Women and Human Security

XVIII Congress, São Paulo, Brazil, 24-25 October 2003


Human security means living in peace and freedom and with respect for everyone's dignity. It concerns individuals, the community and also the state. Human security includes protecting people from threats and dangerous situations and, at the same time, empowering them to act on their own behalf. Human security is more than the absence of violence and conflict. It embraces human rights, good governance, access to education, paid work and health care.

Although peace and human security are considered universal values, conflicts continue to occur in different parts of the world, and poverty and extreme poverty continue to affect almost half the world's population. At the beginning of the 21st century nearly sixty countries are in conflict situations or just emerging from conflict. There is a direct link between conflicts and poverty: the majority of the countries experiencing conflicts, both internal and international, are among the poorest.

In recent decades the nature of conflicts has changed, the boundaries are less and less defined, and although most conflicts are internal the surrounding countries and regions are also affected. In recent conflicts there has been an escalation in the targeting of civilians as well as an increase in gender-based violence, from sexual abuse to systematic rape, from enforced prostitution to enforced pregnancies, and continuous violations of women's human rights. This is due to the fact that women are seen as bearers of cultural identity; therefore gender-based violence carries a political and symbolic message and sexual violence and rape have become a strategy of war.

Due to these new characteristics of violent conflict, there are few mechanisms to protect women and girls caught up in conflicts. It is thus even more imperative to halt conflicts and to strengthen conflict prevention and peace building. These tasks are mainly in the hands of national, regional and international institutions, above all the United Nations, whose authority must be reinforced and recognized by all its member states. The prevention of conflicts also means understanding and addressing its causes. Poverty and social deprivation are among the most important of these causes, and also constitute a fertile breeding ground for other causes, such as cultural divides and political and economic instability.

In times of conflict humanitarian action involves protecting people in the field of war, but in recent years this has become even more complex as it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between humanitarian, political and military intervention. Decisions on military intervention should be taken by the UN Security Council, and be carried out within the framework of international law. The international legal system, as well as the UN Security Council, must be reformed and expanded. Humanitarian action should not become a pretext for military intervention, but neither can it be reduced or cancelled because of this risk. Humanitarian action must be guided by a human rights-based approach and address peoples' essential needs for food, water, sanitation and shelter.

Women continue to have little access to protection and assistance, as humanitarian aid often fails to reach them. Humanitarian action must address the specific needs of women, particularly in relation to their physical and psycho-social care. The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war leaves women traumatised and has contributed to the spread of sexually transmitted infections, notably HIV/AIDS. Not only medical care but also education and information on prevention are needed for all those affected, threatened or in risky situations, including those living in refugee camps and the internally displaced. There should be particular a focus on men's sexual behaviour as long as men are the major transmitters of HIV/AIDS.

A serious consequence of armed conflicts is the massive movement of people fleeing war, human rights violations and ethnic discrimination. The majority of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons are women and children. They suffer discrimination and human rights abuses as a mirror of traditional discrimination, but also due to the weakening of community and family protection mechanisms.

In order to create a culture of prevention rather than reaction, concrete steps must be taken towards establishing a system of early warning and response. The first step is to address the root causes of conflict. 'Gendered' violations, including rape, trafficking and military-related prostitution can be indicators of a possible conflict. Other indicators are the diminishing presence of women in organised civil society and political parties as well as high levels of domestic violence, as was the case in Afghanistan. Fact-finding missions to areas of potential conflict should draw on the expertise of women's organisations.

Conflict prevention and conflict resolution by other than military means are therefore more urgent than ever. It is therefore essential that women be included in analysis, policy making and negotiations since they are more likely than men to be prepared to open and maintain a dialogue and to try new paths, and since women are not locked into classical confrontational behaviour. There are many examples of this, ranging from Northern Ireland to landmines campaigns. However, such initiatives are often not recognised and sometimes brought into disrepute or simply ridiculed.

An end to violent conflicts does not ensure peace and security. The transition from conflict to peace is a difficult process, which does not follow a linear route. Various steps and stages are involved: humanitarian relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and the promotion of reconciliation and coexistence, and support for the development of democracy. Until now women's participation in formal peace processes has been limited. However women can play an important role in shaping and implementing peace accords. That is why the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is so essential.

SIW commends the UN Secretary General for nominating Ms Jane Holl Lute to the position of Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations and welcomes the successful efforts of the UNHCR to tailor its work to the needs of women refugees.

