion of the economic and social fabric of community; second, the importance of women’s participation in peace processes; and third, women’s role in shaping post-conflict reconstruction processes to ensure their societies are founded on justice, inclusion, and a commitment to the dignity and development of all its members.

In conflicts throughout the world, violence against women has been used as a weapon of war, not just to violate the women but to humiliate the men of the other side, and to erode the social and moral fabric of entire communities across generations. Women know the cost of violence, extremism and exclusion, the cost of destroyed states and economies, and the cost of accumulated conflicts. They know what it means to have sons, brothers, husbands, and even daughters who have fought and died in conflicts. Many women and girls are forced to hide or flee, lest they be coerced into slavery by militia groups. Others actively join armed movements to seek protection from other armed groups, or seek retribution for the loss of loved ones.

Women know what it means to be displaced, to bear high rates of maternal and child mortality and low rates of access to education and health care. They know what it means to be excluded from public life, and not to be recognized as full citizens. In situations of conflict, women are the first to be affected by infrastructure breakdown, and carry the ever increasing burden of caring and providing for their families, the injured and the wounded, while being forced to adopt survival strategies at the margins of war economies.

Women who have survived wars must find ways to live with the gross injustices that have filled their past and are haunting their present — acts of discrimination and violence committed before, during and even after conflict. In the recovery process, there must be peace with justice and equality. The consolidation of peace cannot be achieved unless there is justice based on the rule of law. This refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, including the state, are accountable to laws that are consistent with international norms and standards. The charter of the UN itself, together with the four pillars of the international legal system — international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and international refugee law — make up the normative foundation necessary to advancing the rule of law.

As stated by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his report on rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies, helping war-torn societies re-establish the rule of law and come to terms with large-scale abuses is a core mission of the United Nations. In contexts marked by devastated institutions, exhausted resources, and a traumatized and divided population, this is an overwhelming but urgent task. While the UN has been tailored to respond to the immediate security needs of populations affected by conflict, and to address the grave injustices generated by war, the root causes of conflict have too often been overlooked and insufficiently dealt with. Yet, it is precisely in addressing the causes of conflict and seeking to build societies based on inclusiveness, equality, and rule of law, that the international community can help prevent a return to conflict in the future. Prevention is the first imperative of justice and sustainable peace.

The United Nations plays an important role in upholding the rule of law by helping countries to strengthen national systems for the administration of justice in accordance with international standards. Increasingly, the UN realizes the importance of adopting a comprehensive approach, by engaging all relevant institutions in the development of national justice systems, and paying attention to various dimensions of this process, including establishing standards of justice, formulating laws that codify them, strengthening institutions that implement them, developing mechanisms to monitor them, and protecting the people who must have access to them.

While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also be recognized as part of its resolution. Within the framework of Security Council resolution 1325, attempts are being made in the UN to develop a more systematic approach to consulting with and involving women in conflict and post-conflict societies, in all stages and at all levels of the peace and reconstruction process. The participation of women in peace-making, peace-keeping, and peace-building ensures that their experiences, priorities, and solutions contribute towards stability and inclusive governance. The rebuilding process must address all forms of injustice embedded in conflict and must restore all dimensions of justice  – legal, restorative and distributive – from a gender perspective. Impunity for crimes committed against women weakens the foundations of societies emerging from conflict by legitimizing violence and inequality, and exposes women and the larger community to the threat of renewed conflict. During the transition to peace, a unique window of opportunity exists to put in place a gender responsive framework for a country’s reconstruction. The involvement of women in peace-building and reconstruction is in fact a key part of the process of inclusion and democracy that can contribute to a lasting peace.

It was women from conflict areas who, in engaging the international community to address their situation, identified women, peace and security as common priorities, requiring an urgent response by various local and international actors, from members of their own communities to member states on the United Nations Security Council. It was women who pried open the closed doors of the Security Council, availing themselves of a mechanism, known as the Arria Formula, by which those who had actually experienced war and conflict and others outside the formal decision-making process could make their voices and perspectives heard. Since the adoption of resolution 1325, there have been some notable achievements. A Security Council resolution with a strong constituency and broad implications for more than half the world’s population, its implementation is being carefully monitored by women around the world.

