UN: Women face increasing violence in conflict regions, but under-represented in peace processes Print E-mail
 Pakistan --  Saturday, October 28, 2006, Shawal 4, 1427 A.H.

Women face violence in Iraq, Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS: Women are facing increasing violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, especially when they speak out publicly to defend women’s rights, a senior UN official told the UN Security Council.

Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the UN Development Fund for Women, called for fresh efforts to ensure the physical safety of women in countries emerging from conflicts, to provide them with jobs, and ensure that they receive justice including compensation for rape.

“Efforts to engage women in public decision-making will not succeed if women risk continued violence for taking on public roles, and they cannot be expected to be effective public actors if they have no source of livelihood,” she said on Thursday.

“What UNIFEM is seeing on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia is that public space for women in these situations is shrinking,” Heyzer said.

“Women are becoming assassination targets when they dare defend women’s rights in public decision-making.” “And everywhere, there is evidence that sexual and gender-based violence is taken into homes and communities after conflicts have ended, as ex-combatants return with small arms, and social norms that protect women remain broken,” she said.

Heyzer was one of several dozen speakers at a day-long open council meeting on implementation of a resolution adopted in 2000 that called for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking and peace building. It also called for the prosecution of crimes against women and increased protection of women and girls during war.

“What we have learned,” Heyzer said, “is that the earlier women are recognised as peace agents and engaged in peace processes, from mediations to peace negotiations to constitutional reform, the more they are seen as legitimate actors.”

Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno said that in the past year Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman head of state in Africa, Liberia adopted a rape bill, women in Sierra Leone pushed for laws on trafficking, inheritance and property rights and women in East Timor submitted a draft domestic violence bill to parliament. But despite these positive developments, he said, women face widespread insecurity even after guns have been silenced at the end of conflicts, and in many societies violence is still used as a tool to control and regulate the actions of women and girls seeking to rebuild their homes and communities.

“In Afghanistan, attacks on school establishments put the lives of girls at risk when they attempt to exercise their basic rights to education,” Guehenno said. “Women and girls are raped when they go out to fetch firewood in Darfur. In Liberia, over 40 per cent of women and girls surveyed have been victims of sexual violence. In the eastern Congo, over 12,000 rapes of women and girls have been reported in the last six months alone.”

Assistant Secretary-General Rachel Mayanja, the UN special adviser on women’s issues, said “the past year has demonstrated that our collective efforts to ensure equal participation of women in the consolidation of peace so far have generally fallen short of what is required.”

From Congo and Sudan to Somalia and East Timor, she said, “women continue to be exposed to violence or targeted by parties to the conflict ... lacking the basic means of survival and health care.” At the same time, Mayanja said, they remain “underrepresented indecision-making, particularly on war and peace issues.”