SIW welcomes the bringing into force of both the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the supplementary Protocol on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. These legally binding documents are important tools, which will help to protect and combat trafficking in persons – especially women and children -, to protect and assist victims, and to promote cooperation among states to meet these objectives.

Assuring stability and human security is the first step in reconstructing a country or region after conflict. Even after peace is declared, women remain threatened by militarization and the culture of violence, which persists in post-conflict situations. The equal participation of women in all stages of peace negotiations and reconciliation processes must be ensured. After the end of a conflict men often grant themselves work and other opportunities in society and take the lead in rebuilding their community. Women are not given equal opportunities to take part in the rebuilding of their community. Relief and development agencies should include education and the economic empowerment of women in post-war programmes. Gender equality, women's human rights and their political, social and economic rights must be recognized in all policies.

Health and human security are central to human survival. Good health and human security depend on peace and development. Development is important for promoting basic education, especially of women and children. Education is the most important resource for the empowerment of women and the development of a community. Investing in basic education for girls and women helps to promote their health and security and everyone's. The ability to read and write improves the quality of life and enhances people's security. Education free from gender bias gives freedom through knowledge and helps to promote human security.

Socialist International Women, therefore recalls particularly the following International Conventions:

  • the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of 18 December 1979, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women of 20 December 1993, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989;
  • the General Assembly Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 10 December 1984, and the General Assembly Declaration 3318 on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict of 14 December 1974, in particular paragraph 4 which calls for effective measures against persecution, torture, violence and the degrading treatment of women;
  • the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action resulting from the Fourth UN World Conference on Women of 4-15 September 1995, in particular critical concern area E on Women and Armed Conflict;
  • the Outcome Document of the UN Beijing +5 Special Session of the General Assembly on further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action of 5-9 June 2000, in particular regarding obstacles to women's equal participation in peace-building efforts, and a 50/50 gender balance in peacekeeping missions and peace negotiations and
  • the report of the Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities of the European Parliament on the participation of women in peaceful conflict resolution.

Furthermore Socialist International Women:

  • calls for the improvement of judicial systems through the strengthening of procedures and mechanisms for the investigation, reporting, prosecution and ending of violence against women in war situations and other conflicts, as well as the recognition of rape as a war crime which must be subject to prevention, pursuit and punishment by international justice;
  • notes that 80% of the world's refugees are women and children and 90% of war victims are now civilians, mainly women and children, and that a wide spectrum of studies demonstrate that the mobilisation of male soldiers – both in warring factions and as peacekeepers – contributes to the growth of prostitution around military bases and army camps, subsequently increasing child prostitution, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases;
  • encourages journalists, especially women, to carefully balance their reporting on armed conflict and in so doing advance an objective and human picture, in contrast to the widespread bellicose and biased presentation of such conflicts;
  • calls for the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons, with special attention paid to women and girls in order to address their specific needs and ensure equal access to humanitarian assistance;
  • notes that health services must address sexual and reproductive rights, including programmes to combat and prevent HIV/AIDS, which disproportionately affects women and girls. Considers access to drugs to combat this disease to be a fundamental right and calls on national governments and international organisations to introduce measures guaranteeing their availability;
  • stresses that medical and psycho-social support for women and girls who are sexually abused in conflict and post-conflict periods must be guaranteed as a priority intervention;
  • strongly requests the involvement of women in peace keeping, in preventive diplomacy and in all stages of peace mediation and negotiation;
  • calls on the UN Secretary General to increase the number of women in peace-related functions such as Special Representatives and Envoys, beginning with a minimum of 30%. The prevention of widespread rape and assault of women and girls should be a priority in the context of intervention by the United Nations as a force for humanitarian action and peace, and measures should be taken to avoid and prevent such abuses in all international and regional conflicts. Persecution based on gender should be considered a reason for granting asylum;
  • notes that gender equality and gender mainstreaming need to be included in all fields and aspects of the reconstruction of countries and regions recovering from conflicts, also by granting equal access to resources and training, and priority for the education of women and girls;
  • underlines that local, national, regional and international institutions must strengthen the role of women in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building, and establish early warning systems (including gender-specific systems) to monitor potential crisis situations;
  • strongly supports the proposal of the Commission on Human Security to place human security at the top of local, national, regional and global agendas in order to prevent and resolve conflict and advance human rights in order to protect and empower people and their communities.

Finally, Socialist International Women urges governments to progressively redirect at least 5% of national military expenditure to health, education and employment programmes aimed at eliminating gender disparity in society and empowering women through the promotion and protection of their political, social and economic rights.



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