Photo: Will Swanson/UNHCR

By:

Malene Aadal Bo

When women are capable of influencing decisions on war and conflicts, we will have less violence.

Ellen Margrethe Loej has no doubts: “If women could decide, they would end the violence,” said the former head of two UN peacekeeping missions in Liberia and South Sudan, where innocent women and children have suffered immensely due to war.

“But women are left out of fora, where men decide to enter a conflict, while women and children become victims of conflicts, they do not bear any responsibility for,” added the former Danish ambassador Ellen Margrethe Loej. 

She is a strong supporter of the UN resolution 1325; a human rights resolution that promotes the rights of women in conflict situations, by securing and including women in conflict management, conflict resolution, and sustainable peacebuilding.

According to Ellen Margrethe Loej, the passing of the resolution from 2000, together with the appointment of an under-general-secretary on sexual violence against women in conflicts in 2009, mark the greatest victories in combating violence against women in the past 15-20 years.

“Both have increased focus on the problem. Not only from the international society, but also from national leaders. Today, these leaders know of and focus on the issue. In addition, the resolution has strengthened women organisations and others who work with advocacy. Governments and institutions can no longer claim, that they were not aware of the UNs stance on this issue,” said the experienced diplomat.

Underlining the need of involving women in decisions for example in peace negotiations, she further emphasised the importance of involving the ’right women’; women who truly represent disadvantaged and rural women and their needs:

“NGOs must make sure, that the voices of these women are heard, and decisions are made which benefit the women who suffer and pay the price for conflicts. NGOs should empower women, so they get the courage to speak for themselves,” she added.

This is exactly, what Danish Oxfam IBIS and Dutch Impunity Watch aims at through the comprehensive 5-years FLOW2 project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One crucial project aim is to empower girls and women to participate in and take part in decision making processes in the three (post) conflict countries Burundi, Guatemala and Liberia.

FLOW-partners use UN-resolution in advocacy

Advocacy to end violence against women, is the other key intervention of the project. To this end, UN resolution 1325 is an important driver in the three (post) conflict countries, where women have been and continue to be victims of rape, assaults, slavery, domestic and other forms of violence.

The sad truth is, that while violence, especially rape against women and girls, escalates during conflict and war, these cruel acts are hardly ever brought to court, but silenced by impunity.

In Liberia, more than 70 per cent of all women in the worst affected areas were victims of rape during and after the civil war which ended in 2002 (source WHO).

As a reaction to these horrible figures, not only in Liberia, but in other conflicts as well, in year 2000, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1325 to combat violence against women and to include women in all decisions regarding peacemaking and post conflict management.

Deep rooted practices must be challenged

“Due to the deep rooted cultural practices, which discriminate women, it is a long haul to end violence against women during war and conflicts. But national authorities and NGOs must keep focus on the issue and follow up on the resolution 1325 to change things,” said Ellen Margrethe Loej, and added: “The best would be, if the men could be punished. But when the judicial system is out of order, during war and conflict, this often does not happen.”

As a response to these challenges, Impunity Watch and Oxfam IBIS support cases of violence against women to be raised in the justice system in the three countries, where impunity is widespread; protect and train women survivors of violence to become agents of change at local and national level; strengthen advocacy on resolution 1325 and raise awareness on the rights of women; violence against women; and discuss and challenge societal norms which condones the association of violence with masculinity.

“We do consider resolution 1325 to be an important advocacy tool, given its focus on peace and security, as well as promoting actions in prevention, protection, protection and gender mainstreaming,” said Olga Alicia Paz from Impunity Watch in Guatemala.

Another importance of the resolution, is the focus on access to justice for gross human rights violations of women, including sexual violence: “Resolution 1325 recognies sexual violence as a tactic of war and a matter of international peace and security that necessitates a security response,” Olga Alicia Paz added.

One major success of the resolution from the past year, is exactly in this area: Two former military officers in Guatemala were sentenced for crimes against humanity in its form of sexual violence. The officers had committed sexual violence and domestic slavery in a military detachment against 11 indigenous maya women in 1982, during the internal armed conflict.

The case was supported by Impunity Watch and Oxfam IBIS, and will be followed up as part of the FLOW-project. In addition, the project is prepared to support women to bring nine more cases of violence against women on trial in Burundi, Guatemala and Liberia.

With a strong focus on training and public awareness on the rights of women, combined with legal support to cases of violated women, Impunity Watch, Oxfam IBIS and their partners in the three countries expect to put significant pressure on governments, legislators, duty bearers and institutions.

“As a result, we want to see societies more effectively combatting gender based violence – and not least women themselves and their organisations taking a lead in mobilising their own communities to firm and consistently fight any kind of gender based violence,” said Annemette Danielsen from Oxfam IBIS, who coordinates the FLOW2 project with Impunity Watch.

She concluded: “In the struggle to eradicate gender based violence in conflict prone settings and in our FLOW2 project, resolution 1325 is an absolute key point of reference.”

Resolution 1325

UN-resolution 1325 was passed by the Security Council in 2000 with the aim of ending violence agaainst women, secure their human rights and include women in: prevention of conflicts, conflict management, conflict resolution and sustainable peace building.

Oxfam IBIS and Impunity Watch  - FLOW2

As part of the Funding Leadership Opportunities for Women, FLOW2, the Danish NGO Oxfam IBIS in collaboration with the Dutch NGO Impunity Watch, is presently implementing a project which aims at combatting violence against women and provide them with better access to education and influence in three (post) conflict countries Guatemala, Liberia and Burundi.

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