Climate Change is a Women’s Human Rights Issue

New European Recommendation aims to prevent and combat sexism

Christine Chinkin, Professorial Research Fellow and expert advisor to the Drafting Committee, introduces the new Council of Europe Recommendation on preventing and combating sexism.

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Sexism is ‘rampant throughout Europe’ on-line and in everyday public and private life. It is everywhere, its pernicious consequences are felt throughout society, yet there has been no internationally recognised definition of sexism, nor any international instrument dedicated to combating it. This was the starting point of the negotiation and adoption of the Council of Europe   Recommendation CM/Rec (2019)1, Preventing and Combating Sexism, which was adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 27 March 2019. The Recommendation comprises three short articles and an Appendix that sets out detailed Guidelines. This post highlights just some of the contents of the Recommendation and Guidelines.

The Recommendation calls for member States to ‘take measures to prevent and combat sexism and its manifestations in the public and private spheres’, to monitor progress in implementation and inform the competent Council of Europe steering committee(s) of measures taken and to ensure its dissemination. In contrast to the brevity of the Recommendation, the Preamble and Guidelines are rich in their depiction of the realities of sexism and sexist behaviours, including humiliation, reducing choices, and contributing to social and structural inequalities and violence.

The Guidelines provide a definition of sexism that fills a gap in international instruments and merits careful attention.  It is broad in scope. In essence it covers acts, gestures, words, practices, behaviours that are ‘based upon the idea that a person or a group of persons is inferior because of their sex.’ These behaviours must have the ‘purpose or effect’ of negatively impacting upon a person or group of persons in one or more of five different ways. The definition thus follows that of discrimination in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) article 1 by encompassing both subjective (‘purpose’) and objective (‘effect’) sexist behaviours and consequences, for example causing harm or suffering (whether physical, sexual, psychological or socio-economic), violating a person’s inherent dignity (subjectively experienced), creating a hostile environment, or maintaining gender stereotypes (objective consequences).

The Preamble and Guidelines together locate the Recommendation alongside and in conjunction with other international instruments including CEDAW, the European Convention on Human Rights and jurisprudence of the European Court, the Istanbul Convention and other recommendations of the Council of Europe.  In language reminiscent of the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women the Preamble recognises sexism as ‘a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men’ and that its persistence in public and private spheres impedes gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. It thus makes clear that States have a positive obligation under international human rights law and, for States Parties, under the Istanbul Convention, to tackle sexism.  Indeed although adopted later in time, in many ways the Recommendation serves as a prequel to these instruments in that it locates sexism on a continuum of behaviours that begins with unconscious bias and the ‘everyday sexism’ of supposedly harmless jokes and comments, continues through gender stereotypes and gender inequality and may end with deliberate targeted behaviour including gender-based violence and even death. This last may be deliberately inflicted or self-inflicted by victims who find themselves silenced and their self-esteem shattered by the manifestations of sexism they have endured.

Although sexism is experienced disproportionately by women and girls, it is important to recognise that men and boys are also subjected to it. Like the Istanbul Convention the Recommendation recognises that other intersecting factors render people especially vulnerable to violence and sexism, including intersex and trans persons who face ‘additional and/or enhanced challenges with regard to sexism.’  Identifying and tackling sexism and sexist behaviours is thus beneficial for all members of society.

The Guidelines especially emphasise the harmful nature of gender stereotypes, which are both at the core of sexism and reinforce it. In this too the Recommendation amplifies earlier provisions, notably CEDAW article 5 and Istanbul, article 12. The CEDAW Committee has fleshed out article 5 explaining how relying upon gendered and thus discriminatory stereotypes has contributed to human rights violations including domestic violence and women’s access to justice.  The GREVIO has stressed the need for ‘early preventive measures such as changing social and cultural patterns of behaviour of women and men, eradicating prejudices and gender stereotypes, and measures to involve all of society, including men and boys, in achieving gender equality and prevention of violence against women’. In similar vein the Recommendation explains that women and men who challenge gender stereotypes may be confronted with sexism and for women, misogyny.

The Recommendation is intended as a practical guide to States and other actors in how to combat sexism at the three levels where it is perpetuated and experienced: the individual, the institutional (e.g. family, workplace, educational settings) and structural (e.g. societal gender inequalities). It therefore suggests both general tools and those specific to certain contexts where sexism is most prevalent, or likely to occur. A number of the latter are identified:  language and communications; the Internet, social media and online sexist hate speech;  media and advertising, the workplace, the public sector, the justice sector education institutions, culture and sport and the private sphere. Each of these is explained and illustrations given both of the manifestations of sexism and of good practices in response.   It seeks maximum flexibility for States in choosing the tools most appropriate to the particular situation but just as sexist behaviours occur on a continuum so too must be State responses. Tools include legislation, training and education programmes, awareness raising, incentives to change behaviour, non-criminal sanctions such as withdrawal of public funding and even, in extreme cases, criminalisation.

Confronting sexism and sexist behaviours, especially in the private sphere is likely to be controversial and difficult to measure. Like CEDAW General Recommendation 35 on violence against women the Recommendation identifies new sites where sexism and sexist hate speech occur and are aggravated by the potential for wide dissemination, including the Internet and social media. Although these offer spaces for promoting freedom of expression and gender equality they also allow perpetrators to engage in abusive behaviours. Artificial intelligence carries the risk of furthering gender bias in a new sphere.  But the Recommendation is firm in its conviction that promotion of gender equality in all such programmes is essential to close gender gaps and help to eliminate sexism. It also gives attention to the need for resources – for research, for initiatives, for supporting a designated responsibility for monitoring and evaluating policies and measures for the elimination of sexism in public and private life.

The Recommendation has been adopted at an especially timely moment. On the one hand campaigns such as #MeToo have raised consciousness of the unacceptability of sexist behaviours and the presumed entitlements of patriarchy while on the other there is push-back against gender awareness and women’s rights. As a Recommendation it is not legally binding (although the reservation of the Russian Federation indicates that country’s unwillingness to accept the concept of gender and concern about the Recommendation’s potential impact). Nevertheless the Istanbul Convention followed Recommendation Rec (2002)5 on the protection of women against violence. Perhaps this Recommendation too will prove to be the start of a process that culminates in a further legally binding treaty tackling the sexism that undermines peaceful societies.

The blog is prepared under the auspices of the ERC funded Advanced Grant on a Gendered Peace.


About the author

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads three major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC, ‘Gendered Peace’ funded by the ERC and the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub.

In pursuing a new resolution on sexual violence Security Council significantly undermines women’s reproductive rights

Louise Allen and Laura Shepherd explore the complex politics of Resolution 2467.