Peace operations are now starting to develop ways of responding to some of the specific concerns of women in conflict zones. In line with our own mandate to improve women’s lives, UNIFEM has responded to this appeal by catalyzing the United Nations system and supporting the participation of women in various dimensions of peace-keeping, peace-building, and reconstruction. While a handful of good practices are, of course, insufficient in addressing the overall problem, these initiatives have been important in setting precedent and showing some possible ways forward in efforts to protect and support women in conflict. I will elaborate briefly on the three priority areas of women’s protection during conflict, their participation in peace-building, and their role in post-conflict reconstruction, and then share with you some of the concrete work UNIFEM has supported in each of these areas.

Protection in Armed Conflict

War has become a highly gendered phenomenon. While the vast majority of fighters in armed groups are men, it is increasingly common for women civilians to be targeted through sexual violence, which is increasingly used as a weapon of war against the enemy side. In many places, women and girls are also highly vulnerable to kidnapping, forced labour, and trafficking. In places such as Uganda and the DRC, it is still common for girls to be abducted into armed groups and forced into sexual slavery, with the vast majority becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases and, increasingly, HIV/AIDS. In addition, women and girls have been forced to trade sex for safe passage, food, and protection, including by members of security forces. Women and girls are seldom protected from these threats; their aggressors are seldom punished.

We also need to better understand women’s realities not just as victims but also as actors in political conflict. Many women choose to join political movements, including armed groups, in times of conflict. Their roles include civil activists, community workers, combatants, intelligence, nurses, porters, and cooks. Women may join, or even form, these groups because of political conviction or affiliation or to seek protection from enemy forces. In Aceh, for example, many widows and their daughters have joined the guerrilla movement for protection from the Indonesian military and military-backed militia. In such cases, women may be targeted three-fold: as women, as civilians of the opposite side, and as political enemies in armed conflict. Female dependents of combatants are also at high risk of violence and, in many places, have been subjected to gross abuses, including arbitrary detention, kidnapping, torture, and rape.

Given the nature of contemporary conflicts, it is a political and social necessity to address issues of justice in a multidimensional manner, engaging all institutions of the justice system. Neglect of one inevitably leads to the weakening of the others. If injustices experienced by people during war are not sufficiently attended to, it is unlikely that trust will be established in the rebuilding of peace. Focusing on the way conflict affects women and girls is crucial to re-stitching the social fabric of families and communities after conflict and violence have ripped them apart. Until justice is seriously addressed a sadly ambiguous message is sent to perpetrators of human rights abuse that they are above the law. There must be urgent and severe action against this chilling destruction of women and communities.

Women and girls face a massive justice deficit in war-torn societies. By and large, international protection and assistance operations still effectively neglect the specific needs of women and girls. In my visits to countries in or emerging from conflict, I have seen these gaps with painful clarity. I have heard about women’s futile quest to learn the fate of the raped and impregnated women or the countless children they were forced to bear. In conflict area after conflict area, I have met the mothers of the disappeared, and walked through valleys of widows, huge communities of women left alone to fend for themselves and their families. These women live each day bearing painful memories of humiliation and torture that they and their loved ones were subjected to. And as if this were not enough, they are also struggling to claim their property, their inheritance, their land and, in some cases, even to retain their children.

Protection and humanitarian assistance for women is glaring in its inadequacy. As the nature of security has changed, blurring the lines between militias and civilians, making it difficult to provide the security needed, we have totally failed to protect women and girls against the multiple forms of violence they are subjected to during conflict. The massacres in Darfur and the mass rapes in Haiti are the most recent examples. This is why women stress again and again the need for protection in armed conflict and an end to impunity for crimes against women. They want accountability for past abuses, the punishment of human wrongs and the protection of human rights. Beyond that, they are no longer willing to be seen only as victims; they want to be recognized as part of the solution in the rebuilding process. They know that no matter which side wins, women will lose unless they are recognized as stakeholders of the future of their societies.

