On October 31, 2017, ICAN in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, and the Association of War Affected Women (AWAW), Sri Lanka organized a panel discussion on the topic of Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) and Increasing Women in UN Peace Keeping. The discussion was held on the occasion of the 17th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 and brought together a variety of stakeholders including UN member states, UN agencies and civil society actors.
Increasing women’s inclusion in peacekeeping and ending the problem of SEA have been two of the more challenging aspects of the 17-year-old Women, Peace and Security agenda. Despite recent efforts and policy developments, transformative and holistic action to comprehensively address the SEA problem and preserve the ethos of peacekeeping remains absent. In light of these challenges the event sought to highlight the transformative effect of women in peacekeeping and explore what additional critical and catalytic steps the UN and its member states can take to ensure that (SEA) becomes a thing of the past.
Despite the significant progress that has been made over the past years to increase women in peacekeeping and end SEA, much still needs to be done.
Ambassador Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera of Sri Lanka opened the session remarking that despite the significant progress that has been made over the past years to increase women in peacekeeping and end SEA, much still needs to be done. Amb. Perera reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment, as a troop contributing country, to include highly trained women in peacekeeping, and noted that Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to sign onto the Secretary General’s Voluntary Compact on Elimination of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA).
Ambassador Michael Grant and Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations gave credit to the existing robust framework
but emphasized that real tangible progress lies in implementation, which in many instances is lacking. “Gender equality acts as multiplier for sustainable peace”, he said, but often “gets lost in the need to respond to emergency.” Amb. Grant further recognized the failure to work with local organizations despite all the evidence that shows that this really works.
Assistant Secretary General for Field Support at the Department of Field Support, Lisa Buttenheim, recognized the Secretary General’s commitment to gender parity and noted that while there is need to increase the number of women in uniform there is an equal demand for more women on the civilian side of peacekeeping.
Gender equality acts as multiplier for sustainable peace but often gets lost in the need to respond to emergency.
Furthermore, accountability, Ms. Buttenheim noted, starts at the top, and “we have to hold ourselves accountable and set example at the top.”
The importance of pre-deployment training on SEA to meet international standards, and proper vetting procedures were emphasized by Sonali Samarasinghe, Minister, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka. Ms. Samarasinghe also noted the need to recognize cultural biases and understanding women’s place in a given society, which can be a barrier to women joining peacekeeping forces.
Sexual Exploitation and Abuse is a solvable problem. It is about command and control, and training, incentives and punitive action. It is time to shift the shame and the fear.
Ms. Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, ICAN’s Executive Director reminded the audience and speakers that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 when adopted in 2000, was about bringing a human lens to the discussions, about the huge numbers of women and children on the ground and what kind of security they need. She also questioned the notion of culture, noting that many countries have no problem exporting women to become domestic labor overseas. On the issue of SEA, Ms. Naraghi Anderlini pointed out that it is an infinitely solvable problem. “It is about command and control, and training, incentives and punitive action,” she said. She suggested that punitive measures, such as salary cuts and discharge could be implemented. Furthermore, peacekeepers could be warned that their mother, sister, daughter and wife will be informed of any harassment or abuse of a colleague or a local. It is time to shift the shame and the fear! In light of the fact that many countries are bringing more women onboard, there is a need to think about how trainings can be fast tracked.
A short and informative Q & A session followed. Interventions included a Norwegian police officer sharing a story of how he had reported a senior UN staffer on mission because the person had harassed an office colleague. The person in question was a known abuser; yet he was on his fourth tour – and nothing was done to him. Clearly it is time to end the status quo and implement policies.
Ms. Visaka Darmadhasa, founder and Chair of the Association of War Affected Women and Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action closed the session by acknowledging that the nature of conflict is changing, and we must find innovative solutions.
Ms. Charlotte Isaksson, senior advisor to the Principal Advisor on Gender and WPS at the European External Action Service (EEAS) moderated the session.
The nature of conflict is changing, and we must find innovative solutions.
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