It’s a question of empowerment


We need a feminist Peace- and Security policy! – A discussion with Gitti Henschel and Monika Hauser

Portraits Gitti Hentschel -Monika Hauser

This piece is part of our dossier "No Women - No Peace: 20th Anniversary of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security".

Publisher and social pedagogue Gitti Hentschel, born in Essen in 1950, was a co-founder of taz, co-publisher of Der Freitag, and from 2000, Director of the Feminist Institute of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, later renamed the Gunda Werner Institute. Until her retirement in 2015, she dedicated her work to feminist peace and security politics, as well as strategies to combat sexual-based violence.

Gynacologist Monika Hauser, born in Switzerland in 1959 to South Tyrolean parents, is the founder and Executive Board member of the international women’s rights organisation medica mondiale, based in Cologne. medica mondiale supports women and girls worldwide who have been subjected to sexual-based violence in conflict zones. Hauser has received a series of awards recognising her work, including the 2008 Alternative Nobel Prize.

How did you come to be involved in women’s rights, in particular peace and security issues?

Gitti Hentschel: I had already worked on sexual-based violence stories back in the 1980s as a feminist journalist, but my wake-up call really came with the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the militarised masculinity that was prevalent in the USA. The US intervention in Afghanistan was conducted under the false pretence of protecting women’s rights, so I knew right then that we really needed a feminist peace and security policy.

Monika Hauser: I often came across cases of sexual-based violence as a young gynaecologist. When I heard about the mass rapes which were being perpetrated in the Bosnian war, I drove there at the end of 1992, experienced the blockade of the city of Zenica, and founded Medica Zenica. Shortly after, the medica mondiale organisation was established in Cologne. While we were setting up the project, the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna finally declared that women’s rights are human rights. This was followed in 1995 by the World Conference on Women in Beijing. We sent a Bosnian colleague who returned really fired up and full of new information. Resolution 1325 was the outcome of the conferences in Vienna and Beijing, though it was implemented hardly anywhere in the first few years after its adoption.

Hentschel: As the UN had neglected women’s rights for years, we organised a conference in 2002 called “World Women’s Security Council in Foundation” in collaboration with the women’s peace group Scheherazade. Out of this emerged the Frauensicherheitsrat (“German Women’s Security Council”), which was set up as a lobby group in favour of 1325 in 2003 during the US invasion of Iraq. Later on, we formed the present-day “Alliance 1325”, bringing together various NGOs, including medica mondiale.

What practical impact did the resolution have on your work?

Hentschel: It was absolutely central. At the time, peace and security politics were very much a male preserve. When people spoke about security, it was always within a military context, the security of nations not people. The resolution however, advocated the prevention of war rather than participation in war. 1325 was the leverage we needed to heighten awareness of the issues surrounding it.

Hauser: This leverage also served as a lobbying tool on matters of wartime sexual violence, and on the involvement of women in peace talks. The female director of medica Afghanistan could hold up this document to her government and the UN, and say, here they are in black and white, our rights! Liberia implemented the resolution much earlier and more consistently than Germany, and there is a very good action plan in Iraq. The political will is clearly there, but we need to keep pressing the issue. Diplomatic protection for women’s rights activists also needs to be enhanced considerably. In Erbil in Kurdistan, women’s rights activists receive a lot of support, but in other countries, the German embassies are not nearly as interested. Diplomatic protection and support for these women cannot simply rely on random individuals within the embassies though, and this is why we are campaigning to set up 1325 Focal Points in all embassies, so that women always have reliable contacts they can turn to. If we can invite activists into German missions abroad, their governments cannot simply have them disappear.

Hentschel: Over time, we’ve been able to achieve a number of things, even on a theoretical level. We argued for a different type of security concept, which no longer focuses on the state, but on protecting people and women who experience a continuum of violence, from within their own four walls and as a result of war. We asked: What do we mean by human security and women’s security? Building on the momentum of 1325, we organised a conference on these issues in 2003.

You were ahead of your time there.

Hentschel: Yes, and many things were conspiring to prevent us talking about security policy. At the time, Joschka Fischer was the Foreign Minister, and although government representatives attended the Foundation’s international events, our feminist events were usually attended by women from the lower rungs of government. So there was a lot of resistance, which continued until 2012 when the Federal Government presented the first National Action Plan. Previously, even under the Red-Green coalition, the attitude had been that an action plan was unnecessary as we already had an action plan to combat domestic violence. Nevertheless, the relevant ministries, especially the Foreign Office, gradually began to take on board what we had to say, and twice-yearly consultations with activists are now the norm.

Hauser: We need to continue arguing for a “shift of money” away from vast military budgets and redirect it into health, education, and meeting people’s basic needs. The Ebola crisis of 2014 demonstrated very starkly that the health service in Liberia had never been a priority. Health workers have to be trained in trauma sensitivity. Five years ago, the Kurdish government in Northern Iraq was the first to ask us to conduct the relevant training. If 1325 had been taken seriously, we would now have had de-escalatory feminist foreign and domestic policies everywhere.

Feminist foreign policy – the term was coined back in 2014 by the Swedish Foreign Minister at the time, Margot Wallström. As in Resolution 1325, she created the four “R”s: Rights, Representation, Resources, and Realities (a reality check of policies through research).

Hauser: Wallström stated that women must stand up and represent themselves, and much of the progress made since is down to her. To begin with, she came up against a lot of resistance, but in the end she carried her government with her.  She criticised the status of women in Saudi Arabia, which caused a diplomatic spat, and the Saudis actually withdrew their ambassador from Sweden.

In 2018/19, Saudi human rights activist, Isra al-Ghomgham, faced possible execution by beheading. Heiko Maas did little to help her.

