International Peace Studies Conference Vienna: Women and Peace

by Lea Boraucke

In the context of the International Peace Studies Conference organised by the Academic Council On The United Nations System (ACUNS) a workshop on Women and Peace took place at the IIP where the participants had the opportunity to discuss the role of women in peace-building and peacekeeping processes. Stephanie Fenkart, director of the International Institute for Peace (IIP), opened the workshop with the questions: What can women contribute to peace-building processes and what obstacles do women continue to face? This implies the question about the dominant challenges and new opportunities for women nowadays.

After the input words of Stephanie Fenkart, Irene Gonzalez Cardinal opened the discussion with a presentation about the Columbian program called „circles of trust“. This program is dedicated to reach „restorative justice to complement transitional justice for peace building in Colombia“. She emphasized the importance of cultural development and the need for a shift in the existing patriarchal values. There must be a cultural empowerment in order to improve the quality of these women’s lives. The purpose of the program is the reintegration of women who were victims of sexual violence. A reintegration into society is very important because these women perceive themselves as forgotten. There has to be an integration of these women in society without any kind of discrimination. Gonzalez Cardinal underlined, that these women have to get solidarity and empowerment from the governments. Furthermore, the societies need to respect the rights of women. The program offers training programs for women to be able to unfold their full potential.


Gonzalez Cardinal emphasized, that this program should be a first step to generate sustainable peace and providing gender equality. The aim is equality between women and men. In addition, the program aims to help women to find back into society. A cooperation with local organisations working for women rights is necessary. Women, who have been victims of sexual violence must first and foremost rebuild trust. Only then they can talk to others about their experiences. Gonzalez Cardinal defines the program as the safest space to provide testimony. The initiative aims to achieve sustainable cultural development and a safe environment for women. Gonzalez Cardinal claimed, that this initiative is planned, but not implemented yet. They are in touch with other organisations like for example UN Women. She highlighted, that at the end, the program supports the families as well because within society being a woman is still attached to motherhood and this image has been prevalent for a long time. Besides, it’s important to give this topic more visibility to achieve strong acknowledgement of women’s rights.

The next presenter was Raidan Alsaqqaf, who works for the organisation UN Women. His main topic was „engendering peace-making: Positioning the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in the UN’s peace efforts“. Alsaqqaf emphasized the close link between women, peace and security. He defined the gender issue as the fundament of all programmes of peacebuilding. In addition he highlighted, that many women are ignored by the political systems. Women’s rights must therefore receive more attention at the political level. For positioning the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in the UN’s peace efforts, women’s leadership as well as cooperation between women is required. The focus has to be on women’s contribution to peace and security questions. Alsaqqaf also stressed out, that within society a resistance regarding women’s peace processes exists.


This draws attention to the problems and concerns regarding women in this political field. On the question what the UN is doing in this context he pointed out, that the civil society has to be more involved and more engaged towards this issue. Alsaqqaf, who actively sees himself as a man for the rights of women highlighted the many men, who are working for women’s rights. For Alsaqqaf, peacebuilding is local. This means in his point of view, that ownership has to be local. He drawed out, that the greater involvement of women is a political issue and task and not specific to culture. What should be done is to raise awareness about what women can contribute to peacebuilding processes.

After this presentation, Amvane Gabriel illustrated the topic of impunity for peacekeepers. His contribution to the topic Women and Peace was about „Ending Impunity for Peacekeepers Involved in Sexual Exploitation and Abuse“. He drew attention to the existing problem of sexual misconduct and exploitation executed by peacekeepers. Furthermore, there dominates the feeling of impunity for these crimes. The UN is dependent on its Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) to ensure, that their soldiers can be judged for any crimes during a peacekeeping mission. Gabriel stressed, however, that many TCCs would only occasionally prosecute their soldiers for these crimes, which leads to a distrust towards official politics by the population. He made a case for an independent judicial court because of the unwillingness of TCC to pursue cases against their soldiers. Gabriel mentioned, that peacekeepers try to keep in a context of peace-building. The idea is to have something more independent from the UN and from TCC (Troop Contributing Countries). The purpose of his approach should be creating an international universal law. The victims should also learn to live in a context of opportunities. This requires a more independent solution. One focus is to inform about human rights. There has to be a call to action, a call for legal consequences.


There is a lack of willingness of states to persecute their soldiers, which perpetrate sexual exploitation and abuses. Gabriel emphasized, that we’re in 2018 and still talking about that! Because of this lack of capacity in the countries, there exists distrust in the police. The question has to be how we can document these cases and abuses against women? Gabriel highlighted the problem of finding evidence. So self-implementation is the key. The solution of the impunity of peacekeepers could be the creation of an international criminal court. Likewise it must be ensured, that the implementation is done properly. The task should be addressing the countries, which are not ensuring this process. Gabriel claimed, that something independent from TCC and the host states is needed. Without a new judicial body, the UN can hardly fight sexual exploitation by peacekeepers.

The last contribution to the topic Women and Peace came from Lavinia Badulescu, who established a comparative analysis about the impact of commissions in the context of sexual violence against women. Her research question was called „Women Victims of Sexual Violence in Timor-Leste and Haiti. Do Reparations Programs Work and Matter?“ In the report of the UN General-Secretary, TJ (transnational justice) is defined as processes that are applied to identify those responsible for doing sexual abuses. This concept includes the change of the regime, the structures and the mentalities. The Truth and Reconciliation commissions represent one of the processes encompassing by the TJ concept. In addition these commissions should report on the key-periods of the abuse and should prevent recurrence. This includes a new conception of justice especially with regard to the rights of women. In the centre of interest of the commissions should be the search for the truth. Furthermore, the commissions want to realize recognition of sexual abuses as human rights violations within the society by reparations programs. The focus was on a comparative analysis of the countries Timor-Leste and Haiti because these countries dominate a various number of human rights violations.


This comparative analysis pointed out, that reparations programs don’t ensure the implementation of commissions. Furthermore, sexual violence is used as a weapon of war and has become an instrument of political repression. A lack of willingness on the part of politics prevents the process of reconciliation and rehabilitation of sexual violence against women. In addition the cultural aspect is a big issue, which has to be focused on. There are many female victims, who are characterised by shame and fear of social stigmatization. Within society, as well as in their family context, the conception of women as victims is not very dominant. This results - as already mentioned - in distrust of many women in politics and the police. So, the purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions was revealing the truth, which was ignored often in the past. This means reconciliation for female victims. The sufferings and suppression of women must be taken seriously on a political level and have to be implemented by establishing new values. Despite the positive changes and developments with regard to the clarification of sexual violence and abuses, the Truth and Reconciliation commissions don’t ensure the realization of the completely recognition of violating humans rights. The commissions only symbolize a stage in the process of reconstruction. There is however a large number of barriers because social violence is used with political purposes. So this comparative analysis also shows the limits of commissions within this context.

To sum up, there are still a number of changes needed to protect women from sexual violence. Sexual abuses against women are violations of human rights. Reconciliation for women who were victims of sexual violence needs the change of existing values and structures. Moreover, too few governments have utilised he potential of women within peacebuilding and peacekeeping processes.