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Resilience policy and internally displaced women in Iraq: an unintentionally flawed approach – Zeynep N Kaya (13/2018)

Internal displacement is a major humanitarian and security issue. Today there are far more internally displaced persons[ref]Persons uprooted from their habitual residence due to conflict, human rights violations, natural disasters, development projects and those who remain and/or contained within the national boundaries of their home country. See Erin Mooney, “The Concept of International Displacement and the Case for Internally Displaced Persons as a Category of Concern”, Refugee Survey Quarterly 24 (3) (2005): 9-26.[/ref] (IDPs) than refugees in the world. By the end of 2016, 40.3 million people were internally displaced by conflict and violence across the world, and an unknown number of IDPs remain displaced.[ref]Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council, Grid 2017: Global Report on Internal Displacement (IDMC: May 2017), http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/publications/2017/20170522-GRID.pdf [/ref] This unprecedented scale of internal displacement in recent decades has led to the creation of international frameworks for the protection of IDPs and for the regulation of responses to internal displacement crises.[ref]Francis M. Deng, “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”, International Migration Review 33 (2) (1999): 484-493; Roberta Cohen, “Developing an International System for Internally Displaced Persons”, International Studies Perspectives 7 (2006): 87-101.[/ref] More recently, resilience, an increasingly popular policy framing for humanitarian interventions, has become an important component of humanitarian interventions and it has made its way into responses to internal displacement in countries like Iraq. Iraq has the world’s sixth highest rate of forced displacements in the world today and third highest number of IDPs.[ref]World Bank, Forcibly Displaced: Towards a Development Approach to Supporting Refugees, the Internally Displaced and Their Hosts (Washington: World Bank, 2017), http://hdl.handle.net/10986/25016[/ref] Internal displacement in Iraq is primarily conflict-related and has a long and layered history as a result of Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, sectarianised militarisation, violence and counter-insurgency operations since the intervention in 2003,[ref]Dina Abou Samra, “Military-Induced Displacement”, Forced Migration Review 37 (2007): 37-39.[/ref] and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (also known as Daesh). As of June 2017, more than three million Iraqis live in a state of displacement.[ref]International Organization for Migration (IOM), “IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix”, http://iraqdtm.iom.int/[/ref] This policy brief offers an assessment of the concept of resilience as an international policy frame. While appreciating the potential of resilience as influential and potentially radical in many areas, I argue that it offers a simplistic understanding of the causes of gendered vulnerabilities in conflict-related displacement, at least, in the context of Iraq. 

Iraq’s Al Alam Camp for internally displaced people. © UNHCR/Nasreddine Touaibia.

Relief and recovery is one of the four pillars – but usually a neglected one – of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. The WPS agenda, formed by the founding UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the seven resolutions that followed it, addresses the impact of armed conflict on women, and it emphasises women’s protection in conflict and their participation in the prevention and resolution of conflicts. Displaced women and girls, who are present in the conflict zones, are directly and indirectly affected by conflict in multiple ways, including violence, displacement, the loss of loved ones, livelihood and homes and issues with access to public services such as health and education. The relief and recovery pillar of the WPS agenda enables examination of conflict and its impact, and potentially improves civilian and humanitarian response, for instance in the design of displacement camps and settlements.

The WPS agenda was adopted as government policy in Iraq in the form of a National Action Plan in 2014, leading to the formation of the 1325 Parliamentary Task Force in 2015. These are huge steps towards ensuring women’s protection, addressing their specific needs in conflict and increasing their participation in the processes of conflict resolution and peace-building in Iraq. However, despite displacement being one of the most challenging outcomes as well as components of conflict in Iraq, and despite the particularly gendered impact of conflict and conflict-related displacement on women in general, Iraq’s 1325 policy generally overlooks this issue. Actually, Iraq is no exception in this: displaced women are usually not at the centre of WPS policies in other contexts either.[ref]Aiko Holvikivi and Audrey Reeves, “The WPS Agenda and the ‘Refugee crisis’: Missing Connections and Missed Opportunities in Europe”, LSE Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series 6 (2017): 1-6, http://www.lse.ac.uk/women-peace-security/assets/documents/2017/wps6HolvikiviReeves.pdf[/ref]

Existing resilience policies in response to displacement in Iraq, despite their effort in including women and a gender perspective in their programmes, remain limited in their potential to address key issues that displaced women face.  These policies follow the guidelines on gender equality, human rights, protection from violence, relief and recovery support and participation in decision-making, in general but do not directly integrate the WPS agenda and gender into their justifications and design. This failing is related to the international resilience policy framing itself, but is also the result of the heavy focus in these policies on cultural norms as the source of gendered vulnerabilities, which means that institutional practices and regulations that generate vulnerabilities are often overlooked. A policy response that is thoroughly informed by the WPS agenda and that adopts a proper gender lens is essential and this lens should not focus on gendered vulnerabilities in a way that further victimises women, or men.[ref]Dianne Otto, “Women, Peace and Security: A Critical Analysis of the Security Council’s Vision”, LSE Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series 1 (2016): 1-10, http://www.lse.ac.uk/women-peace-security/assets/documents/2016/wps1Otto.pdf [/ref] Instead, such an approach should help understand the underlying economic, political and societal factors that come into play in conflict rendering women and men vulnerable to the impact of displacement. This is a valuable approach in understanding the differential impact of conflict on women and girls and the societal and institutional context that leads to that impact, and in identifying appropriate responses to addressing displaced women’s and girls’ relief and recovery needs.

It is often overlooked that internal displacement has gender-specific outcomes and affects women and girls differently and disproportionately. Gendered vulnerabilities differ between men and women because socially constructed gender norms and roles form the backdrop of the economy and the regulation of everyday life.[ref]Eric Neumayer and Thomas Plümper, “The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981-2002”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 97 (3) (2007): 552-566.[/ref] Indeed, the gendered nature of IDP vulnerabilities is clearly evident in Iraq. Internally displaced women face different challenges and restrictions to their lives, safety, security, employment and to access to services and goods, which render them vulnerable in different ways.[ref]International Organization for Migration, Gendered Perspective: Safety, Dignity and Privacy in Camp and Camp-like Settings in Iraq (Baghdad: IOM, 2016), https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/IOM_Iraq_-_A_Gendered_Perspective_report_0.pdf [/ref] Internally displaced women in Iraq are more likely to experience livelihood deprivation than men, they are exposed to violence, rape and early marriage, and a notable proportion end up resorting to begging or prostitution.[ref]Displaced men are also affected by displacement in gender-specific ways. They are more likely to be targeted by militant groups as potential recruits and by governments as potential militants, and they also experience violence. The majority of displaced men are responsible for the livelihood of their families and this exposes them to different kinds of threats. See IOM, Gendered Perspective, 32. But the focus here is the gendered vulnerabilities pertaining to internally displaced women and girls in Iraq.[/ref] It is precisely this crisis context that has led to new international policy frameworks, such as the resilience policy frame, that aspire to respond to crises as well as tackle the underlying drivers of vulnerabilities, albeit in a flawed way, as explained in the rest of the paper.

Resilience as policy response to internally displaced women

Resilience is a widely discussed concept in both the academic and non-academic literature and it has multiple definitions with various implications in practice. The concept of resilience has its origins in the natural sciences, psychology and ecology and it generally refers to the ability of individuals, communities and societies to withstand and recover from shocks and disasters.[ref]Christian Fjäder, “The Nation-State, National Security and Resilience in the Age of Globalisation”, Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses 2 (2) (2014): 114-129, 119-120.[/ref] In this sense, resilience is ‘the capacity to positively or successfully adapt to external problems or threats’[ref]David Chandler, “Resilience and Human Security: The Post-Interventionist Paradigm”, Security Dialogue 43 (3) (2012): 213-229, 217.[/ref] and the resilient subject is understood as an active agent capable of self-transformation.

Resilience interventions consider vulnerabilities mainly as embedded in societal practices and aim to reduce vulnerabilities through empowering individuals and communities.[ref]David Chandler, “International Statebuilding and the Ideology of Resilience”, Politics 33 (4) (2013): 276-286, 278; Chandler, “Resilience and Human Security”, 221.[/ref] Their emphasis on human capacities, the ability of individuals and communities to cope with challenges and even come out of it stronger, sound intuitively appropriate. This kind of bottom up approach, combined with the idea of responding to a long-term need for resilience,[ref]Rosalind Warner, “Resilience or Relief: Canada’s Response to Global Disasters”, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal 19 (2) (2013): 223-235, 226. [/ref] also fits with the aim to generate sustainable and peaceful societies. As such, few would fault its underlying aspirations.

The assumptions implicit in the resilience policy framing, however, mean that this approach is not well-suited to respond to all types of challenges, including gendered vulnerabilities in conflict-related internal displacement. This is due to a number of reasons.

Firstly, resilience makes communities the site of solution for problems that are not necessarily created at community level, such as the conflict in Iraq. For instance, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) 2016-2017 for Iraq states that ‘The Resilience component of the 3RP, led by UNDP, is aimed at addressing the longer-term self-reliance of individuals and communities, and the stronger role of Government in delivering equitable services to refugees and host communities in the various response plans, in a sustainable and efficient manner.’[ref]United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 3RP Regional, Refugee & Resilience Plan 2016-2017 in Response to the Syria Crisis: Iraq Chapter Summary (UNHCR, 2017), 4, http://www.3rpsyriacrisis.org/uploads/2015/12/3RP-Regional-Overview-2016-2017.pdf[/ref] As stated here, the aim is the pursuit of resilience for individuals and communities, and the role of government in this is reduced to effective delivery of support to those in need through practical response mechanisms. Therefore, there is no emphasis on the need for government and state institutions as a site of transformation.

Underlying this is a fatalistic assumption that conflicts and disasters cannot be prevented and therefore we need to learn to cope and be prepared, therefore, a key solution lies in transforming communities and individuals and making them more resilient. This idea that societies should be transformed for interventions to be successful justifies the focus on communities as the site of solution. This is because societies, not state structures and regulations, are seen as one of the barriers to achieving the goals of past interventions in the resilience framing in general.[ref]W. Neil Adger, “Social and Ecological Resilience: Are They Related?”, Progress in Human Geography 24 (3) (2000): 347-364.[/ref] Therefore it is seen as necessary to equip societies with resilience skills and transform them to be able to generate change.[ref]Jonathan Joseph, “Governing through Failure and Denial: The New Resilience Agenda”, Millennium: Journal of International Studies 44 (3) (2016): 370-390, 379; Chandler, “International Statebuilding and the Ideology of Resilience”, 279, 281.[/ref] However, national and international actors and their institutions have played significant roles in the creation of conflict and displacement in Iraq, and they are the ones with the authority to regulate and implement institutional and legal practices. From this perspective, making communities the site of solution appears problematic.[ref]Fjäder, “The Nation-State, National Security and Resilience”, 121; Jonathan Joseph, “Resilience as Embedded Neoliberalism: A Governmentality Approach”, Resilience 1 (1) (2013), 38-52.[/ref]

Secondly, the effort to make individuals and communities sources of solution is not necessarily a negative development but its potential to lead to change can only be achieved if governments, institutions and international policies are also foregrounded as sites where problems should be identified and resolved. Existing resilience policies in Iraq consider government institutions as implementers of policies and responses, rather than also as sites of transformation. Moreover, most resilience policies in international humanitarian frameworks assume that vulnerabilities are rooted in communities and societies. This impedes the ability to maintain the pressure on government and international authorities to be responsible and improve their actions to provide better services while also working at the community level. For instance, most humanitarian policies consider gendered vulnerabilities as primarily rooted in cultural norms. In this thinking, solutions should emerge from the societies because mainly societies are seen as the source of such vulnerabilities.[ref]Chandler, “International Statebuilding and the Ideology of Resilience”, 277-78.[/ref] Such a view overlooks the specific institutional and legal practices implemented by national and international actors that render internally displaced women and girls vulnerable.

Thirdly, conceptions of resilience in practice may not always reflect what resilience means for displaced women. Existing resilience policies for women mainly focus on economic empowerment and livelihood generation. Although this is a crucial dimension, economically reductionist understandings of resilience may not capture displaced women’s conceptions of resilience.[ref]My conversations with local civil society organisations supporting female IDPs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq revealed that the tactics women use to be resilient and the processes they associate with resilience are quite different from international resilience frameworks. These interviews were conducted as part my research on humanitarian response to internal displacement in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which will be completed in early 2019. [/ref] When facing risky conditions, people behave within their own rationality embedded in their own daily practices, not necessarily in the ‘optimal’ behaviour expected by outsiders. International humanitarian and developmental policy frameworks are usually shaped by the security concerns and normative assumptions on progress and development. In expecting certain ‘optimal’ and ‘resilient’ behaviours, resilience policy framing bears the risk of not addressing the actual sources of vulnerabilities among targeted communities, and overlooks the existence of other equally ‘optimal’ behaviours and practices at community level.

Resilience policies in Iraq and vulnerabilities of internally displaced women and girls

The resilience of displaced communities in countries like Iraq has recently become a significant focus for international humanitarian action. It is not explicitly embedded in all humanitarian responses in relation to displacement at the moment, but UNHCR’s 3RP directly associates response to refugees and IDPs in Syria and Iraq with the framework of resilience.[ref]United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 3RP Regional, Refugee & Resilience Plan 2017-2018 in Response to the Syria Crisis: Regional Strategic Overview (UNHCR, 2017), https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/3RP-Regional-Strategic-Overview.pdf[/ref] UNDP’s Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme 2014-2017 and UN Women’s current LEAP Programme in Iraq also adopt a resilience approach.[ref]United Nations Development Programme, Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme, 2014-2017 (UNDP, 2014), http://www.iq.undp.org/content/iraq/en/home/operations/projects/crisis_prevention_and_recovery/ICRRP.html. UN Women in Iraq, in collaboration with OXFAM and Akfar Society, launched a report on gender and conflict in 2017. See Luisa Dietrich and Simone E. Carter, “Gender and Conflict Analysis in ISIS Affected Communities of Iraq”, Reliefweb, 15 May 2017, https://reliefweb.int/report/iraq/un-women-and-oxfam-share-results-iraq-gender-and-conflict-analysis-study-inform[/ref] These policies are indicators of increasing emphasis on resilience framing in policies and responses regarding refugees and IDPs in Iraq. This signifies a shift from the provision of emergency relief and livelihood support for displaced communities to initiating more transformative responses focusing on the displaced communities, as well as the host communities.

These strategies and programmes place a special focus on displaced women. UNDP Iraq leads on the implementation of the early recovery and resilience agenda with a focus on basic services, livelihood and social cohesion. It aims to provide livelihood opportunities to women in displaced and host communities by identifying emergency jobs and employment opportunities, and to prevent gender-based violence. UNDP’s strategy is commendable in its approach to the assessment of specific needs at household levels, including women and men, and in its efforts to identify factors in local and national environments that contribute to gender vulnerabilities. Moreover, rather than only focusing on communities and individuals as the sources of solution, it places emphasis on developing resilience at the state and government levels as well.

However, the UNDP’s strategy also considers internally displaced women as having pre-existing vulnerabilities explained with reference to cultural norms, i.e. ‘the challenges for women to work outside the house [are] often linked to cultural barriers.’[ref]UNDP, Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme, 23. [/ref] Indeed, wider institutional, legal and social norms that condone women’s confinement in the private sphere of the home have significant gendered impacts. Such norms, feeding into crisis contexts, heighten women’s experiences of inequality and discrimination. Displacement increases communal and family-level protection and control measures over women to ensure security and to avoid stigma associated with certain incidents or behaviours. These limit displaced women’s visibility and presence in public spaces, their access to services, support and information (about health, schooling, cash support, food, livelihood opportunities) and confine them to tents, shelters or homes in their new location.[ref]Inter-Agency Team, Understanding the Information and Communication Needs Among IDPs in Northern Iraq (UNOCHA, UNHCR, World Vision International, Internews, IOM and the Norwegian Refugee Council, 2014), https://www.alnap.org/system/files/content/resource/files/main/understanding-the-information-and-communication-needs-of-idps-in-northern-iraq.pdf[/ref] This is also a huge hindrance to their ability to develop an organic social support community in camp and non-camp locations.

However, the emphasis on cultural norms in resilience strategies in Iraq tends to overlook the specific rules, regulations, laws and practices within the societal, economic and political context that underlie, generate and exacerbate vulnerabilities. Although cultural norms have socio-economic implications such as a lack of skills, illiteracy, limitations to educational attainment and barriers to employment, these norms are too vague to capture specific gendered vulnerabilities of internally displaced women in Iraq. Particularly the idea that through economic empowerment these cultural impediments can be overcome is unrealistic because it overlooks the more crucial barriers that create gendered vulnerabilities for women in the first place. These barriers and challenges derive from institutional, procedural and legal practices and facilities on the ground developed and implemented by national and international authorities in Iraq.

For instance, for the management of the movement of peoples and the processing of services in Iraq, IDPs need to register at the Ministry of Migration and Displacement with proof of identity in the form of nationality certificate, civil ID card, housing card or food ration card. This is necessary to receive help and support, and to access services such as health, education, food rations and welfare.[ref]Julia St. Thomas King and Dennis Ardis, “Identity Crisis? Documentation of the Displaced in Iraq”, Humanitarian Practice Network, October 2015, https://odihpn.org/magazine/identity-crisis-documentation-for-the-displaced-in-iraq/[/ref] Local and international humanitarian organisations can only help those who are registered through the Ministry. However, most of these identifications bear the name of the male head of household. If women and girls have no male relative accompanying them, they may not be able to access these basic essential services.

Moreover, once relocated in a governorate, IDPs also require security clearance to be eligible to receive support and to be able to access services provided by the government and humanitarian organisations. However, this can be risky. For example Sunni IDPs are usually anxious about not getting security clearance in a Shi’a majority area. As a result, reportedly, Sunni men may remain in conflict areas rather than go to Shi’a majority areas in the South, and send their families to seek refuge instead. This leads to livelihood deprivation of internally displaced families and increases the number of female-led households.[ref]IOM, Gendered Perspective, 23.[/ref] The sponsorship system, basically the requirement of a sponsor for entry to some of the governorates in Iraq, leads to similar outcomes. This system limits the IDPs ability to move, creates huge blockages of IDPs and increases the risk of exploitation as IDPs might seek unofficial paths in their effort to reach safety. Some civil servants exploit this system by imposing registration and documentation fees arbitrarily.[ref]Ahmed Hassin and Mays Al-Juboori, Humanitarian Challenges in Iraq’s Displacement Crisis (Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International, 2016), 8, http://minorityrights.org/uploads/2016/12/MRG-report-A4_english-DECEMBER-2016_WEB-2.pdf[/ref]

Another institutional practice that creates gendered vulnerabilities for female Iraqi IDPs is counter-terrorism laws and policies. Men and boys are likely to be detained or arrested, under Article 4 of Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law, sometimes randomly in IDP sites and crowded places like food distribution spots.[ref]IOM, Gendered Perspective, 17.[/ref] They can have their access blocked to some locations by government officials or armed groups depending on their tribal affiliation, location of origin or destination, and religion or sect.[ref]Ibid., 17; Lahib Higel, Iraq’s Displacement Crisis: Security and Protection (Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International, 2016), 12, http://minorityrights.org/uploads/2016/04/CEASEFIRE-report_ENGLISH_march-2016_210x297mm_WEB.pdf[/ref] As a result, men do not carry identification with them, they often stay behind when their family relocates or they do not go to public spaces to provide for their family’s needs. These gendered impacts on male IDPs affect their female relatives. For instance, if a male family member is arrested under Article 4, women may not be given a housing card under their own name.[ref]King and Ardis, “Identity Crisis?”.[/ref]

Security measures for IDPs on the move and in camps or camp-like settings are often insufficient and they do not always address women’s and girls’ concerns over safety and security. Water sources, hygiene facilities, and food distribution spots are not designed in a way that enable women’s easy access. Distribution sites and service centres, such as maternity services, can be far from the camp. Women may not want to take the risk of travelling far from the camp and so sometimes exchange or sell part of their rations for help in collecting basic goods such as food or fuel.[ref]IOM, Gendered Perspective, 20.[/ref] There are issues with the frequency of security patrols and the availability of lights in camps and informal settings. This increases the risks women encounter when they need to leave their location to provide for their needs.[ref]Ibid., 28. [/ref] Women lack privacy in shared inhabitation such as tents or shelters, latrines and showers do not always have lockers. Almost half of the groups studied in an International Organization for Migration report in 2016 lacked segregated latrine facilities, 64 per cent of the shared latrines did not have locks and 54 per cent of the groups used unsegregated shower facilities with no locks.[ref]Ibid., 27. [/ref] These conditions not only create discomfort and anxiety, and limit women and girls’ access to basic facilities, but they also increase women’s exposure to risk and violence, leading to their isolation.