UN Security Council, 22 April 2019

Outside of a relatively specialised circle of policy experts and advocates, negotiations over UN Security Council resolutions don’t usually get a lot of coverage in social and mainstream media. Resolution 2467, adopted on 23 April 2019 to become the ninth resolution to be adopted under the title of ‘Women and peace and security’, was somewhat different in this regard. Discussions in news and social media began days before the resolution was due to be tabled (at the annual Security Council open debate on sexual violence in conflict). These focused on whether the language in the draft resolution about sexual and reproductive healthcare for survivors of wartime sexual violence could be protected,  while attempting to strengthen accountability for sexual violence in conflict,  in the face of serious opposition, primarily from the USA. As it turned out, it could not. Here, we argue that resolution 2467, and the circumstances of its adoption, gives all of us who are interested in the Women, Peace and Security agenda reason to be very concerned about the future of the agenda and the preservation of the small and hard-fought victories that it can reasonably claim.

This latest development, which few within the WPS community have rushed to applaud, also needs to be considered with the 20th anniversary of the agenda’s inception being now just over a year around the corner. With this comes the certain likelihood that another text will be considered at this milestone, as was the case in 2015 and in 2010. While resolution 1325 was the result of a groundswell of advocacy by women civil society around the world, today’s calls emanating from women’s organisations, especially those from conflict and post-conflict affected countries, are not for another Security Council resolution. Advocacy efforts are predominantly focusing on the implementation of and accountability for the commitments enshrined in the eight – now nine – already adopted.

It is frustrating that this relentless and uncompromising pushback by the US should have come as any surprise to the Security Council. In October last year it was revealed that the Trump administration was working to remove the word ‘gender’ from UN documents as part of its strategy to undermine the recognised human rights of transgender individuals. In March this year, the administration was accused of trying to further dilute international women’s rights standards as they relate to sexual and reproductive rights at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

This proved to be an unsurmountable challenge for Germany, representatives of which had been advocating for a resolution during its presidency since October 2018. While there was varying support among Council members for stronger accountability measures and a survivor-centred approach to sexual violence in conflict, the compromise necessary to achieve this related to the very issues the USA has increasingly been rallying against. In pursuing this resolution even after key components had already been reportedly taken out during the negotiations, Council members made a calculated decision that removing sexual and reproductive health for women who had been raped in conflict was justifiable. However, the very pursuit of the resolution came at significant costs for the same individuals who the resolution was intended to bring justice for as well as for the WPS agenda.

The resolution represents a compromise on language about women’s rights to sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) that had already been negotiated and agreed upon by the Council. Inserted into the Preamble of resolution 1889, operative paragraph 19 of resolution 2106 (adopted in 2013) gives some substance to the Council’s provision in this sphere:

Recognizing the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence (S/RES/2106, 2013, para. 19).

It sets a dangerous precedent for the agenda that the Trump administration was essentially able to hold the resolution hostage through threat of veto until representatives could secure a commitment to a watered-down, reduced version of this language for resolution 2467. After several further last minute cuts requested by Washington DC, 2467 makes no direct reference to SRH. The only reference to previous resolutions is in the first preambular paragraph which lists all eight WPS resolutions, but these are not mentioned in the context of SRH.

This squabble over a few words might seem insignificant. But the words are not there, and the words matter, because the words of each resolution represent the negotiated and agreed upon commitments of the Council at the time. Further, the absence of SRH language must be read through the lens of the Trump administration’s continued war on women, which began early in the administration’s tenure with the reinstating of the Mexico City policy, better known as the ‘global gag rule’. Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum on the Mexico City policy a couple of months into his presidency, suggesting that it was a matter of some priority for his administration. The policy institutes a ban on federal funding flowing to international family planning institutions that offer, among other services, advice and counselling on abortion.

The impact of the revival of the global gag rule is devastating. One report by Human Rights Watch ‘found the policy has triggered reductions in key sexual and reproductive health services from well-established organizations that cannot easily be replaced’. In Kenya and Uganda, as a result of reduced funding, organisations are having to choose between providing vital medications to people living with HIV/AIDS or counselling and access to safe abortions in an environment in which such access is not assured and in which women and girls are dying from unsafe procedures.

The likelihood of the Trump administration holding women’s reproductive rights hostage in negotiations about a new WPS resolution was always high, given the administration’s track record in this area. The smart play might well have been to put the agenda into maintenance mode. As those closely involved with the agenda have noted, there are many commitments that are still yet to receive sufficient support and funding for implementation. This raises the question, then, of why a ninth resolution was sought at all and where does it leave a tenth?

Given the last few days, before even thinking of now a tenth resolution, careful consideration is needed to identity what progressive additions could feasibly be agreed to in this current climate, which genuinely reflect the identified needs and priorities of women living and working in conflict affected countries. It is also crucially important that states which call themselves friends of the agenda mount an iron-clad defence around the normative developments secured inch by inch over the last two decades and beyond.


About the authors

Louise AllenLouise Allen (@AllenLouiseA) is a Global Gender, Peace and Security Consultant and an experienced women’s rights and women, peace and security advocate. She has worked alongside women, Indigenous and refugee human rights defenders and civil society in Australia, in the Pacific and at the UN both in Geneva and New York. From 2014-September 2018, she was the Executive Director of the New York-based NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.

Laura ShepherdProfessor Laura J. Shepherd (@drljshepherd) is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Professor of International Relations in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Much of Laura’s research focuses on the Women, Peace and Security agenda, and she has published widely on related topics, including violence prevention, civil society participation in peace and security governance, and militarism.

The gendered impact of the conflict in Iraq on IS-affiliated women

Saagarika Dadu and Marie Forestier explore ways in which gender identities and norms continue to be shaped by violence in Iraq, asking questions on structural inequality and gender stereotypes. 

Hamam al Halil camp © Karam Abdulrazzak Yaseen

Noor, 20, has lived in Hamam al Halil 1 camp south of Mosul, with her mother, her sister and her nine-month-old baby since early 2017. She previously lived with her husband in Mosul under ISIS control, eventually fleeing the military offensive while her husband stayed behind. She has not heard from him since. He might be dead but is legally considered missing until his body is produced. Noor’s father forced her to marry this man when she was 15. She had no say in this marriage, as she would have had no say in her husband’s ideological choices.

In the eyes of Iraqi authorities, Noor is considered an ISIS sympathiser because of her husband’s suspected affiliation. As a consequence, Noor faces rejection by her community as well as various restrictions and discriminative practices that often leave them open to abuses. Among them are obstacles that prevent Noor from renewing her ID documents, which would be the first step to be able to leave the camp and have some level of freedom of movement. She also cannot return to Mosul because her house was destroyed by pro-regime militias who now prevent her from returning because she is perceived to be affiliated with ISIS.