In this area, UNIFEM has supported the development of early warning mechanisms based on the documentation of human rights abuse against women, in countries such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the Solomon Islands. We have mobilized UN country teams and peace operations, in partnership with local women’s groups, to develop campaigns on ending impunity for violence against women, and put the need to combat trafficking and violence against women on the agenda of rule of law institutions in post-crisis countries, such as the DRC, Kosovo and Timor Leste. UNIFEM has advocated for the recruitment of women into civilian police and peacekeeping forces, as well as the training of peacekeepers in issues related to violence against women, and in codes of conduct that respect women’s human rights. We have supported the work of the gender caucus in the International Criminal Court (ICC) to incorporate sexual violence as a war crime, and to strengthen witness protection and victim support programmes. At the community level we have facilitated consultation on justice reform with women’s groups and law enforcement institutions. In Rwanda, for example, UNIFEM trained over one hundred judges of the Gacaca courts on resolution 1325 and issues of gender justice.

Establishing timely and effective justice is an integral part of any peace-building and reconstruction effort, if there is to be a solid foundation for lasting peace and respect for human rights. Failure to address inequalities in the justice system and its discrimination of women jeopardizes the chance of securing sustainable peace and increase the risk of violent conflict, as men and communities that have been humiliated through the violence against their women maintain anger, a sense of injustice, and a desire to seek revenge.

Participation in Peace Processes

But protection for women during conflict is not enough. Gender justice and women’s rights must be integrated in peace agreements and in the legal and institutional structures supporting post conflict reconstruction. Without women’s equal participation and full involvement in peace-building, neither justice nor development will be possible in a war-torn society’s transition to peace. In many war-torn countries, many women assume activist roles while holding together their families and communities. In some cases, they have managed to bring their experiences into formal peace-building processes, relating their realities and concerns to official negotiating parties. When women’s voices are heard and heeded, critical priorities that would otherwise be left out of peace processes are often reflected. Such issues include the importance of increasing the presence of women in the civilian, military and police components of peace-keeping operations. Where this has happened, it has led to improved relations with local communities, which is essential to the success of peace interventions. Emphasis is also given to designing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (or DDR) processes to meet the special needs of girls and women who have been abducted into armed groups, women combatants, dependents of combatants, and former soldiers who are trying to return to civilian life. Too frequently, these women are totally excluded from rehabilitation programmes that are designed to foster reconciliation through support for education, health, access to land, credit, etc. The needs of women with children or rape babies, or girls in fighting forces, are seldom incorporated into demobilization and reintegration initiatives. In addition, women’s peace initiatives, sometimes undertaken across warring sides, involve taking high risk in extreme conflict situations. However, these efforts are insufficiently recognized and supported, both politically and financially. Sustainable peace is, in many ways, contingent on community-based involvement and ownership of the peace process. From the grassroots level to the negotiating table, support for women’s participation in peace-building contributes to a society’s efforts to recover from violent conflict. In war, women are activists, caretakers, providers and survivors. Strengthening women’s groups on the ground in conflict areas strengthens the chance that they can provide communities of hope, reaching out across barriers of identity, including clan, ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation and helping people to transcend these. They break the lines along which groups organize and mobilize for war against each other. As we saw clearly in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and elsewhere, when these communities of hope break down, children are much more easily recruited into becoming soldiers, as everyday security and opportunities for social development are eroded.

The international community’s support of women’s networks and the linking of local initiatives to international systems are crucial to peace processes. From the grassroots level to the peace table, UNIFEM supports women’s participation in peace processes. We try to leverage political, financial and technical support so that women can have an impact on peace efforts nationally and regionally. From Afghanistan to Timor Leste, from Kosovo to Colombia, UNIFEM is supporting women to influence processes of conflict resolution and post-conflict rebuilding. Our efforts last year to ensure that women’s leadership was a high priority in rebuilding Afghanistan yielded promising results. Through supporting the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to broaden women’s participation in all aspects of reconstruction, reaching out beyond Kabul to women in every province, UNIFEM helped to facilitate the development of a national women’s agenda and the engagement of women in the Loya Jirga process.

