Human trafficking and the women, peace and security agenda

Recognition of trafficking of women and girls as a form of violence against women and of its incidence in conflict brings the issue implicitly into the WPS agenda. Christine Chinkin introduces her working paper, which explores this latest disruption of the traditional boundaries in the international legal regime.

In the year since the Centre for Women, Peace and Security’s Working Paper Series was launched a consistent theme has been the interaction of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS)  agenda with other contemporary issues of international affairs, for instance refugee and migration flows, transitional justice processes, sexual orientation and gender identity and examining the silence around violent women. These papers have shown the potential of WPS to become a comprehensive agenda for addressing the ways in which gender impacts upon conflict, and conflict impacts upon gender. My paper International Human Rights, Criminal Law, and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda continues this trend by examining the relationship between these legal regimes in the context of human trafficking.

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

The WPS agenda provides a normative framework for addressing the experiences of women in armed conflict, notably prevention of and protection against ‘all forms of violence against women and girls’ (Security Council Resolution 1325, 2000). WPS is not the first international regime for combating gender-based and sexual violence against women and girls; rather it supplements other specialised international legal regimes, notably International Humanitarian Law (IHL), International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and International Criminal Law, each with its own language, objectives and processes. While institutionally separate the overlapping nature of these legal regimes has blurred conceptual boundaries and distinctions between conflict and peace. In 1993 the World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna asserted that: ‘Violations of the human rights of women in situations of armed conflict are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law’ (para 38.) This disruption of the traditional divide between IHL and IHRL supports the notion of a continuum of violence against women between that occurring in ordinary everyday life – peacetime – and that taking place in armed conflict and its aftermath.  In so-called post-conflict violence against women ‘does not stop … and often increases.’ (CEDAW Committee, General recommendation No. 30, para 35).  The separation of crimes against humanity from warfare (Rome Statute, article 7) likewise serves to emphasise the reality of violence across all situations whether termed ‘war’ or ‘peace’.

While the WPS resolutions have incorporated these regimes, another older legal regime for regulation of a particular manifestation of gender-based violence has not been brought explicitly into their scope: human trafficking, especially of women and girls. And while 1325 was ‘conceived of and lobbied for as a human rights resolution that would promote the rights of women in conflict situations’ (p 15) the international fight against trafficking has been primarily through the processes of criminal law enforcement. The Palermo Protocol – the principle legal instrument for combating trafficking – was a product of the UN Crime Commission, not the (then) Human Rights Commission. In response, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights produced Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking that put the human rights of trafficked persons ‘at the centre of all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking. The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, especially women and girls has emphasised that the concern of human rights is not just to ensure that the rights of victims are respected but that human trafficking is understood as ‘a gross human rights violation’. Trafficking in women and girls also constitutes gender-based violence and creates vulnerability to further forms of such violence – rape, sexual abuse, sexual slavery, harassment (para 7).

Bringing sexual violence against women as a tactic of war within the Security Council’s responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security (Security Council Resolution 1820) and urging a range of measures upon member states and UN agencies securitised such violence and in effect privileged such victims over others who have also been subject to gender-based or sexual violence outside this framework. The security focus of WPS has been sharpened by the recognition that sexual and gender-based violence are ‘part of the strategic objectives and ideology of certain terrorist groups, used as a tactic of terrorism’. States are accordingly called upon to integrate their WPS agendas with those for countering terrorism and violent extremism (Security Council Resolution 2242). This additional politicisation and securitisation of WPS has the potential to move it ever further away from the transformative human rights agenda of the civil society advocates of Resolution 1325. The same has happened with human trafficking. In 2016 the Security Council addressed human trafficking in armed conflict for the first time. (Security Council Resolution 2331, see also Resolution 2388). It recognised the association between conflict-related human trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and that addressing trafficking in conflict is part of countering violent extremism and the terrorism.  The Council condemned trafficking in conflict areas and called upon member states to take measures, primarily with respect to criminalising and prosecuting trafficking in the context of armed conflict, and to investigate, disrupt and dismantle trafficking networks in this context. The resolution’s scope is on all armed conflict but its emphasis is on trafficking, terrorism and violent extremism. Human trafficking has long been politicised, by its association with prostitution, with people smuggling and migration flows, and now with terrorism and extremism. As with WPS the Security Council has created a hierarchy of victims, as victims of trafficking in this context are to be treated as victims of terror, eligible for official support and redress. This recommendation does not extend to persons made vulnerable to being trafficked through fleeing from conflict or violence, or to those who have no secure migration routes because of strict border controls and security policies.

Recognition of trafficking of women and girls as a form of violence against women and of its incidence in conflict brings trafficking implicitly into the WPS agenda. This could mean the application of the WPS pillars to trafficking, including women’s participation in decision-making about trafficking. Trafficking has long attracted greater allocation of funding than other forms of violence against women; if such resources were pooled and directed towards trafficking within a WPS framework it could provide a co-ordinated and strengthened human rights-based response.  While the importance of combating violence against women and human trafficking is self-evident, linkage with the countering terrorism and violent extremism agendas threatens the integrity of combating those crimes and seeking the empowerment of women for their own sake and not for the advancement of other political priorities.  This conjunction of legal and policy regimes could strengthen the rights-based approach to human trafficking urged by the human rights institutions, although ensuring that neither trafficking nor WPS are subjugated to the security imperatives of the Security Council remains imperative.

Read more: International Human Rights, Criminal Law, and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda


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.

A new economic model gives fresh hope for gender equality

In her second post Lisa Gormley further considers the possibilities in Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’ to create a more just world.

In my last post I reflected on two publications: ‘Exposing the gendered myth of post-conflict transition’ by my colleagues from the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, Christine Chinkin and Madeleine Rees, and ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth. Together these works give some analysis of why neoliberalist priorities, particularly the demands of austerity, are wrong-headed. Instead, States should invest more human and financial resources in the implementation of human rights. Kate Raworth advocates for this investment so that climate change is effectively addressed. In this post, I look at how ensuring gender equality fits into these proposals for change.

Margaret Douglas

Portrait of Margaret Douglas of Strathendry. By Conrad Metz (1749-1827), via Wikimedia Commons.

In ‘Doughnut Economics’ Kate Raworth tells the story of Adam Smith and his mother as an example of the invisible, unacknowledged work of women. The economist lived with his mother, Margaret Douglas, while writing the Wealth of Nations. She kept house for him and provided him with all his meals – she had also raised him as a single mother. He so took this burden of work discharged by a woman for granted – even though it sustained his ability to do his work – that he did not reflect on such a role in economies in his book. Kate Raworth emphasises that this mainly unpaid, mostly female role of sustaining households should not be invisible, but a core economy which makes every other part of the economy work. It prepares people who are, each day, healthy, well-fed, clean and ready for work.