Criminal activities and corruption also create significant gendered vulnerabilities. Trafficking networks, including state officials at all levels of government, various individuals and armed groups, use female IDPs and refugees in camps in sex and human trafficking.[ref]United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, (Washington D.C.: US Department of State Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, 2016), 207, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf[/ref] Thousands of female IDPs and refugees became sex workers in the first three years after the 2003 intervention.[ref]Cynthia Enloe, Nimo’s War, Emma’s War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).[/ref] In addition, children, boys and girls, are forced to leave school to help their family in household chores or earn money elsewhere. This exposes them to serious exploitation, bad working conditions, begging, emotional and physical abuse and distress, and potential recruitment of boys by armed groups. Child marriage for girls has significantly increased among IDPs mainly due to financial difficulties.[ref]IOM, Gendered Perspective, 32.[/ref]

Lastly, women have less access to information compared to men about security alerts, legal advice, dates and times of food distribution, available services, such as maternity services, and other information. This is mainly caused by their isolation in their settings. They also do not have the means to communicate. Unlike men in the household, women usually do not own mobile phones, which is a key source of information for IDPs.[ref]Inter-Agency Team, Understanding the Information and Communication Needs Among IDPs.[/ref] Women also are more likely to face linguistic and literacy barriers. 91 per cent of IDP camp committees in Iraq lack female participation.[ref]IOM, Gendered Perspective, 27.[/ref] This results in women and girls’ needs and concerns to be mostly overlooked in camp committees, which makes it likely for local and international humanitarian organisations to also overlook these needs.

An examination of the case of female Iraqi IDPs shows that resilience policy framing in humanitarian responses to the internal displacement crisis may not lead to expected outcomes as it places the solutions too heavily on the communities and identifies cultural norms and economic factors as the source of vulnerabilities. However, wider institutional and practical regulations and rules developed and implemented by national and international authorities play a much bigger role in rendering IDP women in Iraq vulnerable. This is not to say that a resilience approach is without any merit but to emphasise the need to carefully consider limitations and assumptions inherent in the resilience policy framework when operationalising it on the ground.

These conclusions would have implications on other conflict-related internal displacement cases such as in Syria, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan and Somalia, where similar international policy framings around resilience influence responses. In these cases, people have been exposed to complex and localised conflict processes and protracted and layered displacements. Moreover, similar to the Iraqi case, national and international actors responding to these crises are mainly considered as the implementers of solutions on communities, rather than as sites of solutions and transformation themselves.

Policy recommendations

  • Carry out perception assessments among displaced communities and women, as done by the UNDP’s strategy in Iraq, but accompany this with an analysis at the institutional level to identify practical, institutional and legal factors that create gender vulnerabilities.
  • Redefine resilience and vulnerability for each context without essentialising gender, gendered vulnerabilities and gender norms. Women are vulnerable not only because cultural norms in society hinder them from participating in public economic and political life. It is crucial to understand female IDPs own conceptions of vulnerability and resilience in order to generate effective resilience policies.
  • Ensure, maintain and further strengthen the emphasis on institutions, state capacity and responsibilities of national and international authorities in developing resilience; do not tilt the balance too heavily towards communities and their responsibilities.


This is paper 13/2018 in the LSE Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series.

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About the author

Zeynep Kaya is a Research Fellow at the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security and LSE Middle East Centre.

International Human Rights, Criminal Law and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda – Christine Chinkin (12/2018)

This paper[ref]This paper was first presented as the Third Hilding Eek Memorial Lecture at the University of Stockholm on 18 September 2017. [/ref] reflects upon the interplay between international human rights law and criminal law – both national and international – through the international legal regimes that have evolved for combating gender-based violence against women, in peacetime and in conflict, and human trafficking, especially of women and girls. The different trajectories of these two legal regimes are newly associated through the UN Security Council’s recognition that sexual violence against women as a tactic of war and human trafficking in conflict constitute threats to international peace and security and accordingly come within the Council’s responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The interplay between different international legal regimes has generated considerable debate since the International Court of Justice identified the concept of a ‘self-contained’ regime.[ref]Case Concerning United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran, (Merits) 1980 ICJ Reports 3, para 86.[/ref] One aspect was the concern in the late 1990s and the early years of this century about what was called the fragmentation of international law, an apprehension that the proliferation of specialised regimes would undermine the coherence of the discipline.[ref]The topic was considered by the International Law Commission; see Study Group of the International Law Commission, Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties arising from the Diversification and Expansion of International Law, A/CN.4/L.702, 18 July 2006.[/ref] Prominent among such specialised regimes were precisely human rights law and international criminal law. But there was much less concern expressed about the fluidity of, the institutional and substantive overlap between, and the dissolution of conceptual boundaries separating, such legal regimes. Further, their very nature entails a blurring of the boundaries between national and international law. Accordingly, the paper considers the convergence of legal regimes and the ensuing erosion of clear delineation between them. Another – and related – aspect is to ask what is meant by a human rights treaty, or more broadly what makes a human rights agenda? These last questions were originally sparked by my involvement as scientific advisor to the Council of Europe drafting committee for what might well be called Europe’s most recent human rights treaty: the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.[ref]Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), ETS No. 210, 11 May 2011.[/ref] But the Convention was from the outset conceived of as simultaneously a criminal law treaty and a human rights treaty, and many state delegates to the negotiations were from either the Department of Justice or the Department of Gender Equality/Human Rights. Throughout the negotiations, it became apparent that they did not always speak the same language, or share assumptions about the very nature of the proposed treaty, demonstrating a disciplinary divide that is replicated at the international institutional level.

The further spark to my thinking about these issues is my current position as Director of a Centre for Women Peace and Security (WPS). WPS is a Security Council agenda that is generally dated from the Council’s adoption of Resolution 1325 in 2000. In the words of that Resolution, it is an agenda committed to recognising ‘the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building’,[ref]Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), S/RES/1325, preamble. [/ref] to bringing a gender perspective to peacekeeping operations and to ‘an understanding [that] the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, effective institutional arrangements to guarantee their protection and full participation in the peace process can significantly contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security.’[ref]Ibid. [/ref] Its civil society proponents – mainly women activists – sought inclusion of the experiences of women in war in the security space and celebrated the adoption of Resolution 1325 as setting a new standard for the Security Council, UN member states and the UN system as a whole. However, as Dianne Otto has commented, it was perhaps not then appreciated that there might be a price to pay,[ref]Dianne Otto, “Women, Peace and Security: A Critical Analysis of the Security Council’s Vision”, LSE Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series 1 (2016), http://www.lse.ac.uk/women-peace-security/assets/documents/2016/wps1Otto.pdf[/ref] that although Resolution 1325 was in the words of a 2015 Global Study on its implementation, ‘conceived of and lobbied for as a human rights resolution that would promote the rights of women in conflict situations’[ref]Radhika Coomaraswamy et al., Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (New York: UN Women, 2015), 15. [/ref] its location in the Security Council also made it a security issue. The tension between these two positions is something I will return to.

I begin with a brief survey of the interplay between human rights law and criminal law – with also an appearance by international humanitarian law (IHL) – in the evolution of international legal regulation of human trafficking, especially of women and girls, and of violence against women and girls. These, for a long time, followed separate tracks, although they are linked, not least by the factors that contribute to both: poverty, sex and gender-based discrimination, inequalities, unequal access to economic and social rights including education, employment and health care. Fleeing from gender-based violence makes women vulnerable to trafficking, while trafficking in women is one manifestation of gender-based violence.[ref]Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 48/104, 20 December 1993, article 2 (b). [/ref] Both are incidents of patriarchy and of historically unequal power relations between men and women, and are ‘crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men’.[ref]Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 48/104, 20 December 1993, preamble.[/ref]

Human Trafficking and Violence against Women and Girls: Criminal Law or Human Rights?

Human trafficking has a deep and complex legal history. It came earlier onto the international agenda than violence against women, indeed well before even the creation of the League of Nations, through a number of treaties campaigned for by a mix of early women’s movements and moral activists concerned to uphold the ‘virtue of white women’.[ref]Anne Gallagher, The International Law of Human Trafficking (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 55. [/ref] These early treaties were not in contemporary terms either human rights or criminal law treaties. They focused on exploitative prostitution and exclusively on cross-border prostitution. In the words of one commentator on the four anti-trafficking treaties in the pre-UN era: ‘the export of immorality across borders had to be stopped.’[ref]Ibid., at 57. [/ref] The major themes of these early treaties have been summarised (and simplified) as protection of victims and their welfare through education and training, exchange of information and criminalisation of procurement of women for prostitution abroad, while, as Anne Gallagher describes it, carefully preserving state authority to regulate prostitution internally. There was a precursor to the human rights reporting process in that the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children provided for annual reporting and for an Advisory Committee of the League on the Traffic of Women and Children.

These various treaties were consolidated in 1949 into the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.[ref]Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 317 (IV), 2 December 1949.[/ref] The Convention has a criminal law focus, requiring punishment of those involved in procurement, exploitation of prostitution, running or managing a brothel, providing for extradition for such offences, and checking ‘the traffic in persons of either sex for the purpose of prostitution.’ There is a welfare angle in response to the fact that prostitution and trafficking for that purpose ‘endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community’[ref]Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 317 (IV), 2 December 1949, preamble. [/ref] and some human rights language in that prostitution – whether within a state’s borders or involving cross-border activity – and trafficking for the purpose of prostitution are called ‘incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person’.[ref]Ibid. [/ref] The former – prostitution – is subject to international regulation although it falls squarely within the internal affairs of the state. But the human rights commitment is limited. In the words of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, the 1949 Convention has ‘proved ineffective in protecting the rights of trafficked women and combating trafficking. [It] does not take a human rights approach. It does not regard women as independent actors endowed with rights and reason; rather, the Convention views them as vulnerable beings in need of protection from the “evils of prostitution”.’[ref]Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, on trafficking in women, women’s migration and violence against women, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1997/44, E/CN.4/2000/68, 29 February 2000, para 22. [/ref]

Human trafficking is implicitly prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the human rights Covenants through such articles as those on the prohibition of slavery and servitude, free and full consent to marriage and the right to free choice of employment.[ref]See Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, A/HRC/32/41, 3 May 2016 for the international legal framework against trafficking in human beings. [/ref] Human trafficking enters directly and explicitly (but without definition) into a human rights treaty through the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 30 years after the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. CEDAW, article 6 states that: ‘States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women’. Importantly this encompasses ‘all forms of trafficking’ not just that for the purposes of prostitution, although exploitation of prostitution remains. But this is strange language for a human rights treaty; it is not an equality provision like every other substantive article of CEDAW, nor is it an assertion of women’s rights, nor a straight-forward requirement of criminal law. Interestingly the CEDAW Committee has not adopted a General Recommendation on the subject, nor considered an individual communication on trafficking through to the merits.[ref]

Although no state has made a reservation to article 6, some aspects are controversial and the Committee has provided inconsistent interpretations through its concluding observations to states parties’ reports; Janie Chuang, ‘Article 6’,   in The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women A Commentary, ed. Marsha Freeman, Christine Chinkin and Beate Rudolf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)  169, 173.[/ref] In human rights terms, CEDAW is followed by article 35 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides that states must ‘take all appropriate … measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form’.

In the 1990s, the trafficking narrative begins to merge with that of the international legal story relating to combating violence against women and girls. Like trafficking, violence against women was not at first seen as self-evidently a human rights issue. As is well known, CEDAW has no provision directly relating to violence against women: its equality framework necessitating a male comparator excluded from its ambit violence that occurs to women because they are women. It entered the international arena as a social matter of crime prevention and criminal justice, as for instance in the General Assembly’s first resolution on domestic violence in 1985. That resolution recognised that ‘abuse and battery in the family are critical problems that have serious physical and psychological effects on individual family members’ and that they need to be examined through the lenses of ‘crime prevention and criminal justice in the context of socio-economic circumstances.’[ref]UN General Assembly, Resolution 40/31, Implementation of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons and United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, A/RES/40/31, 29 November 1985.  [/ref] The UN Committee on Crime Prevention and Control had also identified violence against family members as an important issue for it to address. Violence against women was primarily perceived of as the deviant behaviour of an individual rather than as a public matter sustained and acquiesced in by the organisational structures of society. Other lenses through which violence against women was viewed were those of health, social welfare or harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, thus de-linking it from the structural inequalities inherent in existing gender relations. A collective shift in mind-set was needed to bring violence against women within the framework of international human rights law incurring state obligations and state responsibility for failure to respect, protect and fulfil those obligations. The key moment for that shift was the 1992 adoption by the CEDAW Committee of its ground breaking General Recommendation No. 19 that asserted violence against women to be an act of discrimination within the terms of article 1 of the Convention and hence a violation of the Convention. However General Recommendation No. 19 added little to article 6 of CEDAW apart from noting that poverty and unemployment increase opportunities for trafficking in women, and that there are diverse and new forms of sexual exploitation in addition to what it termed ‘established forms of trafficking’, such as sex tourism, domestic labour and organised marriages of women from developing countries to foreign nationals.

The World Conference on Human Rights took place in Vienna the following year – 1993. It has been widely claimed that women were the biggest winners at Vienna. Through the efforts of women activists, supported by academic commentary, and with the support of like-minded states, the Conference upheld gender-based violence as ‘incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person’ and stressed ‘the importance of working towards [its] elimination … in public and private life’ as well as the elimination of ‘exploitation and trafficking in women’.’[ref]Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, 25 June 1993, II, para 38. [/ref] Another linkage was now coming to the fore, that with armed conflict. These normative developments were taking place against the backdrop of the media coverage of the widespread sexual violence that was committed in the wars associated with the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, in particular Bosnia. In General Recommendation No. 19 the CEDAW Committee had referenced the impact of armed conflict on prostitution, trafficking in women and sexual assault of women and the need for ‘specific protective and punitive measures.’ Vienna is stronger with its assertion that ‘[v]iolations of the human rights of women in situations of armed conflict are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law. All violations of this kind, including in particular murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy, require a particularly effective response.’[ref]Ibid.  [/ref] Thus at Vienna exploitation and trafficking of women were delinked from prostitution, which had no mention except in the context of child prostitution, and were brought squarely into the framework of human rights.

The acceptance of violence against women in armed conflict as a violation of human rights as well as of IHL disrupts the traditional divide between the two legal regimes. It supports the notion of a continuum of violence against women linking that which occurs in ordinary everyday life – peacetime – and that taking place in armed conflict, thereby reinforcing states’ obligations with respect to elimination of violence against women in public and private. Wartime violence however is elevated; article 5 of the Statute for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, adopted by the UN Security Council the same year, included for the first time rape as a crime against humanity within the jurisdiction of an international criminal court. The concept of a crime against humanity was not decoupled from conflict until the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, another 5 years later.

Having come together at Vienna and again in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, when trafficking in women and girls was recognised as a form of sex and gender-based violence against women,[ref]Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, September 1995, paras 99 and 113. [/ref] the trafficking story and the violence against women story to some extent again separate. Regulation of trafficking was furthered by the UN Crime Commission, rather than by the Human Rights Commission, with the drafting of the 2000 Palermo Protocol to the Convention on Transnational Organised Crime to ‘prevent and combat trafficking in persons, paying particular attention to women and children’.[ref]Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 55/25, 15 November 2000.[/ref] There is some acknowledgment of human rights as the one of the purposes of the Protocol is ‘to protect and assist the victims of such trafficking, with full respect for their human rights’. Nevertheless the crime control emphasis (furthered by the first international definition of the trafficking) caused concerns that this would diminish the attention and commitment due to the human rights of victims. In a deliberate attempt to avoid this and to keep human rights in the foreground of the picture, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) produced its Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking that were presented to the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) as an addendum to a report from the High Commissioner. The Guidelines put the human rights of trafficked persons ‘at the centre of all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking and to protect, assist and provide redress to victims’ but this still falls short of an outright assertion that trafficking per se constitutes a violation of women’s human rights, a stance that is found in the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking: ‘trafficking in human beings constitutes a violation of human rights’,[ref]Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, Warsaw, 16 May 2005, preamble. [/ref]] and is echoed by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children: ‘Trafficking in persons, especially women and children, is a gross human rights violation.’[ref]Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, A/HRC/29/38, 31 May 2015, para 7. [/ref] Such an understanding incurs the state obligation ‘to investigate allegations of trafficking and prosecute traffickers’ under general human rights law; within Europe this has been affirmed by the European Court of Human Rights since the ground-breaking case of Rantsev v Russia and Cyprus in 2010.[ref]Application no. 25965/04, 7 January 2010.[/ref] Human rights institutions have thus been unwilling to leave regulation of trafficking solely in the domain of criminal law – the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking as a special procedure of the UN Human Rights Council is a further indication of this, as is the inclusion of the issue within the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women. However state action in implementation of the Palermo Protocol has veered away from human rights. In the words of Ratna Kapur, it has ‘triggered a vast network of laws designed to regulate cross-border movement through law and order regimes and criminal justice’ reflecting ‘an increasing obsession with national security, law and order, and border protection in the context of globalisation and free market ideology’ that lead to scepticism as to whether it has resolved trafficking or served women’s human rights.[ref]Ratna Kapur, “Gender, Sovereignty and the Rise of a Sexual Security Regime in International Law and Postcolonial India”, Melbourne Journal of International Law 14 (2) (2013), 317, 334.[/ref] One might add that this has also entailed a large expenditure, which is way above that expended on responding to other forms of violence against women.

Istanbul Convention: Criminal Law and Human Rights

Turning back to combating violence against women, normative development has progressed at the UN level, notably through the jurisprudence of the CEDAW Committee under the CEDAW Optional Protocol, and the recent update of its 1992 General Recommendation No. 19, General Recommendation No. 35 adopted on 26 July 2017, and through the work of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, a mandate approved in 1993 following the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. At the regional level, the 2011 Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) is widely regarded as ‘state of the art’. It draws upon the language and practice of these international bodies as well as the emergent jurisprudence on violence against women of the European Court of Human Rights.[ref]See Council of Europe, Fact Sheet, Violence against Women, June 2017, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/FS_Violence_Woman_ENG.pdf[/ref] However, unlike the Palermo Protocol, the Istanbul Convention was drafted deliberately as a human rights treaty as well as a criminal law treaty. This designation required consideration of what should be in a human rights treaty, as opposed to concentrating solely on the human rights of survivors. In its human rights capacity, it asserts that ‘“violence against women” is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women’ (Istanbul Convention, article 3 (a)). It emphasises substantive equality between women and men as an immediate state obligation and condemns all forms of discrimination against women, thereby setting out the legal link between gender equality and preventing violence against women and girls. Further, in article 4 it provides that it must be applied to all victims without discrimination on a wide range of grounds, including disability, health and – for the first time in an international treaty – on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It spells out that no culture, custom, religion or tradition can be considered as a justification for acts of violence within the Convention. Most importantly the Convention spells out the essential state responsibility for human rights: states’ negative obligation to refrain from any act of violence by its agents and the positive obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent and protect against violence against women committed by non-state actors, to prosecute and punish perpetrators and to provide reparations for victims (Istanbul Convention, article 5). It also recognises women’s agency and the importance of measures for the empowerment of women. In drafting it was agreed that there should be an independent expert mechanism for monitoring progress in implementation and to develop jurisprudence around its provisions, apparently now a hallmark of a human rights treaty. The model for an expert body to monitor compliance with the Istanbul Convention – GREVIO[ref]Istanbul Convention, article 66.1: ‘The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (hereinafter referred to as “GREVIO”) shall monitor the implementation of this Convention by the Parties.’[/ref] – was that set up under the Council of Europe trafficking treaty – GRETA.[ref]Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, article 38.1:  ‘The Group of experts on action against trafficking in human beings (hereinafter referred to as “GRETA”), shall monitor the implementation of this Convention by the Parties.’ [/ref] The Palermo Protocol in contrast provides for no such independent mechanism; its parent body, the Convention on Transnational Organised Crime provides only for a Conference of States Parties, a more traditional international law (as opposed to human rights) monitoring device.

