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House Subcommittee Hearing Focuses on Role of Women in International Conflict Resolution

On May 15, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight held a hearing on UN Security Resolution (SCR) 1325: Recognizing Women’s Vital Roles in Achieving Peace and Security. The hearing focused on women’s involvement in conflict resolution.

Passed unanimously by the United Nations (UN) Security Council on October 31, 2000, SCR 1325 recognizes the effects of armed conflict on women and girls. The resolution urges an expanded role for women in conflict resolution, decision-making processes, and national and international operations. It also calls for increased attention to “the special needs of women and girls” during and after conflicts, implores all parties to respect international human rights statutes in conflict, and discourages states from acting with impunity towards those who are responsible for “genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes,” including sexual violence towards women.

In his opening statement, Chair William Delahunt (D-MA) referred to SCR 1325 as “not simply an acknowledgement…[it] calls on all of us to do more” to aid women, who often face “disproportionate harm” in conflict zones, particularly in supporting the role of women as negotiators and strategists. Rep. Delahunt was joined by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who is not a member of the committee, but has introduced comparable legislation, H. Res. 146, on which the hearing also focused. Rep. Johnson’s resolution urges the United States and other members of the UN to “meet their obligations to women as agreed to” in SCR 1325.

Ranking Member Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated his opposition to H. Res. 146, asserting that the U.S. should not be “turning over any authority on any subject to the UN.”

Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, director and senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America, echoed Rep. Rohrabacher in stating her opposition to SCR 1325, asserting that it “refers to numerous United Nations treaties, [to which] the United States has made no commitments.” She mentioned specifically the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW has not been ratified by the full Senate, largely due to concerns that it may supersede national sovereignty and would therefore be unconstitutional. Dr. Crouse also cited specific provisions of CEDAW, such as ensuring access to family planning services, as further reason to oppose adopting SCR 1325 and H. Res. 146. Dr. Crouse listed concerns about CEDAW being used to “broaden the scope of abortion in the United States, just as it has and continues to be used for that purpose around the world,” along with CEDAW’s potential to “justify the legalization of prostitution, [institute] same-sex marriages, and [undercut] parental roles in child rearing and teaching values to children.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt spoke to the various ways that including women can influence change and promote peace by focusing on a recurrent theme among all of the witnesses: women’s “cultural sensitivity.” “Women constitute over half the population; sidelining them is discriminatory and fundamentally undemocratic,” she said. Ambassador Hunt continued, “But the rights argument is persuasive only to those who cherish fairness alone. For those who value efficacy and efficiency, ignoring them is foolish. In Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Bosnia, and elsewhere, I have seen firsthand how women prevent the eruption of violence, mediate among warring factions, and repair shattered societies after conflict.”

Betty Bigombe, distinguished African scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Africa Program, and chief mediator between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda since 1995, drew from her own experience in stating, “Women often demonstrate significant amounts of patience and tenacity, which are incredibly useful tools…the inclusion of women in mediation and negotiation processes is an essential element to achieving a sustainable and lasting peace.” She also noted the “marginalized, and all too often token, role [women play] in peacemaking processes. In 2006, for example, a full five years after the resolution [SCR 1325] was passed, only four out of sixty-one United Nations senior peacemaking officials were women. Today, only one United Nations special representative of the secretary-general is a woman. Moreover, women are not currently serving in leadership positions in any of the high profile conflict resolution cases, such as Darfur, Uganda, Congo, or the Middle East, despite their demonstrated capacity and widespread involvement in…grass roots peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts.” She concluded by urging that “pressure for more effective implementation of SCR 1325 must be kept up…a clear, firm, consistent, and timely effort from the United States will make a considerable impact on increasing the substantive participation of women in peacemaking processes, thereby contributing to the achievement of sustainable solutions to serious and complex conflicts.”

Donald Steinberg, deputy president of the International Crisis Group and former US Ambassador to Angola, described SCR 1325 as “a game plan for ensuring gender equality in political leadership, building gender-sensitive security forces, supporting women as they return to their homes, ensuring safety for women in refugee camps and settlements, and insisting on accountability for sexual violence and other abuses.” Noting that SCR 1325 has been “a dream deferred, in large part because there are no monitoring, accountability, and enforcement mechanisms,” Amb. Steinberg declared that implementation is “smart policy in America’s interests” and that, contrary to common perception, “there is nothing ‘soft’ about going after traffickers who turn women and girls into commodities. There is nothing ‘soft’ about preventing armed thugs from abusing women in IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, holding warlords accountable, for crimes committed against women, forcing demobilized soldiers to refrain from domestic violence, or insisting on a seat at the table for women in peace negotiations and post-conflict governments. These are among the hardest responsibilities in our peace building agenda.”

Dr. Crouse agreed with the importance of including women in conflict mediation worldwide. Noting that she has worked with former Ambassadors Hunt and Steinberg for more than a decade, she mused, “As usual, we agree very much on the problems. We disagree on the solutions.”

Rep. Delahunt questioned whether there was a direct link between SCR 1325 and CEDAW. Dr. Crouse responded, citing language in an unspecified United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) report, stating that while SCR 1325 provides a “big picture” of what should happen, CEDAW represents its implementation. Rep. Delahunt and several panelists refuted her comments, saying that SCR 1325 does not refer to any treaties; Amb. Steinberg responded that the only link between the two is a clause in SCR 1325 that urges its parties to support other UN treaties, including CEDAW, but that SCR 1325 does not mandate ratification of CEDAW. Dr. Crouse persisted in asserting that SCR 1325 and CEDAW are inextricably linked, and while accounts of women’s situations overseas “break our hearts, [they] cannot be used to push bad treaties.”

Rina Amiri, political affairs officer at the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, and Rebecca Joshua Okwaci, secretary general of the Women Action for Development (WAD) and executive producer of the Sudan Radio Service, also testified.

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