The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Makings of Gender-Sensitive Politics – International Law or Domestic Negotiations?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on May 26, 2011

Recent political crises in North Africa and the Middle East revealed the active role women play in these crises. The direct contribution of women in these protests, was significant. Also prominent are women taking on conventionally ‘hard’ decisions related to armed intervention into Libya. These include the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, White House Foreign Affairs Adviser, who were all instrumental in achieving the decision to intervene in Libya, while Major General Margaret Woodward is Commander of Air Strategy over Libya.

Greater political representation of women is internationally considered as a ‘soft’ issue. Over the years the UN has gained some momentum in enacting Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security to further greater political representation. Essentially, as much as these Resolutions represent women as victims of violence, they are meant to reinforce women as full participants in processes towards peace and security. Most relevant is Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000 recognising the role of women in conflicts prevention and resolution, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. Also Resolution 1889, adopted in 2009 advocates for strengthening efforts on increasing the participation of women and mainstreaming gender perspectives in all decision-making processes, especially in the early stage of post-conflict peacebuilding. However, conflicts over the years have shown that these Resolutions remain weak in instituting a greater role for women in peace processes and security. Contemporarily, this trend is likely to persist, as the crises in the Arab world show little progress made in reference to the substance of these Resolutions.

Indicative of this is the minimal role of women in the resolution of these political crises such as in Egypt and Tunisia. In the words of one Egyptian protester, “the men were keen for me to be here when we were demanding that Mubarak should go. But now he has gone, they want me to go home.” The Guardian newspaper posed an apt question that while women may have sustained the Arab spring, it remains to be seen if the Arab spring will sustain women? While in some places like Tunisia the outlook for women’s political status remains positive, in Egypt the struggle for women appears bleak. In fact, it appears their role in the protests against the ruling regimes were tolerated and instrumental since they reconciled with the ambitions of the wider society. In contrast, protests again a few months later, by women in Egypt for women’s equality were matched with physical and verbal abuse and sexual harassment on International Women’s Day on March 8 2011.

Despite the UN Resolutions, the crucial question remains whether the solution for these Arab women lies in strengthening the nature of international regulation? However, the transition of women into greater political representation is also the result of internal political negotiation and converting the Resolutions into binding international law could have little effect, if any or be counter-productive as a top-down imposition.

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