Kate Raworth asks: “Why does it matter that this core economy should be visible in economics?”

Because the household provision of care is essential for human well-being and productivity in the paid economy depends directly on it. It matters because when – in the name of austerity and public-sector savings – governments cut budgets for children’s day-care centre, community services, parental leave and youth clubs, the need for care-giving doesn’t disappear: it just gets pushed back into the home. The pressure, particularly on women’s time, can force them out of work and increase social stress and vulnerability. That undermines both well-being and women’s empowerment, with multiple knock-on effects for society and the economy alike.

This core economy is manifested differently in low and middle income countries:

In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, time spent in the core economy is particularly visible because, when the state fails to deliver and the market is out of reach, householders have to make provision for more of their needs directly. Millions of women and girls spend hours walking miles each day, carrying their body weight in water, food or firewood on their heads, often with a baby strapped to their back – and all for no pay.

Some 10 years ago, I saw Kate Raworth presenting a lecture on gender and development, with film footage of a woman doing just this kind of arduous physical work all day: she comes home towards evening and lies down on a mat on the floor of her hut, and then comforts and breastfeeds her child with incredible tenderness. I have never seen anyone before or since look so utterly exhausted.

What is in common in all situations, developed, developing, peacetime, conflict and post-conflict is “work in the core economy is unpaid, it is routinely undervalued and exploited, generating life-long inequalities in social standing, job opportunities, income, and power between men and women.”

Kate Raworth shows that economies are run for the benefit of the few who wield power already, with the result that those without power – mainly women – exist in increasingly difficult economic circumstances. Christine Chinkin and Madeleine Rees identify this problem as “how the patriarchy is fed by, and has fed into, neo-liberalism.”

Christine Chinkin and Madeleine Rees look closely at the problem of the failure to ensure political power of women and girls in the particular situation of post-conflict societies, that peace talks are the domain of men who have used violence. The Security Council’s agenda on women, peace and security, emphasises the importance of women’s human right to participate in national and international leadership, and calls for more women to be included in peace talks. Christine Chinkin and Madeleine Rees argue that the idea “not to cast women as natural peacemakers but to assert that inclusivity and diversity [is] logical. In conflict, the reality is that there is a relative minority who support violence as a means of resolving societal differences, but that minority is rewarded in the processes of both conflict and peace. The nonviolent masses who provide alternatives are always the ones dictated to by the minority. The constituency for transformative change lies with the majority; providing the mechanisms and means for them to play that role must be a basic premise of the post-conflict engagement.”

Kate Raworth identifies international legal requirements relating to gender equality as a tool towards the achievement of well-being of all humanity whether in conflict, post-conflict or peacetime. ‘Public health, education of girls, access to reproductive health information and health services are the most effective way to ensure that everyone can live above the social foundation within the safe confines of “the Doughnut.”’

Kate Raworth, Christine Chinkin and Madeleine Rees make large-scale analysis and proposals for change. Such change is necessary for the well-being of all, as well as the sustainability of our planet. For the implementation of human rights a transformation is necessary: of existing attitudes towards gender roles, who undertakes the work in the core caring economy, and whose voices should be raised in leadership. Ensuring gender equality is necessary for this change to take place. With these distinctions between the genders eradicated – or at least, made anew, so that differences do not lead to disadvantage – the possibilities are endless, for human and humane potential.

Christine Chinkin and Madeleine Rees imagine these new possibilities are put into practice:

Gender equality requires a reassessment of […] stereotyped roles and values. It would ultimately erode the very concept of the biological distinction and therefore the discrimination that flows from that.

Read the first post in this series: ‘We must move beyond neo-liberalism to justice for people and planet‘. Kate Raworth will be speaking at LSE on Thursday 23 November, in ‘Doughnut Economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist’.

About the author

Lisa GormleyLisa 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’.

International Women’s Day 2017: Moving forward in a time of uncertainty and upheaval

Since the first celebration of International Women’s Day, the fight for women’s rights has seen many milestones – the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the establishment of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, an international commitment to achieve gender equality by 2030. However, recent setbacks in the United States and United Kingdom have sparked widespread concern that this progress is under attack. Professor Christine Chinkin and Dr Louise Arimatsu reflect on a time of uncertainty and remind us to keep focused, moving forward together in solidarity.

Image of suffragists' parade down Fifth Avenue, 1917.By The New York Times photo archive, via Wikimedia Commons

International Women’s Day (IWD) was first celebrated in 1911 when over a million women and men around the world participated in public rallies and marches calling for a range of reforms including the right of women to work, to vote, to hold public office, to end discrimination.  Over the last century there has been significant progress on all these fronts and more.  Yet, in January 2017 – the day after President Trump’s inauguration – an estimated 5 million protestors worldwide felt compelled to take part in the Women’s March united by the common concern that recent setbacks to the progressive realisation of women’s rights in some parts of the world had become more immediate and widespread.

These concerns were well-founded.  On his first full day in office, the new President reinstated the Mexico City Policy, colloquially known as the ‘global gag rule’, which strips USAID funding to any organisation that ‘performs or actively promotes abortion as a method of family planning in other nations’.  The decision (which is feared to extend beyond previous restrictions) was widely condemned and described by the European Parliament as ‘a direct attack on and a setback for gains made for women’s and girl’s rights’ prompting it to call for Member States to significantly increase sexual and reproductive health and rights funding to protect women’s access to birth control and safe and legal abortion.  Trump’s decision to reinstate the policy was not unexpected. After all, ever since the measure was first introduced under Reagan in 1984, nearly every new President has reversed their predecessor’s actions.  But today, we are far better informed and we know the shocking costs extracted by this particular policy on women in some of the most deprived regions of the world.  Moreover, the fact that a woman’s fundamental right to her bodily autonomy continues to be used as a political football is a shameful indictment of our culture in the 21st century and reveals the embeddedness of patriarchy in what is ostensibly one of the most progressive societies in the world where women’s rights are concerned.

