When it comes to war, one of the groups most negatively impacted is often ignored: women.
Studies have long shown that women bear enormous burdens in violent conflicts. A new exhaustive report by the United Nations takes this understanding even further, and speaks to the importance of women's empowerment in fomenting peace and prosperity.
The Global Study, released on Oct. 12, commemorates the 15th anniversary of U.N. Security Council resolution 1325, which called for increased women's rights and addressed the impact of violent conflicts on women. At a formidable 418 pages, the Global Study, also titled "Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace," exhaustively explores the relation between violent conflict and women's rights, drawing from examples of wars from around the world.
Summarizing the Global Study, U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said it "shows that women's participation and inclusion makes humanitarian assistance more effective, strengthens the protection efforts of our peacekeepers, contributes to the conclusion of peace talks and the achievement of sustainable peace, accelerates economic recovery, and helps counter violent extremism."
"The recognition that peace is inextricably linked with gender equality and women's leadership was a radical step for the highest body tasked with the maintenance of international peace and security," said Mlambo-Ngcuka.
"Peace is only sustainable if women are fully included, and that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men," the Global Study states. More than half of peace processes lapse back into conflict within five years, according to the report. Its in-depth analysis of 40 peace processes since the end of the Cold War, however, found that, "in cases of women's participation and strong influence, an agreement was almost always reached. Furthermore, strong influence of women in negotiation processes also positively correlated with a greater likelihood of agreements being implemented."
"What's happened in peace and security is that we've completely neglected half the population, and so, we then become surprised that peace isn't sustainable," said Alaa Murabit, of the High-Level Advisory Group for the Global Study.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, who oversaw the report, emphasized that war and violent conflict is one of the worst things for women's rights. "Levels of military spending are high and the cycle of escalation must stop," she said.
The Global Study, which calls for "an emphasis on prevention and 'no' to militarization" and stresses "the need for demilitarization and the development of effective strategies for prevention of conflict and non-violent protection of civilians," is also very critical of contemporary government policies surrounding war.
"Prevention of conflict must be the priority, not the use of force," it maintains. The report criticizes global priorities vis-à-vis military spending:
"In 2000, global military spending was already estimated above one trillion dollars. Since then, annual military expenditures have increased by approximately 60 percent, or the equivalent of 2500 years of expenditure by international disarmament and non-proliferation organizations. In addition to unilateral military operations, there is now an expanding list of military deployments supported by the UN and regional organizations, such as NATO, the European Union, the African Union, and the Arab League."
A survey conducted for the Global Study found that 84 percent of civil society organizations considered violent extremism a principal emerging issue of concern. "Today, there are new types of conflict that directly involve civilian populations in an unprecedented manner," the report said.
"Today's wars, whether in fighting traditional civil wars or engaging in asymmetrical warfare, have resulted in the largest number of IDPs and refugees since World War II, leading to terrible humanitarian consequences," the Global Study added.
In response, the U.N. Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda calls, in the study, "for transformation, rather than greater representation of women in existing paradigms of militarized response." In other words, a solution it proposes is not simply more representation of women in current violent systems and policies of oppression, but rather the creation of new, inclusive systems and policies that challenge this structural violence and oppression.
In a similar call for "transformative" justice, the U.N. report insists:
"Perpetrators of grave crimes against women should be held accountable for their actions so that women receive justice and future crimes are deterred. At the same time, justice in conflict and post-conflict settings must be transformative in nature, addressing not only the singular violation experienced by women, but also the underlying inequalities which render women and girls vulnerable during times of conflict and which inform the consequences of the human rights violations they experience."
The comprehensive investigation, which was initiated in 2013 with the adoption of Security Council resolution 2122, was released just before the Security Council's High-level Review, which was organized in order "to assess 15 years of progress at the global, regional, and national levels."
Mlambo-Ngcuka warned that "progress remains far too slow." Political scientist Cynthia Enloe noted in the Global Study that, around the world, Security Council resolution "1325 is not being effectively implemented."
The Global Study calls out hypocrisy in this arena. "Though there is a great deal of rhetoric supporting women, peace, and security," it writes, "funding for programmes and processes remains abysmally low across all areas of the agenda."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world should assert "unwavering support for empowering girls and women." "Women's leadership and the protection of women's rights should always be at the forefront -- and never an afterthought -- in promoting international peace and security," he remarked.