Authors Kathleen Kuehnast, Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, and Helga Hernes discuss their recent book Women and War: Power and Protection in the 21st Century. The book addresses the reality that women have long been uncounted victims of war and examines the increased role of women as armed combatants in conflicts, while asking the question of how to bring women into the setting the agenda for peacebuilding in conflict affected countries.

What do the authors examine in Women and War?

We examine the specific and unique challenges of war, for women, and the actions taken by the U.N. Security Council to protect and also empower women in conflict—namely, the adoption of Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325).


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What is UNSCR 1325?

UNSCR 1325 is a landmark international legal framework that addresses not only the inordinate impact of war on women, but also the pivotal role women should and do play in conflict management, conflict resolution and sustainable peace.

The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995 brought the impact of war on women’s lives and the issue of women’s agency in international and national security issues to the attention of world leaders. Five years later, UNSCR 1325 was adopted. At the heart of the resolution are two main ideas: power and protection.

  1. Women must have the power to participate equally in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security. The resolution recognized that women were largely absent from decision-making processes related to conflict prevention and resolution and that their role must be increased.


  2. World leaders and institutions acknowledge that women are inordinately affected by physical and sexual violence, especially in intrastate conflicts, and that they bear the burden of social and economic reconstruction. Hence, special efforts need to be made to protect women from physical violence, sexual violence in particular, and to further provide designated and sustain support to women in rebuilding their society.


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How has the international relations field recently evolved to address gender issues?

For most of the twentieth century, the study and practice of war and international relations have been dominated by men with a focus on the security of states. The end of the Cold War and the changing nature of violent conflict have altered the way policymakers and experts think about war and its impacts. At the conceptual level, we have witnessed a shift from seeing security solely through a military lens to understanding the broader notion of human security with its focus on the individual and relations between individuals and groups within societies. This changed perspective has led to greater awareness of the importance of gender analysis in international relations. At the operational level, we have witnessed a call for a more active role for the United Nations, especially gender-specific challenges faced by women in conflict situations.


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How effective has UNSCR 1325 been since it was adopted in 2000?

Since the adoption of UNSCR 1325 a decade ago, a high level of activity has taken place in many countries, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions. This activity includes the elaboration of national action plans, guidelines, strategies, and policies to ensure that women have equal and fair representation at operational and decision-making levels, and that they be provided with specific measures to guarantee their protection from violence of any kind. UNSCR 1325 has created a security framework which is inclusive of gender issues. That said, conventional thinking about the roles that men and women play in the international peace and security realm remains persistent, and therefore, much remains to be done at both the conceptual and operational levels to shift the perception of war and peace to be inclusive of women.


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What are the consequences of marginalizing gender issues in the conflict resolution process?

The marginalization of gender as a “soft” issue in conflict resolution and reconstruction processes can perpetuate existing social inequalities, including the under utilization of half the population for engaged peacebuilding. Disregarding basic human rights of women, such as protection from sexual abuse and their full access to education and the labor force, results in continued relegation of women to subordinate positions in the private sphere and marginalization in the public sphere.

For many academics and policymakers, security continues to be defined primarily in military terms and connected to the notion of the state. As long as these dominant frameworks stay in place, scant progress can be made in understanding what goes on in today’s predominant from of violent conflict—namely internal conflict.


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Why is the collection of conflict data so important to the goals of UNSCR 1325?

Wars and postconflict reconstruction processes have very different impacts on the sexes, and therefore must be monitored separately. However, in many countries data collection is gender blind. This affects the way we look at the world, define problems and generate solutions. In short, it leads to ineffective policies. For example, the lack of accurate sex-aggregated data of number of combatants will often leave women without access to reintegration programs—thus, it is often assumed that all combatants are male. Similarly, the lack of sex-disaggregated data on the number of deaths in a conflict may skew our understanding of the conflict and the impact on society.


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How has the United Nations addressed the problem of sexual abuse during peacekeeping operations?

The United Nations has been slow in addressing the issue of sexual violence by peacekeepers. For the most part efforts have consisted of “gender training.” That is, efforts to increase gender sensitivity and consciousness on the part of male peacekeeping and security personnel. It is only recently that some attention has been paid to initiatives that would integrate and recruit women into peacekeeping operations and security forces.


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What steps can be taken, and by whom, to effectively reach the objectives of UNSCR 1325?

As Donald Steinberg discusses in the final chapter, “An Agenda for Action,” we can no longer afford to exclude the talents and skills of half the population in the pursuit of peace or to treat them as mere victims. He lays out specific priority actions to revitalize UNSCR 1325.

  1. Those charged with leading and supporting peace processes, especially mediators from the United Nations and regional bodies, should commit to bringing women into peace negotiations and peace agreement processes.
  2. The countries most instrumental in creating the new U.N. entity, U.N. Women, must ensure that it has the power, resources, and global reach to make a real difference.
  3. Bilateral donors and multilateral institutions should expand assistance for private women’s groups in conflict-affected countries.
  4. The U.N. Security Council must demand that the United Nations adopt time-bound goals—backed by monitoring, accountability provisions, and enforcement mechanisms—for reducing violence against women, ensuring the participation of women in peace processes, and providing reconstruction resources to projects of interest to women, and the like.
  5. The international humanitarian community should join together to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in conflict: those displaced from their homes and seeking refuge in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). A priority should be prevention of sexual violence of women; an expansion of livelihood, health, and education programs; the mainstreaming of psychosocial considerations in all protection and services; training for camp managers and protection forces; proper configuration of camps; and engagement of women refugees and IDPs in decision making on these issues.
  6. Leading external supporters of security sector reform in postconflict situations—the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations in particular—should ensure that their support to rebuild and reform armies, police, and other security forces include effective training in gender analysis for all personnel and require a substantial incorporation of women into those forces.
  7. There must be new financial resources dedicated to these efforts provided through both formal and voluntary contributions.


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