But Istanbul is also a criminal law treaty. Unless it falls within the categories of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, gender-based violence against women is not per se an international crime. Thus the Convention had to identify specific actions within the rubric of violence against women and provide for their criminalisation and prosecution at the domestic level,[ref]The adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2005 meant that trafficking was not included among the listed crimes of violence against women in the Istanbul Convention.[/ref] requiring a specificity of language with respect to the substance of criminal law and procedure that is in stark contrast to the more open ended language of human rights treaties. The latter are worded at a high level of abstraction with imprecise and indeterminate language. They do not prescribe states’ behaviour in any consistent form, but rather provide for differing levels of commitment depending upon the context. There are gaps that must be fleshed out. The language allows states a considerable discretion, or margin of appreciation in how they fulfil their obligations. They must retain their relevance in changing political, social and economic circumstances, even as they become ever more dated. In sum a human rights treaty must be a ‘dynamic instrument that accommodates the development of international law.’[ref]Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, General Recommendation No. 28, on the core obligations of States parties under article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW/C/GC/28, 16 December 2010, para 1. [/ref] Criminal law, in contrast, requires the certainty that allows people to know what behaviour is proscribed and precision for application by law enforcement bodies and prosecution of alleged offenders. Treaty obligations for domestic criminal law enforcement means that crimes must be listed, defined and their elements spelled out. During the negotiations for the Istanbul Convention arguments were made that some proposed crimes of violence against women were better understood as instances of social misbehaviour that should not be subject to criminal sanction, for instance stalking and harassment, or proposed definitions were rejected on the grounds that they were too indeterminate to be brought before a criminal court. And while human rights assumes universal application criminal law provisions had to be adaptable to both civil law and common law systems of criminal law and procedure. Criminal prosecution requires a court with prescriptive and enforcement jurisdiction that must be in accordance with international law principles of jurisdiction. Crimes of violence against women within the terms of the Istanbul Convention are made subject to territorial jurisdiction and to jurisdiction based on the nationality or habitual residence of the alleged offender in a state party; unlike the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings there is no provision for jurisdiction where the offence is committed against a national, so–called passive personality. There is provision for jurisdiction to be established over an alleged offender who is present in the country where that person is not extradited to another party ‘solely on the basis of her or his nationality.’ (Istanbul Convention, article 44). However there are no detailed provisions with respect to extradition as in the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.

The Istanbul Convention does not purport to address violence against women in armed conflict, and is regarded as complementary to the principles of IHL and international criminal law.[ref]Council of Europe, Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, Explanatory Report 51.[/ref] Nevertheless, since the forms of violence it covers do not cease during armed conflict or occupation, it is spelled out that the Convention is applicable in situations of armed conflict as well as in times of peace (article 2.3). The international human rights institutions, however, including the UN Human Rights Council and the treaty bodies, have brought IHL directly within their scope, for instance in mandating fact-finding missions. As an example, I was a member of a fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict of 2008-9 that was mandated ‘to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations’.[ref]United Nations Human Rights Council, Resolution S-9/1, A/HRC/S-9/L.1, 12 January 2009. [/ref] While perhaps substituting for the continued non-use of the International Fact-Finding Commission provided for under Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, it might be questioned where the UN Human Rights Council acquires the competence to bring IHL into its terms of reference. By doing so, it risks blurring the conceptual and practical distinctions between the two legal regimes, not to mention the potential for human rights lawyers to get IHL wrong. Any conclusions about the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity also necessarily raise issues of international criminal law. This conjunction of legal regimes is implicitly welcomed by the International Law Commission (ILC) Special Rapporteur on crimes against humanity. In his third report, Sean Murphy observes that:

‘Human rights treaty bodies will often identify situations of crimes against humanity and provide recommendations for response, when the crimes against humanity intersect with the subject matter of the treaty. For example, when receiving reports from States parties, the Human Rights Committee addresses violations of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights such as violations of the right to life or the right not to be subjected to torture, which include circumstances where those violations rise to the level of crimes against humanity. Thus, while the mandates of the Human Rights Committee and other subsidiary bodies do not specifically include monitoring crimes against humanity, these bodies can identify and recommend appropriate State responses to crimes against humanity.’[ref]Sean D. Murphy, Third report on crimes against humanity,   United Nations International Law Commission, A/CN.4/704, 23 January 2017, para 220.  [/ref]

Of course, crimes against humanity have now been decoupled from armed conflict and are not technically part of IHL, but in many instances the ‘circumstances where those violations rise to the level of crimes against humanity’ will be association with conflict, and the ILC Special Rapporteur certainly accepts the preliminary work of the human rights bodies in identifying the commission of international crimes.

 Violence against Women, Trafficking and WPS

In 2000 – the same year as the adoption of the Palermo Protocol – a new actor entered the scene with respect to violence against women in armed conflict: the UN Security Council, through its introduction of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. The first operative paragraph, and thus emphasis, of its Resolution 1325 is on women’s participation in all stages of conflict prevention, management and resolution, on gender mainstreaming and to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict’. This is a wide formulation of violence against women and girls. Resolution 1325 also reminds states of their existing obligations under IHL, CEDAW, the Children’s Convention, and to bear in mind the Rome Statute. But eight years later, the next Resolution, 1820, is more restrictive. Its preamble refers to the resolve ‘to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls’, but the operative part of the resolution refers only to sexual, not ‘all forms’ or even ‘gender-based’, violence so that ‘sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security’. It goes on to affirm that ‘effective steps to prevent and respond to such acts of sexual violence [i.e. those committed as a tactic of war] can significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security’. While important in its rejection of sexual violence in conflict as an inevitable by-product of war and as recognition of what it often is – a cheap and effective tactic of war that can constitute a war crime, crime against humanity and even genocide – this formula is limiting. The repeated focus only on sexual violence against women downplays other abuses, including sexual violence against men and boys, and other forms of gender-based violence against women and girls. It also discounts the incidence of wartime sexual violence that is not a tactic of war such as opportunistic violence or that committed by civilians, thereby minimising the likelihood of their being addressed in post-conflict reconstruction. It also portrays gender-based and sexual violence in conflict as exceptional rather than as rooted in gender inequality and as occurring in a continuum from that committed outside conflict in so-called ‘peacetime’.[ref]Cynthia Cockburn, “The Continuum of Violence: A Gender Perspective on War and Peace”, in Sites of Violence: Gender and Conflict Zones, ed. Wenona Giles and Jennifer Hyndman (University of California Press, 2004). [/ref] It assumes that conflict is different in kind from other situations of violence such as ‘ethnic and communal violence, states of emergency and suppression of mass uprisings, war against terrorism and organized crime’, yet we know that all these situations result in serious violations of women’s rights.[ref]Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, General Recommendation No. 30, on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations, CEDAW/C/GC/30, 1 November 2013. [/ref] Such violence casts women solely in terms of their sexual identities and sustains the essentialist image of women as victims, upholding the binary of women in need of protection from the ‘evil’ of sexual violence and men (especially international and militarised men) as their designated protectors, thereby sustaining rather than challenging gender stereotypes.[ref]On gender stereotypes see Rebecca Cook and Simone Cusack, Gender Stereotyping: Transnational Legal Perspectives (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010).[/ref] The Security Council has not engaged in any gender analysis, has avoided any theoretical thinking about the concept of gender and has steadfastly equated ‘gender’ with ‘women’.[ref]Laura McLeod, ‘The Women, Peace and Security resolutions: UNSCR 1325 to 2122’, in Handbook on Gender in World Politics, ed. Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe-Belfrage (Edward Elgar, 2016): 271, 275-6. [/ref]

By bringing it into the Security Council’s security agenda, violence against women is securitised, which runs counter to the trajectory of recognising it as a violation of women’s human rights and undermines the transformative potential of women’s agency and leadership. Subsequent WPS resolutions give variable weight to the so-called pillars of participation, emphasising women’s active engagement and agency, and of protection against sexual violence. Even the former – women’s participation – tends to reinforce a gender stereotype of women as peacemakers and lacks institutional steps for implementation. In contrast, a slew of institutional steps have been introduced for protection against sexual violence including the introduction by Resolution 1888 (2009) of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on sexual violence in armed conflict who reports annually to the Security Council, thus keeping the issue alive on its agenda. The need for criminal prosecution of alleged perpetrators and an end to impunity is constantly reiterated but the human rights approach is reduced so that in Resolution 1820, for instance, reference to CEDAW and the Children’s Convention is made only in the preamble, not in the operative part of the Resolution.

Conversely, the CEDAW Committee has taken up directly the human rights of women in conflict and post-conflict in its General Recommendation No. 30. Adopted in 2013 on the same day as another WPS resolution, Resolution 2122, General Recommendation No. 30 offers a more complex picture of the diverse effects of conflict on women’s lives than does the Security Council. It is long and detailed but some aspects are the following. It addresses in sophisticated terms a wider range of issues, for instance, access to justice, nationality and statelessness, marriage and family relations, economic hardship, and education. It draws no hard distinction between conflict and post-conflict, observing that this transition is often not linear and can involve lengthy cycles of cessation of conflict and then slippage back into conflict, a transition that can exacerbate violence against women. It notes research that shows that ‘while the forms and sites of violence change, … all forms of gender-based violence, in particular sexual violence escalate in the post-conflict setting’. General Recommendation No. 30 addresses the root causes of armed conflict, which are largely ignored in the WPS resolutions. It repeats that violence against women is a form of discrimination and explains that conflict exacerbates existing inequalities. Power imbalances and harmful gender norms are recognised as factors creating disproportionate risk. As a form of discrimination under the Convention, violence against women and girls leads to multiple other human rights violations, including those relating to inadequate delivery of economic and social rights: healthcare, education and social services. Even when affirming the importance of women’s human rights, the Security Council makes no reference to women’s economic and social rights, categorising medical, legal, psychosocial and livelihood matters in the language of ‘services’, rather than in that of rights. For the CEDAW Committee, transitional mechanisms must redress underlying sex- and gender-based discrimination and reparation measures must seek to rectify structural inequalities. By contrast, where the WPS resolutions reference reparations it is as reparation for violations of individual rights, an approach that undermines the transformative function of reparations.

2015 sees the latest twist in the narratives of violence against women and trafficking in women and girls. In WPS Resolution 2242, the Security Council expressed a new and deep concern that acts of sexual violence were part of the strategic objectives and ideology of certain terrorist groups, which were used to increase their power, revenue and recruitment base and to shred the social fabric of targeted communities: sexual violence in conflict as a tactic of terror. Violent extremism and terrorism undoubtedly have a gendered impact on the human rights of women and girls, including on their health, education and participation in public life. In light of these realities the Security Council made a number of calls: for the greater integration of the WPS agenda with those for counter-terrorism and preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE); to integrate gender as a cross-cutting issue within the work of the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate; for those bodies to consult with women and women’s organisations to inform their work; for gender-sensitive research and data collection on the drivers of radicalisation for women, and the impacts of counter-terrorism strategies on women’s human rights; and to ensure the participation and leadership of women and women’s organisations in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

These objectives have been furthered through the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,[ref]UN Doc. A/70/674, 24 December 2015.[/ref] which also aligns to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 5 regarding gender equality and women’s empowerment. On the one hand, giving WPS a greater profile through highlighting its relevance to the most important agendas of the day is valuable; on the other hand, there is the risk of instrumentalising the WPS agenda to strengthen P/CVE efforts, or of co-opting women, without increasing their agency. Although the Plan of Action recognises that efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism must not impact adversely on women’s rights this negative obligation does not equate with the recommendation of the CEDAW Committee that the state party ensure that ‘counter-terrorism measures employed by the military and law enforcement authorities, including deradicalization programmes … comply with the provisions of the Convention’.[ref]Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding Observations, Nigeria, CEDAW/C/NGA/CO/7-8, 24 July 2017, para 16 (b). [/ref] The concern remains and is not alleviated by the inadequate attention to women’s human rights, especially economic and social rights, throughout the WPS resolutions. It seems that WPS has been drawn upon as a solution to terrorism, but without any assurances that it will not be discounted when other imperatives so demand. It also risks diversion of resources from implementation of WPS, except when in the service of countering terrorism and violent extremism. As was pointed out at a symposium on WPS and P/CVE at LSE, P/CVE programmes often involve military actions and are implemented in conjunction with the armed forces, while the WPS agenda is the outcome of a movement for peace through demilitarisation.[ref]“Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism and WPS: Concepts, Practices and Moving Forward Key Issues Report”, LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security, Key Issues Report, August 2017,   http://www.lse.ac.uk/women-peace-security/assets/documents/2017/LSE-WPS-PCVE-Key-Issues-Report.pdf[/ref] The Security Council’s stance is thus at odds with the recommendation of the 2015 Global Study that ‘Any attempt to securitise issues and to use women as instruments in military strategy must be consistently discouraged.’[ref]United Nations, Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2015), 15.[/ref]

Resolution 2242 emphasises the importance of women’s empowerment. Measures to this end are to be welcomed and are in furtherance of CEDAW’s goal for the ‘full development and advancement of women for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men’ (CEDAW, article 3). However it is not unusual for claims of women’s empowerment to be made for other purposes, for instance by states seeking to demonstrate their stability and commitment to human rights, or for imposing upon women responsibilities for furthering other agendas such as CVE thereby securitising further women’s human rights.[ref]Katherine Brown, “The Securitisation of Human Rights”, in Handbook on Gender in World Politics, ed. Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe-Belfrage (Edward Elgar, 2016), 255, 257.[/ref] The Security Council has not clarified its understanding of women’s ‘empowerment’, although it seems to be understood as the opposite of a social rejection of women’s human rights, and can be achieved through courses on women’s leadership.[ref]Ibid., at 258. [/ref] In other UN contexts, it is often equated with economic empowerment. But empowerment is a much more complex process. Naila Kabeer, for instance has described empowerment as gaining the ability to make strategic life choices where this was previously denied.[ref]Naila Kabeer, “Resources, Agency, Achievements: Reflections on the Measurement of Women’s Empowerment”, Development and Change, 30 (1999), 435.[/ref] She explains that changes in the ability to exercise choice involve three inter-connected elements: acquiring and accessing resources (material and social); individual and collective agency (through a process of reflection and action); and achievements (the outcomes of choices), all of which interact with structural inequalities and underlying distribution of power. None of these are present in the WPS agenda.

But it is not just WPS that has been brought into the Security Council’s counter-terrorism and CVE agenda. The same is now true of trafficking in persons. The 2016 report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking explored trafficking as a feature of armed conflict and post-conflict situations.[ref]Report of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, Trafficking in persons in conflict and post-conflict situations: protecting victims of trafficking and people at risk of trafficking, especially women and children, A/71/303, 5 August 2016. [/ref] She noted especially its gendered dimensions, including that men and boys are trafficked to supplement fighting forces and the increased risk for women and girls being abducted and forced into sexual slavery and/or forced prostitution. She also discussed other factors that enhance women’s vulnerability to being trafficked, including illusions of security through arranged marriages or false promises of domestic work abroad. The Special Rapporteur emphasised her belief that the human rights of victims of trafficking should be placed at the centre of protection measures taken to address trafficking.

On 20 December 2016, in Resolution 2331 on the maintenance of peace and security, the Security Council addressed trafficking in persons for the first time. The Resolution makes a number of steps: it recognises that trafficking in persons in armed conflict and post-conflict situations can also be associated with sexual violence in conflict; that ‘acts of sexual and gender-based violence, including when associated to trafficking in persons, are known to be part of the strategic objectives and ideology of certain terrorist groups’, deliberately undertaken as a tactic of terror and to support the financing and recruiting of such groups; and thus that addressing trafficking is part of countering violent extremism and the terrorism often associated with violent extremism. The Security Council condemns all instances of trafficking in conflict areas and calls upon member states to take a range of measures, primarily with respect to criminalising and prosecuting trafficking in the context of armed conflict, and to investigate, disrupt and dismantle networks involved in trafficking in persons in the context of armed conflict. While the scope of the resolution is on all armed conflict, the emphasis is on trafficking associated with terrorism and violent extremism, for instance through its explicit denunciation of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or DAESH), the Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant (ANF) and ‘associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities’. The Security Council expresses its ‘deep concern’ that ‘trafficking in persons, in particular women and girls, remains a critical component of the financial flows to certain terrorist groups; and that, when leading to certain forms of exploitation, is being used by these groups as a driver for recruitment’. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in armed conflict has noted that, while the Security Council has expanded its sanctions framework for the suppression of terrorist financing explicitly to include ISIL and has condemned the abduction of women and children for sexual exploitation, for trafficking and to force the payment of ransoms, when it comes to seeking ways to curb financial flows to violent extremists efforts are focused almost exclusively on such considerations as the sale of oil and antiquities.[ref]Report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence, UN Doc.  S/2016/361, 20 April 2016, para 20.[/ref]

As with WPS, human rights are not to the fore in Resolution 2331. The Security Council calls upon states to implement various measures, including ratifying the Palermo Protocol, but no such demand is made with respect to the human rights treaties, nor are the OHCHR Guidelines and Principles referenced as a basis for the treatment of victims of trafficking. Indeed, while the Security Council recognises the importance of comprehensively addressing victims’ needs, ‘including the provision of or access to medical, psychosocial assistance and legal aid, as well as ensur[ing] that victims are treated as victims of crime’ and are not stigmatised or penalised, this is to be in line with domestic legislation, not international standards. Despite being a form of violence in conflict and a human rights abuse, trafficking has not figured in the eight WPS resolutions and despite recognising that trafficking in persons in conflict and post-conflict can be associated with sexual violence in conflict, the Security Council did not link its trafficking resolution to the WPS agenda. There is just one preambular reference in Resolution 2331 to the concern expressed in the WPS Resolution 2242 ‘that acts of sexual and gender-based violence are known to be part of the strategic objectives and ideology of certain terrorist groups.’ Nevertheless, whether or not intended by the Security Council, it seems that by recognising the incidence of trafficking in armed conflict and its association with sexual and gender-based violence (being both of itself a form of such violence and enhancing vulnerability to other forms of such violence), Resolution 2331 implicitly brings trafficking directly into the broader agenda of WPS: it has been addressed by the SRSG on sexual violence in armed conflict and was the subject of the Security Council’s open debate on conflict-related sexual violence in 2016, both processes that have evolved from the WPS resolutions, notably Resolution 1888 in 2009.


At the international institutional level there remains a lack of joined up thinking and action, while the substantive law is overlapping. Although UN institutions outside the Security Council barely engage with WPS as such – CEDAW through General Recommendation No. 30 is the exception – the human rights bodies incorporate IHL and international criminal law, the legal foundations of WPS. The Global Study urged further convergence of these different legal regimes through the use of human rights mechanisms for monitoring and implementing WPS obligations. This would extend the reach of WPS: as a human rights issue, WPS is relevant to all UN member states while as a security issue it is strictly only applicable to those situations on the Security Council’s agenda, as has been argued by some states when the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in armed conflict has reported some situations not on the Security Council agenda. But if this is to be done, more thinking about the different legal regimes is needed; they seem currently to be referenced almost indiscriminately, without conceptual clarification of their different purposes, standards and remedies.

More substantively, the legal regimes for combating violence against women and human trafficking have both been limited by the Security Council – a male dominated and highly masculinised exclusionary space. The focus on ‘sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war’ limits our understanding of conflict-related or affected sexual or gender-based violence and excludes other harms experienced by women in conflict because they are women, whether committed by armed groups, state forces or civilians. Human trafficking was limited in its origins by its association with prostitution, has been politicised by conflation with people smuggling, immigration and security, and is now both further politicised and limited by its association with conflict and extremism. This privileges certain trafficked victims, for instance classifying victims of trafficking and of sexual violence committed by terrorist groups as victims of terrorism, so rendering them eligible for the official support and redress given to such victims. This recognition is not recommended to extend to victims made vulnerable to being trafficked through fleeing from violent extremism, or to those who have no secure migration routes because of strict border controls and security policies.

Nor are ordinary every day victims of gender-based and sexual violence recognised as worthy of privileged treatment. As the CEDAW Committee has recently expressed in its General Recommendation No 35: ‘gender-based violence against women, whether committed by States, intergovernmental organisations or non-state actors … remains pervasive in all countries of the world, with high levels of impunity. It manifests in a continuum of multiple, interrelated and recurring forms, in a range of settings, from private to public, including technology-mediated settings and in the contemporary globalized world it transcends national boundaries.’ But it still does not constitute a recognised crime against humanity; although formally delinked from conflict, the reality remains that only incidents that occur within some such wider context of violence are likely to be recognised as such. Nor is everyday violence against women a recognised form of terror. Resources made available for fighting violence in the form of extremism does not extend to these victims of violence who face the consequences of financial austerity and often inadequate access to justice. The effect is to reinforce violence in conflict, especially when perpetrated by terrorist or extremist groups, as different, necessitating the heavy weight security apparatus to address it. By presenting manifestations of violence in armed conflict narrowly as security issues, the Security Council restricts any broader understanding relating to human rights, in particular economic and social rights, although these are deeply implicated in both gender-based violence against women and trafficking. Nor in the context of WPS has the Security Council given commensurate attention to structural issues such as state terror, inequalities, militarisation, economic neo-liberalism or arms trading,[ref]Inclusion of the needs of women in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes has been included in WPS resolutions since Security Council Resolution 1325; Security Council Resolution 2106, 24 June 2013 and Security Council Resolution 2122, 18 October 2013 make preambular note of the provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty relating to gender-based violence.[/ref] which are understood by civil society as obstacles to effectively combating violence against women and human trafficking.

