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Day 12: What assumptions do you face?

December 6, 2012

War is an international business based on profits and the proliferation of weapons. Yet this reality is not addressed by the policy tools we have today.

When adopted and supported by WILPF International, Resolution 1325 was intended to challenge militarism, weapons and war; yet there has been a collective failure to address what is sometime referred to as the third pillar of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda– the Prevention pillar.

The downward cycle of violence begetting violence and profits justifying arms sales continues unabated. In a recent paper, I examined this gap and addressed 5 ways the WPS agenda must be strengthened if the promise of conflict prevention is to be realised.

To highlight and expand thinking among policy-making at UN headquarters, PeaceWomen recently hosted our friend, and renowned feminist scholar, Cynthia Enloe to speak on the topic, ‘Women and Militarisation: Before During and After Wars‘.

Picture of PeaceWomen staff and Cynthia Enloe

Cynthia Enloe (centre) with Maria Butler (far left) and the other PeaceWomen staff

Cynthia challenged participants (including 1325 implementers; i.e. member states, UN officials, NGOs) to reflect on their own feminist analysis and ask themselves; what assumptions do you face?

Defining assumptions as, “things that go unsaid but that motivate people,” Cynthia further elaborated on some of the most often heard assumptions articulated in our work including: “women have always been insecure”; “women’s insecurity matters less than political stability”; “oppression of women is good for political stability”; and “impacts on women are not different than men’s”.

It made me reflect on what assumptions I face.

One of them is that if we add a woman, then women’s rights and gender perspective are included: that box is ticked. Not true in any context, particularly highly charged transitions periods.

Another assumption is that western states are always “friends” of WPS. This assumption is far from true. One of the areas highlighted in the above mentioned paper is the demand for States and non-state actors to stop selling arms that inherently violate human rights in conflict zones, at home and abroad. Globally just six countries export 74 % of the world’s weapons: US, Russia, Germany, UK, China and France. The US sells 35% of the global total.

This cannot be silenced or ignored and I would be remiss if I did not take this time to reiterate that these top-sellers also represent the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The policies of arms exporters are incongruent and contradictory, and often unquestioned.

It is no wonder that these UN Security Council members have contributed to a narrowing of the WPS agenda, when the world’s arms trade is policed by the very actors who are profiting most from the sale of arms around the world. The weapons in the DRC are not manufactured in the DRC or on the African continent, but instead largely originate from States that often call themselves “Friends” of women, peace and security.

These same exporting States continue to discuss in the Security Council the implementation of WPS resolutions within DRC, focusing on protection issues and sexual violence but failing to address their roles in exporting weapons that fuel the cycle of conflict and the business of war. This dual personality of peace and war does not have to be the ‘normal state of affairs.’

These kinds of arms transfers demonstrate that decision-making processes are driven by profits, national security and foreign policy concerns, at the cost of lives and human rights. There is not the political will to address the complex financial interests, which fuel the war and the rapes in the DRC or the violence against peaceful protesters in Middle East region. This is what needs to change – the conflicting policies of exporting States. This is what needs to be challenged.

The Women, Peace and Security agenda is a tool for conflict prevention first and foremost. It cannot be silent on the weapons of war or the profits of violence if it is to address the root causes of conflict and the problems endemic to a flawed system.

There is no panacea to address these complex issues. We must be brave in our work to expose the lies, consistent in the face of conflicting interests, insistent in the face of vested silence, and diligent in our work to propose transformative shifts in policy through ever more effective strategies.

By Maria Butler, PeaceWomen Programme Director

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