Rights and wrongs

Thu, Jan 10, 2013


Ray Collins


This blog first appeared at the Labour Lords website.

In the Lords last night, we debated the need to ensure that government support to victims of sexual violence including rape is non-discriminatory and, where medically necessary, involves the choice of abortion services.

Wartime sexual violence is one of history’s greatest silences. It is devastating for individuals, families and communities who must cope with unwanted pregnancies and children, stigmatization and rejection, diseases and reproductive health issues, psychological trauma, and disintegration of the social fabric.

Since the 1990’s, there has been an increased awareness of sexual violence in wartime due to the significant impact of armed conflicts on civilian populations. According to UN Women, 90% of casualties in contemporary conflicts are civilians, with the majority being women and children. Sadly, the effects often continue beyond war. Post-conflict studies from Rwanda, where up to half a million women were raped during the conflict, show a spiral of continuing violence against women. The same cycle is being repeated in Syria right now, with reports from organisations such as Human Rights Watch of Syrian government forces and militias sexually abusing girls as young as 12.

Violence against women as a tool of war remains one of the least prosecuted crimes, and we have to do better to ensure action against the perpetrators. Not only must we be tough on this crime we have to be tough on its causes. To do so means tackling the underlying problems of lack of empowerment, education and inclusion. If we hope to change the harsh reality in which so many women live, particularly in conflict zones, we need to properly support organisations like UN Women.

Twelve years ago, the unanimous adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was a landmark decision; in which the situation of women was specifically addressed in armed conflict and called for their participation at all levels of decision-making on conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The UN recognised that women’s exclusion from such processes not only contravened their rights but also weakened the prospects for sustainable peace.

Since the adoption of resolution1325, four supporting resolutions have been adopted by the Security Council, focusing on three key goals: strengthening women’s participation in decision-making; ending sexual violence and impunity; and providing an accountability system. Together, these resolutions provide a powerful framework and mandate for implementing and measuring change in the lives of women in conflict-affected countries. As a member of the UN Women executive, the UK has a responsibility to help ensure it the international community’s commitment.

Last night, I sought reassurance from the Minister, Baroness Northover that the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, will make this a priority. UN Women has great potential but that will not survive without our support. As my colleague, the MP Rushanara Ali recently pointed out they don’t have the long-term backing that everyone agrees is necessary for the organisation to take off. The aim is to join up the work being done across the UN on gender equality and women’s empowerment, pooling resources and efforts to increase impact and reach.

Lord Lester, who initiated the Lords debate, pointed out that girls and women who are raped and become pregnant have rights under the Geneva Conventions to have full medical care, including the choice of an abortion. Unfortunately the United States attaches a ban on abortion as a condition of all of its humanitarian aid funding, including to UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and foreign countries. The Minister assured the Lords of the UK responsibility to protect women and girls around the world. I hope the government’s guarantee holds, and we continue to live up to our commitment to those at their most vulnerable in places and times of conflict.

Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is Shadow Minister for International Development in the House of Lords

Published 10th January 2013

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Women, Peace and Security – UN Security Council Resolution 1325

Women, Peace and Security 


UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was the first of its kind to specifically address the unique impact of conflict on women, and women’s important contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. Passed in 2000, it marked a watershed moment when the international community formally recognized the integral role of women and gender to peace and security. UNSCR 1325 has remained an essential tool for encouraging governments to fulfill their obligations to ensure women are included as agents for peace and security in all processes, and its framework has inspired further action by the UN and civil societies and governments around the world to mainstream gender into their work on conflict resolution.


Following UNSCR 1325, subsequent Security Council Resolutions further defined the importance of women’s roles in conflict and peacebuilding. Resolutions 1820, passed in 2008, and 1888, passed in 2009,  recognize sexual violence as an issue of international peace and security and reiterate the need for a comprehensive response to sexual and gender-based violence. In 2010, Resolution 1960 created specific steps needed for the prevention of sexual violence, and Resolution 2106 in 2013 looked specifically at accountability for crimes of sexual violence. The most recent resolution on women, peace and security, UNSCR 2122, aims to strengthen measures to improve the participation of women in all phases of conflict resolution and prevention.


UNSCR 1325 and successive Resolutions are an important show of international support that ensure women, peace and security are on the agenda for international organizations and governments across the globe, but there are many steps between the passage of such resolutions and their full implementation on the ground.  One tool that helps bridge this gap are National Action Plans(NAPs), written plans that specify how a country will mainstream gender, and the principles of 1325 into its defense, development and diplomatic activities. Over 36 countries in the world have drafted NAPs, and that number is growing every year.


In addition to government- and UN-level documents and programs, it is important to consider the work women do in more informal, Track II diplomatic and peace negotiations. Around the world, women are active as civil society leaders, and in many cases, such as Liberia, Northern Ireland and the Philippines, their grassroots work has played a major role in peace processes.


For more resources on women, peace and security, visit The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and SecurityPeaceWomenUSIP, and The Institute for Inclusive Security.

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