Building upon the earlier campaign for recognition of gender-based violence against women as a violation of human rights, it was clear to the civil society advocates in 2000 and to the authors of the Global Study in 2015 that WPS is such an agenda. Similarly, human rights institutions have lobbied for an understanding of human trafficking within a human rights framework that goes beyond taking into account the human rights of victims in criminal processes with respect to perpetrators and even beyond ensuring assistance to trafficked persons. By integrating these into the Security Council’s primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security – thereby securitising human rights – the weakening of the human rights lens was probably inevitable, with the further risks of subjugation and co-option by the programmes for P/CVE. But the ultimate goal of combating violence against women and human trafficking in conflict – the vision of a sustainable, gendered peace – must not be forgotten, nor that the feminist transformative agenda is core to its achievement.

This is paper 12/2018 in the LSE Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series.

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About the author

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law and Founding Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Positive male engagement in the WPS agenda will take more than ‘good men’

David Duriesmith identifies tensions created by efforts to ‘engage’ men and boys in Women, Peace and Security, and introduces his new working paper: ‘Engaging men and boys in the Women, Peace and Security agenda: Beyond the ‘good men’ industry’.

What role might men and boys play in promoting gender equality after large-scale violence? Violence committed by men has been a central target of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda over the past seventeen years. But until recently, far less attention has been paid in WPS to potential positive contributions of men and boys in achieving the goal of gender-equitable peace. In an attempt to rectify this deficit, the United Nations Security Council and international NGO’s have called for renewed efforts to bring men into the WPS fold.

HeForShe social media ad campaign.

The most visible answer to the question of men’s role in WPS is a range of programmes and campaigns that have set out to ‘engage’ or ‘enlist’ men as potential agents of change. These endeavours, which my working paper calls ‘engagement work’, involved a range of attitudinal change programmes which work directly with groups of men or conduct awareness campaigns, for the purpose of encouraging men to become partners in bringing about the aims of the WPS agenda. While relatively recent to WPS, ‘engagement work’ has a far longer history in men’s pro-feminist activism, national anti-violence programmes, and highly visible gender-equality campaigns, such as the United Nations recent HeForShe campaign.

At their best, these programmes have tried to present pro-feminist politics to men in locally salient ways that ask them to reconsider their practices, attitudes and attachments. But at its worst, ‘engagement work’ calls for ‘real men’ or ‘good men’ to stand up for women by protecting them. Anti-rape efforts, like the long-running My Strength Is Not for Hurting campaign, draw on tropes of masculine strength in the hope that with enough work ‘real men’ can be turned from problems to protagonists in the fight for gender equality. With the United Nations calls to enlist and engage men and boys in WPS, these engagement techniques are now being drawn on with the intention of creating peaceful men.

As WPS now begins to turn to the subject of men, it’s time to consider the history of ‘engagement work’ outside of the agenda and reconsider the role it might have in achieving a gender equitable peace. It is with this intention that my working paper charts the emergence of professionalised ‘engagement work’ within pro-feminist men’s groups and suggests that current shifts to engaging men and boys in the WPS agenda risks replicating the failures of the past. Current engagement work has learnt from previous movements’ techniques, concepts and political orientations.

The techniques which are most prevalent in contemporary ‘engagement work’ were pioneered in pro-feminist consciousness-raising groups. Men who came to support the feminist movement found that despite adopting these politics, their attachments and desires were difficult to disentangle from male supremacy. To remedy this, men came together in group settings where they could challenge one another’s unconscious attitudes and enduring patriarchal practices through collective action. These consciousness-raising techniques did not begin as an attempt to convince men to support feminism but started as a form of feminist praxis from men who wanted to live pro-feminist lives.

In contrast, current examples of ‘engagement work’ tend to represent external attempts to change the attitudes of men, often on a limited range of attitudes. The disjunction between the origins of these techniques and the current shape of this work has resulted in a number of tensions. The working paper highlights six tensions between the goals and activities of pro-feminist projects that have resulted in the most problematic examples of ‘engagement work’ and suggests potential remedies for future attempts to address men and masculinities within the WPS agenda.

These tensions are seen in efforts which have a lack of clarity, projects that reify masculinity, agendas to engage men without holding them responsible, those who hold up dominant men as ambassadors for change, programmes which have co-opted feminist spaces, and the creation of a neoliberal ‘good men’ industry. The above tensions result in contradictory efforts to enlist men, which on one hand call for loosening the bonds of gender, and on the other tell men that they need to step up as real men. The imprecision and reification results in setting men a low bar for involvement in feminist politics while reinforcing oppressive practices as natural or inevitable. Particularly within conflict-affected regions of the Global South, these tensions risk making overtures to the intersections of race, class, sexuality and gender while drawing on neo-colonial logics of white expertise and barbarous masculinity in need of salvation.

In a context of limited funding and political will, it is essential that wealth and toil are not expended on attempts to engage men and boys in the WPS agenda which have not first considered these tensions and properly articulated their contribution to the broader agenda. To do this, responses need to undertake the difficult work of untangling the relationship between men, their attitudes, their affective attachments, their practices and social structures. Different understandings on this question result in different appropriate responses: for example an attempt to unmake masculinities, to play with or disrupt masculinities, or to recreate positive forms of masculinity.

These different understandings also require fundamentally different policy responses if they are to contribute to the WPS agenda coherently. If this kind of clear delineation isn’t done, ‘engagement work’ risks remaining tokenistic, or worse, preoccupying itself with demanding that some of the most marginalised men in conflict zones solve the patriarchy, while doing little to unmake the underlying structural and discursive factors that make masculine violence possible.

Read more: Engaging men and boys in the Women, Peace and Security agenda: Beyond the ‘good men’ industry.

About the author

David Duriesmith is a Post-doctoral Fellow in the School of Political Science & International Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia.



Featured image credit: HeForShe Campaign, UN Photo/Paulo Fligueiras.

Engaging men and boys in the Women, Peace and Security agenda: Beyond the ‘good men’ industry – David Duriesmith (11/2017)

Since the signing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) in October 2000, there have been two explicit references to men in resolutions on the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. For the first 13 years of the agenda resolutions included men by default without naming them directly, referring to gender broadly and many particular instances of violence presumably caused by men.[ref]Outside of the WPS framework there is a longer history of attempts to engage men and boys at the United Nations. These include the 1995 Beijing Declaration which included the call to ‘encourage men to participate fully in all actions towards equality.’ [/ref] The first explicit mention appeared in 2013 in Resolution 2106, which mentioned ‘the enlistment of men and boys in the effort to combat all forms of violence against women.’ Resolution 2106 was followed up in 2015 by Resolution 2242, which reiterated ‘the important engagement by men and boys as partners in promoting women’s participation in the prevention and resolution of armed conflict, peacebuilding and post-conflict situations’. These direct mentions of men within the WPS architecture limit the agenda to that of ‘enlisting’ or ‘engaging’ men and boys in achieving the goals of WPS, rather than a more sustained treatment of men and masculinities. While the focus on men and boys has entailed a broad effort to expand WPS to the ‘other side of gender’, the majority of current actions appear to follow the language within UNSCRs 2106 and 2242 by focusing on ‘engaging men and boys’.[ref]United States Institute for Peace, Men, Peace, and Security Symposium: Agents of Change (Washington DC: United States Institute for Peace, 2013), https://www.usip.org/events/men-peace-and-security-symposium-agents-change; Joseph Vess, Gary Barker, Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini and Alexa Hassink, The other side of gender: men as critical agents of change (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2013), http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR340.pdf[/ref]

This work, deemed ‘engagement work’ in this paper, has involved a range of attitudinal change programmes that either work directly with groups of men or conduct awareness campaigns which encourage men to become partners in bringing about the aims of the agenda. Whereas ‘engagement work’ appears to be relatively novel within the WPS space, it reflects a particular strain of work from men in support of feminism that originated in the various 1970s and 1980s men’s movements. This paper situates the new push for ‘engagement work’ within the longer history of attempts to engage men in feminist politics and argues that the current forms of ‘engagement work’ are set to replicate the most pervasive tensions between the expansive goals of actors and the actual programmes that have been seen within national anti-violence campaigns. These six tensions are seen in efforts which have 1) a lack of clarity; 2) projects that reify masculinity; 3) agendas to engage men without holding them responsible; 4) those who hold up dominant men as ambassadors for change; 5) programmes which have co-opted feminist spaces; and 6) the creation of a neo-liberal ‘good men’ industry. The paper begins by explaining what ‘engagement work’ is and how it connects to the WPS agenda. It then charts the origins of ‘engagement work’ in pro-feminist men’s organising before investigating the tensions present in this work. Finally, it considers how we might learn from the tensions present in engagement work in order to guide future work on and with men within WPS.

‘Engagement work’ and WPS

To claim that the WPS framework has been inattentive to the role of men and masculinities in addressing the needs of women and girls in armed conflict and peace processes is not to suggest that men have been entirely ignored within WPS. After all, many actors working on the WPS agenda either explicitly name gender norms of masculinity as a primary cause of violence or implicitly invoke the spectre of men as the abusers of women.[ref]Donna Pankhurst, “‘What is wrong with men?’: revisiting violence against women in conflict and peacebuilding”, Peacebuilding 4 (2) (2016): 180-193.[/ref] However, the paucity of attention to the role of men is reflective of the wording in the original WPS resolution (UNSCR 1325), which contained no mention of men, as Cockburn explains:

‘The Resolution’s focus had been on women – as victims to be sorry for, as competent actors with use-value in peace-making, and as potential decision-makers. Nothing had been said either, during the drafting and redrafting of the Resolution and its negotiated passage through the Security Council, about men and masculine cultures of violence. There was much in the Resolution 1325 text about women’s sexual vulnerability, nothing about those who were the main source of danger to women. It noted women’s absence from significant positions, not the overwhelming presence of men in places of power.’[ref]Cynthia Cockburn, “War and security, women and gender: An overview of the issues”, Gender & Development 21 (3) (2013): 433-452.[/ref]

The reticence to talk about men directly has meant that the impact of violence committed by men has remained in central focus on WPS, while little attention has been paid to what men or masculinities have to do with causing it. This imprecision presents distinct challenges for an agenda which hopes to engage men in achieving its goals, without first having established their relationship to violence or oppression. The lack of clarity is also reflected in the disconnection between the breadth of differing perspectives on the role of men and masculinities in making armed violence possible and ‘engagement’ approaches that have emerged so far.[ref]Henri Myrttinen, Jana Naujoks and Judy El-Bushra, Re-thinking Gender in Peacebuilding (London: International Alert, 2014).[/ref] A brief survey of the literature focused on the role of men and masculinities in causing violence shows profound debates over the correct language to describe violence, on men’s collective complicity, the role of material structure compared to discursive factors and the relationship between masculinity and other axes of oppression.[ref]Coalition of Feminists for Social Change, “Reframing language of ‘gender-based violence’ away from feminist underpinnings”, Feminist Perspectives on Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls Series 2 (2017); Coalition of Feminists for Social Change, “Funding: Whose priorities?”, Feminist Perspectives on Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls Series 4 (2017).[/ref] Similarly, work on the role of men and masculinities in ending violence is mediated by tensions over the usefulness of hegemonic masculine role models, men’s accountability to women’s organisations and funding to support men and gender diverse communities who have been targeted by gender-based violence.[ref]Michael Salter, “‘Real men don’t hit women’: Constructing masculinity in the prevention of violence against women”, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 49 (1) (2016): 463-479; Jeff Hearn, ‘The uses and abuses of the political category of “men”: Activism, policy and theorising”, in Engaging Men in Building Gender Equality, ed. Michael Flood and Richard Howson (London: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015): 34-54.[/ref]

The primary model for targeting men and boys in WPS action is what this paper calls ‘engagement work.’ This approach, championed by member organisations of The Men Engage Alliance (coordinated by Sonke Gender Justice and Promundo-US),[ref]Sonke Gender Justice is a South African pro-feminist organisation who have pioneered work with men and boys on building gender equality across the region. Promundo is a consortium founded in Brazil and now has branches in Brazil, the USA, the DRC and Portugal. Promundo is the largest organisation devoted to engagement work and is active in 22 countries with the support of the UN, the World Bank and the World Health Organization. Both Promundo and Sonke began as grass-roots organizations working to engage men and boys in the feminist movement and rapidly expanded over the past two decades. [/ref] has undertaken the project of trying to get men and boys involved as active participants in promoting women’s peace and security. This work has been built on a few core beliefs including: ‘questioning men’s and women’s attitudes and expectations about gender roles’; promoting positive alternative models of manhood, showing men that they benefit from gender equality; encouraging direct participation; and broad support for existing UN mandates.[ref]“About Us”, The Men Engage Alliance, accessed 15 August 2017, http://menengage.org/about-us/; “Our Core Principles”, The Men Engage Alliance, accessed 15 August 2017, http://menengage.org/about-us/our-core-principles/[/ref] These core beliefs are underlined by a model of societal change that emphasises the importance of attitude change among young men.[ref]Gary Barker, “How do we know if men have changed? Promoting and measuring attitude change with young men. Lessons from Program H in Latin America”, EGM/Men-Boys-GE/2003/OP.2, 21 October 2003, 2; “About”, Promundo Global, accessed 15 August 2017, http://promundoglobal.org/about/.[/ref] This ‘engagement work’ proceeds from the idea that if you change men’s attitudes (and particularly young men’s attitudes due to their unique stage in the life cycle) about what it means to be a man and to achieve ‘gender equality’, then this will facilitate wider societal shifts around gender and violence against women.[ref]Gary Barker, Dying to be Men: Youth, Masculinity and Social Exclusion, (New York: Routledge, 2005): 145-157.[/ref]

Young Men of Strength (Y MOST) advertising campaign, by Men Can Stop Rape.

In practice, ‘engagement work’ appears to fall into a few categories. First, there is the development of educational resources (curriculum, manuals, video) that promote attitude and behavioural change by raising awareness about gender inequality, challenging violent notions of masculinity, and promoting positive alternatives. Second, there are marketing campaigns promoting changes in community values around specific norms of manhood or gendered practices. Third, there are efforts to allow young men to witness gender-equitable role models. Fourth, there is small-group work with men and boys that encourages participants to speak to one another to investigate norms related to feelings about and experiences of being a male. Finally, there is clinical service provision that looks to target the particular gender vulnerabilities of men and boys with a sensitivity to their positions and experiences, such as programmes for men who have experienced intimate partner violence or sexual abuse.[ref]Barker, “How do we know if men have changed? Promoting and measuring attitude change with young men. Lessons from Program H in Latin America”.[/ref] In each of these categories there tends to be a range of approaches, from those that target very specific kinds of violence, such as anti-street harassment marketing campaigns, to projects that look to challenge notions of masculinity at a deep level. This is particularly the case for the fourth category of small-group work with men, which can range from work that has little to no engagement with feminist work, such as Christian men’s groups, to radical queer and pro-feminist men’s groups who aim to disrupt gender categories altogether.

The origins of ‘engagement work’

The various strains of ‘engagement work’ endeavour to express the goals of gender equality in a way that resonates with men’s own experiences, to promote alternative role models or attitudes, and to try to market gender equality as something that benefits men. It is helpful to distinguish what this paper deems ‘engagement work’, which are clusters of programme-led efforts to change the attitudes of men who are not already engaged in feminist politics, from the long and complicated history of men’s collective action within the feminist paradigm. Each of these strains has historical roots within the attempts by groups of men to take on feminist politics in a considered way.[ref]

Michael Kimmel and Thomas Mosmiller, Against the Tide: Pro-Feminist Men in the United States, 1776–1990, a Documentary History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992).[/ref] While earlier instances were closer to direct political lobbying, the more direct antecedents to ‘engagement work’ are the collective attempts of pro-feminist men to investigate and change their unconscious attitudes about, affective responses to, and behavioural practices of, masculinity which began during the mid-to-late 20th century.

The first informal anti-sexist and gay-affirmative men’s groups in the United States appeared in the late 1960s, and began with challenging the restrictive aspects of male sex roles and the need to ‘enhance men’s personal and emotional lives.’[ref]“A Brief History of NOMAS”, National Organization for Men Against Sexism, accessed 22 October 2017, http://nomas.org/history/[/ref] By the mid-1970s, these groups began to reject trends in the New Left to focus on ‘radical theories that abstracted away from the personal’, and instead asked men explore links between their personal experiences, such as masturbation habits or insecurity around gender non-conformance, to structural understandings of gendered power.[ref]Michael Messner, Politics of masculinities: Men in movements (Lanham: Altamira Press: 2000): 50-51.[/ref] These groups became a site to address ‘internal conflicts between profeminist ideals and patriarchally constructed experience.’[ref]Bob Pease, Recreating men: Postmodern masculinity politics (London: Sage, 2000), 42.[/ref]

This project was not only centered on identifying the role of gender in structuring their lives, but was also an attempt to combat ‘the patriarchal male heterosexual script’ which continued to result in contradictory desires for masculine power or eroticised oppressive sexual practices in spite of their support for gender equality.[ref]Messner, Politics of masculinities: Men in movements: 52-53.[/ref] To do this, men were asked to share their experiences in group settings where they could challenge one another’s unconscious attitudes by ‘engaging in introspection and self analysis’.[ref]Andrew Singleton, “Men’s consciousness raising”, in International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities, ed. Michael Flood, Judith Kegan Gardiner, Bob Pease and Keith Pringle (New York: Routledge, 2007), 410.[/ref] Early examples of this work were closely linked to gay liberation groups who were undertaking similar projects to root out internalised homophobia and with radical feminist groups which had pioneered consciousness-raising techniques. While most pro-feminist men’s groups also took very seriously the role of intersections between class oppression, racial oppression, sexuality and other axes to understand how privilege impacted on their lives and how it structured their view of the world, in practice they varied substantially in the extent to which they prioritised intersectional analysis in their consciousness-raising activities.[ref]Messner, Politics of masculinities: Men in movements: 53-61.[/ref]

This meant that many of the group activities which now take place as part of ‘engagement work’ were developed in praxis-based groups that were motivated by a commitment to take feminism seriously by ‘self-consciously living the changes in gender relations’.[ref]Pease, Recreating men: Postmodern masculinity in politics, 42.[/ref] This is obviously very different to the kind of models that are often raised in the ‘engagement work’ arena. Rather than trying to apply an external model of feminist change to groups of men who are not previously involved in those politics, these praxis-based groups emerged from the indigenous political practices of men who were already participating in anti-oppression politics and had often been active participants in socialist, gay liberation, anti-war and other social change groups prior to their involvement in pro-feminism.[ref]Messner, Politics of masculinities: Men in movements: 53-61.[/ref] This work was also being undertaken as part of difficult conversations about what role men might have in feminism, or how men positioning themselves as experts could be politically compromising. This concern is directly visible in Hearn’s 1987 discussion of ‘liberal voyeurism’ and how a body of expertise on gender constructed by the privileged might mirror the attempts of earlier white academics “to ‘know’ the minds of black people.”[ref]Hearn, The gender of oppression, 179.[/ref] These origin points of current ‘engagement work’ represent a very different context than we see today within the WPS agenda.

The similarity of these activities to current projects obscures the differences between a model of professionalised labour which characterises current ‘engagement work’ programmes and the organic development of earlier pro-feminist men’s organising. First, earlier activities were not external interventions imposed on perceived problem demographics. They were autonomously organised by men who were looking for ways to better support feminism and to address their contradictory experiences of having adopted feminist thought but continuing to default to patriarchal gender performances and attractions.[ref]Pease, Recreating men: Postmodern masculinity in politics, 44.[/ref]  Second, they were not professionalised labour led by a class of expert men who were accredited and paid to reform problem men. They were led by communities of men who were trying to reflect on their own problematic practices.[ref]Pease, Recreating men: Postmodern masculinity in politics: 46-48.[/ref] It is worth noting that many of the men who were involved with earlier consciousness-raising efforts went on to undertake careers as experts on masculinities, and there are still numerous organic community activist groups working to transform gender. But despite these exceptions, the central role of international experts in designing professionalised engagement programmes reflects a fundamental, rather than tangential, shift in the nature of this work. Third, earlier attempts to reform masculinity were not funded by external development donors or national agencies which appears to be the economic model fueling ‘engagement work’ within the WPS framework. These differences mean that, even though some basic activities resemble those originating in pro-feminist men’s groups feature in current ‘engagement work’, their context is that of the international development project rather than grassroots pro-feminist organising. This makes ‘engagement work’ within WPS particularly at risk of the kinds of issues detailed below.

Tensions within ‘engagement work’

The methods for changing men which have come to make up the current ‘engagement work’ model are marked by a history of tensions between the broad goals they espouse and the limited programmes they employ. Each of these tensions began to appear during the time that the techniques pioneered in earlier pro-feminist men’s groups were translated into numerous top-down, policy-driven, national programmes trying to change men’s attitudes and turn them into active bystanders who could intervene if they witnessed violence. The level and nature of these tensions vary, but they all reflect the space that has grown between expansive feminist goals and the limited scope of many policies. Some space between these two things is likely inevitable, but the case is made that the six tensions listed below reflect fundamentally rather than situationally problematic dynamics in the implementation of ‘engagement work’.

