The State of Security and a Call for the Prevention of Armed Conflict: Women, Peace and Security Fifteen Years On

by GW Professor Aisling Swaine

secretary genera
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launching the report [photo: Aisling Swaine]

This week, the UN Security Council hosted a High-Level Review” to consider progress made towards meeting its commitment to overcome the historic exclusion of women and their concerns from its purview.  The event marked fifteen years since the Security Council adopted a ground-breaking resolution, Resolution 1325 (2000), that for the first time, recognized and strived to advance the overlooked, but critical role women can play in global efforts towards conflict resolution and peacemaking. 

In the UN Security Council on Tuesday, we heard from the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Their representative described how in the last decade, a century’s worth of progress on women’s rights has simply come to a halt as a result of the cycles of conflict there. These women provide life-saving aid to families trapped in areas that international organizations and the government itself cannot reach. This is in a context where they risk becoming one of the over 3000 women that they estimate to have been captured by ISIS.

The panel that launched the report. Left to right: Radhika Coomaraswamy, lead author of the Global Study; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee.
The panel that launched the report. Left to right: Radhika Coomaraswamy, lead author of the Global Study; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. [photo: Aisling Swaine]

As part of its review process, the Security Council commissioned an independent Global Study on the Implementation of Resolution 1325. Also launched by the UN this week, the study assesses progress over the past 15 years on securitizing the world in ways that equally reflect both men and women’s rights and concerns.  The study points towards much progress.  It also points towards much that remains to be done.

Global trends on the prevalence of armed conflict bear grim tidings. The current era is characterized by a-symmetrical conflicts, where factionalized and fragmented modes of warfare means that more and more civilians are deliberately targeted. In these conflicts for example, we see variant ways that women, men, girls and boys are forced into combatancy and subjected to a myriad of harms, the propensity for and impact of such experiences determined by gender roles and norms.  Terrorism and counter-terrorism as strategy predominates, and new technologies, such as the use of drones, enable a remote controlled warfare that appears unapologetic of the collateral damage it causes to civilians. 

Continue reading “The State of Security and a Call for the Prevention of Armed Conflict: Women, Peace and Security Fifteen Years On”

Kudos to GW's Mary Ellsberg

Kudos to GW’s Mary Ellsberg

Mary Ellsberg

Mary Ellsberg, Director of the Global Women’s Institute (GWI), was recently quoted in the New York Times article, U.N. Reveals ‘Alarmingly High’ Levels of Violence Against Women. This article discusses several major obstacles that continue to stand in the way of gender equality. Some such barriers include: counterproductive laws, cultural norms, and the wage gap. Though there have been advancements in certain areas of gender equality there is still a long way to go.

“At the time of the Beijing conference there was a desperate call for more information. We have data from most of the countries in the world. That, in and of itself, is a huge accomplishment. The issue is, it’s very hard to collect this data”. Mary Ellsberg, co-author of Prevention of VAWG: What Does the Evidence Say?, which was featured in the special issue of the Lancet released late 2014, continues to focus on data as a way to incite change. Facts are difficult to ignore.

The next step in gender equality will be seen with the release of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which come to a close this year.  The SDGs have many more gender specific goals than their  predecessor did, yet only time will tell how this strengthened focus will pan out.

To read the full article click here.

New report by Refugees International


February 4, 2015
Author: Marcy Hersh

Congolese Women: What Happened to the Promise to Protect?

Download the full report at (en français)

It is impossible to talk about the Democratic Republic of the Congo without talking about sexual violence. The widespread acknowledgement of gross levels of conflict-related sexual violence in the DRC spurred the international community to act in an unprecedented manner to protect women from these atrocities. In particular, there were two major investments by the United States and the United Nations, one with an unprecedented level of programmatic funding, the other with a novel coordination strategy.

While the U.S. and UN interventions yielded important results, both were built without the benefit of a strong evidence base to properly understand the context of gender-based violence (GBV) in the DRC. As a result, some policymakers in the U.S. and at the UN now believe that because women and girls continue to experience widespread GBV, these interventions have failed. In turn, some U.S. government policymakers feel that intervention is futile, and that the DRC is a bucket with the bottom removed, which no amount of funding can fix. Now, vital resources (both human and financial) are being transferred towards other competing priorities around the globe. The U.S. government is also considering new approaches that could jeopardize GBV survivors’ access to lifesaving care.

At the same time, the UN’s investment, a new approach to coordination called the Comprehensive Strategy to Combat Sexual Violence, created a five-pillared system co-led by the UN and the DRC government. After five years, this coordination strategy has largely failed to avoid duplication or generate momentum on addressing sexual violence, instead bogging humanitarian actors down with bureaucracy.

Policy Recommendations 

  • Donor governments, the United Nations, and humanitarian organizations should take on more gender-based violence (GBV) initiatives, rather than focusing on conflict-related sexual violence.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development should reinstate funding for stand-alone, multi-sectoral GBV services that include medical, psychosocial, judicial, socio-economic, and prevention activities. This funding must support multi-year program cycles and include community-based organizations in implementation to build sustainability.
  • Donors should increase funding for programs that seek to address the root causes of GBV by empowering women and engaging men.
  • Donor governments, in particular the U.S., and the UN should pressure the DRC government to seriously address and prioritize GBV, particularly in the provision of sustainable health and social services to GBV survivors, as well as on issues of impunity and security sector reform.
  • The DRC Minister of Gender, in collaboration with UN Women, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Refugee Agency, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should overhaul the current National Strategy to Combat Gender-Based Violence and dissolve the pillared structure for coordination.
  • In the DRC provinces where humanitarian clusters are active, UNICEF and UNFPA should activate GBV sub-clusters.
  • The DRC Ministry of Gender, Family Affairs, and Children should develop a new national strategy to combat GBV that coordinates civil society, humanitarian organizations, and the UN.

