Governments must empower women for full recovery from conflicts – UN report

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid (right) with Haitian youth tracking malnutrition among mothers and children

20 October 2010 – Discrimination against women not only exposes them to the worst effects of disaster and war, including rape, but also deprives their countries of a prime engine for recovery, according to a new United Nations report launched today.

The release of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) State of World Population 2010 report – From Conflict and Crisis to Renewal: Generations of Change – coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325, which aimed to end sexual violence against women and girls in armed conflict andWhile women rarely wage war, they suffer the worst of its consequences, and when it comes time to wage peace women are too often denied a place at the negotiating table to encourage greater participation by them in peace-building initiatives.

“This year’s report is about the three Rs: resilience, renewal and redefining roles between boys and girls and men and women,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said at the official launch in London of the report, which uses stories of individuals affected by conflict or catastrophe in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti, Iraq, Jordan, Liberia, the occupied Palestinian territory, Timor-Leste and Uganda to bring home its message.

It shows how communities and civil society are healing old wounds and moving forward, while stressing how much more still needs to be done to ensure that women have access to services and have a voice in peace deals or reconstruction plans.

The case examples are the first time the annual study has been based on reports from the field to show how countries that have experienced conflict or disasters are on the road to recovery, however rocky the path and uncertain the destination.

Ms. Obaid underscored “the devastating and unacceptable sexual violence” in countries affected by conflict. “As an international community, we have not been able to prevent this crime and human rights violation. This report calls for urgent and concerted action to protect women, prevent sexual violence, stop impunity, and bring justice,” she said.

“But the report shows that recovery from conflict and disaster also presents a unique opportunity, an opportunity to rectify inequalities, ensure equal protection under the law, and create space for positive change.”

A principal recommendation is that Governments need to seize the opportunities arising out of post-conflict or post-disaster recovery to increase the chances that countries “are not just rebuilt, but built back better and renewed, with women and men on equal footing, with rights and opportunities for all and a foundation for development and security in the long run.”

In the foreword to the report, Ms. Obaid highlighted that gender-based violence, including rape, is “a repugnant and increasingly familiar weapon of war,” stressing that women are disempowered by rape or the threat of it, and by the HIV infection, trauma and disabilities that often result from it.

“Girls are disempowered when they cannot go to school because of the threat of violence, when they are abducted or trafficked, or when their families disintegrate or must flee. In some conflicts, men are also disempowered by sexual violence. Boys, too, are sometimes exploited or forced to become soldiers,” she wrote.

Security Council resolutions guide the international community’s response to conflict and establish the framework for actions to protect women and assure their participation in peace-building and reconciliation, “but they are not a substitute for grass-roots efforts to empower women and to build long-term resilience to crises of any sort.”

At a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York, report editor Richard Kollodge stressed how important women’s empowerment is in renewal after conflict and natural disaster. “While women rarely wage war, they suffer the worst of its consequences, and when it comes time to wage peace women are too often denied a place at the negotiating table,” he said.

The publication’s lead author Barbara Crossette said she was struck by how long it takes to achieve improvement in the 10 years since the Council resolution was passed.

“From the field there have been many positive steps but also persistent problems… human beings that continue to have trauma, there are women who are in psychoanalysis, being medically treated for years, and the violence has not stopped,” she told the reporters.


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