HEDZ SEZ: Women and War

Sunday, October 5, 2014

HEDZ SEZ: Women and War

Today at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Geneva, I was bound to intervene in my role as Special Representative on Gender Issues, during the Session on New Security Challenges: the Role of Parliaments, Human Dimensions.

The gist of my intervention focused on human rights abuses against women and young girls in Syria. Perhaps the most heinous ‎practice by jihadists and Islamic extremist groups who flourish under the Assad regime is the use of rape as a strategy of terrorism.

‎There are an alarming number of female headed households in Syria and in refugee camps since the men have either been killed or gone to fight. A woman or girl who is raped becomes triply victimised: by the rape, the shunning, and forced marriage.

Culturally a girl who has been raped dishonour her family and will be shunned for future marriage. So mothers marry their young daughters as early as 14 to older men who can protect her and her family. Trafficking exploitation and domestic abuse‎ abound. Refugee camps are no longer secure against rape, abuse and exploitation. As female-headed households struggle for recognition and support without a male, they are ripe for plucking, by unscrupulous organised non-state actors, criminals who use their lack of resources food and protection to lure them into 'survival prostitution' (gotta feed your family). Once in, blackmail and threats keep them there.

So what are we doing about this? According to the UN speaker at today's OSCEPA panel, "we are studying and monitoring the situation because we are not allowed into Syria!".

Why are governments so quick to bomb a moving target, ignoring the plight of these women?‎

Next year marks 20 years since the Beijing World Conference on Women. We all agreed then that "women's rights are human rights" -- a bizarre declaration that in itself speaks volumes to the hitherto devaluation of women as part of humankind.

‎As we look back, those 20 years have resulted in few gains for women in the developing world, and even less so in women in conflict and post conflict regions. What is wrong with this picture? As the world regresses, as states pay lip service to the security of these women and as non-state players leave nation-states and governments powerless.

They are beyond the law, they are highly organised; they do not obey the rules of convention. They play lethal chess and we play emotional, traditional war games.