Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
It is incomprehensible that after almost 20 years of careful negotiation and step-by-step progress beginning with the adoption of United Nations Security Resolution (UNSCR)1325 in 2000, pressure from the US government has shamefully halted and reversed progress on the UN women, peace and security agenda by eliminating reference to women’s sexual and reproductive health. This is intolerable for women and girls who have suffered and still suffer sexual violence everywhere in the word and in particular, in conflict zones. This must be reversed.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Building the Women, Peace and Security Agenda
Building the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda has been a painstakingly long and slow process. The landmark resolution, UNSCR 1325, was passed in 2000 and was the first step in establishing accountability and providing resources to women affected by conflict, and in particular, addressing rape as a sexualized weapon of war. In the time since, 8 resolutions have been passed that add to, and advance, the WPS agenda. The most recent resolution, the ninth, UNSCR 2467, was passed on April 23, 2019, and while strengthening the agenda in some regard, it will be noted and remembered as the resolution that halted and reversed progress due to the rejection of the United States to previously globally accepted language regarding women’s sexual and reproductive health.
The United States has long been a champion of the WPS agenda, so this move backwards is disturbing. The shift in US attention is toward investing in “early warning indicators”, echoing the proposals of the Russian and Chinese governments, both of which abstained from the final vote. The resolution passed with a vote of 13-0, but only after 4 weeks of heated negotiation that included shaming testimony from the 2018 co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Kurd and Human Rights activist as well as from the many strong supporters of the resolution, and its sponsor, Germany.
The US objected to references of women’s “sexual and reproductive health”, associating the concept with comprehensive medical care to women, inclusive of abortion provision. This is consistent with the current “war on women’s health” agenda of the US federal government. Amanda Klasing, co-director of Human Rights Watch is quoted in Ms. Magazine: “The Trump administration’s extreme position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is pervading all aspects of its foreign policy in ways that escalates a global erosion of women’s human rights.”
Women’s sexual and reproductive health appears to presently be only as secure as the current political party legislates. The situation in the US is an example of flip-flopping polices that challenge individual women’s fundamental human rights to bodily autonomy. The so-called Global Gag Rule (Mexico City Policy) was re-enacted by executive order under the Trump administration, effectively cutting family planning funds to organizations that provide comprehensive medical care to women. Earlier this year, in March, this was expanded to tie all health assistance to a commitment not to provide, refer, advocate, educate, or debate abortion care. Heather Boonstra, head of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute was quoted in The Guardian: “This ideologically driven policy undermines the very goals of US foreign aid programs by harming the health of people in developing countries, violating medical ethics, and trampling on democratic values.”
The move by the US has been condemned by human rights and women’s health activists. Jessica Neuwirth, director of the Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House at Hunter College and the director of the Sisterhood is Global Institute in an interview with DemocracyNow! stated: “These are girls and young women who are being raped by ISIS terrorists or Boko Haram, and the first thing they need is reproductive healthcare. And if they become pregnant, the idea that they would be forced to carry to term that pregnancy from rape, caused by rape, has been found by the United Nations and other fora to constitute a form of torture.”
In addition to undermining the sexual and health reproductive language of the resolution, the US continues to jeopardize the operationalization of the WPS agenda in its refusal to recognize and support the International Criminal Court as the legitimate arbiter of crimes against humanity. The Rome Statute, the foundation of the ICC, is the basis for the prosecution of gender-based and sexually violent crimes in armed conflict. To deny the ICC is to deny the Rome Statute and its demand for accountability from war criminals.
The survivor-centered focus at the heart of Resolution 2467 is compromised at the outset with both the removal of sexual and reproductive health language and the weakening of ICC involvement. The US objections focus on the threat to their national sovereignty and are echoed by China in preferring national prosecutions and internal mechanisms over international ones.
The FMWC stands with women's rights advocates in demanding freely accessible, comprehensive sexual reproductive health including abortion services, and against sexual violence in any forms. The reversed progress on the UN WPS agenda by eliminating reference to women’s sexual and reproductive health is an assault on justice and human rights. Canada is a strong supporter of the UNSCR WPS agenda and the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health in overseas humanitarian aid. Canada's firm support and commitment is more important now then ever before on the global stage and in the years to come in the face of anticipated cuts coming to international aid organizations that provide abortion care as part of their mission.
Dr. Kathee Andrews, MD, MCFP, NCMP
Federation of Medical Women of Canada
Dr. Nahid Azad, MD, FRCPC, CCPE
Chair, Women, Peace and Security Committee
Federation of Medical Women of Canada
Participation, Protection, Prevention: The United Nations Security Council Women, Peace and Security Agenda, Federation of Medical Women of Canada, WoMed blog post, June 8, 2018, https://fmwc.ca/participation-protection-prevention-the-united-nations-security-council-women-peace-and-security-agenda/
Nadia Murad, “I was an Isis sex slave. I tell my story because it is the best weapon I have” Opinion, The Guardian, October 6, 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/06/nadia-murad-isis-sex-slave-nobel-peace-prize
Dulcie Leimbach, “The UN Just Watered-Down Women’s Rights Worldwide—and the U.S. Insisted on It” Ms. Magazine, April 24, 2019 https://msmagazine.com/2019/04/24/the-un-just-watered-down-womens-rights-worldwide-and-the-u-s-insisted-on-it/
Amy Goodman, “A Shameful Week for the U.S.”: Trump Admin Guts U.N. Resolution to End Rape as Weapon of War, DemocrayNow!, April 26, 2019 https://www.democracynow.org/2019/4/26/a_shameful_week_for_the_us
What is the Global Gag Rule?, Open Society Foundations, April 2019 https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/explainers/what-global-gag-rule
Susan Hutchinson, “US undermines UN Security Council resolution against wartime rape” The Interpreter, April 24, 2019 https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/us-undermines-un-resolution-against-wartime-rape
Julian Borger, “Trump expands global gag rule that blocks US aid for abortion groups” The Guardian, March 26, 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/mar/26/trump-global-gag-rule-us-aid-abortion