Noor’s condition today is in part determined by her being a poor, displaced woman, with no means to support herself as well as an attached stigma of being perceived as ISIS-affiliated. Her individual case and many others reflect how the narrow notion of gender in Iraq has maintained patriarchal oppressive structural hierarchies and how the myriad historical socio-cultural obstacles that women face are only further exacerbated by conflict and the post-conflict punishment of insurgent-affiliated communities by heavy-handed national governments.

Through interviews conducted with women perceived as being ISIS-affiliated in Iraq, we raise questions on the ways in which gender identities and norms continue to be shaped by violence in Iraq, manifest in the daily lives of poor, single and displaced women. It also explores how structural inequality and gender stereotypes are underlying realities that are only exacerbated by the impact of conflict for women.

An anthropological overview of gendered vulnerability in Iraq pre and post-ISIS.

ISIS in Iraq was defeated territorially in the fall of 2017. Iraqi authorities don’t distinguish between ISIS members, their wives, people who were forced to live in ISIS-controlled areas because escaping would have put their lives at risk or those who didn’t commit any crime. The Shia-majority government considers the whole Sunni community -from which ISIS members and sympathizers stem – as complicit with ISIS rise and despite its victory, remains deeply suspicious of it. Hardened by the toll of more than three years of fighting and dreading ISIS come back, Iraqi authorities have frequently – and often arbitrarily – arrested suspected ISIS potential affiliates and kept Sunni families from former ISIS-control areas in camps, where restrictions turn these camps into de facto detention camps.

While ISIS members’ foreign wives have drawn a lot of attention, the fate of Iraqi women hasn’t emerged as an issue in the post ISIS conflict. Perceived ISIS-affiliated women who used to live in areas under their control have been displaced since and while some live in urban areas, the majority live in camps, alone, without a male relative often supporting children. Perception of Iraqi women ISIS-affiliation is drawn solely from their husband rather than their own individuality. They are unable to divest of an identity imposed on them by society.

The necessity to be accompanied at all times by a male relative has been a socio-cultural reality for women in Iraq since before the conflict with ISIS. Then and to this day, it is male relatives – a father or a husband – that provide a woman with her identity, protection, livelihood and medium of interaction with the outside world. Even without the added layer of being perceived as ISIS-affiliated, a number of women post-conflict have found themselves in displacement with their children and having to negotiate government bureaucracy and security apparatus to claim basic rights and sustenance. To be perceived as ISIS-affiliated only excludes them further from public life, and alienates them from a political system that does not recognize them unless they are with or can prove association with a husband or a father.

Women’s identities not their own, but determined by their gendered roles

To address the perception of affiliation and alleviate repeated security questioning and administrative struggles, the only solution Iraqi authorities have offered to Noor and other women is the possibility to officially “dissociate” or divorce from their husbands, even if he is dead or missing. Discrimination against perceived ISIS-affiliated women is merely based on their marital status that ends up defining them entirely. The options to dissociate or divorce based on an assumed perception of ISIS affiliation, yet again takes away a woman’s choice. The compulsion to have to go through a dissociation or divorce process, in a society that is so heavily prejudiced against women bringing domestic matters in the public domain, whether or not a woman actually wants to dissociate with her husband is the place that many women are finding themselves in.

Even more disturbingly, in addition to being divorced, perceived ISIS-affiliated women from Shirqat, a town west of Kirkuk, reported being asked to abandon their children in camps as the condition for the local militias to allow them to return to their hometown.

Conditions regarding divorce or to abandon children violates international law. CEDAW’s Article 1 prohibits discrimination on the basis of women’s marital status. It also stands in contradiction with the Women Peace and Security agenda, adopted by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, that requires States to protect women in conflict and post-conflict contexts and highlights ‘the special needs of women and girls for rehabilitation, resettlement, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction.’

But above all of this, the greatest impact of these imposed injunctions are on these very vulnerable women and their children that the Iraqi government has pledged to protect and support. In their attempts to reconstruct the country, they have, however, not only co-opted historical socio-cultural norms without fully understanding how these were exacerbated during the conflict but have invariably aggravated them through ill-conceived and myopic policies.

Collective discrimination versus individual responsibility

Still, these discriminatory policies are not inevitable. While they reflect a political choice, Iraq has committed to gender-sensitive policies and even has the tools to implement them. Iraq is the first middle-eastern country to have adopted a National Action Plan, launching it in February 2014. It includes as a strategic objective to “ensure the enjoyment of equal access of women and men to resources and opportunities during the transitional period”. These provisions, adopted voluntarily by the Iraqi government, provide a solid ground to oppose discriminatory and marginalising practices. It should be used as a stepping stone to reverse the restrictive gender identity shaped by the conflict with ISIS and minimize the impact it has had on women.

About the authors

Saagarika Dadu (@semtokha) is a researcher working on humanitarian and development affairs. She is currently Director of Programs at Proximity International, an applied research, monitoring and evaluation organisation. Saagarika’s latest article, “Migrant rights in an age of international insecurity: Exploring the narratives of protection and security in European migration and refugee law.” was published in the Refugee Law Initiative’s Working Paper series 29 in December 2018.

Marie Forestier (@MarieForestier) is a researcher and a journalist focusing on the impact of conflicts on civilians, especially women. She has worked with NGOs, academia and media in Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Mali, Iran and on Syria. Marie is a former visiting fellow at the LSE Centre for Women Peace and Security, where she researched sexual violence in Syria.



How new technologies are violating women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

Christine Chinkin and Madeleine Rees consider the scope and content of International Law at the intersection of new technologies, violence against women and war. 

Saudi women arrive at a mosque in Riyadh. Hassan Ammar/AP/Global Citizen

Saudi Arabia’s denial of women’s rights is blatant, despite its hypocritical accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2000. Its apparent impunity from widespread condemnation for its apartheid-like policies and practices with respect to women by states such as the US and UK rests on its geo-strategic importance in the global neo-liberal economic system, most particularly its status as an oil producing and weapons importing state. These countries continue to license export of billions of pounds of arms to Saudi Arabia despite the latter’s leading role in the coalition against anti-government forces in the war in Yemen (see House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper). The UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Yemen has reported that coalition air strikes have hit ‘residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and medical facilities’ causing ‘serious concerns about the targeting process applied by the coalition’.  In face of the growing and related humanitarian disaster in Yemen, UK ministers have seen ‘no political justification’ for suspending or withdrawing arms sales, although the House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations has called the  UK arms sales unlawful and that ministers are not checking  their use. The similar situation in the US would, in the words of Donald Trump, hurt the US more than Saudi Arabia.  The murder of a single journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, apparently merited more concern about arms sales– although now muted – than the deaths of thousands of Yemeni civilians, or the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi women have now become the target of a new form of weapon – the google app, Absher, which is owned and operated by the interior ministry of Saudi Arabia and allows men to track women’s movements including across borders. It has unsurprisingly been greeted with widespread outrage by feminists, human rights bodies and some politicians because of its evident violation of women’s rights to freedom of movement and association, and also, we argue, the right to be free from gender-based violence. In its concluding observations to Saudi Arabia the CEDAW Committee noted ‘with concern’ male relatives who bring legal claims against “disobedient” female dependents fleeing domestic violence and the frequent ‘forceful return by law enforcement officials of fleeing women to their abusers.’ This app would make fleeing abuse even harder. While not as evidently a weapon as typhoon combat aircraft and associated systems, or the conventional weapons used to subjugate women – knives and guns – the app means that women experience the psychological violence of unremitting exercise of control over their bodies without limitations of time or space.

