Lay Down Your Arms!

October 28, 2010
by Barbara Unmüßig
Bertha von Suttner was a visionary, a key theoretician on war and peace and a peace activist. Born in Prague in 1843, she penned a book entitled «Lay down your arms!», a work which was published in 1889 and immensely fostered the pacifistic education process. In 1892 – at the time of the Fourth World Peace Congress in Berne – she, and two of her fellow campaigners, put forward a motion which sought «to indicate the need for a permanent congress of nations [...] so that each conflict would be resolved by legislation, but not by violence»  A reminder: the League of Nations was not founded until 1920, and was then dissolved in 1946 following the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.

Bertha von Suttner was a friend of Alfred Nobel. She was able to win him over to the peace movement and sway him to set up the fifth Nobel Prize, the Nobel Peace Prize.  She herself was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905; she was the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and is thus one of only twelve women out of a total of 97 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. This equates to twelve per cent – a poor ratio with which the initiators of «1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize» were not satisfied, thus leading them to give 1000 Peace Women a public face.

Yet, whilst Alfred Nobel's invention – dynamite – embarked on a triumphal course, which still persists today, Bertha von Suttner's legacy appears to have sunk into oblivion in the light of two world wars, the Cold War and countless present-day wars and civil wars. Women remain rare entities in peace and security policy. As a political and analytical category, the gender-sensitive perspective is only hesitatingly finding its way into conflict management and peace and security policy.

Women are pacifists, men belligerent?

In her reflections on war and peace, Bertha von Suttner resisted defining women as being fundamentally pacifists. She argued that this notion placed full responsibility for peace on women – but, in her estimation, responsibility lies with everyone – women and men alike.  The discussion of the issue of whether women are pacifists and men belligerent is still valid today. A case in point is the discussion ensuing on the integration of women into the German armed forces. From a gender equality oriented perspective, many meanwhile endorse the inclusion of women in the military, not least of all because such an approach would pull the rug from under the gender dualism of male warriors and peaceable women. What is more: as long as security – so the argument continues – is defined solely from a male perspective, the interests and needs of women in conflict regions will be overlooked. Women should therefore not only join the military but also other relevant organisations with significant involvement in preventing and coping with conflicts and the consequences of conflict.  

It is an undeniable fact that women and men are affected differently by wars and conflicts. However, the assigned stereotypes – men as fighters, women as victims – do not do justice to the complex reality. Women engage in combat as soldiers in armies; women are organised into paramilitary groups or have joined armed movements. Women are part of a social context and exert both a positive and negative influence on conflict dynamics. At times, they carry partial responsibility and are accomplices when violence against the enemy is legitimised directly or indirectly.

Violence against women is a global problem

Massive violence against women remains an ongoing, global problem – including and especially in conflict situations. Mass rapes are a calculated weapon in many conflicts. When it comes to sexualised violence, in 98 percent of the cases men are the perpetrators and women the victims; protecting women from sexualised violence is a huge challenge. One current example can be found in the rape of over 240 women and children which occurred at the end of July, early August in the Congo – in full view of the UN peacekeeping force. The UN has recorded 200,000 cases of sexualised violence in the Congo since 1996. Frequently, the peacekeeping forces themselves are a part of the problem. Military presence – and even UN soldiers on a peacekeeping mission count as such – leads to increased prostitution, sexual violence, women trafficking and HIV infection incidence rates. Fundamentally, gender-specific violence rises in conflict situations. Thus, the distribution of small arms, among other things, ratchets up domestic violence.  With respect to violent acts, men are not always only the perpetrators, however, but also victims. First and foremost, men kill, injure, rob and insult men. Women like men are perpetrators and victims of wars and conflicts, though the patterns and effects are not identical. For this very reason, the gender perspective is key to conflict resolution.

We have known for a long time that the systematic exclusion of women from peace processes frequently has a negative impact on lasting conflict resolution and peace treaties. Demobilisation and reconstruction strategies often run aground or they exacerbate the conflict when women and girls are not included in the process and are not able to co-decide priorities and assume responsibility. It is also necessary to take into account the impact on gender relations when implementing demobilisation and reintegration programmes as, in the context of demobilisation and reintegration programmes, women are put at a disadvantage if they are not included in the list of former combatants. As a result, they are excluded from reintegration programmes and are the subject of discrimination in terms of integration into the labour market.  Equal participation of women and girls in the reconstruction and peace consolidation process therefore fails to materialise. Such gender blindness has frequently backfired since the reconstruction process grinds to a halt and triggers social unrest.

1995: the beginning – 2000: the breakthrough

For a long time, a consistent gender perspective was ignored in peace and security policy. 1995 heralded a change. The Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing devoted an entire chapter of the Platform for Action to the subject of “Women and Armed Conflict”. In addition to women being addressed not just as victims here, their peace-promoting role was emphasised. A call was made for women to be assigned a greater involvement in conflict resolution processes.