1) The first and most ubiquitous tension within ‘engagement work’ is created by a lack of clarity, both in the goals that programmes establish and in the concepts that these programmes employ. For example, CARE’s 2013 training Module 501: Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality emphasises that gender equality is a state in which men and women are free to ‘make choices without limitations set by predefined stereotypes, gender roles and/or prejudices.’ This kind of articulation of the final goal of ‘engagement work’ is common within the field, but appears to be at odds with the activities being employed, such as a task which separates ‘males and females’ into same-sex groups and then make statements such as ‘I am glad I am a man because…’ and then followed by a statement that ‘If I were woman, I could…’. It is clear that these statements are meant to be positive affirmations rather than negative ones:

‘Make sure that the responses from the participants are positive aspects of their own gender rather than responses that center on not having to experience something the other sex experiences. For example, instead of men in the group making statements like, “I’m glad I’m a man because I don’t have a period,” they could concentrate on statements like “I’m glad I’m a man because I’m strong.”’[ref]Allison Burden, Walter Forham, Theresa Hwang, Meredith Pinto and Patrick Welsh, “Gender Equity and Diversity Module Five: Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality” (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc., 2013): 32-32.[/ref]

The final stage of this activity is to reflect on these categorical allocations and decide whom they benefit or if they are good. While this task focuses on trying to disaggregate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ aspects of gender, the activity and the document is profoundly torn between its stated understanding of gender equality that seems to want to deconstruct gender and actual activities focused on challenging ‘bad’ masculinity and reinscribing a new ‘good’ way of being a man.. As a major WPS actor, CARE has initiated engagement programs in the Balkans, Burundi, Rwanda, Jordan and elsewhere which frame their contributions in relation to a desire to empower women after war.

2) The CARE document’s lack of clarity is an archetypal example of how ‘engagement work’ can quickly default to the reification of masculinity as a way to get men involved.  This kind of reification often takes the form of calls for ‘real men’ or ‘good men’ to stand up for women (who must need protection from some ‘other’ group of men).[ref]Michael Salter, “‘Real men don’t hit women’: Constructing masculinity in the prevention of violence against women”: 463-479.[/ref] This work, which has become common in anti-sexual violence campaigns with young men, relies on a dichotomy between “‘good’, non-rapist masculinity and ‘bad’, rapist masculinity”, and coheres to what Masters refers to as a strategy of othering ‘rapist masculinity.’[ref]Tatiana Masters, “‘My strength is not for hurting’: Men’s anti-rape websites and their construction of masculinity and male sexuality”, Sexualities 13 (1) (2010): 33-46.[/ref] This dichotomous approach is in contrast to campaigns which instead focused on challenging gender rigidity such as ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’, a charity walk where men walk a mile in women’s shoes to raise funds for local rape crisis centres.[ref]“Home”, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault, & Gender Violence, accessed 17 August 2017, http://www.walkamileinhershoes.org/. It is also worth noting that Bridges has challenged this campaign as relying on inauthentic temporary drag performances that reinforced gender boundaries and relied on homophobic tropes. Tristan Bridges, “‘Men Just Weren’t Made to Do This’: Performances of Drag at ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’ Marches”, Gender & Society 24 (1) (2010): 5–30.[/ref] In comparison to ‘good men’ campaigns, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes intends to disrupt the coherence of gender categories through transgression (temporary drag) while raising awareness about the harm that gendered norms create. The distinction between these two campaigns is not to indicate that one is right in their end goals, rather that they reflect fundamentally different understandings of what causes violence (‘bad masculinity’ and ‘rigidity’).

By extension, ‘good men’ approaches reflect a tension between the aim to disrupt the limitations set by predefined stereotypes, roles and prejudices around gender, and the desire to disrupt very particular rape-enabling social scripts. For WPS work adopting a ‘good men’ approach presents particular barriers to intersectional thinking around masculinities.  By relying on simplistic figurations of rapist masculinity (which are often classed and racialised in harmful ways) we risk ignoring the complex interplay of gender, sexuality, race, class, nationality and other axes of oppression in making gender-based violence possible. These programmes have the potential to effectively target particular attitudes which valorise rape, while simultaneously occluding the role of intersecting oppressions in enabling the diversity of gender-based violence that is present in conflict-affected societies. As WPS has also tended to rely on reductive notions of gender, integrating reductive modes of ‘engagement work’ into WPS is likely to contribute to its continuing failure to develop an ‘intersectional understanding of how class, race, sex and gender operate in conjunction to make individuals vulnerable.’[ref]Jamie Hagen, “Queering women, peace and security”, International Affairs, 92 (2) (2016): 313-332.[/ref]

3) Reification within ‘engagement work’ is related to the tension between attempts to engage men and the need to hold them responsible.  Numerous campaigns begin their attempts to engage men by avoiding an ‘accusatory tone’ and reminding them that most men are not directly violent.[ref]Jackson Katz, The macho paradox: Why some men hurt women and how all men can help (Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2006).[/ref] Especially within bystander intervention programmes, which aim to get men to speak up if they see violence happening or peers expressing pro-violence norms, they ask all men to be ‘part of the solution’.[ref]Bob Pease, “Disengaging Men from Patriarchy: Rethinking the man question in masculinities studies”, in Engaging Men in Building Gender Equality, ed. Michael Flood and Richard Howson (London: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015): 55-70.[/ref] These programmes make the case that there is a need to bring men ‘into the fold’ with softer language at the start before a more profound transformation can be made.[ref]Alan D. Berkowitz, “Working with Men to Prevent Violence Against Women: An Overview (Part One)”, National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women (2004), https://vawnet.org/material/working-men-prevent-violence-against-women-overview-part-one [/ref] The framing employed builds on the problems seen above to do with reification by framing violence as ‘other’ men’s problem, while rewarding men as champions if they provide even the most tokenistic sign of support for the project. This messaging means that men who are engaged in these efforts are often held to a low standard or demand recognition for even small contributions to violence prevention work that had been led by women long before men were ‘engaged’.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] Pease has challenged this approach by showing how reassuring well-meaning men that they are not the problem makes it harder for them to see their role in ‘reproducing a violence-prone culture’. Attempts to engage men without holding them responsible are often justified as being necessary steps for activist work. Research on the effectiveness of these approaches suggest that they make it harder for men to challenge their peers, however, because, in a context in which only the ‘bad apples’ contribute to violence, to bring a peer to account for having done wrong would ‘wreck the whole system of bonding’.[ref]Alison J. Towns and Gareth Terry, “You’re in that realm of unpredictability: Mateship, loyalty, and men challenging men who use domestic violence against women”, Violence Against Women 20 (8) (2014): 1-25.[/ref]

4) The shift away from ‘accusatory’ language noted above is indicative of how ‘engagement work’ has co-opted feminist spaces in some instances. While ‘engagement work’ originates in feminist and pro-feminist organisations, Michael Flood notes that from the beginning there have been ‘concerns that the development of efforts to engage men in preventing violence against women may reduce funding for women’s programmes and services’ and ‘dilute the feminist orientation of prevention agencies’.[ref]Michael Flood, “Work with men to end violence against women: a critical stocktake”, Culture,  Health & Secuality 17 (2) (2015): 150-176.[/ref] This has been particularly problematic within national anti-violence projects pioneered by autonomous women’s organisations, which have come under increasing pressures to include men and boys. This pressure is not exclusively the results of pro-feminist ‘engagement work’ but also represents the extended history of anti-feminist men’s rights campaigners attempts to blunt the gendered focus on these efforts and to directly sabotage feminist-led projects. Though notions of accountability and allyship have been active conversations in pro-feminist men’s politics, there are real concerns that ‘engagement work’ will subvert feminist work through problematic understandings of men as agents of change.[ref]Jeff Hearn and David Morgan, “The Critique of Men”, in Men, Masculinities and Social Theory, eds. Jeff Hearn and David Morgan (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990), 204.[/ref] Flood notes that there are few instances of ‘engagement work’ directly taking funds away from women, and that most ‘engagement work’ is staffed by women. But, also that men involved in ‘engagement work’ often do so in patriarchal and homophobic ways. In addition to a pattern of bad behaviour, Flood found that men are disproportionately lauded for their contributions leading to a ‘glass escalator’ which benefits those men who are already particularly privileged due to their race, sexuality and class.[ref]Flood, “Work with men to end violence against women: a critical stocktake”.[/ref]

When exploring this issue, there appear to be few directly documented examples of displacement of funds from work with women in conflict and crisis settings, but a substantial body of anecdotal evidence that a shift in funding priorities has occurred. The 2017 Coalition of Feminists for Social Change review of funding priorities for sites affected by armed violence and natural disasters argues that since 2000 there has been a substantial shift away from funding core services for women and girls who had been subjected to violence.[ref]Coalition of Feminists for Social Change, “Funding: Whose priorities?”, Feminist Perspectives on Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls Series 4 (2017).[/ref] Instead, their review indicated providers were increasingly called to address a wide range of agendas, including ‘engagement work’ but without additional funding. This meant that in a context where gender-based violence protection efforts were some of the most under-funded, donors were increasingly gravitating towards providers who appeared to give value for money by doing ‘engagement work’ in addition to core service provision.[ref]Coalition of Feminists for Social Change, “Funding: Whose priorities?”: 3-4.[/ref] These findings have been supported by Lisa Vetten’s review of violence prevention work in South Africa which found that increased funding for prevention work (which prominently featured ‘engagement work’) coincided with a decrease in post-rape care services.[ref]Lisa Vetten, “Unintended complicities: preventing violence against women in South Africa”, Gender & Development 24 (2) (2016): 291-306.[/ref] Formal feedback from the Sexual Violence Research Initiative’s 2015 meeting on ‘Engaging the Elephant in the Room: Facilitating a feminist way forward for women and men to work together on violence against women’ also recorded concerns about funding shifting from services to primary prevention, but recorded substantial disagreement from the community of practitioners on the extent to which ‘engagement work’ was at fault for this shift.[ref]“Engaging the elephant in the room”, The Sexual Violence Research Initiative, accessed 20 October 2017, http://www.svri.org/blog/engaging-elephant-room[/ref] The feedback from the meeting also emphasises the huge divergence of views on whether ‘engagement work’ was colonising feminist spaces. The extent to which ‘engagement work’ is actually taking funding away from core services is not clear, a tension compounded by profound debates over the extent to which ‘engagement work’ attempts to address the consequences of violence by addressing their root causes. The risk of ‘engagement work’ co-opting space in WPS remains a clear concern for feminist groups already working on the agenda, but should not be used to justify a wholesale rejection of prevention work when it is done cautiously and in sync with other parts of the agenda.

HeForShe social media ad campaign.

5) This privileging of already privileged men in ‘engagement work’ can be most clearly seen in attempts to draw on prominent men as ambassadors for change. Widespread public efforts such as the White Ribbon Campaign, The Demi and Ashton Foundation’s Real Men Don’t Buy Girls campaign and the recent HeForShe campaign have all used publicly recognised men as lived examples of ‘good masculinity’ for others to emulate.[ref]Amy Auguston, “The problem with ‘real men don’t buy women’”, The Huffington Post, 19 July 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-auguston/the-problem-with-real-men-dont-buy-girls_b_5355052.html[/ref] These campaigns tend to replicate the worst tensions explored above by holding up the examples of privileged men (usually wealthy, white, heterosexual celebrities) as role models that young men will hopefully look up to. The importance of role models has been championed by pioneers in engagement work, such as Gary Barker who writes about the importance of ‘having a family member or other influential individuals who modelled or presented an alternative, more equitable and non-violent views about gender roles to the young man.’[ref]Barker, Dying to be Men: Youth, Masculinity and Social Exclusion, 146.[/ref] While Barker’s formation was focused on how counter examples (such as women in men’s lives taking on non-normative roles) could challenge the rigidity of gender, campaigns like Impact 10x10x10 organised by HeForShe have focused on already-valorised state leaders and corporate bosses condemning some small part of normative manhood.[ref]David Duriesmith, “Manly States and Feminist Foreign Policy: Rethinking the liberal state as an agent of change”, in Rethinking Gendered States, eds. in Swati Parashar, Anne Tickner and Jacqui True (New York: Oxford University Press, Forthcoming).[/ref] The use of these highly privileged men as ambassadors reinscribes the importance of listening to, and attempting to emulate, privileged men, and does not address the way in which their positions of power rely on gender, race, sexuality, class and other axes of oppression. The complex ways in which hegemonic masculinity supports violence are missed by these approaches and the campaigns they are delivered is a far cry from the idea that role models can show men that ‘other ways of being women and men are possible.’[ref]Ibid.[/ref]

6) All of this has led to the emergence of the current ‘good men’ industry. The international move to ‘engagement work’ should be understood as the development of a ‘good men’ industry, rather than an independent movement. This is because of the rapid shift to engagement work, the role of donors in driving this shift, and the central role of international actors in promoting programmes centred around positive notions of masculinity. At the 2nd Men Engage Global Symposium: Men and Boys for Gender Justice held in New Delhi there were more than 1,000 participants from over 94 countries.[ref]Flood, “Work with men to end violence against women: a critical stocktake”, 160[/ref] This is a small indication of the scale of current efforts to undertake ‘engagement work’ both in nationally led programmes and as part of the development industry.  Some of those involved were part of autonomous men’s groups and community activist organisations such as Aliansi Laki-Laki Baru from Indonesia which agitate for local men’s support for gender equality. There are also a small set of dedicated professional organisations who have specialised in ‘engagement work.’ Of these specialised organisations, a number have been far more conscious of the issues identified in this paper; Promundo stands out particularly as having given detailed considering in some of their research reports.[ref]Gary Barker, Effectively involving men in preventing violence against women, (Auckland: New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2013).][/ref] However, it appears that globally only around 20 per cent of the organisations doing this kind of work had engaging men as their sole focus, and of those that did almost all were focused on North America.[ref]Erika Kimball, Jeffery Edleson, Richard Tolman, Tova Neugut and Juliana Carlson, “Global Efforts to Engage Men in Preventing Violence Against Women: An International Survey”, Violence Against Women 19 (7) (2013): 924–939.[/ref]

What we have seen in recent years is an explosion of ‘engagement work’ being carried out in conflict-affected countries by agencies that have traditionally been concerned with other aspects of global development and violence prevention industries. Key international funders such as the Oak Foundation, who as of 2012 had provided more than $2 million to WPS efforts,[ref]Katherine Magraw, “Philanthropic Investments in the Emerging Field of Women, Peace and Security”, The Peace and Security Funder’s Group, March 2012, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/521b8763e4b03dae28cd3e72/t/56d35b9160b5e9ac2132db4f/1456692121161/Women+Peace+Security+Philanthropy.pdf[/ref] have shifted their priorities to include ‘engaging men and boys’ as a central pillar of their anti-violence work.[ref]“Our Strategy”, Oak Foundation, accessed 20 October 2017,  http://oakfnd.org/cap-strategy.html[/ref] When an organisation such as the Oak Foundation singles out ‘engaging men and boys’ from the other two pillars of its funding strategy for ending violence against children it places pressure on professional organisations working in this arena to take up ‘engagement work’ if they are to maintain their other projects. The shift in development and violence prevention industries to focus on ‘engagement work’ appears to be pushed by international actors, such as the United Nations Population Fund who have set the agenda for funders by placing ‘engaging men and boys’ as one of their top six focuses for human rights and gender equality.[ref]“Engaging men and boys”, United Nations Population Fund, accessed 20 October 2017,  http://www.unfpa.org/engaging-men-boys [/ref]

Be a Man Club, by the Young Men’s Initiative.

This kind of agenda has led to common manuals being developed for doing ‘engagement work’ in the Global South, such as CARE’s Module 501 which was explored previously. These manuals then structure programmes in conflict sites, such as CARE’s Young Men’s Initiative in the Balkans. The Young Men’s Initiative is animated by a ‘guiding philosophy’ which is that ‘boys should be understood not as obstacles to peace and gender equality, but rather as critical allies in promoting nonviolent, healthy relationships and communities.’[ref]Sophie Namy, Brian Heilman, Shawna Stich and Jeffrey Edmeades, Be a man, change the rules!: Findings and lessons from seven years of CARE International Balkan’s Young Men Initiative (Washington DC: International Center for Research on Women: 2014).[/ref] To achieve this goal they initiated the ‘Be a Man’ lifestyle campaign and founded ‘Be a Man’ students clubs which promoted ‘positive’ models of masculinity and opposed harmful practices such as violent conflict resolution and smoking. The ‘Be a Man’ campaign did include some aspects that challenged dominant masculinity, such as a minor focus on anti-homophobia, but had more success in targeting very specific attitudes towards violence rather than deconstructing broader patriarchal attitudes in participants such as that ‘a man should have the final word in his home.’[ref]Sophie Namy, Brian Heilman, Shawna Stich and Jeffrey Edmeades, Be a man, change the rules, 4. “Program H”, Promundo Global, accessed 20 October 2017, https://promundoglobal.org/programs/program-h/[/ref] Having been rolled out in the Balkans, this model is now being employed in Burundi and eastern DRC, indicating the transference of ‘engagement work’ models across sites as part of NGO projects within the WPS framework.[ref]CARE International, “2016: The year of Engaging Men and Boys in stopping gender-based violence How a school curriculum-based approach can work”, Insights: Care International (2015). Available online: http://insights.careinternational.org.uk/media/k2/attachments/CARE_2016-Year-of-Engaging-Men-and-Boys_Dec-2015.pdf[/ref] The ‘good men’ industry replicates models developed by international experts on a mass scale, both through direct interventions and in response to international priorities. Because of the reliance on international expertise, and the funding preference for replication of pre-existing models the emergence of a ‘good men’ industry risks promoting a singular vision of good masculinity through a common set a resources and programme models that are implemented internationally.

The emergence of this ‘good men’ industry intensifies the above listed tensions, stripping the efforts of their political qualities and instead focusing on reforming the few ‘bad men’ who are at fault for violence through a civilisational project which asks them to become more like the privileged neo-liberal ambassadors that they can hold up as good role models. While most of these actors are not yet directly focusing on the WPS agenda, it is worth remaining attentive to how WPS might become a new frontier for the ‘good men’ industry to invest in.

Learning the lessons from ‘engagement work’

If we are to ameliorate particular effects of war on women by working with men and (presumably) on masculinities, we can learn a great deal from the history of ‘engagement work.’ At a basic level, learning from the tensions present in ‘engagement work’ is of strategic importance; these lessons will ensure that the very limited resources will not get squandered on projects that replicate the harmful configurations of gender that made the WPS agenda necessary. Learning from these lessons is important because the above-listed tensions contribute to the harmful ways in which we understand the relationship between men, masculinity and violence. The importance of these understandings can be seen in feminist debates over whether to talk about ‘violence against women’, ‘gender violence’, or the ‘violent reproduction of gender’.[ref]Laura J. Shepherd, Gender, violence and security: Discourse as practice. (London and New York: Zed Books, 2008).[/ref] These variances present profoundly different understandings of what violence is and what causes it, and signify differences in the WPS agenda that are yet to be disaggregated more generally. In short, the way these programmes talk about gender and violence cannot easily be separated from the phenomena they describe.