The UN Security Council in its women peace and security agenda has recognised that sexual violence can constitute a tactic of war and a tactic of terror that constitutes a threat to international peace and security (see UN SC Resolutions 1820, 2008; 1888, 2009; 2106, 2013; 2242, 2015). This formulation was welcome acknowledgment that conflict-related sexual violence can be deliberate, systemic and structural but has also been criticised for being too narrow. It fails to take account of the multiple forms of sexual violence, its gendered nature, including its occurrence against those perceived to have deviant sexual or gender identity, or its incidence across the continuum from peace through to armed conflict. The conjunction of use in Saudi Arabia of both conventional weapons of war against Yemeni civilians and this app highlights the connections between foreign and domestic policy, war and peace, and the need for a broader understanding in international law of weapons and their regulation.

The CEDAW Committee has made some moves in this direction in its General Recommendation No. 35  Without foreseeing the precise contours of such an app the Committee has asserted that gender-based violence against women is affected and often exacerbated by technological factors (as well as cultural, economic, ideological, political, religious, social and environmental factors) as evidenced by ‘the increased globalization of economic activities, including global supply chains, the extractive and offshoring industry, militarization, foreign occupation, armed conflict’.  It also notes that gender-based violence against women can result from ‘the acts or omissions of State or non-State actors, acting territorially or extraterritoriality, including extraterritorial military actions of States, …, or extraterritorial operations of private corporations.’ The applicability of both the listed exacerbating factors and extraterritorial activities to the Saudi Arabia situation is striking – the extra-territorial activities of Google and the extra-territorial application of the app where a Saudi woman goes abroad, as well as the omission by the UK to determine the use of the weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia, “there is no tracking of the use of arms supplied by the UK”.

The multiple issues of state responsibility are complex. The UK denies legal responsibility for violations of international humanitarian law that result from the use of UK supplied arms. Under the general law of state responsibility Saudi Arabia is responsible for its own international wrongs, war crimes and acts or omissions that constitute gender-based violence or result in gender-based violence or other violations of women’s human rights carried out by its own agents, whether at home or abroad. Thus the CEDAW Committee has expressed its concern that Saudi Arabia ‘is responsible for violations of the rights of Yemeni women and girls’ both through indiscriminate air strikes and the life-threatening levels of malnutrition and disease.  It might also be argued that just as violations of human rights committed by a private security company engaged by a state to provide security or military support are attributable to the state, Saudi Arabia should be responsible for an international wrong through the use of this app to reinforce control over women in accordance with its state policy. Further, the state is also responsible for its failure to exercise due diligence to prevent and protect women against violations of their human rights by non-state actors – the men using the apps and again, potentially, Google. Google too may be complicit in the violation of women’s rights. In General Recommendation No. 35, the CEDAW Committee insists that “States parties are required to take the steps necessary to prevent human rights violations perpetrated abroad by corporations over which they may exercise influence, whether through regulatory means or the use of incentives, including economic incentives.”

Technological advances may also of course provide benefits to women; the app may, as Google claims, make it easier for Saudi women to travel, to escape from the immediate physical control of male relatives or law enforcement officials. But this is at the cost of never being free from that virtual control. The app must be seen in the broader context of the continuum of violence by the state and by non-state actors with the complicity of the state through weaponisation, commodification of women and the securitisation of movement – to track suspected terrorists, extremists and fleeing women. Saudi Arabia benefits both from the reluctance of western states to jeopardise their economically valuable relationship with that state and by the fragmentation that allows armed conflict, arms sales, access to oil, gender-based violence against women, freedom of movement and commercial development and use of technology to be regarded and regulated (if at all) in separate silos and not understood as a continuum of violence to uphold patriarchy and inequality.

About the authors

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads three major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC, ‘Gendered Peace’ funded by the ERC and the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub.


Madeleine Rees, OBE is a British lawyer and current Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.




Data on gender, WPS, and why counting women is not good enough

Rob Nagel introduces his working paper on what we know and don’t know in terms of quantitative data on gendered violence, women in armed groups, and the WPS agenda. 

Systematic data and research © via Pexels

The United Nations frequently calls for more women in their peacekeeping operations to improve effectiveness, heralding women’s role in peace processes and claiming that more women means better peacekeeping. Other international actors such as the Council on Foreign Relations, International Civil Society Action Network, UN Women, and the International Peace Institute have made similar claims about women’s participation in peace processes contributing to a narrative that if only we included more women (or only women, if we bring this to its logical conclusion), peace processes would be more effective and durable.

These claims, at times inaccurate, exaggerated, or plainly incorrect, are nonetheless instructive. They invoke an essentialist image of women as more peaceful, which resonates with donors. It’s an opportunity for governments and organizations to virtue-signal how progressive they are, “look we are including women”, without addressing hierarchical systems of oppression in which issues of class, gender, and race are often inseparable. Quantitative data take a particular role in this and receive deferential treatment; after all who would argue against statistics? This deferential treatment and over reliance on quantitative data often results in problematic use of the underlying data and leads to inaccurate representations of facts in favour of a stylized narrative. As a result these claims have engendered pushback from scholars on a wide methodological spectrum including quantitative researchers sceptical of the importance of gender analysis.

This is problematic for a number of reasons: it marginalizes qualitative research; it undermines the important normative issues of women’s inclusion and gender equality; it undermines the good quantitative work that does exist; it fails those tasked with drafting, advocating for, and implementing evidence-based policies; and it fails those meant to benefit from these policies.

Having spent my PhD using quantitative methods to examine questions on the nexus of gender and conflict resolution, I grew slightly frustrated with these claims, the problems they raise, and the apparent disconnect between existing research, popular narratives, and public policy. So I was extremely grateful when Paul Kirby asked if I had any interest in contributing to the LSE WPS Working Paper Series. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try and bridge these gaps.

