Both women and children have been disproportionately affected by conflict as casualties of violence, as internally displaced persons and as refugees. Violence against women and children in conflict harms families, impoverishes communities and reinforces other forms of inequality. In addition, women and girls suffer direct violations of their physical integrity, for example through reproductive violations and enforced pregnancy. Most recent conflicts have been rife with epidemic rates of sexual and gender-based violence, combined with high levels of gender-based human rights violations. The reality is that sexual violence has often been dismissed as an unfortunate consequence of conflict, resulting in widespread impunity for these crimes and general tolerance of gender based violence in post-conflict societies. It was in recognition of this pervasive problem that the African Union Peace and Security Department decided in 2010 to examine how best to develop targeted action to mitigate violence against women and children in armed conflict, building on the already existing normative frameworks.
EXISTING NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK:
In 2003 and 2004, African heads of state adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa ("the Women’s Protocol”) and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) which endorse the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000 on Women Peace and Security, the two documents call for the presence of women in conflict prevention and peace building activities in order to reverse their marginalization and abuse of human rights.
These international commitments are bolstered by some of the guiding principles of the AU, including the promotion of gender equality for which the AU Commission (AUC) has mandated a 50 per cent representation of women in its institutions. In the context of peace and security, the Post Conflict Reconstruction and Development Policy (PCRD) 2006 also commit member states to that same principle.
Building on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the Gender Policy of the African Union (2009) equally calls for the effective participation of women in peace support operations, conflict prevention, mitigation and post conflict reconstruction and development efforts, as well as for an increase in women participation in all processes aimed at maintaining peace and security and avoiding relapse into conflict.
GOING BEYOND THE NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK:
As noted above, while significant progress has been made in outlining a comprehensive human rights architecture for the continent, and within this to provide mechanisms to both prevent and address violence against women and children in conflicts, gross violations including sexual violence, displacement, recruitment of children by armed forces or groups, loss of life and livelihoods remain widespread. Despite the adoption of various legal mechanisms and resolutions, impunity for violations remains widespread and this is compounded by women’s marginalisation in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction programmes. As with all international and regional agreements, the central challenge is to affect the shift from ratification to domestication and implementation in order to realise the rights of all Africans.
Notwithstanding the existence of a strong normative framework conducive to the institutionalization of a gender sensitive culture within the AU, the effective implementation of key recommendations in the field of gender, peace and security has been weak at all levels.
As the Department tasked with implementing the Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the decisions of the Peace and Security Council (PSC), as well as managing the AU’s objectives in so far as promoting peace and responding to crisis situations is concerned, the Peace and Security Department represents the key entry point for gender mainstreaming into the continental peace and security agenda.
Fully cogniscent of the centrality of its mandate and of the need to include women in the peace and stabilization efforts in Africa, the Peace and Security Department (PSD) of the AU has taken concrete steps to mainstream gender into the work of its Department at the institutional, operational and programmatic level.
Concrete steps undertaken by the Peace and Security Department:
- PSD Roadmap for gender mainstreaming: 2011-2013:
PSD understands that responsibility for the implementation of a gender policy must be diffused across the organization structure, rather than concentrated in a small central Unit, which prompted the Department’s initiative, in June 2011, to develop a comprehensive roadmap and action plan for the period from 2011 to 2013, which seek to enhance the gender perspective into all aspects of the Department’s work, especially within the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), various policies and activities, through building gender capacity and accountability.
The roadmap has given an entire section (XIII) to the topic of women, peace and security. It lists several activities that were taken up by the AU Commission to strengthen the normative basis for the protection of women in armed conflicts and their successful implementation is on the way. These include, on the one hand, the consideration of the introduction of a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in the context of armed conflict; on the other hand, regular training sessions for AU headquarters and field staff to strengthen their skills in gender mainstreaming in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions. These trainings are an important measure to increase awareness of the AU personnel on gender issues in the context of conflict prevention and response.