Viewing masculinity simply as notions or attitudes held by a divergent few is both inconsistent with the historical origins of ‘engagement work’ and presents a grossly simplified understanding of how gender impacts on the landscape of peace and security. It is certainly true and well established that patriarchal attitudes are closely correlated to many kinds of violence.[ref]Cynthia Cockburn, “Gender relations as causal in militarization and war: A feminist standpoint”, International Feminist Journal of Politics 12 (2) (2010): 139-157.[/ref] However, developing policies that treat masculinities only as conscious attitudes (excluding issues of affect, practice, economic structure, relations to other positions, identity, etc) risks reinforcing harmful narratives that violence is caused by a few bad men who consciously hold misogynist beliefs about women.[ref]Victoria Robinson, “Radical revisionings?: the theorizing of masculinity and (radical) feminist theory”, Women’s Studies International Forum 26 (3) (2003): 129-137.[/ref]

We need to learn from the tensions within many national programs that have sought to engage men in the problematic politics of convincing those who identify as men to become reformed ‘good men’.[ref]John Stoltenberg, “Why Talking About ‘Healthy Masculinity’ is Like Talking About ‘Healthy Cancer’” Feminist Current, 9 August 2013, http://www.feministcurrent.com/2013/08/09/why-talking-about-healthy-masculinity-is-like-talking-about-healthy-cancer/[/ref] This is doubly important due to the international dimension of many of these programmes which can entail white men from the Global North, whose position within the gender order is relatively secure, asking apparently violent men from the Global South to reform their violent ways. Such an approach misses how economic systems tend to exclude such men from living up to their socially expected roles, and who are benefiting from the depiction of them as the isolated problem population. This is not to suggest that violence committed by men in the Global South is not a problem that needs to be addressed. However, Northern driven models of ‘engagement work’ risk following the colonial mode of justifying the hegemonic authority of development actors ‘by inviting the sub-men to become human’ through a process of reforming their masculinity.[ref]Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), 131.[/ref] Some of the key innovators in ‘engagement work’ such as Gary Barker from Promundo have been very aware of the dangers that come with a preoccupation with violence committed by poor young men of colour.[ref]Barker, Dying to be Men: Youth, Masculinity and Social Exclusion: 59-67.[/ref] This concern appears to be diluted in work that targets war-related sexual violence and that has a long tradition of agonising over rape committed by young, poor, African militiamen as a justification for international intervention.[ref]Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern, Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War? (New York: Routledge, 2013): 42-63.[/ref]

In this way, each of the above listed tensions can be drawn back to a lack of clarity around men, gender and violence. Delineating what one understands the categories of ‘men,’ ‘masculinity’ and ‘violence’ to be is a profoundly difficult, but unavoidable, part of an effort that hopes to work with men.[ref]Michael Flood, “Between Men and Masculinity: An assessment of the term “masculinity” in recent scholarship on men”, in Manning the Next Millennium: Studies in Masculinities, eds. Sharyn Pearce and Vivienne Muller (Bentley: Black Swan Press, 2002): 203-213.[/ref] Unpacking these relationships is very much a live issue within academic feminism, as can be seen in debates on men’s responsibility for sexual violence, and in practical debates such as the one between Chris Dolan and Jeanne Ward on the usefulness of talking about violence against men as a form of gender-based violence.[ref]Paul Kirby, “Refusing to be a Man? Men’s Responsibility for War Rape and the Problem of Social Structures in Feminist and Gender Theory”, Men and Masculinities 16 (1) (2013): 93-114; Rosemary Grey and Laura J. Shepherd, “Stop Rape Now?”, Men and Masculinities 16 (1) (2013): 115-135; Chris Dolan, “Letting go of the gender binary: Charting new pathways for humanitarian interventions on gender-based violence”, International Review of the Red Cross 96 (894) (2014): 485-501; Jeanne Ward, “It’s not about the gender binary, it’s about the gender hierarchy: A reply to ‘Letting Go of the Gender Binary’”, International Review of the Red Cross 98 (901) (2016): 275-298.[/ref] These debates mean that, before work can begin, actors need clarity on what the things men do (practices), the attitudes they express (norms) and how they feel (affect) have to do with the WPS agenda, and what role those things might play in achieving its goals. It is for the above reasons that attempts to engage men and boys in the WPS agenda must remain cautious of repeating the mistakes of the past. The risk of repeating past mistakes is particularly high in instances where the ‘engagement work’ model is imported as a quick-fix solution to criticism that WPS is not adequately addressing men and masculinities.


The existing tokenistic inclusion of references to ‘engaging men and boys’ in resolutions should not be used to guide work being done on men and masculinities within the WPS agenda. While attempts to work with men are unavoidable, significant consideration is needed regarding what men and masculinities are, what the core goals of feminist objectives are, and what role men have in achieving these goals. The four pillars of the WPS agenda (prevention, protection, participation, relief and recovery) all rely on engaging men to various degrees. On a superficial level, this includes eliciting their support for the most formal components of the agenda, such as supporting women’s participation in peace processes. When taken more holistically the WPS agenda relies extensively on shifting men’s attitudes or practices as well as changing their relationship with masculinity. There is, as a consequence, need for much clearer articulation of the intended goals of activity that seeks to ‘engage’ men and boys, whether this is the basic level of encouraging support for a very limited policy recommendation, or expansive objectives of altering foundational notions of gender.

Despite the positive effect of some ‘engagement work’, the inclusion of ‘engagement’ in a tokenistic, vague or poorly thought out way is likely to have a worse outcome than failing to include it at all.[ref]Positive examples, such as the Justice and Reconciliation Project’s consultations on engaging men and boys in redress for conflict-SGBV in Northern Uganda, show the possibility for more cautious, well-planned approaches can respond to the challenges in local communities while learning from international programmes. This example was particularly promising due to its ability to address SGBV against men and boys, poverty, trauma and other issues while also trying to do ‘engagement work’. Claire Jean Kahunde, Christine Sumog-oy and Lindsay McClain Opiyo, “Engaging Men and Boys in Redress for Conflict-SGBV in Northern Uganda”, JRP Field Note 25 (2017), http://www.justiceandreconciliation.org/publications/field-notes/2017/engaging-men-and-boys-in-redress-for-conflict-sgbv-in-northern-uganda/[/ref] As shown above, the worst examples of ‘engagement work’ at the domestic level have tended to come about through tokenistic inclusion of references to men and masculinities as ambassadors or protectors of women. This kind of inclusion risks valorising the masculinity of already privileged men, sidelining the role of women’s organising, re-centring male protector narratives, downplaying the difficulty in creating societal change, and further marginalising other men and gender diverse groups that do not have the kind of privilege and visibility of ambassadors.

By focusing on stereotypical patriarchal attitudes ‘engagement work’ risks downplaying the difficulty of changing violent behaviour and challenging oppressive gender regimes. Research evaluating ‘engagement work’ has tended to emphasise just how difficult it is to change men’s affective and behavioural responses to violence or inequality even if their attitudes become relatively equitable.[ref]Clare Chambers, “Masculine domination, radical feminism and change”, Feminist Theory 6 (3) (2005): 325-346.[/ref] It was the realisation that consciously accepting feminist politics did not free men from their affective attachment to, or behavioural reproduction of, oppressive gender relations, which motivated the early pro-feminist men to start the consciousness-raising groups described earlier in this paper. Work on attitudinal change has further demonstrated that programmes working with men are quite effective in creating changes on very specific topics (such as their support for rape), but evidence on how this relates to behaviour change is far less clear.[ref]Christine Ricardo, Marci Eads and Gary Barker, Engaging Boys and Men in the Prevention of Sexual Violence: A Systematic and Global Review of Evaluated Interventions (Pretoria: Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) and Promundo, 2011).[/ref] The emphasis placed on attitudinal change is further complicated by programming which draws on harmful gender stereotypes to market messages to men.

Attempts to market gender equality are marred by a history of problematic attempts to draw on stereotypes of deviant, violent men and strong masculine protectors to bring men into the feminist fold. This can be seen in numerous bystander intervention campaigns in the Global North which have used tropes of male strength, a natural protector role and of monstrous male abusers to get men onboard. These efforts regularly fall into the trap of failing to recognise the way in which men can benefit from violence even if they don’t directly commit it, and the complex ways in which men who are not themselves directly violent remain complicit in other men’s use of violence. This means that problematic policy framings that reinforce narratives of barbarous violent men and the reformed ‘good men’ who can protect women and girls are often smuggled into ‘engagement’ materials. In domestic violence prevention campaigns, this has also involved setting a very low bar for men’s involvement and then rewarding men with praise for tokenistic contributions that do little to unmake cultures and structures of oppression. These presentations reinforce the idea that violence is the problem of ‘a few bad apples’ rather than a cultural and systematic force which relies on ‘everyday’ articulations of gender as well as extreme manifestations.

To avoid this trap, ‘engagement work’ needs to remain conscious of the multiple axes of oppression that shape masculinities in any given context. This requires a direct focus on  how structures of sexuality, age, ethnicity, caste, class, etc, all contribute to destructive performances of masculinity, and how less visibly harmful masculinities (such as professional business masculinities) might rely on the oppression of other groups.[ref]Amanda Chisholm and Joanna Tidy, “Beyond the hegemonic in the study of militaries, masculinities, and war”, Critical Military Studies 3 (2) (2017): 99-102.[/ref] Taking such an approach is particularly important in conflict-affected areas, where violent masculinities may be emerging in response to deep structural issues such as histories of colonialism or centre/periphery tensions which can privilege older city elites over younger men at the margins.[ref]David Duriesmith, Masculinity and New War: The gendered dynamics of contemporary armed conflict (New York: Routledge, 2017).[/ref]

By reflecting on the historical tensions in ‘engagement work’ and giving active consideration to the purpose of including men and masculinities within WPS, future actions have the capacity to address men’s role in gender-based violence and insecurity adequately. But for this to be done, the real challenges in working with men to reform gender cannot be downplayed, and inclusions cannot remain tokenistic mentions of ‘engagement’ in efforts which have otherwise not considered the relationship between men, masculinities and violence.

This is paper 11/2017 in the LSE Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series. Thanks to Nicole George, Bob Pease, Stephen Burrell and Judith Gardner for providing feedback on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks also to Laura Shepherd, Paul Kirby, and the editorial staff for their reviews and assistance. All remaining errors are my own.

Open PDF version.

About the author

David Duriesmith is a Post-doctoral Fellow in the School of Political Science & International Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia.

Featured image credit: HeForShe Campaign, UN Photo/Paulo Fligueiras.

States and tech companies must respond to individual voices and evidence of online violence against women

Writing on Human Rights Day, Lisa Gormley and Kelsey Kamitomo reflect on their 16 Days of Activism series and see ways forward to tackle the violence that is directed at women, online and off.

by William Iven on Unsplash

During the past 16 days, the contributions in this series on online violence against women (VAW) have come from a variety of professions – law, journalism, advocacy and campaigning, technology. In our office just off the Strand in London, the process of publishing each post has been a moment to reflect on writing online, and the continuum between digital and physical spaces.

When we first started thinking about this series, we saw online VAW in terms of harm. Too often ‘online violence’ is seen as not entirely real, something that should be ignored or turned off if it causes offence. Yet the women featured throughout this series have shown that VAW online has real and significant consequences in real life. Threats frequently become physical harm. Dr Michelle Ferrier notes that 40 per cent of journalists who have been killed were threatened online first. Women have to move home, change jobs, change the way they travel and work, and for some, it is literally a matter of life and death. Azmina Dhrodia quotes Pamela Merritt, an activist and blogger who says she has “reconciled with the fact” that she is prepared to die for her work. “If you get 200 death threats, it only takes one person who really wants to kill you.”

Why do these threats persist? Dr Louise Arimatsu and Madeleine Rees tell us “it’s not the technology that creates the harm but the social context in which gendered norms and sexist behaviour prevails.” In other words, the online space is an extension of our physical ‘realities’ – the inequality and discrimination women experience offline also exists online. And the result has been a ‘chilling effect’ on women’s freedom of speech and expression.

Semanur Karaman reminds us that speech should be analysed “within a social-political context of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and economic disparity that prevents us from accurately analysing who has access to this [freedom of speech] fundamental right, online and off”. This requires us to situate speech in context, the diversity of voices present, and who has the opportunity to speak and who has not.

While the ‘world wide web’ appears to be a free, global space, the reality is that what happens online is subject to regulation by domestic jurisdictions. Without adequate measures to address online VAW, there are many ways to abuse that space but addressing online VAW is possible. Anita Gurumurthy and Amrita Vasudevan gave positive examples of steps states have taken to broaden laws so they include online violence. And, as Dr Louise Arimatsu and Madeleine Rees said, “The protection of women’s rights… including against online VAW, not only constitutes a legal obligation on states but is a necessary condition to securing an environment in which women can participate effectively to further both peace and gender equality.”

At the Centre for Women, Peace and Security’s end of term party students and staff exchanged gifts. Among them were several books by the Londoner Virginia Woolf. One book in particular stood out: Three Guineas. Written in 1938, this series of letters considers whether women can do anything to prevent war. In it, Virginia Woolf tells her male correspondent that a newspaper editor wouldn’t print a letter about peace from a woman:

although it is true that we can write articles or send letters to the Press, the control of the Press—the decision what to print, what not to print—is entirely in the hands of your sex.

Some 60 years later came the advent of the internet. Now, women can write to be read and understood, to speak and influence, to connect, and have an exchange – of ideas, stories, experiences – with millions of other people, without a gatekeeper.

The writers throughout this series also demonstrate this potential for empowerment and equality the internet brings.

Women are using the internet to fight back against online VAW. In the absence of substantial policy, Semanur Karaman explained that women provide mutual aid and support to each other online. Tactical Technology Collective, where she works, has created a digital security toolkit to keep women, and Women Human Rights Defenders in particular, safe online. Dr Michelle Ferrier’s organisation, Trollbusters, provides “online pest control for women writers”. IT for Change shares resources, articles and research with their users online, with the aim of “Bridging development realities with technological possibilities”.

Women are using the internet to mobilise. Coordinators of the Women’s March acknowledged the key role social media platforms played in building momentum, organising and consolidating marches around the world. Women across Mexico have taken to Twitter using hashtags #NiUnaMás, #NoEsNo and #MiPrimerAcoso to protest widespread VAW in the country. In October women around the world, including us, said ‘#MeToo’, bringing their stories to illuminate the reality of statistics on gender-based violence.

Women are using the internet to share their stories – and connect. As Azmina Dhrodia said, behind every number is a story. Tarana Burke, founder and creator of the ‘Me Too’ movement and Just Be Inc., spoke about empowerment through empathy. “The point of the work we’ve done over the last decade with the ‘me too movement’ is to let women, particularly young women of color know that they are not alone – it’s a movement.” Social media allows us to share our stories and acknowledge the stories of others. To end VAW, wherever it exists, each voice is important, and the internet is a powerful medium for those voices.

There have been several public moments in the struggle against gender-based violence which have been identified as “tipping points” – the Clarence Thomas hearings, the scandals across the world of clerical abuse of children, Jimmy Savile and Operation Yewtree, the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria, the disgrace of Harvey Weinstein, and many others. Maybe we don’t have multiple tipping points. Maybe a larger conversation and movement has begun.

The 16 Days of Activism – celebrating the period between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Human Rights Day – are not just hooks for the campaigning calendar, but moments to reflect on how far we’ve come and where we might go. The authors in this series have provided ways forward. Semanur Karaman and Azmina Dhrodia called for concrete actions from social media companies and governments to combat online VAW, and Dr Louise Arimatsu and Madeleine Rees demonstrated states’ legal obligations to do so. Anita Gurumurthy and Amrita Vasudevan outlined a feminist jurisprudence on VAW that “addresses harm as a discriminatory act that impinges upon a woman’s dignity and a violation of her right to privacy seen as the triumvirate of bodily integrity, personal autonomy and informational privacy.” Dr Michelle Ferrier called for an end to impunity for acts of violence against women journalists.

Until these things are fully realised each of us must, if we are able, continue to raise our voices – online and off. As Tarana Burke said:

We keep talking about how many millions engaged with the movement, but even if just 10 percent of those people stay committed to the work, we will have created an incredible army. Because, the power of #MeToo isn’t just naming it. Naming it is just the beginning of the journey.

We can’t wait to see what happens next.

Read more posts from our 16 Days of Activism series or visit the Tackling Violence against Women website for more resources on ending online VAW.  

About the authors

Lisa Gormley is a Research Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security. She has a strong background in women’s human rights, including 14 years as legal adviser at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat, mostly specialising in women’s rights in international law. She is also the author of the ‘Women’s Access to Justice for Gender-Based Violence: ICJ’s Practitioner’s Guide’.

Kelsey Kamitomo is a Projects and Communications Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security. She created the Tackling Violence against Women online resource, which explains the global and regional human rights frameworks that exist to end gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.


Poll by Amnesty shows a worrying number of women and girls face abuse and violence online

Amnesty International and Ipsos MORI recently conducted a poll across eight countries to better understand women’s experiences of online abuse and harassment on social media. Azmina Dhrodia shares the poll’s findings, calling attention to the ways abuse and violence transfer offline and the consequences of not taking action.

You could be sitting at home in your living room, outside of working hours, and suddenly someone is able to send you a graphic rape threat right into the palm of your hand.

Laura Bates, Founder of the Everyday Sexism Project

Every single day, billions of people around the world use social media to connect, debate, learn and share. As well as for everyday communications, social media platforms can help give a voice to the voiceless by raising the profile of some of the most marginalised groups in society. They can also be an important place to address social injustices; just last month we saw women from all over the world use social media platforms and #metoo to expose the violence, abuse and harassment they face offline.

On the other hand, the widespread inequality and discrimination against women that remains embedded in society is increasingly being replicated online. Acts of violence and abuse against women online are an extension of these acts offline.

Anecdotally, we know that online violence and abuse is widespread but there is a lack of quantitative data about the breadth and depth of online abuse women experience and its impact. This is why Amnesty International commissioned Ipsos MORI to carry out an online poll of women aged 18–55 in the UK, USA, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Poland and New Zealand about their experiences of online abuse or harassment on social media platforms. The findings of our online poll offer a harrowing insight into the true impact of online abuse against women.

Amnesty found that 23 per cent of the women polled said they experienced abuse or harassment onlineIn the USA, New Zealand and Sweden, almost 1 in 3 women stated they had experienced online abuse or harassment.

Of the women polled who stated they had experienced abuse or harassment online, 1/4 (26 per cent) had received threats of physical or sexual assault. Almost half (46 per cent) of the women who experienced abuse or harassment said it was sexist or misogynistic in nature.

It’s important to remember that behind every number in this poll is a story. Earlier this year I  spoke to Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. After our conversation, I returned to my desk feeling shaken. It was not the last time during the course of this research that I found myself overwhelmed by what I was hearing.

Laura explained how her experience of online abuse has evolved over the years.

Online abuse began for me when I started the Everyday Sexism Project — before it had become particularly high-profile or I received many entries. Even at that stage, it was attracting around 200 abusive messages per day. The abuse then diversified into other forums, such as Facebook and Twitter messages. These often spike if I’ve been in the media.

Later, in an email, Laura sent me some of the abuse she has received recently, such as,

You still moaning you lazy sack of shit bitch. You have sucked cock, took it up the ass, been banged till you screamed, tell me when I’m lying? Yet you moan at men who are not hot enough or high value enough to approach you or other women. Nice way to make money Ms slut “Everyday Sexism” more like ‘Everyday Crying’.

For many women like Laura who have experienced abuse online, especially in the form of direct or indirect threats of violence, there is a very real fear that such threats of violence will transpire offline.

We found that of the women polled across all countries who experienced abuse or harassment online, almost 60 per cent had received abuse or harassment from complete strangers. Alarmingly, 41 per cent of women who had experienced online abuse or harassment said that on at least one occasion, these online experiences made them feel that their physical safety was threatened.

Pamela Merritt, an American activist and blogger, told me,

After five years of online harassment coupled with offline harassment, I have basically reconciled with the fact that I’m prepared to die for the work I do. That might happen. If you get 200 death threats, it only takes one person who really wants to kill you.

The psychological implications of experiencing online abuse remains under-researched, and as a result, understated. There is a misconception that because the abuse is online it can simply be ignored or shrugged off. The assumption that online abuse is not ‘real’ also fails to consider the myriad of harms caused by online violence and abuse that ultimately contributes to women being silenced and denied their right to freely express themselves online.

Dr Emma Short, a Psychologist and Reader in Cyber Psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, talked to me about the impact of online abuse. She explained,

I think the impact of online abuse is greater because your victimization is broadcast for everyone to see. It’s often joined by a third party so the crowd or pack is going after you. So, very quickly, it feels as though the whole world is after you. There might be positive tweets, you might have lots of friends on the outside, but if the crowd has turned against you and is after you, it feels like the world wishes you harm.

Our findings also support this analysis. On average, 58 per cent of women in the countries polled said they had felt apprehension when thinking about using the internet or social media after experiencing abuse or harassment.

Many women I interviewed spoke about the profound psychological implications of online abuse, and how it negatively impacts the way they navigate both their online and offline realities.

Laura told me:

There is a major psychological impact to reading somebody’s detailed fantasies about raping, assaulting and murdering you, regardless of whether or not you are actually in physical danger. This can take a major toll on women’s lives and careers, particularly if it is a sustained campaign of abuse — it’s a high price to pay for simply doing your job.

Our poll showed that online abuse has a chilling effect on women’s freedom of expression.

Of the women polled who experienced online abuse or harassment, more than three quarters (76 per cent) across all countries made some changes to the way they used social media platforms.

Tackling online violence and abuse on social media platforms and protecting women’s rights online requires resources, transparency and coordinated action from social media companies and governments. It’s time to move beyond mere lip-service and continued acknowledgement of the problem to concrete actions and solutions.

Without urgently addressing this serious human rights issue, we risk further silencing women during a time when their voices — to some extent — are finally being heard.

As Pamela reminded me:

We need to take care of ourselves — emotionally — but this is the front line and we must not cede that space.


About the author

Azmina Dhrodia is a Researcher in the Technology and Human Rights Team at the Amnesty International Secretariat. She is currently investigating the human rights implications of online violence and abuse against women on social media platforms through research and policy analysis of existing international human rights standards, national legislation, company community standards and reporting mechanisms.