In my Working Paper, I provide a short overview of what we know and don’t know in terms of quantitative data on gendered violence, women in armed groups, and the WPS agenda. I first discuss data on societal gendered violence and conflict-related sexual violence, highlighting both advances and areas for further improvement. Unfortunately, I finished my paper before Shanna Kirschner and Adam Miller’s article on peacekeeping and sexual violence was published and couldn’t include it in the overview. Spoiler: they find that peacekeeping missions limit the prevalence of sexual violence and reduce the overall chance that armed actors perpetrate sexual violence.

The second part of the paper examines what we know about women’s participation in armed groups, before I briefly discuss what we know about women’s participation in national militaries. What stands out is the lack of comprehensive data on women in national militaries. It is an incredible gap in our knowledge about women’s contributions to national defence and war fighting.

In the section on the Women, Peace, and Security nexus, I provide an overview of the quantitative data on issues linked to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, such as gender mainstreaming, National Action Plans, and increasing women’s participation in different aspects of peace processes, in particular peacekeeping, negotiations, and peace agreements.

In the Working Paper I also confront the limitations of quantitative data using the example of the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (SVAC) dataset. Having worked as a research assistant for SVAC and other data projects, I know that, despite researchers’ best intentions, conflict-related data are always estimates – at best incomplete, at worst politically motivated. Compiling and coding data made me reflect on these inherent problems more than reading or writing could have ever done. I am convinced that if we want to ensure honest, ethical, and responsible use of data, then anyone using quantitative data should spend some time grappling with the challenges and decisions associated with collecting and coding data. It is humbling.

For more, including a look at potential future research projects, challenges, and a few pointers on best practices when collecting and interpreting quantitative data, read my Working Paper: ‘The Known Knowns and Known Unknowns in Data on Women, Peace and Security’ Robert Ulrich Nagel, LSE WPS Working Paper Series 19/2019


About the authors

Robert Ulrich Nagel (@RobertUNagel) is a PhD candidate in International Conflict Analysis at the University of Kent. He was also a research assistant on the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (SVAC) project run by the Peace Research Institute Oslo and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.



Are we asking the right questions? Reframing peace and security

Reflecting on the LSE Library exhibition ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and a public conversation with Madeleine Rees and Louise Arimatsu, Christine Chinkin questions the basis on which we talk about war, conflict and women’s experiences.

The LSE library currently has an exhibition Give Peace a Chance: From the League of Nations to Greenham Common.  Much of the exhibition traces the history of women’s peace activism from the creation of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in 1915 to the founding of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1957 and the establishment of the Greenham Common Peace Camp in the 1980s.

Unknown member of WILPF, 1930s

On display are written records, photographs, including of those indomitable women founders of WILPF and items, such as the wire cutters that were used at Greenham.  Inspired by the exhibition, the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project co-hosted a public event in the form of a conversation between the current Secretary-General of WILPF, Madeleine Rees, Louise Arimatsu and myself. It took place against the backdrop of a picture of the women who convened in The Hague in 1915 to protest against the war, to ask how it could be brought to an end and to share their insight that war could never be made safe for women.

Turning to the picture Madeleine remarked that she was always looking over her shoulder to those amazing and somewhat stern looking women, worrying if she was doing the right thing by them, whether WILPF was realising their intrepid start in  ‘working for peace by non-violent means and promoting political, economic and social justice for all.’ Her comment led us to ask other questions including whether the different lived experiences of men and women in conflict meant that different questions were asked and what important implications followed. For example, in the lead up to World War II Virginia Woolf responded to the question ‘how in your opinion are we to prevent war’ not with an answer, but with another question drawn from women’s lived experience: ‘Why fight?’

At the end of World War I the women of WILPF would have found this to be the right question. At Zurich in 1919 they expressed their deep regret that the terms of the peace ‘should so seriously violate the principles upon which alone a just and lasting peace can be secured’, that is militarism as a way of thought and life, the privatised arms industry and recourse to war rather than dialogue. Perhaps the question should be reframed: ‘why maintain the means to fight?’

The war had further divided women whose unity over seeking the vote had already been broken by the crucial question of the use of violence; violence at the instance of the state was rejected by the women founders of WILPF who were clear that there could be no reason to fight. Indeed the support to the war effort given by many women who had been active proponents in the struggle for the vote is illustrative of what happens when a feminist movement is hijacked by militarism and nationalism and women are co-opted by the patriarchal structures of power to provide legitimacy and support to men’s wars. We saw this repeated pattern again in 2001 when the invasion of Afghanistan was presented as good for Afghan women. (And indeed, the rationale behind the engagement in the first place- which it so obviously was not). The Taliban was undoubtedly inimical to women’s rights but it takes a mind-set imbued with militarism to move to supporting military action, which is invariably bad for women. Nearly two decades later Time magazine could call Afghanistan ‘the Worst Place in the World to Be a Woman.’ And the US is now negotiating ‘peace’ with the Taliban, whilst women struggle to find ways into the process. No change!

Following World War II the question at the diplomatic level at Geneva was again focused on how war could be fought safely, or at least how to minimise unnecessary harm, although this was limited with respect to women to the single provision in Geneva IV protecting them from rape in international armed conflict. In 2000 WILPF members asked the Security Council to take account of women’s experiences in war. Again what is the right question? Is Security Council Resolution 1325  ‘a real instrument of peace capable of development’? Or is it one that through the guise of women’s protection sets up ‘conditions tending to produce war’?. What is lost by again asking how women can be protected in war rather than how war can be prevented? Madeleine remained true to her WILPF predecessors. Women, she said, had been sold out by Resolution 1325, which, even as it was being negotiated, moved away from its human rights and feminist origins. For instance the language of disarmament was omitted, there is no commitment to economic and social rights and militarism remains squarely within the Council’s ambit but is parked outside this Resolution, except impliedly in the presumed use of military means by ‘good’ men to protect women from ‘bad’ men. We achieved other goals, in particular recognition of the need for women’s meaningful participation in decision-making about conflict and in field operations to prevent further violence. But this has been poorly implemented and moreover presupposes participation in the pre-existing structures that are themselves not challenged. Again we are asking the wrong question. We should not ask how the participation of more women in peace-making processes and peacekeeping missions can be achieved but rather participation in what? In the structures of patriarchy? And how can those structures be transformed to deliver a sustainable, feminist peace? Feminists need to reclaim the discussion, to reject structures that are not fit for our purposes and seek to bring like-minded states and men on board. That this is possible  is shown by the campaign for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It took more than five years to engineer with countless interventions in multiple fora including a brilliant performance by a WILPF representative  who spent almost two hours at the UN General Assembly responding to questions by States, eloquently denouncing nuclear weapons and vividly describing the impact of their use.  The Security Council will never agree but the General Assembly can move to isolate those countries that support weapons of mass destructions and who will not even comply with their obligation under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty to ‘to pursue negotiations in good faith … on general and complete disarmament.’ Getting the Nuclear Treaty proves that the language of militarism can be rejected in favour of that of humanitarianism, environmentalism and life.

