Participation, Protection, Prevention: The United Nations Security Council Women, Peace and Security Agenda

Reading time: 7:00 mins

Members join Senator Marilou McPhedran and President Dr. Bev Johnson for an evening of education and awareness raising.

 In May, the Ottawa FMWC Branch was invited to a dinner in the Parliamentary Dining Room hosted by Independent Senator Marilou McPhedran. It was an educational session unlike any other. While we enjoyed our dinner, Senator McPhedran, whose presentation was titled: Women, Peace and Security - A Guide to the UN for Global Citizens, spoke to members on the history of United Nations Security Council resolutions on women in conflict situations, the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, and how Canada’s National Action Plan, 2017-2022 addresses our international commitment to addressing violence against women.

The issue of women in conflict is as old as conflict itself, and rape as a weapon of war has a long history of use across all cultures, both as sexualized violence against women and as an ethnic “cleansing” tactic designed to spread the bloodlines of rival ethnic or tribal groups. In the 20th century, Medicins Sans Frontieres first noted rape as a sexualized weapon of war in Bosnia, in the 1990s but it has a long history: in Bangladesh, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Darfur, in Sudan; and more recently, in Myanmar, where state-backed military have raped tens of thousands of a Rhohingya women and children, impregnating at least 63,000 women, part of the over 900,000 Rhohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh.

“Diplomats are like doctors, trying to heal the health of their countries”

The focus of Senator McPhedran’s presentation was the role of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in addressing the issue of rape as a strategic and sexualized weapon of war. The UNSC, with 5 permanent members, the United States, France, United Kingdom, China and Russia, and 2-year rotating members, sits apart from any other UN department, and is the only council with the authority to order force and the use of weapons in dealing with international conflicts.

Senator McPhedran speaking to the group

Senator McPhedran provided context to the painfully slow adoption of the Security Council Resolutions regarding women in conflict, which began with the phenomenon of child soldiers and the actions of UNICEF, who for 10 years fought for incremental change, one resolution at a time, to how states came to see children in war. The process served as a model for women’s interests: build allies; craft/pass resolution after resolution that will name and shame; and monitor change via little steps. The work of Leymah Gbowee has been instrumental in moving this agenda forward.

The first UN Security Council Resolution to address the issue of women in conflict, UNSCR 1325, was adopted in October 2000 and is marked as a landmark resolution. In addition to its commitment to support women as peace agents and reinforcing women’s role in peace building and maintaining peace “[i]t also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict.”

Charlotte Bunch, an American feminist, was behind the move to influence the UNSC, and is credited with being instrumental in forging alliances and marshaling resources to assist in creating the first UNSC Resolution crafted entirely by women. It took 18 years and 8 resolutions get to where we are today: UNSCR 2242 was unanimously adopted in 2015 with its expressed goal to improve implementation of the landmark 1325 resolution driving the women, peace and security agenda. Refer to Senator McPhedran’s presentation for a more detailed overview of each resolution.

1325 (2000) -  US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice pushed for the adoption of this landmark resolution recognizing the importance of the three Ps: participation, protection and prevention. Women are transformed from victims to agents of peace building change.

1820 (2008) – first time the UN explicitly linked sexual violence and war. No immunity for sexual violence, and sexual violence is a war crime.

1888 (2009) – specifically mandates that peacekeeping missions protect women in armed conflict from sexual violence. Requested the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.

1889 (2009) – strengthen the participation of women in all aspects of the peace negotiation and peace building process. Establishes indicators to monitor the impact of UNSCR 1325.

1960 (2010) – annual publication of a list of armed groups who target women for sexual violence,

2106 (2013) – sexual violence falls under a crime against humanity, or constitutive of an act of genocide; under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. No statute of limitations. Calls upon member states to continue to fight against impunity.

2122 (2013) Further pushed for consistent implementation, continued, enhanced monitoring and reporting on the implementation of UNSCR1325, with additional aid from humanitarian organizations to address gaps in the provision of non-prejudicial health care.

2242 (2015) Includes more forceful language regarding implementation of UNSCR 1325; calls for the development and implementation of National Action Plans to guide countries in determining allocation of time and resources.

Senator McPhedran also addressed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which was signed into international law in 1979, and with 179 signatories, it represents an international bill of rights for women. It created a role for independent experts to review and recommend the status of women in signatory states. Signatory countries have an obligation to report to the UN every 5 years on the implementation of CEDAW. For Canada, every single report has addressed the violation of the rights of Indigenous women. Members were also presented with a copy of Canada’s National Action Plan, 2017-2022. There are currently 74 national action plans and with region plans in the European Union and Africa.

Also mentioned was UNSCR 2250 (2015), which refers to the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda that’s emerging. There’s lots of potential to further peace building and the prevention of conflict, such as the organization Girl Ambassadors for Peace, built on the 3 pillars of numeracy/literacy, leadership and capacity building change.

Senator McPhedran concluded her presentation speaking to the situation in Myanmar/Bangladesh with Rohingya women refugees: over 670,000 refugees have fled Myanmar, over tens of thousands of them pregnant and lactating mothers, the survivors of the Myanmar military’s campaign of sexualized violence: rape as a weapon of war. Bob Rae was recently in Myanmar as a special envoy and submitted his report to Parliament. It examines the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh, the political situation in Myanmar, addresses issues of accountability and impunity, and recommends the effective collaboration and cooperation of Rohingya Working Group with government departments that have a clear interest and mandate (Global Affairs Canada, Justice Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, National Defence, Privy Council Office, Ofiice of the Prime Minister:PMO).

Why should we care?

As global citizens and part of civil society we have an obligation to advocate for peace and security both at home and abroad. As physicians we see first hand the effects of war and trauma on people. We are privileged to provide care and support to people in their most vulnerable moments. Trauma knows no national boundary in an international world.

Dr. Bev Johnson, centre in black, with members in the Senate, The Red Chamber. This is the last opportunity to see inside before major renovations close the Centre Block for 10 due to renovations.

Questions and discussion centered on what can be done?

  • Education: It may be difficult to connect what happens in our local communities to locations far way. But by informing ourselves we can make sure our elected officials know that we know what the issues are on the ground.
  • Money: While donating money may seem superficial, the lack of resources is a very big issue for organizations working in the areas. Money is most welcome. Care, Medicins sans Frontieres, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, are on the ground providing assistance in the area.
  • Join: The Women Security and Peace Network consists of 70 organizations that are involved in the area of women in areas of conflict and peace building. The FMWC is a partner organization in the network but you can join as individual members as well.
  • Advocate: Become familiar with Canada’s National Action Plan and the hold the government accountable for implementation. Read it, support it, and advocate for government action.
  • Renew/Join FMWC: The Medical Women International Association (MWIA), which the FMWC is a member of, can advocate for this issue at high level tables. Support of the FMWC is support for MWIA. Renew your membership and recruit colleagues to amplify our advocacy.
  • Enhance your skills: Take the free online training course I Know Gender through the UN Women Training Centre to increase and test your knowledge on gender, women's economic empowerment, violence against women and more.
  • Petition the government with your support: There are several online petitions circulating - this just one - More effective is a letter, mailed to your MPs constituency office. You can find a list of MPs here.

These are just a few of the options available for people who can't pack up and take their skills directly to the front lines of humanitarian aid. Get involved and show the Rohingya that Canada, and the world, cares.