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Responsibility to Protect: the crucial gender dimension for lasting peace

24 Sep

So the UN’s R2P is heading in the right direction: no-one likes genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing. These highest-level crimes, or threat of, are lumped together as ‘Mass  Atrocity Crimes’ under R2P’s principles. First declared in 2005, R2P aims to make states accountable to protecting its own civilians – making sovereignty a responsibility. A breach of that responsibility will result in external intervention.  

As the debate rolls on, the R2P in its current form consists of three parts.

  1. A State has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing (mass atrocity crimes).
  2. If the State is unable to protect its population, the international community has a responsibility to assist the state by building its capacity. This includes building early-warning capabilities, mediating conflicts between political parties, strengthening the security sector, and mobilizing standby forces.
  3. If a State is clearly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures have been exhausted, the international community has the responsibility to intervene: first diplomatically, then more coercively; and as a last resort, with military force.

Much work lies ahead. Largely missing from the R2P text is the gender dimension, which in its current form receives just two mentions. Strides towards gender equality and increased participation were made through UNSCR 1325 (2000) and the Beijing Platform for Action (2010). Bizarre as it may sound, while these documents outline obligations of the international community, governments and civil society to incorporate gender elements into policy making, they have been largely ignored by R2P.

Empowering women

The gender dimension of conflict is nothing new. Through Women’s Groups and other civil society community-based groups, women are often well-placed to sound the alarm in pre-conflict phrase. If R2P is serious about early warning and preventative action, they should take advantage of this phenomenon. During conflict, again, women play an important societal role and are often at the forefront of engagement and negotiations. Simultaneously, women are more vulnerable to civilian abuse (including rape), so gender sensitivity policies are even more urgent.

In the post-conflict phase women are often neglected, despite having often played an important mediation role. There are many areas where there is a need for greater participation of women:  in demobilization, disarmament, reintegration, justice and reconciliation, community policing, and other areas such as humanitarian relief, land reform, political and economic development. These are many examples for women to participate; the impact of such programs on the female population must be given full consideration by the international community. Or to put it another way, without a focus on gender parity (which includes voices, perspectives, gender equality and non-discrimination) in post-conflict reconstruction, lasting peace – for which R2P strives for – remains at risk.

Clearly, the international community needs to work harder on incorporating all relevant aspects of civilian protection into policy: the role of women (or lack of) could not be clearer.

– Kees Keizer