Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pacific women cautiously welcome UN move against sexual violence

By Candace Uttam: Pacific Media Centre

Women’s advocacy groups in the Pacific have welcomed a move to stop sexual violence towards women in conflict situations, but say it needs be implemented in conjunction with an earlier resolution.

They say that while the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1820, which was adopted last year, is absolutely critical, it should be viewed as an implementation strategy to further the commitment to women, peace and security.

The initial UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted in 2000 and addresses the need for women to be more involved in all aspects of peace building and conflict prevention, by enhancing their participation at a governance level.

Sharon Bhagwan Roll, coordinator of femLINKPacific, a women’s community media network based in Fiji, says if women are involved in protection, participation and prevention in developing national action plans, the issue of sexual and gender based violence during times of conflict would also be addressed.

“If women were involved at a higher level you would have women in the processes of addressing security sector governments – women would be able to talk as equals when it comes to legislation of guns for example.”

She says it is important not to lose sight of resolution 1325 as it is the foundation upon which other initiatives like 1820 should be implemented, if they are to work effectively.

Bhagwan Rolls also says it is paramount that these resolutions are put into context according to the varying conditions in each Pacific state.

She says that while there is a deep need to stop sexual and gender based violence towards women in places like Bougainville, because of the resurgence of conflict there, women in other places might not be in the same critical conditions.

“We don’t exactly have that situation of armed violence conflict - we’ve actually got increased militarisation - so for the women in Fiji if we want to talk about security sector governance we would like to see greater formal participation in being able to engage in issues.”

She says the danger of only focusing on the protection of women, which is what 1820 deals with, is that it portrays women solely as victims, when in fact they have far greater potential.

Most hope
One of the founding members of WAVE, a Pacific media network for women in journalism, Lisa Williams-Lahari visited Bougainville post crisis and says the women there were not only the ones doing all the hard work, but also the ones that had the most hope.

“It is important that the voices of women are heard in the framing of these commitments [resolutions/policies].

“Women are all that is missing.”

Williams-Lahari acknowledges that women and children are the most vulnerable in conflict situations, and says it is about time sexual atrocities to women in conflict situations are brought to the forefront.

“If we had 1820, the amnesty [against sexual violence] that took place in the aftermath of the Bougainville crisis would not have happened.”

Bhagwan Rolls says issues of economic, health and political insecurity debilitate women from participating in decision making processes, which is why resolution 1325 is their main focus.

She says it is these imbalances that give rise to a range of the conflicts experienced in the Pacific region.

“A woman who’s a community leader, who has the potential to sit at a district level committee to talk about development priorities, can’t do that of she’s burdened by poverty which links to her own personal security.”

Bhagwan Rolls says women’s advocacy groups have kept resolution 1325 alive around the Pacific, but there is always a need for the UN to assist them in furthering gender equality movements.

Pictured: FemLINK Pacific's community radio empowers women with its street broadcasts. Veena Singh Bryar does an interview during a 16-day activist broadcast campaign in December 2008. Photo: FemLINK Pacific

Candace Uttam is a final year Bachelor of Communication Studies student journalist at AUT University.

FemLINK Pacific
Pacific WAVE network

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