Up until June 2000, the situation of Burundian women and girls had been completely ignored in negotiations for peace in that country. But in July of that year, UNIFEM succeeded in bringing Burundi’s 19 negotiating parties to accept the need for women’s involvement in the peace process, leading to the first All Party Burundi Women’s Peace Conference. Twenty-three of the Burundi women’s recommendations made to the facilitator, Nelson Mandela, were included in the final peace accord. A precedent was set and the entire peace agreement benefited. However, as we have seen in Burundi, violence and conflict rarely ends with formal agreements. Peace is fragile and conflict returns quickly if the post-conflict reconstruction process fails to seriously address both the causes and the consequences of conflict, and put in place policies of inclusion and incentives for future conflict prevention.

Gender Justice in Post-Conflict Reconstruction

The term “post-conflict” is a simplification to describe societies where there has been a
termination of hostilities either through negotiations or war, and there has not been a relapse into
violence. Their transitional status provides an opportunity to shift agendas towards peace. The term “gender justice,” as used here, refers to the integration of gender perspectives within every dimension of justice, and the role of women in shaping justice frameworks and rule of law institutions in ways that promote their human rights, legal equality and inclusion.

Women have a crucial role to play in the rebuilding of stable societies. International and regional initiatives to link peace with justice not only benefit women, but are also strengthened by them. During the transition to peace, a unique opportunity exists to put in place a gender responsive framework for a country’s reconstruction based on the three dimensions of justice: legal justice to address discriminatory laws against women at institutional and policy levels, such as inheritance laws which prevent women from owning property; restorative justice to address violation of human rights and war crimes so that people can move beyond their trauma and begin to construct new lives for themselves; and distributive justice to address structural and systematic injustices such as the political, economic and social inequalities that are frequently the underlying causes of conflict. Although the urgency of each of these three dimensions varies among conflicts and although they are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, the tendency is to focus primarily on restorative justice, addressing past wrongs through tribunals and the criminal justice system. Overlooking any of these dimensions of justice can lead to a recurrence of conflict and weaken the foundations of peace. Using a gender sensitive approach to all three dimensions can help remove barriers and facilitate the movement of post conflict countries towards stability, development and inclusive governance. Indeed, gender justice is a critical and integral dimension of any approach to establishing the rule of law and consolidating peace.

There are some essential actions required for sustainable peace which the three dimensions of justice can accelerate. These include the rebuilding of state institutions for inclusive governance; the adoption of a constitution and establishment of legal justice, or rule of law that addresses equality and fairness; the reconstruction of the economic and social infrastructure and destroyed facilities based on distributive justice to address the root causes of the conflict; the healing of the psychosocial trauma of war through truth and reconciliation in order to bring about restorative justice. In the aftermath of conflicts, resources are depleted, infrastructure is destroyed, and social, economic and political relationships are strained. Successful reconstruction depends upon the use of every available resource. Women represent the most precious and underutilized of these resources. Unless a country’s constitutional, legal, judicial and electoral frameworks deal with gender equality, then no matter what happens after conflict, or how peaceful a transition, the country will never have a fair chance at development.

UNIFEM has focused on institution-building and the strengthening of women’s leadership in post conflict situations. We have supported women’s networks and mechanisms of participation, women parliamentarians, and women’s civil society organizations, fostering linkages and partnerships across these as well as other constituencies. Our efforts have proven particularly successful by focusing on substantive issues, such as national development plans, economic security and rights, demobilization and reintegration, and gender equality in the rule of law.

