Looking forward, looking around, looking back

Earlier this month, representatives from across government and civil society met at the Annual Civil Society Dialogue on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). They participated in a rich program of discussions looking back at the implementation of Australia’s first National Action Plan (NAP) on WPS, looking around at where we’re at now, and looking forward to the next NAP. The event was co-hosted by Australian Civil Society Coalition for WPS and Monash Gender, Peace and Security.

The Dialogue is designed to facilitate robust and constructive discussions between the range of government departments responsible for implementing the National Action Plan on WPS, and the plethora of civil society organisations whose passion and programming continue to drive the agenda forward.

The WPS agenda is based on eight United Nations Security Council Resolutions. Those resolutions acknowledge that men and women experience conflict differently. They require women’s protection from the effects of violence (particularly sexual violence); and their participation in the prevention, mitigation, resolution and recovery from conflict. The resolutions go into detail about a range of activities including peace negotiations, disarmament demobilisation and reintegration, security sector reform, the rule of law, and countering violent extremism.

While Australia’s NAP is coordinated by the Office for Women in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, implementation is the responsibility of the Attorney General’s Department, Australian Civil-Military Centre, Australian Federal Police, Department Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence.

Outside of government, a range of humanitarian and development non-government organisations (NGOs) like World Vision, the Red Cross, ActionAid and Care also implement a range of programs within the WPS agenda. It is largely due to the advocacy of organisations like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom that Australia even has a NAP. Community groups like Diaspora Action Australia localise the agenda, and academics from a range of universities continue to undertake research that can be used to inform good policy.

Looking around, we see situations in Bougainville, Iraq and Syria, and Myanmar overflowing with issues within the WPS agenda. In Bougainville, women are key peacemakers. As the independence referendum there draws ever nearer, and negotiations on the reopening of the Panguna copper mine continue, we need to heed the voices of women to prevent resurgence of conflict.

In Syria and Iraq, gendered war crimes have driven the conflict with Da’esh. There is unprecedented opportunity to end impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict. We know that rape has been used as a tactic of war, as constituent of genocide, and in crimes against humanity. Last year, it was estimated 30,000 foreign fighters swelled the ranks of Da’esh and other extremist organisations in Iraq and Syria. Many of those fighters come from places where war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity are outlawed in domestic legislation. They need to be prosecuted.

In Myanmar, the Army is still using rape as a tactic of war, particularly against minority ethnic groups. Security Council Resolution 2106 “affirms that sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a method or tactic of war or as part of a widespread or systemic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate and prolong situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security.” That resolution goes on to request “effective vetting processes in order to exclude from the security sector those who have perpetrated or are responsible for acts of sexual violence.”

Australia is simultaneously normalising its relations with Myanmar and increasing its WPS activities in the Defence Cooperation Program. It is paramount that Burmese military personnel are proactively screened for allegations of sexual violence before being included in training and education opportunities and the Defence Cooperation Program.

Last week, the ASPI community joined the WPS discussions. The Women in Defence and Security Network held an event on WPS and the role of gender advice. Leanne Smith shared challenges to implementation of the WPS agenda in United Nations Peacekeeping. Brad Orchard discussed the four mechanisms for Defence implementation of Australia’s National Action Plan on WPS. Jennifer Wittwer shared ten lessons from her time as the Chief of Defence Force’s Director National Action Plan for WPS.

But it is important that we look forward too. This week, the Security Council is holding its annual open debate on WPS. The NGO Working Group on WPS, including many Australian signatories, wrote to all permanent representatives to the UN asking them to remember the commitments they made last year, at the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. They asked for specific information on financing, implementation of NAPs; strengthening justice, accountability and the rule of law; women’s participation in preventing and resolving conflict; and addressing humanitarian crisis through a gender lens.

We need to ensure that these commitments flow through into Australia’s next NAP. We need to make sure they are integrated into Australia’s peace and security activities at home and abroad. As Australia begins drafting its next NAP, we need to continue to draw on the wealth of knowledge and expertise in civil society, to develop a more robust NAP that can be used to continue improving international peace and security.

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