The Trump Administration’s first month in office has been a turbulent one.  Many of the pre-existing divisions at national, regional and international levels have been exacerbated and new schisms have emerged.  In a political environment characterised by uncertainty and instability, to what extent the Administration’s isolationist rhetoric founded on a populist anti-global/anti-plural sentiment will translate into deeds is difficult to predict.  The US Administration is not alone in its aversion towards the global.  The UK too has embarked on a trajectory rejecting the multilateral European project, born of the horrors of the Second World War, in favour of a unilateralism founded on the myth of sovereignty.  In both countries, the retreat to the domestic is fuelled by and fuels ever greater calls for the closing of borders and for increased security for some at the expense of others thereby normalising the exclusion and marginalisation of the most vulnerable. This new predilection to look inwards bodes badly for the future of the UN Security Council’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda which has, since its inception in 2000, been actively supported by these two permanent members of the Council, united by a shared internationalist and inclusive vision.

By VOA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The possibility that both the UK and US will choose to relinquish their role as the standard bearers of women’s rights globally – including as strong advocates of the WPS agenda – makes it even more vital that public pressure is applied on each to remain actively engaged and committed.  In the UK there are many demands that can be made and ways to express them. For instance, while welcoming Teresa May’s announcement of a wide consultation pending new laws to enhance the prosecution of domestic violence, we must continue to remind the Government of its abject failure to ratify the Istanbul Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, despite a promise to do so made on International Women’s Day, 2012.  We must continue to demand that the Government actively promotes women’s rights globally and that, notwithstanding the change in Administration,  DFID will continue to pursue a regular dialogue with ‘USAID, State Department and US-based international NGOs with regard to improving access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, which includes reducing recourse to unsafe abortion and improving access to safe abortion services [following sexual violence in armed conflict]’ as it claimed to do in June 2016 in response to the House of Lords Select Committee Report on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict.  We should demand that the UK lead by example and take a leading role in establishing and contributing to an international fund to finance access to birth control and safe and legal abortion to fill the financing gap created by Trump’s gag order.

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, the organisers of the Women’s March are once again calling on women everywhere to show our solidarity and this time through the act of striking.  Not everyone will feel comfortable doing so and many will be unable to do so.  To deprive society of women’s labour – paid and unpaid – is to draw attention not just to the traditional power imbalance between the employer (public or private) and the worker but rather to the patriarchal power structures that permeate all societies.  It is a radical act but no more radical than that taken by those who participated in the peaceful public protests in 1911.

About the authors

Dr Louise Arimatsu is Visiting Senior Fellow and member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security.


Christine ChinkinProfessor Christine Chinkin FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law and founding Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security.


1000+ days of #BringBackOurGirls – reflections on the possibilities of social media and girls’ human rights

On 14 April 2014, 276 girls were abducted in Chibok, Nigeria. As news of the abduction spread, people around the world took to social media to demand action to ensure the girls would be brought back safe. Lisa Gormley discusses the importance of transforming activism on social media into concrete action.

By Ivory (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

8 January 2017 marked 1000 days since the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. Despite international outcry and huge publicity via the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, 195 girls remain in captivity almost 3 years later.

In recent weeks and months I have exchanged views with Aisha Yesufu and Sesugh Akume, who support the families of the girls. I asked about media interest when #BringBackOurGirls first became international news, and the continuing struggle of the families. I asked them for their views about what real international solidarity means to them, and what concerned people around the world can do to support others in difficult situations in ways that are acceptable and empowering.

Sesugh told me: “The world loves trends as our attention spans are low especially in this 21st century with its complexities. So after a while most people moved on, but the issue remains, as the pain. The most fundamental thing about solidarity in this context is empathy, putting oneself in the place and position of others especially to feel what they’re feeling. Would you be quiet if your daughter went missing? What would you do? What would you want others to do? [These] are the questions to ask, provide answers, and act on. The point about international support being acceptable and empowering is clearly understood. However, when there’s genuine compassion, it is known and felt. That’s what’s most important. Any form of solidarity and/or support coming from this is acceptable and can’t be misunderstood. People are constantly asking if they can do this or that. It’s fine. Others go ahead and do it without asking. All those have been very meaningful.”

In a recent interview on Al-Jazeera, Aisha described the kidnapped girls as “world citizens” – they were exercising their human rights to seek an education, like any other child or adolescent.

This description adds to our feelings of empathy.  Education is a non-negotiable human right.  All of us want an education, for ourselves or for our children. Ensuring education for girls without discrimination leads to better outcomes for all – for families, communities and states, as well as girls themselves.

It seems to me that social media can also be an expression of empathy – that sometimes a social media event takes off, people read about and understand the situation and really do care – but often it is not clear what sort of action should be taken, so people “share” on social media to get more involved, to share their concern and in the hope that the message comes to the attention of someone who can actually do something to change the situation. Using social media for campaigning to claim human rights is especially empowering for women and girls – it allows female activists to speak out publicly and directly, whereas previously, media outlets and most campaigning organisations tended to controlled by men. Of course, the internet has been used to threaten and abuse women human rights defenders, politicians and journalists, and this needs addressing, but the potential benefits for feminist sharing of information and feminist organising are enormous. How can we take these expressions of concern about women’s and girls’ human rights on social media, and transform these messages into action and results in the world?

Sesugh told me:

“Letter writing works. Writing letters to the Nigerian government and making it public that you did so. Writing to your MP asking them to persuade Number 10 and Whitehall to persuade the Nigerian government to take the matter more seriously and also to provide help where they can…  Such letters coming from outside Nigeria would have an effect at another level, likewise the solidarity ones.  In our experience, marches and amplifying what it is what want via press releases kill multiple birds with one stone. It provides content for social media which mobilises society and keeps everyone abreast, the traditional media, and the government because it appears sometimes they don’t know what to do.”

As a diverse community of feminists around the world, we are still thinking through what the Women’s Marches of 21 January have meant, that global patchwork of protest and what can be created next. In that process, I suggest that we continue to reach out to each other and keep up the pressure on those in power, so that our long-standing demands for change in different places around the world are reinforced and amplified – not forgotten. We still need to #BringBackOurGirls.


About the author

Lisa GormleyLisa Gormley is a Research Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security. Lisa 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. Lisa’s latest major writing project – a Practitioners’ Guide on Women’s Access to Justice for Gender Based Violence was published on International Women’s Day 2016.


Did sexual orientation and gender identity play a role in the rejection of the Colombian peace deal?

Jamie J. Hagen, author of our second Women, Peace and Security working paper discusses the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) groups in the Colombian peace process. Was the rejection of the deal by an initial referendum influenced by traditional gender politics to a greater degree than has been thus far acknowledged? And what lessons can be learnt for the Women, Peace and Security agenda at large?


