Overlooked Among 50 Million Displaced Worldwide, Women and Girls Lose Out

A UNAMID officer assists women refugees in Zam Zam camp for IDPs near El Fasher, North Darfur, June 26, 2014. (UN Photo/Albert González Farran)

Mass displacement has become a significant feature of recent conflicts, as the number of people forced to flee their homes has passed 50 million worldwide, a level not seen since World War II. This is one of the reasons why the UN Security Council will focus on women refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) during its annual open debate on women, peace, and security on October 28, according to Elizabeth Cafferty, senior advocacy officer at the Women's Refugee Commission.

“In emergencies, we continue to hear the excuse that we can't stop to think about people's specific needs, and that usually means women and girls lose out,” Ms. Cafferty said in an interview in New York on October 21. “What might surprise some people is that women and girls still have huge challenges accessing the most basic services: healthcare, schools, making meals for their families at night, finding ways to cook the food that they are given.”

Ukraine Steels Itself for Winter as Putin Forges Ahead with Novorossiya

A building shows signs of heavy shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Semenivka, September 18, 2014. (Flickr/UN Ukraine)

The Europe-Asia Summit in Milan, Italy, delivered little, if any, tangible progress to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. Relations between Russia and Ukraine’s major European allies remain just a few degrees above a new Cold War-style ice age. And with only a preliminary gas deal achieved between Kiev and Moscow, this may be quite literally true for Ukrainians as winter approaches.

Agreements achieved in Minsk between Russia and Ukraine and between Kiev and the separatists over a military de-escalation, the withdrawal of combat troops, and the establishment of a buffer zone have made some incremental progress, but a cease-fire that was meant to have been in force since September 5 has been frequently breached—in particular during the protracted battle between separatists and Ukrainian forces for the airport in Donetsk.

Boko Haram Deal to Release Girls Met with Hope and Skepticism

Policewomen block supporters of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign from marching to the president's official residence in Abuja on October 14, 2014. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigeria—and the world—await with bated breath credible confirmation that the government has been able to agree a lasting cease-fire deal with Boko Haram. Reports have emerged that a deal has been signed with the insurgent group which will mean the release of the 217 Chibok schoolgirls abducted in April and an end to the violence and terror which have plagued the country for more than a decade.

As the respected Nigerian journalist Simon Kolawole has written of the announcement, this will mean different things to different people. For some Nigerians, it could be an early Christmas gift. To even imagine that the insurgents or terrorists are ready to abandon their aspirations of establishing an Islamic state and establish a dialogue with the government is a huge relief.

Mali's Elusive Peace

A MINUSMA peacekeeper during a training in Gao, Mali, May 15, 2014. (MINUSMA/Marco Dormino)

It has been nearly 20 months since the sound of French fighter jets filled the skies of Mali’s desert north where, on the ground below, Islamist militants had seized control of a land mass comparable to the size of France. The cacophony of fighter jet engines and their explosive arsenal marked the advent of France’s military intervention in northern Mali. Coined Operation Serval, the mandate of the counterinsurgency was to nullify the threat posed by Islamist extremists who were seeking to expand their operational footprint outside of Mali’s insurgent-battled north. An associated goal of the French military operation was to support the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in achieving its mandate—the restoration of Mali’s constitutional order and territorial integrity.

By mid-2013, it seemed that the French military had made good on its promise. Al-Qaeda-linked groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MOJWA), were driven out of major urban centers that had fallen under their brutal control. The French-led operation also led to the deaths of a number of prominent jihadists, most notably Hacene Ould Khalil and Omar Ould Hamaha, who had long been sought by regional and international security agencies. In addition to ousting and neutralizing jihadist fighters, Operation Serval also curtailed militant operational capabilities. Key militant logistical and operational bases were destroyed in ground and air operations, while drug-trafficking networks, considered a significant revenue-generating industry for Sahel- and Maghreb-based terrorist groups, were similarly dismantled.

Legality, Legitimacy, and Human Protection: International Intervention Against ISIS in Syria

Twin explosions in southeastern Kobane, October 8, 2014. (Flickr/Poggemann)

As the battle for the tiny Kurdish enclave in Kobane goes into what could be its final phase, and the US-led coalition steps up its air campaign against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, serious questions are being asked about the legality and legitimacy of intervention and about what all this means for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Several prominent commentators have argued that the airstrikes in Syria are illegal because they have not been authorized by the UN Security Council and are not acts of self-defense because ISIS poses no direct threat to the US. But this rests on a mistaken view of the scope of self-defense enshrined in the UN charter. Article 51 of the charter notes the “inherent right” of states to “individual or collective self-defense” (emphasis added). In other words, not only does the government of Iraq have a right to use force to defend itself against ISIS, other states have a right to assist it, as Jason Ralph has pointed out. The absence of a direct threat to the US or its allies does not, therefore, invalidate self-defense as grounds for intervention, because actions against ISIS in Syria are essentially a defensive response to that organization’s armed aggression against Iraq. Indeed, this was precisely the argument US officials employed. While there may be some legal squabbling at the margins, it appears from the international response to the intervention that this is a justification broadly accepted by most member states.

Where Are Our Girls?

Demonstrators outside the Nigerian embassy in New York, October 14, 2014. 

Boko Haram’s April 14 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok has been one of the most provocative developments of its almost five-year insurgency against the Nigerian government. It has catalyzed a global protest campaign, drawing support from many of the world’s most influential citizens. It has aided the Nigerian government in garnering both regional and international assistance in its ongoing fight against the Islamist extremist sect. It has also placed unprecedented pressure on the Nigerian government to act with a decisiveness and rapidity which has been sorely lacking in its response to the insurgency.

Yet six months to the day, the Chibok girls remain hostages of one of the most brutal insurgent groups on the African continent, and not much more is known about their plight today as was speculated at the time of their abduction. A burning question remains unanswered: What will happen to the Chibok girls?

Is Human Security at Odds with State Security? Q&A with Kristen Wall

A soldier speaks with two Afghan citizens during a patrol in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan, August 2011. (Wikipedia)

Interviews with citizens in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Mexico, and Ukraine, show that many of them had similar concerns: If I’m in danger of being robbed, is there a public security force that will protect me? If I go to a police officer, is he going to steal from me further? Is he going to abuse me?

These perspectives were shared in a recent report on human security, co-edited by Kristen Wall. “Even though these are very diverse contexts, we found across the board that when you're looking at security from the ground up, people most often are talking about their expectations or relation to the state, and primarily regarding rule of law and public services provision,” Ms. Wall said.

Afghan Burqa, a “Window of Power”? Q&A with Farkhunda Zahra Naderi

A woman stands in a sandstorm near Balkh, Afghanistan, April 24, 2012. (Wikipedia/Hochgeladen von Ottawa)

Rates of unemployment in Afghanistan are highest among women and young people. These two groups make up by far the majority of the population, but like young people and women everywhere, they often struggle to have a voice in the political system that could address their plight.

Farkhunda Zahra Naderi has been a member of Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament since 2010, when she was in her late twenties. Now 33 years old, Ms. Naderi sees increasing opportunities for young people and women to participate in politics and shape the future of their country as democracy takes hold. While traditional approaches to politics in the country still erect barriers to participation, today “you can come by means of your own power,” she said in an interview in New York on September 15, “because democracy opens the door for you.”

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