On Wednesday, November 28, 2007, AAUW members joined with the League of Women Voters in a Briefing at the United Nations on "The Effects of War on Women Around the World". After a tour and luncheon in the Delegates Dining Room, we heard several knowledgeable speakers on this issue.
Xandra Kayden of the LWVUS pointed out that in 1900 war casualties were 5% civilians; by 2000 they were 75% civilians.
Sylvia Hordosch of the Social Affairs Office of the United Nations reported that increased violence against women often precedes armed conflict. Sexual violence against women is increasingly part of war. This problem was not always given priority. The first UN delegation to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban was all male. UN peacekeeping troops are less than 2% women, and peacekeeping police are only 5% female. In peace negotiations, women's issues are often ignored or postponed.
This is slowly changing. UN Resolution #1325 on Women, Peace, and Security of 2000 requires that all peacekeeping groups have gender advisors. Women's security depends on the rule of law, democracy, equity, education, and opportunity.
Donna Bhagwandin, Gender Advisor in the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that sexual violence is used as a deliberate tactic of war and also occurs when there is a complete breakdown of order. The UN Initiative Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, involving 12 UN agencies, is working to stop the spread of sexual violence from one conflict to other conflicts. The UN is raising awareness to make this a priority; coordinating action within countries; and accumulating data to use for early warning, prevention, and protection.
Violence has its roots in discrimination. A change in attitude is needed in the media and in the community. The data indicates that when top civilian and military leaders come out publicly against sexual violence and state that perpetrators will be punished, it sets a standard. A legislative framework complying with human rights, an effective police force, and a modern judicial system are all essential for enforcement.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights also monitors the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by analysis and standards setting. Among the issues it handles are human trafficking and female genital mutilation. Of the 192 member staes of the United Nations, 181 have ratified CEDAW. The United States has not yet done so.