October 31 marked the sixteenth anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). One might say it is another resolution among the many.
But UNSCR 1325 is significant as it became the first instrument at the international level to address the impact of war on women. It did so while simultaneously acknowledging the role women have played and should play in conflict management, conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
On the eve of elections in different countries in the region in 2017, it is imperative that we reflect on UNSCR 1325 while strategising to ensure that violence against women does not form part of the legacy of the 2017 election cycle anywhere in the world.
The 1990s was not a pleasant time for women in war torn and conflict areas. That era saw an increased shift in the way war was conducted against or amongst citizens of a country.
Often, it became the norm, where instead of targeting soldiers, everyday civilians became victims. Women and children became prime targets.Sexual violence was used as weaponry.
The rape and sodomy of women was employed to destroy the psyche of a community and to traumatise people into submission. This growing practice prompted the UN Security Council to adopt Resolution 1325. It is this memory that must impel us to prepare for the upcoming election cycle.
Electoral Violence has been around since time immemorial. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) defines electoral violence as “any harm or threat of harm to any person or property involved in the election process, or the process itself, during the election period.”
That is, electoral violence is both physical and psychological and preparations to mitigate effects should reflect both aspects.
While not exhaustive, the following recommendations serve to initiate a discussion on preparing to safeguard against violence against women during elections.
1. Ensure the basic needs of women are met. Access to and the ability to provide food, water, shelter and health care are a priority. When this is in place then women will be more enabled to actively engage in helping to prevent electoral violence. A hungry woman or one with hungry children cannot fight a battle far removed from her mind.
2. Ensure that the laws of countries are strengthened to reflect the rights of women. These laws must be actionable and prosecution needs to be swift.
3. There are general triggers of electoral violence and these can be found with a quick Google search but identifying triggers at a more local level is needed. The specific triggers for individual countries need to be identified and strategies developed to mitigate accordingly.
4. The use and role of ICT needs to be examined. ICTs are potentially a tool for promoting electoral violence as much as they can be a means to help prevent electoral violence.
5. The concept of a Women’s Situation Room (WSR) has been successfully employed by different countries within the continent. The idea is that through the establishment of a Women’s Situation Room, voters are protected and play an active role in peacekeeping throughout the election cycle. Women’s Situation Rooms need to be established in all countries with a history of violence against women.
While Rwanda itself is expected to have a violence free election period, it does not hurt to continue to develop systems and structures to cement strides made over the last two decades. As we mark the anniversary of UNSCR 1325, reflection on what was the genesis for this resolution and the way forward need to hold a place in our minds.
This article has been adapted from a speech given by the writer to the Centre for Conflict Management, University of RwandaFollow https://twitter.com/NatsCR