The human security crisis has also, in many places, provided opportunities for positive change. First, in terms of legal justice, the reconstruction process provides the chance for people to reconstruct their national constitutions, their legal systems, their institutions, in ways that build the foundation for linking human security, human rights, and human development. A unique opportunity exists to put in place a gender responsive framework for a country’s reconstruction. Afghanistan is good example of how UNIFEM is facilitating and supporting women to develop their own vision and agendas. In March 2002, I celebrated International Women’s Day in Kabul with over 1,000 Afghan women from all parts of the country. Let me share with you the dreams of some of the women I met and how we have been able to respond. UNIFEM’s programme for Afghanistan based on the Afghan’s Women’s Agenda delivered on that day focuses on: (1) strengthening women’s economic security and rights to enjoy secure livelihoods through skills training, employment and access to markets; (2) ensuring women’s participation in elections and national decision-making, and supporting legal and constitutional reforms; (3) supporting internally displaced and refugee women to reintegrate into their communities; (4) supporting civil society and the media to raise awareness of women’s needs; and (5) supporting the establishment of regional women’s centres, in collaboration with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, to train service providers and women’s groups in a range of political skills, voter’s education, legal and social services. In Afghanistan, the participation of women in the Constitutional Loya Jirga and the registration process, with the support of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), UNIFEM and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), are critically important because they recognize women’s full citizenship rights and facilitate their ability to exercise these rights.

The work on truth and reconciliation has to rest on restorative justice, and there has to be an end to impunity for the violence that is used against women. The women I met in Rwanda have testified against war criminals that still wield power and influence. They have endured the pain of telling, retelling and reliving their stories often without privacy and security. Women seeking justice need protection and look to the standards set by the ICC. They ask for witness protection, legal support, counseling, as well as separate chambers and female judges to hear cases of women survivors of sexual violence. They ask for sanctions against tribunal staff that do not respect the rights of witnesses. Accountability means being answerable to women for crimes committed against them; it means punishing those responsible and ensuring redress for victims. But lasting peace requires not only accountability for past actions, but also responsibility for present and future ones. Civilian police and post-conflict judicial institutions, for example, must learn to understand and address the issues such as the trafficking in women and girls, and sexual violence, both of which increase dramatically during conflict and spill over into post-conflict societies. Gender equality and inclusion and freedom from sexual violence are fundamental values on which peace-building must be based.

In Rwanda, UNIFEM’s support for women leaders has helped to promote women’s perspectives in government policies and within parliament, the judiciary and the police. Rwanda today has the world’s highest percentage of women judges (50%) and the highest percentage of women in Parliament (49%). Our support contributed to the passage of the inheritance bill, which guarantees women and girls the right to inherit property, an important ingredient of peace-building. This reform will go a long way in revitalizing the agricultural sector. It will also enable people and communities to invest in economic security as part of human security as rural economies once again are able to produce food and can integrate the internally displaced and the ex-combatants back into the community. Similarly, support for women’s organizing in Angola, Timor Leste, and Mozambique has promoted gender-sensitive reviews of legal frameworks and has increased women’s participation in the political arena.

Advances in political and legal rights are not matched, however, by significant progress in the achievement of distributive justice. Eight of the ten countries ranked lowest on the Human Development Index and half of the countries designated as least developed countries, or LDCs, have had major wars in the recent past. Already poor, these countries are further impoverished by violence with the destruction of their infrastructure, livelihoods and productive capacity. The vast majority of countries emerging from conflicts are LDCs and thus deeply dependent on the international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank and the International Monitory Fund for reconstruction. These IFIs have acted as catalysts and guarantees for bilateral donors, and the Bank in particular has sponsored quick impact employment schemes and community development. Together with the United Nations, these multilateral institutions have put in place a results-focused transitional framework (RFTF) for post-conflict countries to be followed by a poverty reduction strategy (PRS). Despite their considerable efforts to reconstruct war-torn societies and destroyed states, the Bank and the IMF have tended to underestimate the underlying causes of conflict and the need to give conflict prevention a central place in the PRS and in the country’s overall economic strategy. Their approach has been to engage in the costly tasks of reconstructing the economy to catch up with years of lost economic growth focusing on macroeconomic stability. They have treated devastated economies and destroyed states in the same way as peaceful countries in their economic policy prescriptions, regarding armed conflicts as temporary disruptions to an established economic path. The issues of distributive justice among warring parties and along gender lines are not sufficiently addressed, including inequalities in income, assets, employment and access to land. As lead institutions for economic recovery in post-crisis countries, it is essential that they do more to incorporate these issues into their policy frameworks, not only for quick impact projects or recovery packages but, more importantly, in the development strategies proposed or prescribed to governments.

