While women remain a minority of combatants and perpetrators of war, they increasingly suffer the greatest harm.
In contemporary conflicts, as much as 90 percent of casualties are among civilians, most of whom are women and children. Women in war-torn societies can face specific and devastating forms of sexual violence, which are sometimes deployed systematically to achieve military or political objectives.
Women are the first to be affected by infrastructure breakdown, as they struggle to keep families together and care for the wounded. And women may also be forced to turn to sexual exploitation in order to survive and support their families.
Even after conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persist, including unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and stigmatization. Widespread sexual violence itself may continue or even increase in the aftermath of conflict, as a consequence of insecurity and impunity. Coupled with discrimination and inequitable laws, sexual violence can prevent women from accessing education, becoming financially independent and from participating in governance and peacebuilding.
Moreover, women continue to be poorly represented in formal peace processes, although they contribute in many informal ways to conflict resolution. In recent peace negotiations, for which such information is available, women have represented fewer than 8 percent of participants and fewer than 3 percent of signatories, and no woman has ever been appointed chief or lead mediator in UN-sponsored peace talks. Such exclusion invariably leads to a failure to adequately address women’s concerns, such as sexual and gender-based violence, women’s rights and post-conflict accountability.
UN Security Council Resolutions
Recognizing the impact of war on women and the importance of their involvement in the peace process, in October 2000, the Security Council unanimously adopted a groundbreaking resolution on Women, Peace and Security. Resolution 1325 urged Member States to increase women’s representation at all decision-making levels for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict. It urged the Secretary-General to appoint more women as his special representatives and envoys, and to expand women’s role and contribution in UN field-based operations.
The Council called on all actors involved in negotiating and implementing peace agreements to adopt a gender perspective. It also called on all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and all other forms of violence that occur in situations of armed conflict. These recommendations were further developed in Resolution 1820 (2008) and Resolutions1888 and 1889 (2009). In October 2010 the UN Security Council marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1325.
In February 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Margot Wallström of Sweden as his Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Ms. Wallström has urged seeking accountability for mass rapes committed in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, telling the UN Security Council it should ‘turn the tide against impunity.’