But what about gender? How do we collapse the gender binary between women and men and further binaries between ‘good’ men and ‘bad’ men, (and who decides who are the good and who are the bad?) female victims and male perpetrators of violence, ‘straight’ persons and those defined (and targeted ) by their sexuality and gender identity. And the binaries of law: non-intervention and intervention, aggression and self-defence, right and wrong, peace and war. Legal categories maintain the lines of authority and power and create obstacles which prevent us from moving forward. Instead we need to see the fluidity between the multiple inter-related factors that go into the fault lines leading to conflict – neo-liberal economics and the policies of the international economic institutions, imposed identities, the structures of power. We need to look beyond the toxic masculinity sustained by militarism and see the men supporting women, helping others, listening to their consciences and resisting war. We need to ask these men, women, children, gay men and lesbian women what they want and what steps need to be taken to achieve their goals. The current Security Council WPS resolutions are framed around the wrong questions. In the 20th anniversary year of Resolution 1325 in 2020 feminists must seek to ensure that the Council is asked the right questions in the drafting of any follow up Resolution.


About the author

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads three major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC, ‘Gendered Peace’ funded by the ERC and the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub. 

Integrating a gender perspective into commissions of inquiry

Following a workshop coordinated by the Gendered Peace project, Louise Arimatsu and Sheri Labenski reflect on some existing challenges to integrating a gender perspective into commissions of inquiry.  

UN Human Rights Council, Geneva © United Nations via Flickr

On 21 January, the LSE’s Centre for Women, Peace, and Security hosted a workshop coordinated by the ‘Gendered Peace project‘  (and funded by the European Research Council) that brought together a group of international scholars, practitioners and experts to explore ways in which commissions of inquiry and other fact-finding missions [hereinafter CoIs] might more effectively integrate a gender perspective into their outputs. The impact that CoIs can have is significant.  They have the potential to assist in mapping conflicts; documenting violations; designing the content and trajectory of peace processes, accountability and transitional justice mechanisms; and facilitate post-conflict transformation in furtherance of peace and security for all. Undertaking a robust and holistic gender analysis is therefore of critical importance if the potential of such reports are to be fully realised.

Surmounting binary framings and preconceptions

For at least a decade, the UN system has recognised the importance of, and need for, integrating a gender perspective into investigations and reporting both to advance the Security Council’s WPS agenda [S/2011/598, para 69] and to enhance the protection of women’s human rights. To further these objectives, dedicated gender experts have been appointed to guide and assist CoIs in fulfilling their mandate; training has been provided; and significant efforts have been made to develop guidance and practice documents on integrating a gender perspective into monitoring and investigating human rights violations.

But, notwithstanding these measures, there is a propensity on the part of CoIs to engage in gender analyses that are unduly narrow in application and static in approach.  Part of the problem lies with the fact that, all too often, ‘gender’ is still used interchangeably with ‘women’.  Not only does this reintroduces a binary logic that the very term ‘gender’ was intended to displace but it reduces ‘gender’ to a descriptive rather than analytic term. For example, the tendency to equate sexual and gender-based violence [SGBV] with violence against women [VAW] automatically forecloses the door to interrogating the ways in which gender identities and norms shape, and are shaped by, violence and of how gender identities are grounded in relations of power that are deeply implicated in such violence. Interpreting SGBV simply as violence that is perpetrated against women and girls not only functions to elide the violence directed against others by virtue of their gender but risks the re-production of shallow narratives that portray women as the perpetual victim and ‘other’ men as the perpetual violator in conflict and translates into recommendations that are increasingly concerned with addressing impunity at the expense of locating state responsibility for human rights violations.

It’s not easy

The need for CoIs to document SGBV in all its manifestations must remain a core component of their work. That we are still far from where we should be is demonstrated by the stubborn gap that exists between aspiration and practice in spite of the international community’s preoccupation with addressing impunity for such crimes.  But the point is that CoIs have the opportunity to provide input that goes far beyond collating facts that contribute towards individual accountability for specific offences in conflict, important though that is.  In fact, a robust gender analysis would enable CoIs to expose how particular structural and systemic conditions contribute to the commission of such crimes in the first place and even shed light on why accountability for sexual violence against women and girls remains so elusive.

Applying a gender analysis is not an easy task. As Cynthia Enloe observes, it is a skill that one has to learn, practice, finesse and readjust through a process of constant critical self-reflection: “to develop gender analytic skills, one has to put one’s mind to it, work at it, be willing to be taught by others who know more about how to do it than you do. And, like any sophisticated skill, gender analysis keeps evolving, developing more refined intellectual nuance, greater methodological subtlety. …it takes myriad forms of energy to do gender analysis and to convince others of its necessity.” [Women & Wars]  The failure to recognise the intellectual complexity of what a gender analysis demands, means that opportunities for securing trans-formative change, including the ability to challenge existing discriminatory distributions of power, are being squandered.

To equate gender with women is to miss the point.  Gender needs to be understood as a way of differentiating, ordering, hierarchically structuring relations and symbolizing power through the male-female binary [C.Cohn,3]. As a form of hierarchical structuring, gender operates to normalise particular distributions of power through political, economic, social, cultural, military and legal institutions and practices between and within categories of people and always operates with other hierarchical forms of structuring power including, for example, class, race, ethnicity and sexuality.  A gender analysis thus demands CoIs to interrogate how gender is implicated in sustaining violence, in maintaining oppressive structural hierarchies, in consolidating the unequal distribution of resources and to register how, in armed conflict, pre-existing inequalities are heightened and manifest themselves in different forms and alter over time.

It would be amiss to convey the impression that there is not already good practice out there. As my colleagues point out, the report issued in March 2018 by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic sets a benchmark for how a gender analysis of SGB crimes, when freed from a binary frame, can provide a more nuanced understanding of how the complex and ever transmuting web of intersecting interests, structural inequalities and the political economy of the conflict are deeply implicated in the creation and preservation of the material context that makes SGB crimes not only possible but inevitable.

Uncomfortable readings

Is it fair to point the finger at CoIs for failing to fully integrate a gender analysis into their reporting?  After all. the institutionalisation of fact-finding now means that CoIs are constantly reminded of ever shrinking budgets and confronted by stricter timelines and word caps while the pressure to deliver results increases.  Against this backdrop, identifying individuals and armed groups to hold responsible becomes an attractive option. Of course the consequence of selecting facts framed by the prospect of international criminal prosecutions has the damaging effect of eliding other forms of gendered violence (including, for example, intimate partner violence) and human rights violations experienced on a daily basis in conflict.  These latter everyday harms speak to the lived realities individuals face in times of conflict and in many cases affect women and girls in unique and pervasive ways.