For women who have long organized for peace on the ground, Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security represented a long overdue recognition of their accomplishments and challenges. It gave much needed political legitimacy to their struggle. Women were instrumental in the adoption of resolution 1325 and are breathing life into its implementation. This resolution is not simply a UN document; it is a window to greater protection and promotion of the rights of those who are often the most vulnerable, the most invisible, and who have the greatest stake in peace. It set a new threshold of action by the UN system, and by all member states. However women’s contribution to the peace building and reconstruction process will bear fruit only if conflict prevention and the reduction of political violence become a central part of development strategies to reduce poverty, exclusion and inequalities among groups.

Mobilizing for Security and Justice: Urgent Challenges

The United Nations Charter is a blueprint for conflict prevention. Article 26 of the Charter requests the Security Council to formulate a plan for the least diversion towards armaments of the world’s human and economic resources. As a conflict prevention measure, there is urgency to complete it by 2005. Member states committed themselves to a core set of norms and values, basic to the Millennium Declaration’s vision of “freedom from want and freedom from fear” that underpin their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. Progress towards the implementation of these goals will be reviewed in 2005, but it is already argued that achieving them would cost too much. This, while military expenditure worldwide is estimated at $839 billion, four times what it would cost for all nations to provide decent housing, health care and education to their citizens. The cold war concept of weapons-based security has often provided the rationale for creating powerful global and national military budgets that emphasize defense over human well-being. We need to shift from looking at global and national security as weapons-based, military security to addressing the roots of conflict and political mobilization, globally and locally. The world can be neither secure nor peaceful until this is taken seriously.

While the human and social cost of conflicts are high for ordinary people, especially women, many individuals, groups and nations, including donor countries, stand to gain from conflicts, through the creation of lucrative war economies, the trade in weapons, employment of armies and peacekeepers, control over oil, diamonds and other resources, and the use of trafficked and forced labour. Any long term solution for sustainable peace can only be established if there are better economic and political incentives to stop fighting. More important for the development of stable societies is the re-linking of peace to justice, inclusive governance and development with equality along lines of ethnicity, class and gender. Otherwise, a new crop of leaders, with an interest in continuing violence, will begin to mobilize their followers to take advantage of the power vacuum and sow the seeds of hatred and suspicion.

Because the roots of conflict and injustice are multidimensional, involving economic, social, and political forces, conflict and justice must be addressed not just within the agendas of peace and security, and legal reforms, but within a holistic framework that integrates human security, human development, and human rights. So far, however, crisis prevention and conflict resolution agendas have not sufficiently dealt with the conflict-development-rights nexus. The gender discrimination and violence against women that is accepted in times of peace deepens in times of war. At the same time, development strategies and poverty eradication policies have tended to neglect issues related to conflict. Yet the prevention of conflict is essential for poverty reduction and the prevention of human suffering caused by violent conflict. Conversely, if conflict is to be avoided, the conditions of injustice that fuel political mobilization and social violence must be seriously addressed. In working to implement the Millennium Development Goals, we must remember that progress towards each and every one of these goals can be destroyed by war and violence.

We now know the factors that can lead to mobilization for violent conflict. We need to create and invest in the necessary conditions that will support a different kind mobilizing, to bring about human security, justice, and peace. International norms and standards are currently under severe threat, precisely at a time when they are most needed. The world is in need of bold leadership, made strong by vision, sustained by ethics and the moral courage to uphold international principles, based on the rule of law, and the understanding that human development and global security require the commitment of all governments and all people.

One of the best indicators of a country or community’s will to implement their commitments and achieve shared goals is the way in which it treats women and protects and promotes their security and rights. Women’s mobilization for the formulation and implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 clearly shows that change is possible, but a lot more needs to be done in the priority areas identified by women. In the area of protection and assistance, UNIFEM, other UN agencies, national partners, bi-laterals, and international NGOs, have learned a great deal from pilot efforts to mobilize protection, humanitarian, psycho-social and economic support for women. But lessons learned need to be translated into standard practice. More funds, more expertise, improved monitoring and reporting and stronger accountability mechanisms are necessary to prevent gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.

