All These Resolutions and the Bodies Keep Piling Up

Scenes from the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Women and Peace and Security
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

It was the resolution that nearly wasn’t. Earlier this week, the UN Security Council very narrowly passed Security Council Resolution 2467, the latest in a string of resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, after the US threatened to exercise its veto power to prevent the Resolution from getting off the ground.

Sponsored by Germany, Resolution 2467 sought to develop a suite of measures to address sexual violence in war and strengthen prevention efforts. It would encourage commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions set up by the United Nations to address rape and other sexual crimes in their investigations of human rights violations in war zones and urge UN sanctions committees to apply sanctions against perpetrators of this violence.

The biggest source of tension came from a phrase promising “timely” sexual and reproductive health assistance to survivors of sexual violence, which the US declined to support, threatening to veto the Resolution should the phrase remain. The final resolution has removed all reference to “sexual health and reproductive rights,” an area that has become so politicized as to be a roadblock for many of the UN’s initiatives on addressing women’s rights and security.

But as Fionnula Ni Aolain notes:

[R]eproductive health is much more than abortion. It includes the right to fistula operations, the right to ongoing monitoring and choice in reproductive regulation (i.e. whether to have access to contraception in the aftermath of rape to prevent pregnancy), the right to health services that take account of reproductive and sexual health in the aftermath of sexual violence. All these essential health entitlements are at risk when reproductive health needs are not recognized for sexual violence survivors.

https://www.justsecurity.org/63750/gutting-the-substance-of-a-security-council-resolution-on-sexual-violence/

While many are criticizing the acquiescence shown by the Security Council in watering down the language of the Resolution, I question what need there is in the first place for this latest in a string of resolutions at this level aimed at addressing conflict-related sexual violence. This latest brings the total of UN Resolutions explicitly focused on sexual violence in war to six, and reaffirms the place of “conflict-related sexual violence” at the pinnacle of the UN’s Women, Peace, and Security agenda.

In a 2016 article, I wrote that the securitization of gendered violence, particularly conflict-related sexual violence – has given this form of gender-based violence more value than other forms, which has had some unintended deleterious effects. Not only has it resulted in the excising of conflict-related sexual violence from what feminists have long called the ‘continuum of violence’ experienced by women under patriarchy, but it has also imbued CRSV with exchange value such that it bears rewards for those willing to exploit its symbolic and material capital.

In fact, it is this very symbolic capital that led to Germany’s commitment to introduce yet another resolution on CRSV in the first place. Long before the resolution’s drafting, Germany promised to make “women, peace, and security” a priority of its presidency in the Security Council. This commitment led a number of international NGOs and civil society organizations, including CARE International and UN Women, to issue a joint statement pleading with Germany not to introduce yet another resolution on CRSV.

Perhaps ever the cynic, I cannot help but be skeptical of all of these wonderful sounding commitments made by powerful Western countries who espouse rhetoric about the need to end this ‘scourge of war.’ For we have zero evidence that the heightened and sustained attention that CRSV has received since Resolution 1820 first recognized sexual violence as a weapon of war and a threat to international peace and security that these measures have had any effect on reducing this form of violence or any others faced by women in times of war.

Rather, it seems to have had the opposite effect of producing the idea that warfare could be a ‘safe place for women.’ Armed conflict is no longer considered a form of gendered violence, existing on the continuum of gendered violence, produced through gendered symbolisms and enforcing a stratified gender structure. By excising specifically sexual forms of violence enacted in war from other forms of war-related violence (not to mention excising it from ‘banal’ and ‘everyday’ forms of gendered violence), this framework does not allow us to see the intimate connections between masculinity, armed conflict, generalized and gender-based violence. It does not allow us to address those forms of harm perpetrated against women as a result of conflict that cannot be clearly tied to the strategic objectives of armed groups. It cannot and does not account for how, for example, increased circulation of small arms and light weapons in a society correlates to higher rates of domestic violence and intimate partner violence in so-called ‘peace’ contexts.

So… do we really need another resolution on CRSV, regardless of whether or not the language of sexual and reproductive rights gets watered down? I don’t think so.

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