Marcy Hersh assessed the humanitarian response to women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo in October 2014.

Download the full report at   


Event Recap: A Call to Action on Violence Against Women and Girls

A Call to Action on Violence Against Women and Girls—The US Launch of the Lancet Series on Violence Against Women and Girls

by staff contributor Camry Haskins

On the seventh day of 16 Days Against Gender Based Violence, the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) at George Washington University hosted the US launch of the Lancet Series on Violence Against Women and Girls. The launch opened with the Call to Action followed up by two
panel discussions. The first panel focused on evidence while the second looked at lessons from practice.

Panel one: Prevention of VAWG:
What Does the Evidence Say?

Panel one centered on the research and findings by Mary Ellsberg, Director of GWI, and her team. Ms. Ellsberg was joined by Dr. Lori Heise, Director of the Centre on Gender, Violence and Health and James Tielsch, Chair of the Department of Global Health at the Milken institute School of Public Health. One of their biggest findings was that there is a shortage of research. What research has been conducted is mainly skewed toward high-income countries. When compiling what data there is, it becomes clear that there are
different tendencies for violence at all levels of society. And the percentage of gender-based violence (GBV) can differ between 2 percent and 70 percent depending on location. The fact that the percentages differ so greatly creates hope
that we can greatly reduce violence against women and girls (VAWG). The first panel closed with remarks on what they hoped the future focus would be in regards to VAWG. overall, the consensus was on a push for convergence of research, increased interest in valuations of programs, and increased testing of studies and strategies.

Continue reading “Event Recap: A Call to Action on Violence Against Women and Girls”

Women, peace and security and much more accountability

By guest contributor Aisling Swaine 

As we approach the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, there remain challenges to ensuring that women’s rights, needs and interests are fully addressed in all matters relating to international peace and security.  On the one hand is a need for the more substantive gender equality provisions of the women, peace and security agenda to be fully engaged with and addressed, and on the other, a need for strengthened accountability on implementation of the range of normative provisions that we do have in place.

CEDAW logo
CEDAW logo

Two recent developments within the UN system offer great potential in this regard.  I have recently published a brief piece as part of the American Society for International Law, Insights series about these developments.

As the international “bill of women’s rights,” the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) matters greatly in advancing substantive gains in equality and rights for women worldwide.  What has also mattered is that, despite its applicability to conflict-affected contexts, the provisions set out by CEDAW have not been systematically implemented in relation to contexts of conflict and their aftermath.

In October 2013, the CEDAW Committee adopted General Recommendation No. 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situationsThe General Recommendation outlines how CEDAW, and its principles of non-discrimination, may be explicitly applied and implemented relative to conflict and post-conflict contexts.

At the same time, additional steps were taken by the UN Security Council to advance its commitments to addressing gender equality relative to conflict-affected contexts. Also in October 2013, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2122 which employs strong and substantive language on women’s leadership and participation, doing much to address concerns that the Council was taking too strong a focus on women’s victimization in concentrating on sexualized violence.

These recent developments potentially take us forward in advancing more substantive approaches to holding states to account for implementation of gender equality concerns in conflict-affected contexts. Brought together, the CEDAW General Recommendation and the series of by now, seven women, peace and security resolutions adopted by the Security Council, represent a strong legal and normative framework to ensure that gender equality concerns are addressed relative to conflict.

Importantly, the CEDAW General Recommendation sets out provisions and ways for states parties to the Convention to report on and be accountable for their implementation of the women, peace and security resolutions in their reporting to the CEDAW Committee.    It will be interesting to see how states parties to CEDAW begin to report under this General Recommendation and what difference the link with human rights law makes for overall progress on implementing the women, peace and security agenda.

Aisling Swaine Jan 2014Aisling Swaine is Associate Professor of Practice of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, GW.  Aisling has spent over 14 years working on issues of violence against women, women, peace and security and transitional justice at programming and policy levels internationally.  She teaches on gender and conflict and on global gender policy. 

Call for Applications: Scholars in Residence Program, 2014-2015

Scholars In Residence Program
Who: Beatrice Bain Research Group (BBRG) is the University of California at Berkeley
Where: Berkley, California
Deadline: March 15

The Beatrice Bain Research Group (BBRG) is the University of California at Berkeley’s critical feminist research center, established in 1986 to support and coordinate feminist scholarship across disciplines. The BBRG is particularly interested in enabling research on gender in its intersections with sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, nation, religion, postcoloniality, globalization and transnational feminisms. Among its programs and activities, the BBRG has a Scholars-in-Residence Program. Under the auspices of this Program, each year the BBRG hosts a new group of approximately ten competitively selected scholars from the U.S. and abroad for a period of one academic year. The BBRG Scholars-in-Residence Program is open to scholars who meet UC Berkeley’s visiting scholar definition, from any country, whose work is centrally on gender and women. Applicants must have received their Ph.D. (or its equivalent) at least one year prior to the projected start of their residency at BBRG.