It is also to the debt of the unremitting lobbying efforts of dedicated women that the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security on 31 October 2000. Since then, it has been a binding agreement of international law that women should be duly included at all levels – in peace processes, in security policy, and in local conflict resolution. With regard to women, the Resolution calls for «their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decisionmaking with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.» Whilst the UN member states do not need to fear any sanctions if they do not adhere to the demands of UN Resolution 1325, the nations do have a duty to report on the measures taken and progress made with regard to implementation.

The UN Resolution is rightly seen as a historical breakthrough for the demands of the international women's peace movement. After all, it calls for something which Bertha von Suttner had demanded over 100 years ago: that responsibility for peace be divided equally between men and women!

Another important step was taken in 2008 with the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1820. This declares that rape and other forms of sexualised violence «can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide». With this Resolution, the UN Security Council stated under no uncertain terms that sexual violence against civilians can diametrically oppose the «restoration of international peace and security».

In 2009, the UN Security Council passed another two resolutions: UN Resolutions 1888 and 1889. In particular, the latter closes a crucial gap. Whilst UN Resolution 1325 lacked concrete guidelines and indicators that would hold up against a review, UN Resolution 1889 calls for exactly this. With UN Resolution 1889, the Secretary-General was requested «to submit (…), for consideration, a set of indicators for use at the global level to track implementation of its resolution 1325 (2000), which could serve as a common basis for reporting by relevant United Nations entities, other international and regional organizations, and Member States, on the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) in 2010 and beyond.» The indicators and recommendations were submitted to the UN Security Council in April 2010. In October 2010 – on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 – the Security Council intends to reach a decision on the indicators.

2010 et. seq.: the implementation

Many women's organisations and networks across the globe have campaigned for these UN Resolutions to reach a broader public. For UN Resolution 1325, a number of things have been achieved: political pressure to once and for all breathe life into the internationally binding Resolution is meanwhile causing governments to hold themselves accountable. By way of example, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union have drafted guidelines and position papers and adopted their own resolutions.

The Heinrich-Böll-Foundation in general and, in particular, the Gunda-Werner-Institute for Feminism and Gender Democracy as well as many alliance partners, for example in the Women's Security Council, – an amalgamation of feminists dedicated to peace – are doing pioneer work in Germany and internationally. At the analysis and political levels, minor progress has been achieved through years of work. The general public is better informed; the ministries, and sometimes even the German armed forces, listen a little more intently. Nevertheless, a national action plan for the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 is still not fort coming. Security policy strategy papers – irrespective of whether these pertain to Germany, the EU or NATO – contain virtually no gender perspective whatsoever. The implementation of 1325 is not really being integrated into foreign and security policy.

Gender policy, feminist analyses and discourses have been firmly entrenched in the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation since its establishment. Together with ecology and democracy policies, they form the core of the Foundation's work at home and abroad and are a guiding principle behind the scholarships and the Foundation's own organisational structure. Thus, it has been and remains a logical step for us to translate our model of gender democracy into political fields of activity such as security and foreign policy. Even within our own organisation, it is, at times, a complicated undertaking to convince everyone to toe the line.

We have been actively involved for a long time: offering publications such as «Roadmap to 1325. Resolution for gender-sensitive peace and security policies» or «Peace and Security for All»; with the relay race «Roadmap to 1325» through the EU member states in order to campaign for the Resolution and effect its implementation.

Across the globe, the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation works internationally together with partners towards enforcing UN Resolution 1325. Examples from Israel, Nigeria and the Caucasus show that increasingly the work is bearing fruit and displaying social and political effects even if much work remains to be done.

The conference, under the banner of «Coping with Crises, Ending Armed Conflict – Peace-Promoting Strategies for Women and Men», will be taking place on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the UN Resolution; a good enough reason to praise the successes and highlight the shortcomings, identify prospects and discuss further strategies. Together with international guests, we will be using examples from different countries to analyse and discuss the respective levels of implementation of the Resolution. Sexualised violence, militarised masculinities and traditional women's roles in the context of conflict management are the topics we will be addressing.

Finally, we will also be looking at the dichotomy between human and women's rights as a means of justifying military intervention. It was the then First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, who drew a comparison between the war on terror and the struggle for the rights and dignity of women and thus attempted to lend some justification for the mission in Afghanistan by making references to women's rights. The war in Afghanistan has thus also been propelled to an example of how women's rights can be instrumentalised and abused.

Even ten years after UN Resolution 1325 was adopted, there is much to be discussed and much to do. As before, foreign and security policy remains a male domain. And even conflict prevention and conflict resolution continues to believe that it would be possible to forgo the gender perspective or direct involvement of women when reaching solutions: a grave mistake, as the numerous examples of failed conflict resolution have proven. Gender policy makes a difference everywhere, especially to war and peace.

Barbara Unmüßig

From 1996 to 2001, Barbara Unmüßig chaired the supervisory board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and was elected president of the foundation in May 2002. Her numerous contributions to periodicals and books have covered international trade and finance, international environmental issues, and gender policy.