Gay rights march in Colombia, credit Colombia Diversa

The Colombian peace process is the first ever to include LGBT groups. Yet local religious leaders arguing of foreign influence lashed out against the landmark inclusion. This narrative of “outside influence” is a common obstacle faced by those engaged in today’s gender wars. Promoting LGBT rights as human rights in many countries is running right up against the colonial legacy of Western countries as well as religious resistance.

After the Colombian peace deal was rejected by a narrow margin in a popular referendum I, along with so many others, had to ask why. Because I study the WPS architecture I was particularly curious to know: What role did the inclusion of LGBT issue play in the rejection of the Colombian peace deal? What will this anti-LGBT backlash mean for those who risked fighting for inclusion of LGBT people? Of critical concern as I ponder these questions is how to move forward towards peace with those made most vulnerable by the political climate post-referendum.

The international community has fought for women’s inclusion in the peace process for over a decade. UN Women conducted a global survey of women’s participation in peace agreements and found only 4% of signatories to peace processes are women. Organizations like Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) mobilize globally for the inclusion a gender perspective to better understand conflict, highlighting how women’s livelihoods, security, reproductive options, human rights as all impacted by conflict. Historically these same groups fall short of extending the same analysis to understanding how LGBT people experience conflict. A narrow definition of “women” has neglected to include lesbian, bisexual and transgender women or LGBT rights organizations in this struggle until now.

Most initiatives for women and gender in conflict have focused on addressing sexual violence. Rather than as negotiators for peace and members of a post-conflict society, women are typically only discussed in passing as victims of violence. But nearly 40% of FARC combat forces were women. The Colombian peace negotiations created a Gender Subcommission to ensure a more substantive inclusion of gender in the process. The subcommission of 18 people from various civil society organizations was also vital to the creation of the first-ever National Commission of Indigenous Women as well as greater communication between civil society and the security sector.

What’s happening in Colombia may look familiar to people in the United States too. A similar framing of “traditional” ideas about women and the family surfaced in conversations about LGBT equality in both countries. Be the issue abortion, sexual orientation, or wearing a hijab, topics of gender politics trigger larger debate about power, politics and progress.  Yet this call to “traditional” values by political and religious leaders neglects the lived experiences of LGBTI communities now and in the past. And the anti-LGBT backlash faced when legal gains are made should also look familiar. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Colombia this year. Similar to the backlash in the form of anti-trans laws in the United States, conservative Colombian’s are pushing back against these gains.

For greater insight into what is happening on the ground with LGBTQ individuals I reached out to PhD Candidate Cesar Sanchez-Avella who explains the reaction within Colombia to the language about gender in the accord that, “although there is no explicit mention of the notion of ‘gender ideology’ within this text, it is subtly hidden behind expressions such as ‘enfoque de género’ [gender focus], ‘identidad de género’ [gender identity], ’valores no sexistas’ [no-sexist values], and ‘población LGBT’ [LGBT population], among others related to women and gender studies.” Sanchez-Avella continues, “When these religious leaders are asked if the inclusion of the LGBT population as victims of the armed conflict worries or bothers them, they answer that even when they love LGBT people, and acknowledge their suffering, LGBT should not be mentioned as a different population, arguing that their issues as victims, and also the issues of women, can be solved if (nuclear and heterosexual) families are included as the main victims of the armed conflict, assuming that LGBT people are always part of a ‘natural’ family.” Although the referendum failed, peace negotiations continue with talk of a new peace deal.

Nevertheless, much was revealed by the role gender played in the derailment of the peace agreement in Colombia during the popular referendum. Disagreements over sexual orientation and gender identity ultimately played a key role in the social perception of the peace deal after four years of negotiations between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.

This discussion of “gender ideology” goes beyond the struggle for peace in Colombia.  There are violent consequences of xenophobic and homophobic behaviour by political and religious leaders.  The bodies of LGBT individuals are on the frontlines of the gender wars around the globe.  Some of these people are stepping forward as evidenced by the civil society engagement in Colombia’s ongoing peace process. Local organizations such as Caribe Afirmativo place LGBTI issues front and center in resolving the harms met by those who have suffered over five decades of war. In a piece in the NYTs about the anti-LGBT backlash Marcela Sanchez, director of Colombia Diversa, notes how disappointing it is that people should be more frightened by homosexuality than war. In a recent exchange e-mail Sanchez made it clear that LGBT inclusion in the peace agreements is currently at risk.

Colombia should serve as an indication of what to expect in the future if gender equality is to be a part of peace and security efforts, and peace negotiations specifically. It is not enough for those charged with gender equality work in conflict resolution to implicitly address sexual orientation and gender identity.  The future of global peace and security for LGBTQ individuals requires bold, loud and ongoing support for local LGBTQ organizations, and the central engagement of queer and trans voices.

About the author

hagenJamie J Hagen is a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston in the Global Governance and Human Security programme. Jamie authored the second in the Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as Part of the WPS Project. She can be found on Twitter at @jamiejhagen.


From Haiti to Kosovo, it’s time for the UN to accept legal responsibility for its human rights violations

Ban Ki-Moon’s apology for the role of the UN in the cholera outbreak in Haiti, reignited the debate on the need for the UN to recognise its legal responsibility for human rights violations.  Louise Arimatsu and Christine Chinkin suggest that the UN’s failure to accept legal responsibility for the human rights violations of its mission in Kosovo threatens the credibility and legitimacy of the organisation. 

In a statement to the United Nations General Assembly on 1 December 2016, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologised for the role of the UN in the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti that has claimed over 9,000 lives and has left a further 780,000 Haitians infected by the disease. The carefully worded apology acknowledged the UN’s failure to take decisive measures to halt the “spread” of the disease in Haiti. However, no mention was made of the more pertinent point – that the most likely source of the epidemic was the UN peacekeeping force deployed there following the earthquake in January 2010. Equally disappointing was the Secretary-General’s reference to the “moral” responsibility to act rather than admitting legal responsibility. The UN’s refusal to concede both factual and legal responsibility for introducing cholera into Haiti has been widely criticised as demonstrated by the 2016 report of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. That said, the launch in October of the UN Haiti Cholera response Multi-Partner Trust Fund represents a step in the right direction. The strategy aims not only to enhance efforts at eradicating cholera but importantly to provide “material assistance and support” to the victims and families. It thus goes beyond existing programs and, in so doing, implicitly recognises the need to provide victims of rights violations with some form of compensation.

Haiti is not the only situation where the UN has failed to recognise its factual and legal responsibilities for human rights violations. Many people also continue to be disappointed by the UN’s intransigence in acknowledging that the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) failed to meet basic human rights standard during the period when it had primary responsibility for “protecting and promoting human rights” in Kosovo having assumed the role of a ‘surrogate state’. The bitter paradox is that, in contrast to Haiti, the UN did take positive steps to establish in Kosovo the Human Rights Advisory Panel (HRAP), which was given the task to examine “alleged human rights violations by or attributable to UNMIK” and to make recommendations based on those findings. However, notwithstanding HRAP’s findings that UNMIK failed to uphold its human rights obligations in over 300 cases, to date, the UN has failed to deliver on any of the Panel’s recommendations.


Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMIK, briefing the Security Council in August 2016. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

In July 2016, HRAP released its Final Report to the Secretary-General.  During its nine year existence the Panel, comprising three independent experts who considered written complaints once a month during a week-long session in Pristina, carefully examined the facts and issued fully reasoned legal opinions on admissibility and, where admissibility was established, also on the merits in a staggering 500-plus cases.  In assessing UNMIK’s conduct, HRAP was authorised to draw on an expansive list of human rights instruments which notably included the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  However, in most cases, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court’s case-law constituted the basis of the Panel’s reasoning and opinions. In contrast to its broad material scope, HRAP’s temporal and personal jurisdiction was limited. It could only consider situations occurring between 23 April 2005 and 9 December 2008 (when UNMIK’s justice and policing responsibilities were transferred to the European Union) and did not have jurisdiction over the conduct of KFOR, the NATO-led UN Security Council-authorised peacekeeping force that operated alongside UNMIK.

These limitations aside, the Panel has made substantial contributions toward the progress of human rights jurisprudence, not least in respect of violence against women.  In the case of Kostic, UNMIK was found to have failed to exercise due diligence to investigate violence against women as required pursuant to the ICCPR, ECHR and CEDAW. In observing that the arbitrary detention of women constituted a form of violence against women, the systemic failure by UNMIK to conduct gender- sensitive investigations in cases involving detention where women would be at heightened risk of sexual violence, was a violation of the due diligence obligation.  Likewise, in S.M., UNMIK was found to have failed to exercise due diligence to investigate and prosecute a case involving rape and gender based violence. In the aftermath of the conflict little attention was paid by UNMIK to gender-based or sexual violence, which may account for the dearth of information about such crimes and thus hampered women’s access to justice.

One of the most damning cases examined by the Panel was that of N.M and Others concerning the placement of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian families who had been displaced by the conflict in camps located on lead contaminated land. For over a decade, UNMIK did little to relocate the families despite having access to overwhelming scientific and medical evidence establishing the serious risk posed by the lead to the health and well-being of those living in the camps, especially to children and pregnant women. In finding that UNMIK, through its actions and omissions, had violated, inter alia, the right to life, the right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to health and the prohibition on discrimination, additionally and disproportionately affecting women, it was hardly surprising that UNMIK’s record was described as “shameful”.

To compound the harm done, none of those whose rights have been infringed by UNMIK have received compensation or a meaningful public apology from the UN, as repeatedly recommended by the Panel.  As a quasi-judicial body, HRAP’s opinions are not legally binding and its recommendations are merely advisory in nature. However, the UN’s credibility and legitimacy and hence its effectiveness is severely damaged when it evades responsibility for failing to comply with basic human rights standards.  This is even more the case when it creates a mechanism that appears to promise some form of redress and to which communications are made in good faith, but then it does not deliver.

No one doubts that the UN is called upon to perform thankless tasks – in the case of Kosovo the administration of a war torn and still violent society; peacekeepers face some of the most dangerous of situations and are themselves targeted. But it is particularly in such situations that the UN must lead by example.  HRAP represents an important experiment in transparency and accountability for the actions of a UN mission in the field and a model that should be established in all UN operations to ensure full compliance with international human rights standards. But if the words of the Secretary-General – that the establishment of HRAP “demonstrates the commitment of the United Nations to human rights” – are to mean anything for the thousands of claimants who have waited for justice for over a decade, a meaningful apology and just compensation are the least that can be delivered.

About the authors

arimatsu62Dr Louise Arimatsu is Visiting Senior Fellow and member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security.  For additional comments on HRAP, see here & here.


Christine ChinkinProfessor Christine Chinkin FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law and founding Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security. Professor Chinkin was a member of the three-person Human Rights Panel (HRAP) from 2010-2016.

The ‘Comfort Women’ of World War II must be honoured in the UNESCO Memory of the World

The ‘Comfort Women’ of World War II introduced many to the existence of conflict-related sexual violence. Christine Chinkin, whose work in the field began with the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo, argues that  the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ provides an essential opportunity to preserve the women’s testimony and acknowledge the crimes committed.

Thanks to the work of Japanese professor of history, Yoshiaki Yoshimi, women’s activist groups across Asia, and the bravery of the women themselves in speaking out about their treatment at the hands of the Japanese military during World War II the story of the so-called ‘comfort women’ is now well known. From the early 1990s, their fight for justice through the UN human rights institutions, through national courts and through a ‘peoples’ tribunal’, the Tokyo International Women’s Tribunal (2000), has been contemporaneous with the greater awareness of the incidence and seriousness of sexual violence in armed conflict. We now have a body of jurisprudence, notably from the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, provisions in the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court and in 2016 the first conviction before that Court for rape and sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity.  The Women, Peace and Security agenda that has evolved from the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 has at its core the recognition that conflict is gendered, that women and men understand and experience conflict differently, and that women’s lived knowledge of conflict must be taken into account in law, in peace processes and in reparations as much as that of men. Protection against sexual violence in conflict, prevention of such atrocities, and relief and recovery, as well as the importance of women’s participation and empowerment, constitute the pillars of WPS: the comfort women have embodied both the need for recognition of such agency and innovative ways of expressing it since the early 1990s.

However many of these women have died and those surviving are now very old. It is essential that the memory of the atrocities they endured as sexual slaves and of their part in raising awareness of the prevalence of such crimes as a tactic of war does not die with the last of the survivors. This eventuality is lessened by the records of their story in a wealth of documents located in archives across many countries, including in their countries of origin, the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and, of course, Japan. The importance of honouring their memory and preserving these written records sufferings lies behind the application made to UNESCO that they become part of its documentary heritage, the ‘Memory of the World’.

The documents submitted to UNESCO register fall into three categories. The first category is that of public documents that make clear the role of the Japanese state in constructing the ‘comfort’ system, in financing and maintaining it as long as their military activities continued. The second are the most poignant – the private papers of the victims, and their testimonies. Third are documents recording the activism and campaigning of women’s non-governmental organisations that have worked with the survivors to achieve official recognition and acceptance of responsibility for the crimes that were committed against them.


By Lemon A E (Sergeant), No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit, via Wikimedia Commons

Together these documents create a rich archive, a library of suffering. They also provide a wealth of detail about the organised and systemic nature of the supply of sexual slaves to the Japanese military, revealing its integral part of the Japanese war effort. But it is also a record of the voices of those who are normally excluded from military history – the voices of women, the marginalised and isolated survivors of wartime crimes of sexual violence and who protest and reject the primacy of military necessity. It is finally an archive of resistance by those activists who have worked for decades to ensure that this alternative history, a history written from below is not forgotten and that the stories that are memorialised are not only those of the victors, of the military men and politicians who fought the wars.

The vision behind the UNESCO register is that ‘the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.’ Documents preserved in this way have more than individual, or even national significance, but rather are of global importance. The persistence of the ‘scourge’ of sexual violence in conflict across continents and the way that it continues to ‘ruin lives, destroy families, break up communities and prevent societies from achieving sustainable peace’ make their unique testimony of such violence of universal and ongoing concern. Their quality as testimony to the contribution of the four pillars of women, peace and security to the maintenance of international peace and security ensures their continuing relevance. And the disappearance of the individual and collective memories of the women as a holistic archive would, to draw on the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage (1972), be a ‘harmful impoverishment’ of the heritage of humanity.

A ‘right to truth’ – a ‘right to an accurate account of the suffering endured and the role of those responsible for that ordeal’ has been articulated by members of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, not just for those directly affected but for all people. (El-Masri v The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Judges Tulkens, Spielmann, Sicilianos and Keller) Preservation of these documents stands as a bulwark against those who would deny these particular crimes, and the continued reality of sexual and gender-based violence in contemporary conflicts. As such preservation of memory may also serve as some deterrent to repetition.

But Japan would like this memory to be erased. As the last surviving women grow older it must be looking forward to the time when there are no longer living voices to accuse, to remember and to demand reparation. It is therefore attempting to ensure that the documents do not come to form part of the Memory of the World. This must not be allowed to occur and those concerned to prevent sexual violence in armed conflict must show their support for this submission.

About the author

Christine ChinkinProfessor Christine Chinkin FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law and founding Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security.

The New Politics of Women, Peace and Security

The LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series is an outlet for articles, position papers and policy briefs. It showcases work in progress by academics and researchers from any discipline and sector in the field of women, peace and security research and practice. On publication of the first two papers, lead editors Paul Kirby and Laura J. Shepherd introduce the context and aims of the series.

Participants at meeting of the Security Council to mark the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325.

Participants at meeting of the Security Council to mark the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325.
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas/Cia

The Women, Peace and Security agenda has come of age. It is now just over 16 years old, registered as an arrival in the world of international politics on 31 October 2000 when the UN Security Council passed resolution 1325. As has been much rehearsed, that first resolution was the culmination of global feminist organising in the preceding decades. The aim was to radically transform the idea of ‘international peace and security’ – with which the Security Council is normally seized – to include substantive gender equality and to focus on the empowerment of women (involving, among other things: women’s participation in peace processes, political institutions such as the United Nations, and peacekeeping operations; the enhanced protection of women and girls from gender violence; gender sensitivity in disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and refugee settings; and the prevention of conflict itself).

In many respects, the agenda has stalled. Women’s participation in peacekeeping remains low, at 3% of troop contributions and around 10% for police, despite successive targets (the latest of which – to double women’s participation by 2020 – is likely also to be missed). Notwithstanding progress in some areas, funding for WPS remains a major challenge. There is evidence that women’s involvement contributes to sustainable peace, and yet only a handful of peace processes allow women a substantive voice. The campaign to appoint a woman as UN Secretary-General in 2016 failed, leaving the formal institutional home of the WPS agenda with a gender representation problem of its own. The UK government, previously a powerful advocate for addressing sexual violence in conflict, has reduced diplomatic pressure on the issue, with neither Foreign Secretary since William Hague considering WPS a priority area. The current global mood – a resurgent conservatism, weakening intergovernmental cooperation, and a turn towards military solutions to global crises – signals danger for WPS.

And yet, while the agenda has been significantly less transformative than originally hoped, it is also proliferating in new ways. There are now eight Security Council resolutions published under the title of ‘Women and Peace and Security’, as well as a number closely allied to it, such as resolution 2272 on sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. Most significantly, the Security Council is, following resolution 2242, committed to applying a WPS lens to all country situations within its remit (not just those where there are reports of widespread sexual violence).

Critics rightly charge that resolutions are a poor proxy for action, and much of what happens in the Security Council chamber operates rhetorically. A different measure of the diversification of the agenda is its incorporation by new actors at national and regional levels. In Sweden, a ‘feminist foreign policy’ is championed by Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, previously the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. For their part, NATO and the African Union are integrating the ‘gender perspective’ outside of the UN system. The sharper focus of the International Criminal Court on gender-based violence as a war crime, crime against humanity or act of genocide reflects WPS concerns. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank increasingly ‘mainstream’ gender in their allocations to fragile states. And the language of WPS is being applied to contemporary crises, such as forced migration and violent extremism, in ways that bear both promise for greater gender equality and considerable peril in the manipulation of women’s rights for other purposes.

This changing landscape prompts new questions, and demands new research into the multiple domains of WPS. How is the content of the WPS agenda being remade, for example to integrate men and boys as allies, victims and interlocutors? How should we understand the relationship of statements in the Security Council in New York to the uses of (and resistances to) WPS as ‘implemented’ in diverse sites around the world? What new methods might be applied to ensure accountability for WPS promises? How does claimed expertise on gender equality travel, and with what politics? In what ways are new WPS actors restricting or expanding the agenda in practice, for instance by seeing it as merely requiring a gender balance within the armed forces?

The Women, Peace and Security Working Paper Series (WPS2) seeks to respond to the challenge with research that is insightful and accessible to all. From preliminary fieldwork findings to legal analysis to policy recommendations, the series will represent the full range of methodological and disciplinary approaches across all WPS themes and at every level of global politics. We will feature work that not only clarifies and advances the agenda, but also that which is willing to challenge its fundamental precepts and the manner in which it has been pursued.

The series launches today with two papers. The first, by Professor Dianne Otto, provides a close reading of the WPS resolutions to argue that the feminist notion of positive peace that in part animated the agenda has been side-lined by traditional security politics. The second, by Jamie J. Hagen, offers resources for, and a reminder to, practitioners and policy-makers regarding the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and queer (LGBTQ) persons in WPS frameworks and programmes. Both papers exemplify what the next generation of WPS research can offer, and it is our hope that the series will continue to provide critical reflections on women, peace and security in diverse contexts, and with potentially transformative effects.

About the authors

kirby130Paul Kirby is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security. His research focuses on the ways that sexual violence is understood in feminist and gender theory and war studies, the relationship between gender and political violence in times of war and peace, and the diverse representations of victims and perpetrators. Paul has also worked on policy responses to gender violence in the WPS agenda, and is developing a project on the dynamics of the WPS agenda in the global north. He can be found on Twitter as @ProfPCK

ljs_130Laura J. Shepherd is Associate Professor of International Relations at UNSW Australia and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security. In addition to very many scholarly contributions on gendered representations of security and violence, often but not exclusively related to the WPS agenda, Laura is also a member of the Steering Group of the Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security which was formed in 2012 to champion the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda in Australia. She can be found on Twitter as @drljshepherd.

Women and Peacekeeping: Time for the UN to Commit to Gender Equality

UN peacekeepers are deployed to make local populations more safe and secure. They must not be allowed to become another source of insecurity for the people they are sent to serve. Christine Chinkin, Marsha Henry and Aiko Holvikivi on the need for the new UN Secretary-General to commit to gender equality in order to ensure that peacekeeping lives up to its promise.

It was confirmed that the call by numerous women’s groups and campaigners to appoint a woman as the next Secretary-General of the UN would go unanswered when, on 5 October, the Security Council ambassadors announced that António Guterres would be the next person to lead the UN. The fact that we may have to wait another decade to finally see a woman in this position does not, however, mean that efforts to make the UN’s work more gender equal should be placed on hold.

The campaign for a female Secretary-General revealed a growing demand for gender equality more broadly in UN management and activities. As High Commissioner for Refugees, Guterres made remarkable progress in increasing the share of women in senior leadership positions at the UN Refugee Agency. If he wishes to maintain the credibility of the organisation, and of himself, as an agent of peace and human rights, he must stand by this commitment to gender equality in his new role.

This commitment is sorely needed in UN peacekeeping, given the continued problems of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in peace support operations. SEA reporting from 2014–16 shows that blue-helmeted peacekeepers have been committing acts of child abuse and exploiting women, girls and boys in internally displaced persons’ camps in the Central African Republic and Mali. These acts are not merely a product of military masculinities and subcultures; rather they are indicative of the ways in which peacekeeping operations perpetuate a range of inequalities.

One response that the UN has highlighted is the presence of female peacekeepers. Seen as a panacea to SEA as well as providing a role model for local women, the UN has encouraged troop contributing countries to send more female personnel. Although countries such as India and Bangladesh have succeeded in deploying ‘all female squads’, consisting of around 100 militarised police women, the percentage of women military personnel still remains very low.


The Indian contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), consisting mostly of women, arrives in Monrovia, Liberia, to begin its tour of duty, January 2007. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein.

In the absence of more female peacekeepers, the UN has developed training for peacekeepers as well as for local communities on the topic of SEA. Such training is a key tool to implement the organisation’s zero-tolerance policy on SEA. However, many aspects of this training remain open questions, and ones that the UN must grapple with if training is to be taken seriously as a preventative measure.

Few would argue that more extensive training can definitively dissuade a would-be perpetrator from the more violent forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. However, what remains less clear is whether training can encourage reporting of abuse or cultivate a sense of responsibility towards the population the peacekeepers are meant to serve. Little evidence is available as to whether training can deliver on these goals, and if so, under what conditions, given that the quality, message and methodology of training that is carried out varies widely.

Even if SEA training were uniformly implemented and its methodology was successful in creating full awareness of prohibited behaviour and reporting mechanisms, as well as fostering a change in how peacekeeping personnel view their relations with the local population, the message of such training is not uniformly considered desirable. Because the definition of SEA places violent assault and commercial sex in the same category of offences, training on the topic explicitly teaches peacekeepers that consent is irrelevant when it comes to SEA. Some commentators note that this simultaneously deprives local people – especially women – of any claims to agency in their own lives and trivialises sexual assault.

Another significant factor that undermines the credibility of peacekeeping is that while all UN personnel are bound by local law, the UN and its personnel have absolute immunity from the jurisdiction of national courts, ensuring that no prosecution can be undertaken in the host state. Discipline and legal proceedings – if warranted against wrongdoers – are the responsibility of the troop contributing country, but this is difficult when the evidence and witnesses are in the host country. Most frequently, the consequence – if at all – is that the wrongdoer is returned home, perhaps even to redeployment elsewhere. Nor is the UN informed of any subsequent action that might be taken.

After the introduction of its zero-tolerance policy, the UN has made some progress in reducing the incidence of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, but lack of accountability and transparency continue to undermine confidence. Renewed allegations of serious misconduct by peacekeepers in 2015, notably in the Central African Republic, led Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations to review the issue and to establish a new position, a Special Coordinator on Improving the United Nations Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

The Security Council also renewed its commitment to stronger measures against wrongdoers. In Resolution 2272, adopted in March 2016, the Council endorsed the Secretary-General’s decision to repatriate an entire military or police unit where ‘there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse by that unit’. Given the increasing number of peacekeeping operations and the difficulties facing the Secretary-General in finding adequate numbers of military and police personnel to fulfil Security Council mandates, this could be a stringent requirement.

Recent reports have made stronger recommendations focusing on direct UN action against accused individuals. For example, the Global Study on the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 proposed a discussion with stakeholders to explore the feasibility of setting up an International Tribunal for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN peacekeepers and UN staff in the field.

In order to demonstrate that he is a man capable of working for the security of all – including women – the new Secretary-General must devote attention to ensuring that peacekeeping really does make its intended beneficiaries more, not less, safe and secure. One way to do this is by taking seriously these recommendations for a more robust way of ensuring the accountability of those who commit sexual violence in abuse of their position of trust, and to secure justice for those who have suffered in this way.

But ensuring that the blue helmets do not themselves become a source of insecurity is only a starting point. In order to deliver on the organisation’s promise of peace and security, the Secretary-General must take the myriad roles and expectations of women seriously, not only as victims of violence, but also as peacekeepers, combatants, peacemakers and human beings with certain inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms.

An extended version of this article was first published in the RUSI Newsbrief on 15 November 2016 and is re-posted here with permission.

About the authors

Christine ChinkinProfessor Christine Chinkin FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law and founding Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security.


Marsha HenryDr Marsha Henry is Deputy Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security and Associate Professor in the Gender Institute at LSE. She can be found on Twitter as @mghacademic


Aiko HolvikiviAiko Holvikivi is a PhD candidate in the LSE Gender Institute, where she conducts research on gender training for uniformed peacekeepers. She can be found on Twitter as @AikoIiris

States worldwide must address the sexism, harassment and violence being experienced by women parliamentarians

gormley80Lisa Gormley calls on governments to act on the recommendations in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s report on ‘Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians’ and take all measures to address the abuse experienced by women in public life.


“There’s a reason why extremists use violence: they cannot win a battle of ideas”

Malala Yousafzai said this at the memorial event for the murdered MP Jo Cox in June this year. It was a resonant comment, given that extremists had tried to kill her, at the age of 15, because of her advocacy for girls’ education in Pakistan. In the months since Jo Cox’s death, the “More in common” campaign has gathered strength. But the horror of her murder remains harsh and undimmed despite the efforts of so many to ensure that something positive comes out of it.


Birthday memorial for Jo Cox MP in Trafalgar Square (Garry Knight)

I thought of Malala Yousafzai’s words again this week as I read the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) report ‘Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians’ released on 26 October.  It makes for shocking reading.

It is shocking because of the extent of the violence – reported by 55 women parliamentarians of all ages, from 39 countries. More than 80% had been subjected to psychological violence. This includes humiliating sexual or sexist remarks, but also threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction, which were reported by 44.4%. As with women human rights defenders, those using violence frequently threaten women’s families in order to intimidate. An Asian parliamentarian is quoted as saying “Someone sent me information about my son – his age, the school he attends, his class etc – threatening to kidnap him.” Acts of physical violence had been experienced by 25% of the women parliamentarians who took part in the study.

According to the IPU report, violence is particularly aggravated when the parliamentarians are young or belong to a minority group. A European parliamentarian of African origin recounted how a billboard in her country, paid for by extreme-right groups, demanded that she be “whitened with bleach and burned alive”. No matter how many times I read that last sentence, I still cannot comprehend a reality in which someone thought up such an obscene message, organised and paid for it to be printed on a massive poster.

The IPU report finds that “the perpetrators of such acts of violence are not confined to a circle of political adversaries, as common in cases of political violence, or to the usual contingent of aggressive, dissatisfied or mentally disturbed citizens. Women parliamentarians can be harassed or attacked by male colleagues in their own parties. They can also be targets of violent community officials, religious leaders and members of their own families.” According to 60.5% of those surveyed “such acts are strongly motivated by the clear-cut positions the women had taken on particular issues… such as defending women’s rights or human rights in general.”

Though shocking, these levels of gender-based violence against women shouldn’t be surprising. The most frequently cited UN statistic is that one in three women worldwide are subjected to gender-based violence. In the UK, 44% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. And it is well known that women who speak out – journalists, human rights defenders, environmental activists – are attacked in ways and at levels that far outstrips the violence and abuse experienced by their male counterparts.

Participation in democracy and political leadership are signs of human progress, of choosing to work through discussion and cooperation, not force. In its resolutions on women, peace and security, the UN Security Council has consistently called for more women to participate in peace-making during and after armed conflict, and in post-conflict reconstruction. Research has proven that women’s participation leads to better outcomes, and more durable peace processes. Where there are women in leadership, from national parliamentarians to grassroots local leaders, social well-being improves. The Sustainable Development Goals, 2015’s global political commitment to creating better societies while making the best efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change, promote women’s participation within all the goals, and include Goal 5, to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

As well as making practical sense, equality of women and girls, in politics as well as society in general, is their legal right, their human right to equality in political and public life under international law.

The value of the IPU report is in showing why and how we need to achieve gender equality in our parliaments. It includes recommendations for parliaments and governments to take, to make sure women can participate in public life on a daily basis in safety and dignity.

Recommendations include:

  • Finding out from women parliamentarians about the extent of the violence they experience, breaking the silence on this violence, and making it clear that such behaviour is intolerable;
  • Enacting a specific law on violence and harassment targeting women in public life;
  • Ensuring that harassment and violence can be dealt with by police and prosecutors where these acts constitute crimes; and all forms of harassment should be dealt with by parliamentary mechanisms and policies, and codes of conduct;
  • Maintaining security in parliament, in parliamentary premises and constituency offices;
  • Promoting solidarity between women parliamentarians and also encouraging male parliamentarians to take a stand against sexist harassment and violence.

However, for more women to participate in parliaments, the change needs to come across society as a whole. This needs systemic change to deal with the “chilling effect” of abuse of women in public life. Changing cultures requires ensuring education for all children on respect and equality, and engaging with the media to improve reporting on issues affecting women. That kind of systemic change could be achieved in the UK if the government ratified the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence). The next step is a vote on a Private Member’s Bill on 16 December, which I call on all Members of Parliament to support.

Gradient 1

Image from the ICChange campaign for UK ratification of the Istanbul Convention

Communication technology brings unstoppable creativity in how we engage with each other, and we need to evolve our manners and customs of expressing ourselves with that: but surely this is an issue of basic self-respect? The rules for me in writing this blog require courteous expression, not abuse: personal attacks are not logical or illuminating. As we have seen, in the US presidential elections, the use of insult, harassment, discrimination and violence is just as wrong in public life as well as in private life.

Which is why Malala Yousafzai’s words are so true: “There’s a reason why extremists use violence: they cannot win a battle of ideas.”

On 2 November, Jo Cox’s successor as Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, Tracy Brabin, made her maiden speech in parliament. She described Jo Cox’s killing as “the darkest of circumstances… an attack on a woman, a family, and a community, it was an assault on the principles and basis of our democracy.” But she also said that her constituency would “not be defined by the one person who took from us, but by the many who give.”

It is now up to the authorities in all states to take heed of the IPU report, to investigate and address the experiences of women parliamentarians so that they can undertake their role and service as leaders in safety and dignity.

About the author

Lisa GormleyLisa Gormley is a Research Officer in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security.
Lisa 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. Lisa’s latest major writing project – a Practitioners’ Guide on Women’s Access to Justice for Gender Based Violence was published on International Women’s Day 2016.