Equality, Dignity and Privacy are cornerstone principles to tackle online VAW

Anita Gurumurthy and Amrita Vasudevan discuss the requirements for a feminist jurisprudence on violence against women, drawing on IT for Change’s project ‘Online freedom for all = No unfreedom for women’.

by IT for Change

As technology becomes a real and unfragmentable part of social interaction, a global crisis is evident in the form of widespread normalisation of online violence against women (VAW).

It is vital that laws on online VAW draw from the foundational ideas that have informed interpretations of gender-based (in)justice, recognising the immersion of human society in digital experiences.

Equality with dignity

Non-discrimination and equality comprise the cornerstone of legislation on violence against women in both international and domestic laws. We have seen these ideas in judicial decisions across the world. Feminist legal traditions recommend using the framework of ‘substantive equality’ – which accounts for the specific needs of women, rather than of ‘formal equality’ – wherein policies that appear to be non-discriminatory may not really be responsive to the systemic discrimination women face. Gender inequality therefore must be seen as a historical-social experience that erodes human dignity. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s (CEDAW’s) position on discrimination against women, which is seen as an affront to human dignity and equality, is rooted in such a discursive legacy that acknowledges a historical imbalance in power relations between men and women. The model framework for legislation on violence against women, proposed by UNDAW/DESA also interprets violence as a form of discrimination and a violation of women’s human rights.

Harm as a violation of dignity and privacy

‘Harm’- to the body, mind or both is often seen as ‘proof’ that violence has occurred. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines VAW as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women…’. While most States have sought to protect women from violence, at least in the language of the law, the treatment of harm in many instances continues to be problematic. The Indian Penal Code retains Victorian and patriarchal language, and phrases such as ‘outraging the modesty of women’, continue to feature, despite a major law reform in 2013. This approach of the law tends to put women on the stand for their ‘morality’ to be assessed, adopting a benign protectionism, at best, or condemning women’s ineptitude for ‘attracting harm’, at worst. Similarly, Indian courts’ interpretation of obscenity has fixated on sexual content. The law’s intent on ‘protecting society from depravity’ has ended up treating women as objects that law must govern, rather than as subjects who have the right to legal recourse. A feminist critique would call attention in these approaches to the denial of women’s agency and the disregard of sexist content that may not necessarily be sexual.

We posit the need for an alternate theory – one that addresses harm as a discriminatory act that impinges upon a woman’s dignity and a violation of her right to privacy seen as the triumvirate of bodily integrity, personal autonomy and informational privacy.

Courts have used this progressive theorisation of harm to redress violence against women. For example, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights found that sexual abuse was not only a violation of physical and mental integrity but also a woman’s dignity. In a case involving the restitution of conjugal rights before the Supreme Court of India, Justice Choudary noted that vacating of a woman’s agency to that of the state is a violation of her bodily and mental privacy and consequently, an affront to her integrity. The European Court of Human Rights, in a case of forced sterilisation of a woman, affirmed her right to personal autonomy holding that the perpetrators had disregarded the woman’s dignity, by denying her the necessary information to make a free and informed decision. In NM and Others v Smith, the Constitutional Court of South Africa held in favour of three women whose HIV status had been revealed without their consent. The court observed that ‘the personal and intimate nature of an individual’s health information, unlike other forms of documentation, reflects delicate decisions and choices relating to issues pertaining to bodily and psychological integrity and personal autonomy’, thereby affirming their informational privacy.

Dealing with the here-and-now reality of online VAW

How do we bring these core principles into remedies for online VAW? That the online has become a space of misogynistic and sexist vitriol is undeniable. Seven in ten women have faced online violence against women. ‘Cyber-touch’, as the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, puts it, is as harmful as physical touch. Survivors of online violence recount feeling vulnerable and unable to participate in life online or offline. Not only depression, fear and anxiety, but even suicides, among women who face sexual violence online, are routinely reported. The dissociation characterising online interactions is seen to result in disinhibition, prompting ‘toxic’ masculinities, with tangible, corporeal consequences for women victims.

Just as in the case of offline violence, in instances of online violence as well, women experience a breach of dignity and a violation of privacy. This is true when videos of rape are circulated through WhatsApp, or intimate pictures shared by a woman with a man are leaked online by him, or when morphed pictures of women are posted on social media.

CEDAW’s General Recommendation No. 19 and General Recommendation No. 35 acknowledge that freedom from violence is essential for the enjoyment of all other human rights of life, liberty, health, security, etc by women. 74 per cent of countries covered by the Web Index lack an adequate mechanism to tackle online violence against women. Along with failures in law enforcement and justice delivery, current legal frameworks are unable to deal with the nature and extent of VAW mediated through technology.

However, some countries have started taking steps to broaden the ambit of law to include online violence. Methods adopted in this regard include:

  • Revisiting pre-digital laws to include online violence – for example, Israel’s amendment of its Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, to include cases of non-consensual distribution of sexual images online.
  • Making additions to laws dealing with cyber crimes in general – usually, gender neutral amendments, as were introduced in India’s Information Technology Act, to criminalise violation of privacy by non-consensual publication and transmission of images of ‘private parts’ of an individual.
  • Enacting laws to specifically deal with cyber violence – as in the case of New Zealand’s Harmful Digital Communications Act that treats the deliberate causing of serious emotional distress through messages or posting material (through digital communications) as an offence.

Institutional patriarchies make the due process of justice a long and hard road for women. To get to the goal of gender equality, transformation in the institutions of law and justice is needed. This needs to be agile and iterative. Whether a country chooses to make incremental changes in its existing legislation or enact a stand-alone law, to tackle online VAW may be less important. What is critical, however, is that institutional interventions be built upon the foundations of gender equality – reclaiming women’s rights to equality, dignity and privacy, as the core constituents of just societies in the digital age.

About the authors

Anita Gurumuthy is a founding member and executive director of IT for Change, where she leads research collaborations and projects in relation to the network society, with a focus on governance, democracy and gender justice. Her work reflects a keen interest in southern frameworks and the political economy of Internet governance and data and surveillance.

Amrita Vasudevan is a research assistant at IT for Change. She is engaged in policy research on Internet-related public policy issues and inclusive e-governance. She is currently handling a regional research study on evaluating the effectiveness of existing legal-institutional response mechanisms to technology-mediated Violence Against Women in South Asia.


Online abuse stifles women journalists around the globe

In the third post of the online violence against women series, Dr Michelle Ferrier – founder of Trollbusters – explains the consequences of online abuse for women journalists and how the absence of redress has changed the way they approach their work.

For many journalists, critiques and insults are a badge of honor. A few slings and arrows are considered part of the job of ‘afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted’. These attacks become a mark that you must be doing something right if ‘they’re coming after you’.

However, the letters to the editors and emails of old have given way to online abuse that ranges from gendered barbs and insults about looks to explicit rape and death threats. From online impersonations to the pile-on effect of smart mobs and political operatives, increasingly journalists are finding that in the age of social media, online harassment has short- and long-term consequences that cannot, and should not, be ignored.

According to the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute, 88 per cent of journalists worldwide feel their work is more dangerous now because of the use of social media to connect with audiences, and distribute news and information around the globe.

These same social media channels are used to stalk, discredit and threaten women journalists with rape, with death, with the release of personal information designed to instill fear, intimidation and ultimately silence their voices from the media.

In some cases, this online harassment crosses professional boundaries and affects the personal lives of these women. Twenty-five per cent of online activity manifests in physical abuses. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 40 per cent of murder victims reported receiving threats before they were killed.

This violence against women journalists becomes a mechanism to stifle freedom of expression and leads to loss of work for freelancers, loss of ties to home and family as journalists flee for safety, and the ultimate sacrifice of these women’s lives for telling these stories and speaking truth to power.

I am a former journalist and columnist who experienced hate speech, threats and online harassment more than 10 years ago. In my book chapter, ‘Progression of Hate’ in the 2016 Committee to Protect Journalists volume called ‘Attacks on the Press’, I tell the story of being driven from my work as a journalist and fleeing my home to keep myself and my family safe. It was this life-changing and devastating experience that led me to create TrollBusters in 2015.

Click to view full size image, by TrollBusters: Online Pest Control for Women Journalists.

At TrollBusters, we provide just-in-time rescue services to support women journalists at the point of attack on Twitter or Facebook. We use social media monitoring and machine language to monitor and track online abuse and its perpetrators. We provide education in digital safety practices and managing online attacks. We offer assistance in navigating how to deal with the types of threats women journalists experience online. Our goal is to keep these journalists alive, working and online in the face of these attacks.

As I discovered here in the United States, these nefarious online actors are organized groups of government operatives both foreign and domestic. They are hate groups including white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. They are misogynists who band together to attack women who have a voice.

Since 2015 when I launched TrollBusters at an international hackathon for women news entrepreneurs, I have met women who have left their homes and families because of online threats. Other women have left journalism, changed their social media profiles, or stopped writing certain stories to try to avoid online abuse.

Yet besides the personal, emotional, and psychological harm done to these women journalists, we also find the news enterprise suffers as well. Women journalists report self censoring – choosing assignments and topics that won’t draw online fire from harassers and abusers. The online abuse has damaging consequences to speaking truth to power.

We’ve found that getting redress for these attacks is long and painful. These online perpetrators act boldly, with no fear of repercussions for their acts.

Here in the United States, American journalists are increasingly finding themselves at risk. Since November 2016 and the rise of the new administration here, journalists here have been painted as the enemy. We’ve seen an increase in online and physical attacks as a result of the divisive rhetoric and fake news labels that have been cast upon us.

We must address the transnational activity of the state actors seeking to destabilize our democracy and our free press. That means increasing pressure on global corporations and social media platforms that breed hate speech and stifle freedom of expression.

Impunity thrives in nations whose governments seek to control media coverage. Impunity hides in the cracks in our legislation. Intimidation and threats, both online and off, are eroding our freedom of expression globally.  We need supports as journalists to hold the powerful accountable so that we as journalists can continue to tell the story… and not BECOME the story.

About the author

Dr Michelle Ferrier is the founder of TrollBusters: Online Pest Control for Women Journalists. She is an associate professor in journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Her research centers around digital identity and reputation management, online communities and social media strategies.

Women support each other in the face of harassment online, but policy reform is needed

With a lack of effective laws and only loose guidelines of social media platforms to address online violence, women activists and human rights defenders are supporting each other. Semanur Karaman introduces forthcoming research by Tactical Technology Collective, highlighting the need for a holistic approach to tackling online gender-based violence.

A few years ago I met my friend, a feminist activist based in Istanbul, at a crowded bus stop in Eminonu. She looked flustered and distressed. A city of almost 20 million people, Istanbul can indeed have that effect. However, something seemed unusually off. She told me: ‘I spent the ferry ride to Eminonu blocking Twitter accounts that sent me rape threats. These cowards should have the courage to say those things in a space where they can’t hide their misogynistic violence behind a Twitter handle.’

My friend, with over a couple of thousand followers on Twitter, is one of the many politically active women who are targeted with online violence on an ongoing basis. Throughout 2017, Tactical Technology Collective conducted research on online harassment targeting women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and journalists. At Tactical Tech we decided to prioritise this issue due to the absence of a global legal definition or policy framework, and lack of political and ethical willingness to address the issue on the part of social media platforms. Although the research will be published in early 2018, this post will share preliminary findings.

by GetWallpapers

In absence of concerted national or inter-governmental (i.e UN, EU) level response, United States-based technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google create their own guidelines and policies. A recent Guardian investigation on Facebook Community Guidelines, and the Women Action Media (WAM!) research on online harassment on Twitter, reveal that social media platforms are far from addressing online harassment that specifically targets women, and are far from adopting an ideal holistic perspective—one that takes into account both digital and physical security needs, psycho-social wellbeing, and the user’s right to exercise freedom of speech. Social media platforms still largely rely on loose guidelines, and underpaid and overworked content moderators to target online harassment instead of developing comprehensive criteria that addresses the issue holistically.

Free speech activists have long battled efforts to set rigid criteria to regulate content on social media. However placing free speech in a vacuum instead of analysing it within a social-political context of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and economic disparity prevents us from accurately analysing who has access to this fundamental right, online and off. The forthcoming Tactical Tech research demonstrates that online harassment has prompted WHRDs and journalists to leave social media platforms either temporarily or permanently, and significantly reduced the scope of their political activism; eventually preventing them from having access to the right to free speech.

Placing free speech in a vacuum has dangerous connotations. Recently social media platforms allowed content by a US Senator that calls for the slaughter of Muslims following a terrorist attack while at the same time taking down content by Black Lives Matter activists calling out systemic racism and white privilege. Similarly on Facebook, content which places women, trans* and gender non-conforming individuals at the receiving end of violence are often marked as humorous or disagreeable by content moderators, and accordingly not prohibited.

The upcoming research by Tactical Tech demonstrates social media platforms started paying increased attention to a rise in calls for action to online harassment in 2014. Arzu Geybullaveya, an Azerbaijani journalist who took part in the research says  ‘If I compare 2014 to 2017, I think there has been a lot of progress in terms of talking about online harassment—any kind of online harassment—against women activists/ journalists.’ This was also the year of Gamer Gate, the targeted harassment campaign against women in the gaming industry which made international headline news calling for collective action. The same year, Twitter was scrutinised for its failure in dealing with harassment, which led the company to suspend user accounts and to establish a partnership with WAM!

The Tactical Tech research analyses in-depth the wellness aspects of online harassment. The research findings clearly demonstrate women who use social media platforms for political advocacy resort to self-censorship as a self-defense mechanism in combating online harassment or to prevent abusers from complementing online violence with physical attacks. Some interviewees have expressed that the demoralising effects of online harassment have induced trauma, prompting them to take a break from their political activities and human rights advocacy. Accordingly, the wellness implications of online harassment prevents women, trans* and gender non-conforming individuals from exercising their right to free speech.

Although politically active women work together to sustain resilience, online and off, through mutual support mechanisms, such efforts alone are not adequate in addressing the problem. The magnitude of wealth generated by Facebook, Twitter and Google comes with political and ethical responsibility. Online harassment should be prioritised by social media platforms themselves either in the form of strategic research and development, developing adequate political and ethical guidelines and training of staff.

Politically active women, to sustain their psycho-social wellbeing as well as physical and digital safety, support one another specifically because social media platforms are not providing adequate remedies and adequate national, inter-governmental level policies and responses are lacking. Some strategies shared by Tactical Tech are as follows:

  • Understanding and navigating the trade-off between privacy and visibility online;
  • Educating one another in encryption, anonymity and digital security tools;
  • Forming support groups to provide psychological support to address trauma and burn out;
  • Providing immediate short term relocation when online harassment includes physical threats;
  • Forming online support groups to prevent trolls from dominating hash tags and reclaiming online spaces from a feminist perspective.

Online violence is real and a growing obstacle for politically active women who want to use technology to further their political cause. In a recent submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Canada-based Citizenlab explained how attempting to draw clear boundary lines between online and offline violence is unhelpful, adding that ‘online behavior may amplify, facilitate, or exacerbate or allow for entirely new forms of violence, abuse, or harassment to take place.’ Coding Rights and Internetlab in their joint submission added ‘one can no longer easily separate the reactions that occur in digital media from those offline: both are a continuum, as are the expressions of violence that occur in these environments’.

Online harassment targeting women who use social media platforms to advance their cause should be prioritised on a policy level where social media platforms are pushed to demonstrate the willingness to address the issue, either through strategic research and development or developing effective policies. At all levels, online harassment should be addressed both as a form of gender-based violence and discrimination, and as a threat to free speech. And, tools and policies should be developed and carried out in consultation with women who are at the receiving end of this violence, tailoring responses to their experiences and needs.

Acknowledgement: The initial phase of the forthcoming research by Tactical Tech on online harassment targeting politically active women is completed by Dalia Othman and Carol Water. Special thanks to Alex Hache and Arikia Millikan for their feedback and edits.

About the author

Semanur Karaman is a feminist activist from Turkey who is currently a part of the Tactical Technology Collective where she works at the intersections of human rights, gender justice and technology. Her most recent publications include Constructing Plural Solidarities for the Sur Journal (author) and Shrinking Spaces: A framing Paper with the Transnational Institute (co-author).

Afghanistan’s National Action Plan: ‘A wish list of many dreams’ – Wazhma Frogh (10/2017)

The women of Afghanistan supported their husbands and fathers during the Anti-Soviet Union national resistance by taking food to the battlegrounds, taking care of the children and the elderly on their behalf but became the first targets when the Mujahidin Islamic revolution took into the streets of Kabul and we witnessed rapes, kidnappings, murder of young and old women during the civil war and then the Taliban denied our existence completely but we started a new chapter in 2001 and the international frameworks and laws have been helpful in establishing our existence once again on the streets of Kabul.

A female MP from the 1986 term of the Afghan parliament

Afghanistan is a country that for the past 50 years has experienced ongoing violence of many different kinds: Soviet occupation, civil war between warlords and tribal leaders, the oppressive regime of the Taliban, the bombing by the USA in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, and a NATO counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operation ongoing for the past 16 years. The Taliban insurgency continues to take Afghan lives on a daily basis and has shrunk public spaces for freedom and civil rights across the country, for all of the population but especially women and children.[ref]Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Events of 2016”, in World Report 2017 (New York, NY: Human Rights Watch, 2017), https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/afghanistan [/ref]

The first National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security in Afghanistan is therefore of great importance and relevance to the lives of Afghan women. The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan launched the NAP in June 2015 with a clear commitment by the government to ensure that women have a strong role and contribution in the governance and development of war-torn Afghanistan.[ref]“Launch Ceremony of the National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 – Women, Peace and Security”, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 30 June 2015, http://mfa.gov.af/en/news/launch-ceremony-of-the-national-action-plan-on-unscr-1325-women-peace-and-security [/ref]

The NAP adoption comes at a critical time in Afghanistan, as Security Sector Reform (SSR) is taking shape, with the involvement of NATO, USA, UK, and many other donors in Afghanistan. Only 1 per cent of the total security forces of over 350,000 personnel in the police, intelligence, and army are women. (This 1 per cent, however, face tremendous challenges and backlash within the system and from the public as well).[ref]NATO, “Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)”, Media Backgrounder, October 2013, https://www.nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/pdf_2013_10/20131018_131022-MediaBackgrounder_ANSF_en.pdf. See also Andrea Ackerman, “Gender in Security Sector Reform: The Case of Afghanistan”, http://www.academia.edu/21468147/Gender_in_Security_Sector_Reform_The_Case_of_Afghanistan[/ref]

A national peace program is being explored by the government of the country. In early 2017, the Afghan government agreed on a political peace program that continued the mandate of the High Peace Council,[ref]For more information about Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, see http://www.hpc.org.af/english/index.php[/ref] which was established in 2010. As a result of continued pressure and lobby from women’s groups, the government ensured at least 20 per cent participation of women leaders as members of the High Peace Council. However, meaningful participation still requires women leaders to influence the peace agendas.

The Afghan NAP is a beginning, a foundation for the government’s obligation to respond to continued civil society pressure and lobbying by women’s groups and female peace activists. However, the implementation of the NAP is yet to be operationalised at the national and provincial levels.

This working paper analyses the development of the Afghanistan National Action Plan and explores the challenges around its implementation in the context of a continued military conflict in Afghanistan.


Women have been and will continue to be at the forefronts of insurgency, violent extremism and radicalisation in Afghanistan; they have defended peace at homes, in communities, and within society at large, but remain unheard, their efforts largely unrecognised.

Looking at the past 50 years of history, Afghanistan has suffered the Soviet Union invasion, the resistance movement against the Russians, the Civil War, the Taliban regime and a new era post 9/11.[ref]For a timeline on women’s rights in Afghanistan, see http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/uncategorized/timeline-of-womens-rights-in-afghanistan/ [/ref]  The country has continuously been at war and the social fabric of the society has been ruined. Violence replaced all previous cultural norms of the country.

While the story of the Afghan woman is the story of a victim in the eyes of the international media, Afghan women played different roles at different times throughout history. Women were the family supporters and household caretakers during the resistance movement (Jihad) against Soviet invasion until 1990s, although they faced brutal abuse and treatment during the Civil War of 1991-1994. The war factions raped women, assaulted them on the streets, married them by force, trafficked them into neighbouring countries and abroad, and established a rigid prohibition on women being outside of the home. This treatment became even more lethal during the Taliban regime (1994-2001), which banned women completely from appearing in public. The Taliban forced women to marry their fighters, took them away from their families, and prevented education and employment for all kinds of women. Women were largely forgotten by society.