- The Panel of the Wise Study:
The Panel of the Wise, one of the important pillars of APSA, and a consultative body of the Peace and Security Council, mandated to provide opinions on issues relevant to conflict prevention, management, and resolution has undertaken a comprehensive study on “Womena dn Children in Armed Conflicts” with the view to recommend ways to step up the implementation of existing commitments made by the Heads of State and Government, and various stakeholders in eliminating forms of violence against civilians, particularly women, girls and boys in armed conflict. Recommendations are grouped under six main headings: (i) Commitment and ratification; (ii) Promoting AU institutional co-ordination; (iii) Monitoring and documentation; (iv) Promoting accountability mechanisms; (v) Prevention and early warning; and (vi) Supporting AU-REC relations. The extensive study is expected to be submitted to the Assembly of Heads of states and Government in January 2014.
The report outlines both the considerable developments in the African Union’s human rights architecture, as well as the challenges faced in the implementation of mechanisms aimed specifically to address issues related to women and children in armed conflicts. The report includes a number of recommendations directed to the AU at large, as well as to the Commission, in order to strengthen African instruments for mitigating violence against women, girls and boys in conflict situations. It also identifies ways in which the Panel of the Wise can assist in devising measures to consolidate the efforts of the AU through ensuring the implementation of existing obligations. By so doing the AU can address, politically and substantially, the vulnerabilities of women, girls and boys in armed conflict situations.
- The Annual Open Sessions of the PSC on Women and children in Armed Conflicts: the Livingston Formula
In December 2008, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) held a retreat in Livingstone, Zambia and agreed on a mechanism for interaction between the PSC and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa. This is mechanism is known as the “Livingstone Formula”. The Livingstone Formula has provided an opportunity for CSOs to contribute to the efforts of the PSC of the AU to foster peaceful and stable societies and to protect civilians, especially women and children. This collaboration of the AU and civil society has helped bring to the forefront, the personal stories of women and children during armed conflict and has further opened the door for civil society to impact AU processes to safeguard the livelihoods of women and children, and for the AU to support civil society in mobilizing national, community and continental efforts towards sustainable peace initiatives.
As AU and its Member States were demonstrating a firm commitment to address issues related to both women and children in armed conflicts through well-defined human rights mechanisms, and by declaring the year 2010 the beginning of the AU Decade for Women (2010-20) which is intended to accelerate the implementation of the AU’s policy framework to promote the rights of women on the continent, the PSD took advantage of these opportunities to launch the Livingston Formula with a PSC open session on Women and Children in Africa in March 2010 in Addis Ababa. At the conclusion of its meeting, the AU PSC made a decision to devote an open session, every year, to the theme of women and children and other vulnerable groups in armed conflicts. In convening these open session meetings, the PSC recognizes that a focus on women and children brings into clear view the wider human security dimensions of the AU peace and security agenda. Moreover, the Panel of the Wise took adavatneg of the opportunity to present the initial findings of its above-mentioned report on “Women and Children in Armed Conflict” to frame the discussions.
During the second AU Peace and Security Council open session, in March 2011, the AU Panel of the Wise requested FAS in partnership with UN Women, Urgent Action Fund (UAF) Africa, Oxfam, Isis Women International Cross-Cultural Exchange (Isis WICCE) to mobilize women survivors of sexual violence from DRC, South Sudan, Uganda, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire to produce a statement consolidating their views and recommendations. The statement included testimonies and recommendations on interventions regarding prevention of sexual violence and the rehabilitation of survivors. One of the key recommendations the women made was for the need for a holistic post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes to provide psychological, medical, legal, and financial support to women and children affected by conflicts. Related to this, the women survivors made a recommendation for the provision of a recovery fund for them to get economic empowerment and develop targeted programmes to be financially independent and claim their rightful role in the post conflict reconstruction.
At the third Open session of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) held on 26 March 2013, Council took note of the statements made by the Commissioner for Peace and Security, the Director of Women, Gender and Development Directorate (WGDD), as well as United Nations agencies (UN Women and UNICEF), which focused on the role of Women in the promotion of peace in Africa since in Africa 1963; the contemporary nature of the threats to women and children in conflict areas; progress made since the PSC’s last meeting in 2011 as regard to the protection of women and children in armed conflicts; review of various innovative and successful initiatives by non state actors and propose ways to support them.