In the ‘z’ generation of the 21st century, it is of vital importance for us to discuss unchaining and unshackling of normative gender roles and needs.
In this context, I would like to talk about women’s safety and their issues in areas of conflict, which is an often undermined topic but is essential to be discussed especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. War zones are ground zero for brazen ethics and human rights violations, including abduction, rape, sexual exploitation, mass killings, illegal detention, forceful usage as women and girl children as soldiers, and usage of ammunition to injure or maim vulnerable, defenceless populations, of which women are usually a part.
but are unable to seek appropriate redressal because the healthcare they deserve is not available to them. They become refugees of war, seeking asylum in overcrowded and mismanaged detention centres, where they face the risk of separation from their family, of catching deadly diseases, or of becoming internally displaced within their own country.
They lose their cultural values and heritage to mass destruction. The primary factors causing these crises include the operations of rebel, militant and terrorist groups, interventions from foreign governments, megalomaniacal tendencies, prolonged protests and political conflict for control over resources.
In the current global healthcare scenario (caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic), medical vulnerabilities have prolonged the agony of women and children in regions like Libya, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Yemen, China’s Xinjiang, Ukraine, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria, and the Myanmar-Bangladesh Rohingya camps.
Adding on to this is the lack of economic upliftment and of food, shelter or employment opportunities for such women.
But there is another side to the narrative – a situation of conflict gives women and other undermined groups (such as tribals) the chance to seek independence and empowerment in fighting against an enemy force or to engage in peacekeeping for communal harmony. In this light, it becomes important to discuss country-specific problems in war-torn areas, and to find plausible national, regional and global solutions to social, political, cultural and humanitarian issues – especially in terms of the roles and rights of women.
Since the United Nations is celebrating 75 years of its existence this year, I would like to point out how this multilateral body carries immense responsibility for helping women in conflict zones. Firstly, there is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW, which sets universal standards for the upliftment of women across the world. Its work is furthered by two UN bodies, namely the Commission on the Status of Women and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (or UN Women).
There is also the landmark UNSC Resolution 1325 of 2000, which encourages each country to enhance women’s participation in peace and security, especially in areas of conflict. To do this, gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive budgeting are of the essence. Most importantly, the UN has determined standards for a gender equality commission as part of every governmental body, that focuses specifically on women’s issues, and attempts to address them vividly. Conflict-related abuse against women restricts them from unfolding their full potential in building peace and in sustaining national security, and we must do everything in our capacity to express, empower and enlighten them.
An important aspect in this discussion is Women’s equal political participation, which is guaranteed to them by Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is furthered by Article 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR). When women assume prominent decision-making and leadership roles in war-torn regions, they can ideate upon solutions that benefit women again the adverse impacts of prolonged conflict.
Such solutions could include frameworks for detecting early warning signs specific to conflict-related sexual violence. At the same time, the kind of decision-making that takes place at the top levels in the government are mainstreamed and budgeted in a targeted way, specific to deal with the complications faced by women as a separate, vulnerable group during the conflict. For example, the Arab Spring, which comprised of a series of protests against dictatorial, oppressive regimes across Africa, starting with the overthrow of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali in 2010, has demonstrated that women are fearless against oppression, and have the capacity to take up both, protest and peace-building, in such regions.
Conflict also gives rise to the question of Human trafficking, of which women and female children are the worst sufferers. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime clearly states that the risk of Human Trafficking increases by 31% in conflict and post-conflict situations and 69% of all victims are used for exploitation and forced labour, while the remaining 31% are used for sexual slavery.
It is saddening and yet interesting to note how women’s bodies become weapons for battle.
It has been increasingly reported by rebel groups in areas of conflict that they only abduct women or girls for trafficking to prove to the regime against them, that they have the capacity to rape, assault and use their citizens for forced labour, and will continue to do so till the opposition gives in. This gives light to the need for the work being done by the UNODC, as guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), as well as the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, Especially Women and Children, and the work that remains to be done, with regards to the rights of victimised women in terms of reproductive rights, economic opportunities and rehabilitation.
Joint initiatives to end global trafficking nexuses with the help of strengthened border security frameworks, cooperative mechanisms like data sharing and joint investigations, and collaborations with UN projects like the GLO-ACT Asia and the Middle East, will help countries willing to end violence against women act effectively and in tandem, because what strengthens the ideology of traffickers (or even terrorists and rebel groups) the most is the satisfaction that they will be able to receive protection and refuge in another country, because of lax protocols.
Finally, the role of the International Criminal Court here is immense. The ICC, guided by the Rome Statute, has the capacity to investigate war crimes committed in areas of conflict, against large populations, Suo Moto (that is, without any prompting or appeal for investigation from another party). In countries like Libya, where the Libyan National Army, led by the ruthless General Haftar, which have witnessed growing atrocities committed against women and children, the ICC must take it upon itself to bring war criminals like Gen. Haftar to justice.
When the world ignores the plight of a conflict, women awaken to bring justice to all those affected by the atrocities. As stakeholders capable of engaging in civil and political decision-making, the governments, international and sub-national bodies, and civil society organizations have the responsibility of truly understanding what it means to eliminate violence against women and to put sustainability at the core of their work. Only then will words turn to effective action.