However, the story of Afghan women changed in 2002. The new era of international intervention in Afghanistan enabled a relatively supportive environment for the women of Afghanistan. In 2002, the first Women’s Summit, held in Brussels, brought together Afghan women from different countries and mobilised them for inclusion in the new government structures and the establishment of the first Ministry of Women’s Affairs as part of the interim and transitional administration until 2004. Women took the opportunity and mobilised in masses to include their rights in the 2004 Constitution of the country and achieved gender equality within the Constitution. The 25 per cent quotas of seats for women in parliament enabled thousands of women leaders to run as representatives of their provinces and join the parliament in 2005 and in 2010; currently there are 69 women serving in the Afghan parliament as the representatives of the people (see Table 1).

Thousands of girls returned to basic and higher education and hundreds of them were able to study abroad as a result of international scholarships. For the first time, the perpetrators of violence against women received punishment as legislated in the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law in the country, which gave hope to millions of women suffering different kinds of violence and discrimination.

Since 2009, however, the Taliban have regrouped and revived their movement across the country. Their first targets were girl’s schools, women’s clinics, female politicians, female government employees, female doctors and teachers, and women’s media. Since then, the space for women’s inclusion in public life has again shrunk drastically and the threats of the Taliban have taken many of the achievements backwards.

The ongoing war isn’t fought on the borders, far away from communities. The war manifests in explosions in the markets, in the farms, in schools and at homes. Women are the first targets of this insurgency. When the Taliban assert their presence in a community, the first impact is that girl’s schools are closed and that women are warned not to come out of homes.[ref]

Bakhtar Safi “Taliban ban women from shopping in Kapisa’s Tagab”, Pajhwok Afghan News, 8 September 2017, https://www.pajhwok.com/en/2017/09/08/taliban-ban-women-shopping-kapisa’s-tagab[/ref]

There is no clear line between enemy and combatant because the sons and husbands of the women who joined the insurgency and participated in the destruction of homes and villages also hold legitimate grievances that drive them towards violence and insurgency.

Research with women leaders in Provincial Peace Councils from 2012-2016 clearly showed that the Taliban and militants for the anti-government activities easily recruit the young men in their communities.[ref]Research conducted by the Women & Peace Studies Organization (WPSO) can be accessed online at www.wpso-afg.org. Hard copies of the WPS Forum reports may be obtained directly from WPSO.[/ref] Many mothers of these young boys share with women at the Provincial Peace Councils not just that these young boys need employment and income, but that sentiments of justice are strong “push and pull” factors among them. The weak governance, abuse of the police and armed forces in a community, and lack of inclusion in the local and national processes that impact young boys’ lives, are key in the recruitment processes into the insurgency.[ref]See the case study from 3 provinces on systems conflict analysis done in Afghan Women’s Network, Women and Peace Studies Organization, and Women Knowledge and Leadership Organization, Understanding Local Conflicts: Case Study from Helmand, Logar and Nangarhar Provinces: System Conflict Analysis, August 2017, http://wpso-afg.org/uploads/2017/08/Conflict-analysis-of-3-provinces.pdf[/ref] Meanwhile, women as mothers and wives of Taliban militants, and the soldiers that defend against these militants, continue to suffer as they lose their loved ones on daily basis.

As ISIS affiliates are emerging in different parts of the country, their brutalities against women and girls have also shocked the country. In the eastern region of Nangrahar[ref]For more on ISIS in Nangrahar see Masood Saifullah, “Nangarhar: Gateway to Afghanistan for ‘Islamic State’”, DW, 30 December 2015, http://www.dw.com/en/nangarhar-gateway-to-afghanistan-for-islamic-state/a-18952201 [/ref] in 2016 and 2017, a number of women and girls went missing after the districts were attacked and taken over by ISIS affiliates. Families didn’t even share the news with their neighbours because they were scared and felt “dishonoured”.

Unconfirmed reports to the Women and Peace Studies Organization (WPSO) suggested that, in early August 2017, a group of ISIS affiliates and Taliban attacked Mirzawlang of Sarepul in the north, and took away over 47 girls between the ages of 11-22 years old.[ref]See also Abdul Matin Sahak and Hamid Shalizi, “Attackers kill dozens of Afghan villagers in northern province”, Reuters, 6 August 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-islamic-state/attackers-kill-dozens-of-afghan-villagers-in-northern-province-idUSKBN1AM0OG [/ref] The families and the provincial government authorities continue to deny their disappearance because “girls are considered family honour and if they are taken away a family honour is taken away and the families don’t want to admit [it]”. The above analysis and description of the context in which Afghan women and girls live on a daily basis provides a baseline to understanding the importance, as well as relevance, of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) agenda for Women, Peace and Security in Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN’S NATIONAL ACTION PLAN ON UNSCR 1325[ref]Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of Human Rights and Women’s International Affairs, Afghanistan’s National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 – Women, Peace, and Security, 2015-2022 (Kabul, Afghanistan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 2015), available online at https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/wps-afghanistan_national_action_plan_1325_0.pdf [/ref]

In the context of extensive international engagement in Afghanistan since 2001, women’s groups and activists have worked hard to engage themselves in national reconstruction and governance structures. Since international organisations and actors worked with the women’s groups and organisations, the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and UNSCR 1325 were already incorporated into the women’s participation and empowerment programmes, shown by the many laws and policies adopted to protect women’s rights since 2001 (see Figure 1). Even in the absence of an official NAP, Afghan women mobilised themselves for the Constitution drafting processes, for legislative equality, and achieved many other accomplishments for women’s rights in the country. In 2009 when the group of women learnt about the behind the scenes talks with the Taliban, the women’s groups campaigned for inclusive and transparent peace processes and ensured that the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program that was adopted at the Afghanistan London Conference in 2010 included women’s perspectives.[ref]United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, “Communiqué of ‘Afghanistan: The London Conference’”, January 2010, https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/Communique%20of%20London%20Conference%20on%20Afghanistan.pdf [/ref]

All the laws, policies and plans of the government listed in Figure 1 are influenced by CEDAW, especially the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan, though this plan was never implemented fully. Women’s groups and activists mobilised en masse during the adoption of the 2004 National Constitution to ensure that the law addressed gender equality before the law and effectively enshrined the government’s obligation to advance women’s access to health, education, job opportunities, and family welfare. Likewise, CEDAW articles were utilised during the drafting process of the country’s first Elimination of Violence against Women Law during 2008-2009 and many forms of violations against women that had not been criminalised before (in the 1970s Penal Code) were recognised as crimes against women including rape. Afghanistan submitted its first report in 2013 to the CEDAW committee.

Afghanistan’s NAP was formalised as a result of lobbying work by the women’s groups and organisations. The Afghan government initiated the process of consultations for the NAP in 2011 by working with a number of women’s organisations and activists to establish a consultative process at the national and provincial levels. There were two phases to the process: the consultation and drafting phase; and the finalisation and adoption phase.

Consultation and Drafting Phase

The Afghan NAP officially claims to have followed a robust consultation process across the country, consulting with many relevant actors and agencies. However, many women’s organisations and groups are still critical of the process. They believe only a small group of people were engaged and consulted. The process of consultations evolved around the elite women in Kabul and in major provinces where the security situation allowed for consultations to be held. Provinces that have war and/or insurgency going on could not be part of the consultations, like the southern region of Loya Kandahar that includes Kandhar, Zabul, Uruzgan, and Helmand. Only the Afghan Women’s Network, a network of around 120 women’s organisations, was invited formally to join the process and many groups and organisations that were not part of the network remained excluded.

Nevertheless, a steering committee was established at the Deputy Minister level, comprising representatives from all the ministries and agencies that are part of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda (these include security sector ministries, the High Peace Council, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the education sector, and the development sector) and this committee participated in the drafting and consultation process. The consultation mainly took place in the provincial capitals and in urban areas, again as a result of the lack of mobility and security challenges in more remote regions of the country.

The on-the-ground realities for women living under insurgency and under rule of, or threats of attack from, the Taliban are excluded from the Afghan NAP because the consultations were not held in those areas due to the manifest security challenges. While a large part of the population lives under the Taliban’s influence and control[ref]Bill Roggio, “Taliban controls or contests 40 percent of Afghan districts: SIGAR”, FDD’s Long War Journal, 1 May 2017, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/05/taliban-controls-or-contests-40-percent-of-afghan-districts-sigar.php[/ref], excluding women from these communities in the NAP means it is detached from the challenges faced by women in local villages and districts.

Moreover, the female members of the Provincial Peace Councils (PPCs) who worked for peacebuilding in their provinces were not consulted in a systematic and targeted manner. Some of them ended up in the consultation process at the regional level because they happened to have another position besides being a member of the PPC, while the rest of them continue to remain unaware of the Afghan NAP and the processes involved.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), with funding from the Finnish government and technical expertise of UN Women,initiated the drafting process; as the agenda of WPS is new to Afghanistan, the Ministry lacked skills and capabilities to ensure that the consultation processes were transparent and inclusive of all relevant actors and agencies. The process of consultations and then drafting also did not include a clear assessment of the women’s issues and policy-level priorities of the government within the WPS agenda and this resulted in the drafting of an Afghan NAP that does not have a baseline assessment. Successful achievement of its milestones and indicators will not be possible without a proper baseline assessment. For example, one of the security sector indicators includes a 10 per cent increase of women in the police force. However, in the absence of a baseline, it is impossible to measure an increase.

While women’s engagement in the police and security sector is a priority for the women’s movement in the country, the NAP lacks clear procedures on how to increase the number of women in the security sector, and how to ensure a safe and enabling environment for women in police and army that should include their recruitment, retention, promotion, capacity building, and protection mechanisms.

Another issue that emerged during the drafting process is the lack of a monitoring and evaluation system that needed to be embedded within the Afghan NAP. The Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) strategy came into effect after the NAP was finalised and approved by the National Unity Government in June 2015. If the M&E strategy was incorporated into the NAP, it would have been more specific and results-oriented; the issue of the lack of baseline could have been addressed as well. Furthermore, the draft didn’t accompany an action plan or implementation strategy. Since the process has taken years, many people changed positions, and a different group than those who drafted the Afghan NAP developed the implementation strategy much later in the process.

The NAP raises huge expectations, as it claims to achieve so many objectives, from women’s inclusion in peace and security agendas, elections, and judicial structures, to combating gender-based violence and providing psychosocial support, from relief and recovery programmes for refugees and vulnerable women to the provision of education and higher education opportunities for women. However, as the implementation strategy and indicators indicate, there is a distinct lack of clarity about how these objectives will be achieved and what level of resources can be committed by the government and its international partners.

Finalisation and Adoption Process

The Afghan NAP was adopted in June 2015 by the President of the National Unity Government (NUG) in Kabul as an effort to boost the inclusion and participation of women within national peace and security frameworks.[ref]See “Afghanistan enacts National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security”, Nobel Women’s Initiative, 14 July 2015, https://nobelwomensinitiative.org/afghanistan-enacts-national-action-plan-on-women-peace-and-security/ [/ref] The adoption came after a lengthy process of finalisation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its international partners.

There has been criticism of the delayed finalisation of the NAP. There are also concerns expressed by various women’s organisations and activists that the NAP needed to have more substance and deeper analysis of the current challenges of women within the country, as well as concrete actions by the NUG to improve the situation and condition of Afghan women.

Although the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the Women’s Commission of Parliament have developed plans and strategies to combat violence against women, promote women’s rights, and ensure their inclusion in the national and local processes, little has been drawn from these documents during the finalisation process of the NAP. For example, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs[ref]Interview with the former Director of Planning at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul, March 2017.[/ref] developed a comprehensive National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) and they are critical that NAPWA was not incorporated into the the NAP. The two plans do not synchronise, even though both have the same goal: women’s empowerment in Afghanistan.

Likewise, similar concerns have been raised by the female members of the High Peace Council[ref]Interview with two female members of the High Peace Council in Kabul, March 2017.[/ref], whose initial mandate was to ensure women’s voices are part of the national peace process. These women have been allowed minimal contributions into the development and finalisation of the Afghan NAP. They had recommended that, since the High Peace Council had also been engaged in outreach activities to foster women’s participation in the peace process, the NAP needed to ensure that their contributions and roles are also recognised and documented. The NAP does not include clear procedures to involve and engage women in peace negotiations with the Taliban and other conflict actors, resolutions, and reconciliations at every stage.

The NAP remains a ‘wish list of many dreams’, with little clarity on the achievable indicators as well as a clear milestone due to lack of the current situation analysis. While a limited number of civil society representatives participated[ref]The Afghan Women’s Network has around 100 members and participated in the drafting and finalisation process. Many women’s organisations that are not members of the Network believe they were not consulted and included in the process. Interview with Ms Saqeb in Kabul, March 2017. [/ref] in the finalisation process, many women’s organisations criticised the lack of consultation in, and resulting exclusion from, the process.




Afghanistan is clearly divided between urban and rural communities. While the urban communities living in big cities like Kabul, Mazar, Hirat, Nangrahar, and Kandahar have had a basic access to education, health facilities, jobs, and most importantly state institutions, the rural communities have run on their own during the years of civil war and beyond. They have been governed under the Jirga or Shura rule, which empowers tribal leaders and elders based on their wealth, identity, ancestors’ name and fame, and/or even based on their ties with the armed groups. During recent years, the Taliban strengthened their grip on the affairs of rural areas and took advantage of the lack of state institutions in those communities, established their writ deciding the face of civil and criminal disputes. Communities conformed having no other options.[ref]Kara Jensen, “Obstacles to Accessing the State Justice System in Rural Afghanistan”, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 18 (2) (2011): 929-950.[/ref]

Contemporary research claims that around 70-80 per cent of Afghans live in rural areas with minimal or no contact with state institutions or access to basic services. In such circumstances, where women are entirely illiterate, do not have any access to health and education, nor any community level engagement, the idea of a National Action Plan remains alien. However, there is not adequate data due to the lack of access to most of the rural areas to generalise this assumption to the larger population of the country; this lack of data prevents a thorough assessment of the ‘localisation’ of the NAP and the traction of the WPS agenda in Afghanistan more broadly.

While the NAP is considered a national plan, it clearly lacks all the elements required to connect the grassroots engagements of women’s leaders and women’s groups to the central government institutions. The security situation and lack of mobility in different parts of the country is a major challenge for the government, the international community, and even the women-led NGOs based in Kabul, and connections with local women’s organisations has not been established in a systematic manner.

The changing nature of conflict is evident in Afghanistan: from an insurgency towards brutal killing of civilians and women in particular, to radicalisation of young men with violent extremism ideologies which continues to happen at the local levels. These issues have not made their way into the NAP’s situational analysis or measures to change.

Another missing link is that between the NAP and all the other parallel and allied WPS-focused programmes and projects run by international partners, NGOs and local women’s organisations. These should have been incorporated into the implementation plan, to ensure that there is a coordinated and coherent effort for the realisation of women’s meaningful participation. So many ad hoc WPS-related activities by the international community and NGOs are currently underway and are not synchronised with the NAP.



Wazhma Frogh and other activists at a protest against the Taliban’s stoning of a woman in Parwan province, 2011.

Security remains the number one challenge for the implementation of the NAP at the provincial and local levels where insurgency is taking shape and continues to recruit and arm thousands of young Afghans. Many of the provinces and communities that are under direct threat of insurgency were prevented from engaging in the consultation process around the NAP in the first place. Today, as per the reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan’s Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Taliban contest and influence around 40 per cent of the territory of Afghanistan[ref]Bill Roggio, “Taliban controls or contests 40 percent of Afghan districts: SIGAR”, FDD’s Long War Journal, 1 May 2017, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/05/taliban-controls-or-contests-40-percent-of-afghan-districts-sigar.php [/ref] and that makes it almost impossible for the Afghan government and international community to implement the NAP nationally. However, the local civil society groups and organisations that are established at the provincial levels might be the right platform for implementation because they are able to engage in outreach with their own communities and since they come from the same communities, the threats of the Taliban will be lesser to them than to those groups and organisations coming from Kabul.

Another challenge for implementation remains the lack of resources. It took the Ministry of Finance more than two years to finalise the costing of the NAP as per the donors’ requirements. Even now, at the time of writing this paper, the costing is not finalised between the Afghan government and the donors. While the NAP was being developed, Afghanistan had more than 150,000 international forces engaged as part of the NATO/ISAF coalition forces which rapidly transitioned into less than 15,000 in 2016 and 2017; this has a huge impact on the level of resources that come to Afghanistan as part of military or development aid packages, as most of the funds that came to Afghanistan were part of the international community military engagement. The Nordic countries – mainly Finland and the European Union – remain the main supporters of the NAP.

Before the Brussels-Afghanistan Conference, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs produced the first report on the implementation of the Afghan NAP to gauge the attention of the international partners and donors[ref]Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Progress Report on Women’s Status and Empowerment and National Action Plan (NAP 1325) (Kabul, Afghanistan: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2016), http://mfa.gov.af/Content/Media/Documents/Progress_Report_on_Women_Rights1610201610265714553325325.pdf [/ref], although implementation has not yet started officially because of the funding challenges. MOFA’s progress report illustrates the progress made, and initiatives undertaken, by the government and by international partners as well as NGOs and women’s groups, for the promotion and inclusion of women in the peace and security structures of the country, as well as gender mainstreaming within the government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance have been working for the past two years to finalise the NAP budget following its adoption by the President. However, there is a general consensus among government and the women’s organisations in Afghanistan that for many activities of gender mainstreaming there isn’t a need for additional budgets because the government agencies have already been obliged to ensure gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment in their operations and programmes that will directly impact the implementation of the NAP.

It’s important to note that the Afghan government has appointed a number of women to leadership and management positions in the cabinet, as the governors, judges, prosecutors, and has increased efforts to raise the number of women in the police and army. All this has been part of the lobby and advocacy work by the women’s groups and activists with the President and the First Lady of the country.

The NAP provides a list of objectives, actions, and expected results and indicators. It also clarifies the role of the lead agencies and the supporting agencies for implementation of each activity. The NAP envisions that whole government agencies will ensure that UNSCR 1325 provisions are incorporated into their work and also has identified a set of actions for each government ministry or agency.  However, a specific implementation plan, with clear timeline and budget is still not in place to implement the NAP in a successful manner. Women’s organisations and activists continue to lobby for the finalisation of the budget and the costing process. These same women are also asking the government for a monitoring and evaluation plan to ensure that activities implemented are able to bring positive changes into the lives of Afghan women.

A responsive M&E system based on results would require the NAP to have concrete outcomes, resources for the implementation, and organisational structures for better implementation. Clear and transparent planning, monitoring, and community consultation processes will allow civil society organisations to evaluate and measure the impact of the indicators set out in the NAP.


The Afghan NAP is an important document for the women of Afghanistan. The country continues to suffer terribly as a result of the conflicts and atrocities by the Taliban, local warlords, and armed groups, as well as international and regional terrorist groups. Women are a target group for all these perpetrators of violence, not least because they are considered to be agents of change and therefore a threat to existence of the war and insurgency altogether.

As the country is moving towards reforms and improving institutional capacities, moreover, the role and contributions of women should not be ignored. The NAP, if implemented properly, will enable a relatively positive inclusion and participation of women into the national processes for peace building and democratic changes.

The key challenges in the process have been two-fold: first, the NAP lacked an inclusive drafting process, producing a document that lacks clarity around timeline, implementation plan, and impact measures, and which does not include an established baseline assessment; and, second, the NAP lacks connection between local people’s efforts around peace building and community engagements.

As outlined above, there are other concerns around implementation that are preventing the realisation of the ‘many dreams’ recorded in the NAP. These challenges pose great concerns for successful implementation of the WPS agenda. As a first priority, however, the budget and the implementation plan need to be finalised by the government so that implementation can begin. The government needs to ensure that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a central coordinating body, has the required capacity and the political will to ensure that all relevant actors are part of the implementation processes and a clear reporting procedure should be devised to inform the public on the results.


1. While the Afghan NAP is already developed and adopted, and the implementation plan is not yet public, it is important for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to engage a larger group of experts, activists and women at the local level in the implementation plan. This group should be able to prioritise the objectives and indicators that can be achieved during the first NAP phase, which is active until 2022.

2. The budget and the costing for new activities under the NAP should be finalised as soon as possible since it is already late; Afghanistan was supposed to start the implementation of the NAP in the second half of 2015. The budget could include the prioritised activities and indicators for the next 5 years.

3. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affair should re-activate the Steering Committee meetings and the Technical Working Group meetings to coordinate the implementation of NAP-related activities. These activities are currently being undertaken by government agencies and civil society organisations but are not recognised as part of the official Afghan NAP budget and costing procedures. These are off-budget activities for NGOs and civil society organisations.

4. Besides the official representatives of the government agencies in these groups and meetings, a number of women’s organisations, activists, and experts need to be included so they provide technical advice as well as more reliable updates about the realities on the ground in areas that are not accessible to government officials.


This is paper 10/2017 in the LSE Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series.

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About the author

Wazhma Frogh is the founder of the Women and Peace Studies Organization in Afghanistan.