The opportunity now exists to make women and gender perspectives central to peace and reconstruction processes. The UN system as a whole can leverage the political, financial and technical support needed for these efforts to have an impact on peace efforts nationally, regionally and internationally. Ensuring women’s representation in peace-making, peace-keeping, and peace-building, would be a first step in recognizing the unique and critical contributions that women can make to sustainable peace.

Making resolution 1325 work means ensuring that the challenges facing women in conflict become a regular item on the political agenda, in thematic debates, and every time a country situation is addressed. There must be efforts at every level, from local societies to the international community, to ensure its implementation. There are a number of immediate and concrete steps that can be taken by the Security Council to improve women’s protection in conflict and support their role in peace building. These include:

  1. Ensuring that human rights verification, observer missions and peacekeeping operations focus on gender based violations and women’s human rights. As the security of women is the best indicator of the security of a nation, any early warning system must take women’s voices into account.
  2. Ensuring that field operations protect and support humanitarian assistance for women and girls, and especially those who are refugees or internally displaced. Special measures to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of sexual violence should be an integral part of humanitarian operations.
  3. Ensuring that any support offered by the Security Council to a peace process, any investigation of disputes, or any attempts at mediation or settlement, make explicit the need to involve women and address the substantive concerns they bring to the table.
  4. Restoring the capacity and legitimacy of rule of law institutions as countries emerge from conflict. National judicial, police, and correction systems, have often been stripped of their legitimacy for proper function, and have often been transformed by conflict into instruments of repression. Restoring their capacity and legitimacy based on international norms and standards is urgent for the protection of human rights and human security.
  5. Ensuring that the peace-building elements of an operation are gender-sensitive, particularly when designing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, in strengthening governance and public security institutions, in defining the role of civilian police, and in providing electoral assistance. These are the first steps for ensuring that women are central to post-conflict reconstruction.
  6. Insisting that all peacekeeping personnel be trained to understand their responsibilities to women and children. Mandatory in-service training should be provided as soon as a mission is assembled. This is not meant to be a substitute for what needs to be done at the national level.
  7. Calling for the establishment of a code of conduct for peacekeeping personnel and of clear reporting on sexual violence in a peacekeeping environment. This should include enforcement and monitoring mechanisms for peacekeeping personnel, through the creation of an Ombudsperson, an Inspector General, or an office created especially for that purpose.
  8. Promoting timely and effective justice for women by ensuring that all aspects of gender justice are fully integrated in the shaping of new constitutions, laws, and institutions of countries coming out of conflict.
  9. Reducing institutional and cultural barriers to the implementation of and access to justice for women, to ensure that they do not voluntarily withdraw from engaging with the justice system.

As long as the current institutional deficit in responding to women exists, women’s lives are not being taken seriously enough — by governments or the international community. The security of people must be regarded as a goal as important as the security of states. Security Council resolution 1325 is a good example of how women, as non-state actors, have been able to bring situations that have endangered the security of women within particular states to the attention of the Security Council. What is needed now is serious and comprehensive implementation, through coordinated partnerships that address current challenges and promote strategies that have worked.

This means having the courage to understand and address the root causes of conflict. It means listening to and supporting people on the ground, being conscious of and responsive to their realities, needs, and aspirations. This must involve not just the United Nations, but all those who make up part of what we call the international community. In a context where our collective notions of war and peace are shaped powerfully by the media, there is an urgent need to inspire future generations with the remarkable stories of positive initiatives to build peace in the face of war, of ordinary women and men defying all odds to bring justice and hope to their communities. We cannot let our young be inspired by calls to violence. The alternative to war and terror is an international system based on shared values with effective collective mechanisms for security and justice. As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said at the opening of the 2004 General Assembly: “Today, the rule of law is at risk around the world … too often it is applied selectively and enforced arbitrarily … . Throughout the world, the victims of violence and injustice are waiting for us to keep our word.” Turning words into action is our only hope for a common future. Our only hope to realize Dag Hammarskjold’s vision of living in peace under the laws of justice.