Hauser: That’s absolutely true, though Maas and his Minister of State, Niels Annen, do at least pay lip service to a feminist foreign policy, and want to increase the number of women in the department from its very low base at present. Overall, it has been a hard road, but I feel that our efforts have generated greater awareness within politics, even if that is not consistently reflected by all political parties.

Little sensitive though were Maas´ actions in spring 2019 in the UN Security Council. He wanted to force through a new resolution on women, peace, and security, seemingly at all costs.

Hauser: medica mondiale sat down beforehand with other civic organisations and warned the government that we would prefer to have no further resolution than a watered-down one, yet that is what we got. Under pressure from the USA and others, references to women‘s reproductive rights were removed from the draft resolution. It was a setback; the federal government should have withdrawn Resolution 2467.

What are “feminist domestic politics”?

Hentschel: For example, the recognition of wartime sexual violence as grounds for asylum. The number of successful applicants is in single figures. For these people, there is no refuge, no psychological trauma counselling, it is a scandal. The Federal Ministry of the Interior also needs to tackle toxic masculinity.

Hauser: We need a holistic concept to combat violence, similar to what we have achieved in North Rhine-Westphalia. I also find it appalling that the statutory offence of sexual violence scarcely arises any more in court proceedings; neither in the ongoing prosecution of IS nor in the Syrian torture trial in Koblenz.

How do you see your progress after 20 years: Are you simply treading water, politically speaking?

Hentschel: In some ways. In 2003, we said that implementation of the resolution requires a coherent strategy and finance. We need proper monitoring and gender mainstreaming in all ministries.

Hauser: The first National Action Plan was only adopted in 2012. There was plenty of political intent, but no monitoring mechanisms, no progress indicators, no transparency, no finance. These deficiencies were not addressed in the second Action Plan. There was never any coherent implementation, neither for prevention nor of solutions to the reasons why refugees flee their homes, so I‘m hoping for a considerable improvement in the third Action Plan for 2020-24. We need to finally recognise that there is a link between arms exports and wartime sexual violence, and that an export embargo should be imposed in the medium term.

Hentschel: The Bundestag Civilian Crisis Prevention Sub-Committee meeting on 1325, held in spring 2020, was simply more of the same. Nothing substantial is being done with regard to prevention, precisely the opposite in fact: Germany will again see a 10% increase in arms exports. The Sub-Committee is all well and good, but the issue belongs to the Defence Committee.

Despite the fact that the Chancellor ignored the importance of the issue for years, she did make a speech in 2017 entitled “Rape is a weapon of war”?

Hauser: That was at a meeting of the CDU/CSU Bundestag Group regarding the plight of the Iraqi Yazidis. No feminist organisation received an invite. Baden-Württemberg accepted some of the Yazidi refugees, but what has been done for them otherwise?

Hentschel: The Christian Democratic Union only addressed the part of the resolution which repeats the narrative of women as victims. There was no mention of women as activists or experts.

Hauser: We have pointed out on countless occasions that women must not be instrumentalised and victimised, but previous Foreign Ministers, Fischer, Westerwelle, and Steinmeier, showed no real interest in the issue. Internationally, the picture is a little more encouraging, the UN Security Council does invite female experts to their meetings for example. Essentially though, we need an annual feminist peace report. On a more positive note, it‘s worth mentioning the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, a very useful framework that we can definitely work with.

Hentschel: Individual women in government have not been helpful to progress, the prime example being Defence Ministers Ursula von der Leyen and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who campaigned for more women in the military. Although I‘m a staunch advocate of equality, women are not automatically better people.

Hauser: We need a critical mass of women, coupled with permanent representatives for women, peace, and security at the Foreign Office; in addition to high-ranking focal points for 1325 in all German representations abroad and the appropriate units in all relevant ministries.

Hentschel: We must reach a point where we question the role model presented by militarised or toxic masculinity. During the coronavirus crisis, there have been signs that society is reverting to a more male-dominated structure again. Women are staying at home to look after the children. A backlash is also coming from the populist right.

Both the women’s movement, that has gained considerable strength through „Me too“, and the populist right, could also be seen as communicating vessels. Are we really seeing a backlash?

Hentschel: Well, I am certainly concerned.

Hauser: I share this concern, at the moment we have a rare mix of upheaval and stasis. Despite that, “Me too” and #Aufschrei have played a very positive role. We now have web feminists and young activists who are increasingly challenging convention from an intersectoral and post-colonial perspective.

However, there are too few pro-feminist experts like retired social psychology professor, Rolf Pohl, who talks about a “re-assertion of masculinity in the AfD”. We need an interdisciplinary and intergenerational revitalisation, as well as transformative policies. Until now, many in the German government have seen Resolution 1325 as a means of promoting women, of creating the image of gender equality. Sending five additional women to peace negotiations in Geneva is simply treating the symptoms, while for us it is a question of empowerment.

How do you account for the fact that peace accords show better results and last longer when women are involved in negotiations? The probability that they will last for at least 15 years then rises by one third.

Hentschel: Women bring different issues to the fore, health care for example...

Hauser: ... and social issues. The Dayton Agreement, negotiated following the war in the former Yugoslavia without any female input, contains nothing on psychosocial care or recognition as victims of war. Furthermore, US peace researcher Mary Caprioli showed that levels of corruption are reduced as the number of women involved in peace processes increases.  

Resolution 1325 is now 20 years old, do you have a birthday wish for it?

Hauser: That it will finally be properly implemented right around the world. I would like to see the resolution structurally integrated into German missions abroad through 1325 Focal Points, with special representatives and units in all ministries. Local experts should also be invited to attend committee meetings in Berlin for the normal professional fee.

Hentschel: I wish that we could finally turn positive words into deeds, and that one day we could have a purely female UN Security Council that conducts a different kind of debate.

Translation from German by Darren Moorby