Last month, the U.N. Security Council echoed past assessments that not enough has been done to address conflict-related sexual violence. But researchers “have established that this particular crime of war is not inevitable,” says USIP’s Kathleen Kuehnast, and there are new strategies for “how best to address the trauma” and prevent it.

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.


Laura Coates: Joining me now is Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast, the director of gender policy and strategy at the United States Institute of Peace. She also leads the institute's grants and fellowships program, as a sociocultural anthropologist, Kuehnast brings scholarship and field experience into focus on the different gendered impacts of violence and conflict and men, women and gender and sexual minorities. She has also co-edited the volume, Women and War, Power and Protection in the 21st Century. And she has been a part of the international vanguard of introducing the concept of peaceful masculinity which focused on inclusive gender analysis. She joins me now. Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast. Welcome. How are you?

Kathleen Kuehnast: Great. Thank you so much, Laura.

Laura Coates: I'm glad that you're here. Thank you so much for joining us. Firstly, knowing that there are really at least two active wars right now we've seen the horrors and the targeting of women in particular, and the violence that has ensued. Just at the end of last month, there was the U.N. Security Council Resolution, discussing Women, Peace and Security as well. Tell us a little bit about what took place there and why it's so pressing now.

Kathleen Kuehnast: Well, let me start with the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, otherwise known as UNSCR 1325, is 23 years old. And this really is the foundation for understanding what happens to women in war. And how can we help women be more of an active participant in peacebuilding. And so, every year, around the end of October, the Security Council meets on issues related to 1325. And again, it echoed the problem of not enough advancement, one not enough protection of women in war, and not enough participation.

Laura Coates: It's really interesting to think about the way that gender has played into conflicts in particular, what maybe people don't understand, though, taking a step back, why is it important to look at gender in conflict?

Kathleen Kuehnast: Well, conflict, violent conflict changes the rules of any society. It is urgent, it is a disaster. And it is a problem in terms of survival. And in those moments, the roles of a traditional binary society, male female roles absolutely change. And so, we need to understand how that change happens. And what happens when finally, there is some sort of peace treaty, and the roles in which women play and the roles that men play. It's critical because sometimes in societies, actually, the opportunities for women actually contract, there are fewer roles, they become even more traditionalized. War in one sense is a disruption and an opportunity for allowing more rights for women in society.

Laura Coates: So, when you look at what's happening right now, in terms of what not only raising the awareness, but what can be done? Are there tangible things that governments are looking at collectively to address what's happening with the U.N.?

Kathleen Kuehnast: Yes, the U.N. has been very active in the sphere for decades. But they themselves just put out a report a couple of months ago. And again, it's it speaks to a narrowing of women's rights across the world. And in that sense, an urgency of a call out that we must continue to focus on improving these rights, allowing women more opportunities for engagement in economic sphere, but also in the political sphere. That particular area has been of great concern, because of the number of incidences of violence against women who are engaged in politics, and then I'm talking globally.

Laura Coates: How did the establishment of the International Criminal Court for example I think that was in 2002. How has that changed the landscape of how people have addressed and talked about the violence that has ensued the conflict related sexual violence?

Kathleen Kuehnast: Well, conflicts related sexual violence is a part of understanding that this is a war time, crime. This was codified in the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court. This is really critical, because it is the first global, if you will, legal tool in which to prosecute leaders of a military or other non-government organizations of violence, if you will, to actually expand the jurisprudence and begin to address gender-based crimes in conflict.

Laura Coates: Obviously, the most impactful would be complete and total deterrence of conflict and sexual violence. But are there other tools available to try to address and also prosecute?

Kathleen Kuehnast: Yeah, it's a mixed bag, because collecting evidence in the midst of an active violent conflict is very difficult to do, we have a hard time during peace, to collect evidence on conflict with sexual violence, much less in a conflict setting. Nevertheless, we do have tools, they are more focused on the prevention of atrocities, and we consider conflict related sexual violence, a form of an atrocity. And in that way, the other heap part of the spectrum, Laura is really knowledge of educating ourselves doing excellent research among scholars, globally, they have established that this particular crime of war, sexual violence is not inevitable, it does not happen in every war. We want to understand when it happens, why it happens, how it happens, and how we can intervene and prevent it. So, this is a field growing in understanding and in scholarship. At the same time, we have many survivors of this crime. And we are learning from the survivors, how best to address the trauma, and intervene on dealing with these kinds of acts of violence, from a criminal perspective addressing them in both national and international courts.

Laura Coates: We obviously can't do this in a vacuum or thinking, theoretically, when we are seeing the act of war and the humanitarian crisis spiraling out of control in Gaza, and we see a population, I think their statistics are, you know, half children in terms of those who populate that region. And there is a dawning of children born of war field of inquiry that's happening. So can you just explain a little bit more about what's going on there and how this relates to the present time.

Kathleen Kuehnast: In terms of the children born of war, this is a particular understanding that truly, the only criminal act that results in a baby being born is this conflict related sexual violence. What has happened over the years is beginning to really call attention to this field, because it first of all, it often includes statelessness stigma, and many of these children face very specific cycles, social problems. So, it's a recognition that this area of work is we have a lot more to do on it. And definitely, you know, wars are horrific spaces for children and the impact of trauma for years to come. There is a deep concern that also violence begets violence. And if we as a human society, continue to solve our problems through violence, that you know that the outcome does not favor, peace, if you will.

Laura Coates: Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast, thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate it so much.

Kathleen Kuehnast: Thank you, Laura, for having me.

Related Publications

Sexual Violence Is Not an Inevitable Cost of War

Sexual Violence Is Not an Inevitable Cost of War

Thursday, December 7, 2023

By: Kathleen Kuehnast, Ph.D.

The ever-growing list of conflict zones in which sexual violence has been reported globally this year, including in Israel, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti, underscores the persistent horror of this scourge. Acts of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) violate not only the physical and mental integrity of the victims but also breach international humanitarian law and human rights principles.

Type: Analysis

GenderHuman Rights

How the Taliban Enables Violence Against Women

How the Taliban Enables Violence Against Women

Thursday, December 7, 2023

By: Belquis Ahmadi

In just 28 months, the Taliban have dismantled Afghan women’s and girls’ rights — imposing draconian restrictions regarding their education, employment and freedom of movement. Any perceived violation of these oppressive policies is often met with harassment, intimidation, and verbal and physical abuse orchestrated by the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue. And when women are detained by authorities, they have been subjected to cruel treatment, including torture.

Type: Analysis

GenderConflict Analysis & Prevention

Missing Peace Initiative: Listen to Survivors to Prevent Sexual Violence in War

Missing Peace Initiative: Listen to Survivors to Prevent Sexual Violence in War

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

By: Kathleen Kuehnast, Ph.D.;  Margot Wallström;  Sofiia Kornieieva;  Kolbassia Haoussou;  Sayda Eisa Ismail;  Mause-Darline Francois

For over a decade, the Missing Peace Initiative has brought together scholars, policymakers, practitioners and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to discuss new ways to prevent this scourge of war. At the initiative’s second global symposium, USIP spoke with several experts on the progress made in the last 10 years, the importance of hearing directly from survivors and persons with disabilities, and the continued work that needs to be done to end this horrific crime.

Type: Blog

Conflict Analysis & PreventionGender

View All Publications

Related Projects

Advancing Women, Peace and Security

Advancing Women, Peace and Security

The U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security (U.S. CSWG) is a non-partisan network of civil society organizations with expertise on the impacts of women in war and their participation in peacebuilding. Established in 2010, the working group is an engaged coalition to promote the effective implementation of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

GenderJustice, Security & Rule of Law

View All