Although CoIs often acknowledge the different impact that conflict has on women and girls, men and boys, institutional constraints have functioned to limit fact finders from delving more deeply to inquire into individual stories and experiences, to uncover the different patterns of gendered harm that surface in particular contexts and not to dismiss them as an unavoidable reality of conflict and to undertake a meaningful gender analysis that can begin to account for why such violations occur. Such analyses would provide states with alternative entry points but they are equally likely to make for uncomfortable reading. That’s because a gender analysis of any conflict will redirect attention to a far broader array of actors and to the interests that keep the global war economy in business.


About the authors

Dr Louise Arimatsu

Dr Louise Arimatsu is Distinguished Policy Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she works on the AHRC project ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ and the ERC project ‘Gendered Peace’. Her current research projects include ‘A Feminist Foreign Policy’ and ‘Women and Weapons’.


Dr Sheri Labenski, is a Research Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace, and Security, where she works on an ERC funded project Gendered Peace.

Inter-American Court reaches landmark decision on torture and sexual slavery

Christine Chinkin, Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana and Keina Yoshida with the first in a series of posts analysing Lopez Soto and Others v Venezuela, a ground-breaking case concerning gender based violence in Venezuela.

Linda Loaiza López Soto giving evidence at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights © Inter-American Court of Human Rights


In a series of posts we provide a summary and analysis of the ground-breaking case of Lopez Soto and Others v Venezuela. This first post provides a brief overview of the facts and sketches out the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. A second post provides an analysis contextualised more broadly within the international women’s human rights framework. A third post looks specifically at the Court’s decision on sexual slavery in the broader context of the legal framework on trafficking. We have written this series together as part of the feminist methodology of collaboration.

The complainant, Ms Linda Loaiza López Soto, is lawyer and human rights defender who has fought for 14 years to obtain justice for herself, her family and for women in Venezuela, where there are incredibly high levels of violence against women and impunity for those acts. For example, Venezuela is currently ranked 101 on the Gender Inequality Index and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has expressed its deep concern “that violence against women and girls is widespread and on the rise”.

The decision is currently only available in Spanish, and became public on Friday 16 November, 2018. It forms part of the growing corpus of the Inter-American Court’s important jurisprudence on gender-based violence against women and girls (VAWG) following decisions such as Campo Algodonero (Gonzalez v Mexico), Penal Castro Castro v Peru, Rosendu Cantu v Mexico and Velasquez Paiz v Guatemala.

The decision is the first against Venezuela on the issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG). It is also the first decision to find a State responsible for torture and sexual slavery perpetrated by a so-called ‘private actor’. As such, the reasoning of the Court in relation to these aspects is especially significant.

The Facts

When Ms Lopez Soto was 18 years old she was kidnapped, held captive, continually raped, tortured and kept in conditions of sexual slavery over a period of almost 4 months (27 March until 19 July 2001). She was threatened by her assailant with a firearm and moved from place to place, from hotels to apartments. As well as physical violence and sexual abuse she suffered multiple other forms of violence, including psychological, verbal and cyber-abuse as he forced her to perform sex acts on camera. The perpetrator told her that he had powerful connections and that he would never be arrested for these acts. He also posed as her partner and explained any resistance on her part as ‘domestic’ or presented them as ‘relationship difficulties’.

On 19 July 2001, Ms Lopez Soto was able to escape. In addition to her horrific injuries, she testified to further continued suffering at the hands of the State. It took the authorities 5 hours to provide her with medical assistance during which time she remained in the apartment where she had been held fearing the perpetrator’s return (she had managed to attract attention while he was away). Ms Lopez Soto underwent 14 surgeries for the injuries that he had inflicted. Police investigations were from the outset inadequate as they favoured the account of her assailant – a person of high social standing – and his false assertion that she was a “prostitute”. Over the next 5 years, the complainant fought to obtain justice including going on hunger strike. Despite all her efforts, a drawn out judicial process failed to convict her assailant for sexual violence, thereby impugning her credibility and leaving her without remedies for an integral part of the violence that was perpetrated upon her. This process was plagued by irregularities and tainted by gender stereotypes, explored further in our second post.

The case was also brought by members of the complainant’s family. At the time, Ms Lopez Soto’s sister had immediately and repeatedly reported her absence to the police, but the authorities did not admit any complaint in relation to her disappearance, on the basis that the assailant was ‘her partner’. The police had both the name and telephone number of the kidnapper and yet nothing was done to protect her from the months of violence that she would suffer.

On 2 November 2016, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights referred the case before the jurisdiction of the court.

Decision of the Court

The unanimous Court found that Venezuela had violated a plethora of Ms Lopez Soto’s rights under the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights; the Convention of Belém do Pará and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Rights violated were:  to juridical personality, to personal integrity, the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments; the prohibition of slavery, to personal liberty, to a fair trial, dignity, autonomy and private life; freedom of movement and residence; to judicial protection and equality before the law, all in conjunction with the State’s obligation to respect and guarantee the rights without any discrimination as well as the obligation to adopt domestic provisions.

The Court also concluded that the State had violated her family’s rights to personal integrity due to the uncertainty experienced and the treatment that they received at the hands of the State.


An important part of the Inter-American Court’s jurisprudence relates to its decisions on reparations, which are binding upon the State party and more substantial and transformative than the jurisprudence of the European Court on Human Rights. The Court ordered inter alia, the State to carry out an effective criminal process to punish those responsible for the torture and sexual violence that Ms Lopez Soto suffered; pay financial compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, create a national database on violence against women, carry out legislative and institutional changes, perform a public act in recognition of its responsibility for violations of international law and adopt and implement protocols on investigation of violence against women.

The reparations go beyond just satisfaction in pronouncing the violations, making it clear that Ms Lopez Soto and her family must be provided with medical and psychological support for the harms they have endured, by professionals of their choice. This is important since many organisations have highlighted the re-victimisation of victims by services which are only provided by the very people who have abused them or have caused trauma. The reparations are also transformative in the sense that they order the State to provide Ms Lopez Soto with a scholarship so that she can finish her professional education in a local or foreign university to which she gains admission. The Court also ordered the State to create an educational programme under Ms Lopez Soto’s name to be taught in the national curriculum.


This is yet another ground-breaking decision on state responsibility for acts of gender-based violence against women by non-state actors from the Inter-American system. In the second part of this blog we will provide an analysis of some of the key sections of the Court’s reasoning specifically in relation to the sexual slavery and torture. These are the most significant parts of the judgment with regards to their importation to the VAWG landscape.


Read more

Further information on the case is available in English on CEJIL’s website. Information about other landmark cases concerning acts of gender-based violence against women can be found on the LSE WPS ‘Tackling Violence Against Women’ Resource site.

About the authors

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads two major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC and ‘Gendered Peace’, funded by the ERC.


Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana is a Spanish human rights lawyer who specialises in human trafficking, violence against women and sexual and reproductive rights. She is managing attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide.


Dr Keina Yoshida (@intlawninja) is a Research Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security and a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. As part of the Feminist International Law of Peace and Security project Keina is researching the links between the environment, the Earth, the gendered causes and impacts of violence against women, and structural inequalities in the context of international legal conceptions of peace and security.


Special Rapporteur on Trafficking urges human rights approach and integration with the WPS agenda

Christine Chinkin and Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana analyse the latest report from the UN trafficking expert, and find reason and opportunity for a more joined up approach to tackling trafficking of women and girls.

Heat map of human trafficking activity across the world. By DARPA graphic

Last year the Centre for Women, Peace and Security published a Working Paper that reflected upon the interplay between the different international legal regimes that have evolved for combatting gender-based violence against women, in peacetime and in conflict, and human trafficking. The report presented to the UN General Assembly on 26 October 2018 by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and girls, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (SR), built upon some of the arguments in urging states to adopt a human rights approach to trafficking and for its integration with the Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. The SR emphasises the gendered dimensions of trafficking in persons and its disproportionate impact upon women and girls in conflict and post-conflict. She notes that while the number of male victims of trafficking has significantly increased over the past decade, women and girls make up 51% and 20% of trafficking victims respectively. Women and girls are disproportionately subject to trafficking for sexual exploitation, which, when committed in conflict, can constitute conflict-related sexual violence. Nevertheless, recognition of trafficking as a gendered phenomenon has only been slowly acknowledged.

Since the adoption of Resolution 1325 (2000) the UN Security Council has considered sexual violence against women and girls in conflict as a threat to international peace and security. In its subsequent WPS resolution 1820 (2008) the Council affirmed that effective measures to prevent and respond to sexual violence as a tactic of war can ‘significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security’ and demanded that ‘all parties’ to armed conflict protect civilians against such violence. The Council has also addressed human trafficking, (Resolution 2331 (2016); Resolution 2388 (2017), and has identified the relationship between trafficking, sexual violence in armed conflict and terrorism, all of which threaten international peace and security. But it has failed to integrate this understanding with its own WPS agenda. This disconnect undermines a holistic approach towards combatting trafficking in persons, conflict-affected sexual violence and gender-based violence against women, crimes that in the lived experiences of women are often interlinked and not easily separated. It also casts doubt on the Council’s awareness of debates around the continuum of sexual violence across war and peace, as well as its multiple conflict-related manifestations outside those of certain terrorist groups, which are the primary focus of the resolutions on trafficking.

In contrast the SR recommends the integration of trafficking into the WPS agenda to complement ongoing anti-trafficking efforts at the global level, including those of the Security Council. This tactic reinforces the importance of human rights in tackling human trafficking: WPS is in essence a human rights, not a security, agenda, the SR is a human rights mandate and trafficking of women and girls constitutes a violation of their human rights and gender-based violence against women. Under human rights law states must exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish violence against women and accord appropriate reparations to its victims. Most states however perceive human trafficking through a criminal law, immigration and/or security lens that gives little attention to their human rights obligations.

Integrating human trafficking into WPS allows for a breakdown of appropriate responses under the four pillars of prevention, protection, participation and relief and recovery. The SR provides examples under each of these heads as well as practical recommendations. For instance under the prevention pillar she elucidates that conflict is systematically and systemically linked with the risk of being trafficked; this risk should be routinely taken into account from the very onset of conflict and immediate preventive measures introduced. Another constant consequence of conflict is the vulnerability of displaced and fleeing persons to trafficking. She suggests that IDP and refugee camps establish a registry of all persons residing in the camp as a protective measure against disappearance in conjunction with facilities for immediate and secure reporting of missing persons to allow for prompt investigation. Delay reduces the probability of a successful outcome to any such investigation. (Cottonfield; Guatemala). Most fundamentally, given the intersection between trafficking and other forms of violence against women, preventative anti-trafficking measures are to be considered ‘both as life-saving interventions and as being aimed at preventing violence against women.’

The need for consultation with women is captured by the WPS pillars for protection and prevention, as well as for participation. The SR emphasises its importance in the context of trafficked women observing that a widespread failure to recognise the connection between conflict and trafficking as a form of conflict-affected sexual violence means that it is often overlooked during conflict and is omitted from peace processes and planning for post-conflict reconstruction. But survivors of trafficking can make significant contributions to designing and implementing anti-trafficking programmes that are essential to breaking the cycle of violence that impedes a sustainable gendered peace. Women can provide insights into the local economy and assist in programme for reduction of the economic dependency that underpins further vulnerability to trafficking. Victims of trafficking can work with others to raise awareness of the predatory post-conflict economy that fuels demand for trafficking and to establish community-based protective networks. Effective programmes for relief and recovery with informed input from trafficked persons and a gendered approach toward access to and delivery of economic and social rights are described as ‘essential’ to long term recovery. Failure to develop and implement such policies lessens the likelihood of achieving stability and human security post-conflict (including food, health, gender and physical security) that are crucial elements in the prevention of extremism and trafficking.

The same is true of land reform. Access to land and livelihoods are frequently understood as post-conflict economic reconstruction rather than as aspects of combatting conflict-related sexual violence and its continuation in post-conflict. The SR describes the connection between conflict-related sexual violence and the forcible seizing of land, mines and natural resources that leads to forced displacement and enhances vulnerability to being trafficked. Victims are subjected to sexual exploitation and forced labour in illegal mines, and become economic commodities in the male dominated extractive industries that are operated by non-state actors outside the protection of the state. In seeking further research into the linkages between conflict-related sexual violence, trafficking, dispossession of land, exploitation of natural resources and of women, the SR expresses concerns in common with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on conflict-related sexual violence. The latter also explains how sexual violence is used strategically to grasp control of land and resources, destroying the physical and economic security of displaced women and making socioeconomic reintegration vital to relief and recovery. The SRSG urges the Security Council to address the nexus between trafficking in persons and conflict-related sexual violence. Her mandate stems from Resolution 1888 (2009) thus strengthening the argument for integration of these currently separated agendas. The CEDAW Committee too has explained that trafficking is exacerbated during and after conflict and that conflict-affected areas constitute places of origin, transit and destination for trafficking (CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 30). Taken together these expert opinions facilitate ‘joined up thinking … grounded in international law and a rights-based and victim-centred approach that is focused on the prevention of gender-based violence and the protection of women and girls from such violence in situations of armed conflict, displacement and post-conflict settings.’


About the authors

Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads two major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC and ‘Gendered Peace’, funded by the ERC.


Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana is a Spanish human rights lawyer who specialises in human trafficking, violence against women and sexual and reproductive rights. She is managing attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide.