Simon Maxwell

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Time to act! – High-level panel on Women, Peace and Security

Time to act! – High-level panel on Women, Peace and Security

I moderated a High Level Panel on 'Women, Peace and Security' at the European Development Days in 2018. This was organised by Kvinna Till Kivinna, the Swedish NGO. The synopsis can be found on the EDD website here, and is reproduced below. The video can be watched on Youtube, here.




The interlinkages between different policy areas such as foreign, security, development, trade, financial and justice policies and how they relate to WPS need to be further understood. This high-level panel will provide a key opportunity to present how different stakeholders will mainstream gender and WPS in promotion of peace, security and sustainable development, leading up to the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, and with a focus on prevention and participation.

The panel will also showcase how women’s organisations are crucial actors for peace and security in their communities and regions, and how the shrinking civic space not least for women’s organisations is a serious threat against peaceful and democratic development, and needs to be addressed as such.

Key points

  • Women's rights organisations are first-responders when the crisis happens and are still there when the conflict is over. International organisations should listen to them for early-warning signs.
  • Where civil society is shrinking, this can prevent women from being political actors in many countries.
  • Leaders need to meet visibly with women civil society representatives, when possible with the press in attendance.
  • Prevention will be served through removing impunity for crimes of sexual violence through specific prosecution of these cases.


'The world has lost sight of some key demands of the women’s movement: the promoting non-violent forms of conflict resolution, reducing military expenditure, controlling arms supplies, and fostering a culture of peace. This requires stronger recognition of the depth of gender norms. If women are involved from the outset in official negotiations, particularly in post-conflict situations, peace agreements are more likely to succeed.

Women are the first affected and first to indicate what is happening. Local women’s organisations should be heeded as they offer important insights. Early warning indicators are crucial to helping prevent conflict. Training missions need to train trainers to recognise signs, down to the level of municipal police forces. In a recently launched joint project with the EU, NATO is working to develop early warning indicators. There is a need for visibility at the top level and a top-down approach with more countries engaged.

It has become harder and harder for women’s rights organisations to work in some countries. This shrinking civic space results from growing nationalism and fundamentalism. It is a global phenomenon, undermining the critical role played by women and women’s rights organisations in social progress. More than 60 % of the women interviewed for the Kvinna till Kvinna report, “Suffocating the Movement”, said their space to act as activists over the last few years had shrunk.

Laws limiting the ability of civil society organisations to receive foreign funding, and extra administrative burdens to register and implement projects have hit small women’s organisations already struggling for survival.

Meanwhile, slander and smear campaigns targeting women’s rights activists are on the rise. They seek to isolate them by attacking their reputation, accusing them of being traitors who cooperate with foreign powers, witches, lesbians, or “not real women”. Finally, threats of violence, often sexualised, are also used regularly to scare women from being vocal.

Funding for civil society is not enough. Leaders need to meet with women civil society representatives when travelling in a visible, media-friendly setting where appropriate. There is a need for a top-down approach, with more visibility at the top level, and for women for being involved in mediation and not sidelined when it comes to post-conflict reconciliation and stabilisation.

Despite universal condemnation of conflict-related sexual violence, it continues unabated. If our priority is prevention, then we need to reverse the culture of impunity through deterrence. Yazidi women ask for justice, but are rarely ready to stand up in a court of law in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraqi prosecutors focus on terrorist acts by Isis not their crimes against women. The UN seeks to support cases on behalf of women to ensure there is no impunity in cases involving sexual violence.


The EUEuropean Union is operating a policy of zero tolerance and has Gender Focal Points advising missions to avoid issues of sexual malpractice.'





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