Thursday October 22, 2009

Women and Security

On the anniversary of United Nations resolution on women's rights, a University of Dayton professor says the international community must go beyond seeing women as 'victims-only' and see them as participants at all levels of decision-making and at all stages of peacekeeping and security.

Next week marks the ninth anniversary of a United Nations resolution promoting the rights and roles of women in peacekeeping missions, an important reminder to the United States as it considers its future role in Afghanistan, according to a University of Dayton professor.

"One of the reasons given for why the U.S. went to Afghanistan was to bring freedom and equality to women," said Natalie Florea Hudson, a University of Dayton political science professor. "However the U.S. decides to move forward, we should bear in mind how that decision affects women in that country."

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which passed Oct. 31, 2000, with support from the United States, was the council's first resolution to specifically address the impact of war on women and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.

"The resolution urges nations to recognize that women are inherent to their mission of security," said Hudson. "It goes beyond seeing women as 'victims-only' and sees them as participants at all levels of decision-making and at all stages of conflict prevention and resolution."

She said the U.N. resolution is one of the strongest examples of how activists for women's rights have increasingly framed these rights and gender inequality as security issues in an attempt to gain access to the highest levels of the international agenda.

Hudson examines this strategy of women's rights advocates in her new book, Gender, Security and the UN: Security Language as a Political Framework for Women, which was released this month by Routledge.

"We have a tendency to want to attach our needs to the concept of security," she said. "We speak of economic security, food security, energy security. If it's a security issue, we see it as more important."

To make their case, activists for women, peace and security often frame women's involvement as a way to enhance the effectiveness of existing post-conflict reconstruction. While this argument can be useful for enabling women's voices to be heard, Hudson said, it may reinforce gender assumptions of women as the nurturers and the peacemakers in society.

Although critics often dismiss U.N. resolutions as unenforceable and ineffective, Hudson said many people around the world find them to be the strongest — and sometimes only — means of asserting their rights.

"Women in developing countries who have limited rights can use U.N. resolutions as leverage," she said. "They can point to a resolution as a basis for change, as something supported by the international community."

When 300 Afghan women marched the streets of their capital in April to protest a new law restricting women's rights, they did so knowing they were protected by their new constitution as well as the international community, she said.

Even so, the law itself and the much larger counter-protest of men who resisted the women and pelted them with stones shows Afghanistan — and the nations involved in rebuilding and security efforts — still have a long way to go to ensure gender equality, Hudson said.

Earlier this summer, Hudson worked with the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women to develop an online training program for government officials on how to incorporate resolution 1325 into their peace and security operations. The course takes a best-practices approach to gender incorporation in conflict, highlighting successes in countries such as Liberia and Uganda.

"The resolution was a recognition that none of the work the U.N. does is gender-neutral," Hudson said. "In societies torn apart by war, those in power must be sensitive to the way women suffer during and after armed conflict as well as the important roles they can play in rebuilding their society. This means not only addressing peace and security issues, but also the unique cultural attitudes within that population of people."

Hudson specializes in gender and international relations, human rights, international security studies and international law and organization.

For more information, contact Meagan Pant, assistant director of media relations, at 937-229-3256 or mpant1@udayton.edu.