Netherlands Advocates Bigger Role for Women and Girls in Post-2015 Agenda

Schoolgirls in Liberia, December 2007. (USAID)

The role of women and girls was not prominent enough in the UN Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, said Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, and any post-2015 development agenda should have both a stand-alone goal for women and girls and specific roles for them in the broader agenda.

“In all other goals, whatever they are, it should be clear that there can be a specific role or a specific issue for women and girls,” Ms. Ploumen said in this interview. These are top priorities for the Netherlands in the post-2015 framework, she added. 

Ms. Ploumen said, “one of the main strategies that we should now look into is to make sure that not only the voices of those women are heard in the meeting rooms of the UN, but they themselves can be represented.” 

As an example, she said, “The most powerful thing to move things forward is to have a girl herself talk about what happened to her when she was forced into an early marriage. So, I think we should work with civil society and the UN to make even more room for the voices of women and girls themselves.” 

Ms. Ploumen also discussed how the Netherlands supports women in peace processes. “In South Sudan, we're working through the FLOW [Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women] funds—but also through NGOs like Cordaid—to encourage young women to take up leadership positions in their communities, to organize themselves. ” 

“I think women can be a force for good. They are a force for change, but they also need our support to make that happen, and I'm very proud that we are able to do so,” she said.

“I admire the courage of all those women and girls that are there to stand up in their own community, give a voice to their sisters, their neighbors, their nieces, their daughters. We should be there with them.” 

The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Policy Analyst at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript

Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: At the start of the 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the UN, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands. On March 11th, Minister Ploumen joined me to discuss the Netherlands’ priorities on development, its relation to peace and security, and ensuring sustainable development for women and girls.

The 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), happening at the UN this week, focuses on the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. Looking ahead, what are the Netherlands’ priorities for the post-2015 framework, and ensuring it reaches women, especially those in conflict-affected states? 

Lilianne Ploumen: We have a few priorities that we would like to see on the agenda. To start with, we advocate for a stand-alone goal on women. I think many people would agree that the Millennium Development Goals were a wonderful tool if you wish to bring about lots of political and public support to development. But many of those people would also agree that the role of women and girls has not been too prominent in many of those goals. So a stand-alone goal in what will come after the Millennium Development Goals I think would be a key priority for us. 

The second would be that in all other goals, whatever they are, it should be clear that there can be a specific role or a specific issue for women and girls. We are also advocating for a separate goal on peace and security—or peace and stability, if you wish—because we feel that without development there can't be peace and without peace there cannot be development. 



Absence of Syrian Refugee Camps in Lebanon Heats Up Labor Competition and Local Tensions

Syrian children wait with slips of paper entitling them to collect bread for their families, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, September 4, 2013. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Three years into the Syrian conflict, one million Syrians have officially sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, a country of 4.2 million people. Lebanon's hospitality is steadily being stretched to the limit. Syrian refugees have self-settled all over Lebanon, but mainly in the north and the Bekaa valley. The Lebanese authorities have so far refused to let the United Nations set up separate camps to house the refugees. They fear that the refugee camps could turn into permanent settlements and increase the likelihood that the Syrians may decide to stay. 

The absence of refugee camps means that Syrian families are settling in local communities ill prepared to accommodate the mass influx. After the presence of Syrians in Lebanon has reached one quarter of Lebanon’s population, the pressure on limited resources is felt in every community. How can Lebanon cope with this challenge? Are refugee camps the solution?

More than two thirds (70%) of Lebanese expressed a wish that the UN establish refugee camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The finding derives from a 2013 study of a representative sample of 900 Lebanese respondents by the Fafo Foundation, an independent research organization. A case study I conducted in the northern Lebanese village of Bebnine, part of the same Fafo study, indicates that finding shelter is increasingly challenging for refugees. In the beginning, people believed the crisis would be short-lived, and local residents showed generous hospitality towards the refugees. When the first refugees arrived in Bebnine, apartments were available, and some refugees were even provided for by a benefactor who paid the rent. Later, refugees had to accommodate themselves by staying with relatives and friends or rent available shelters. As a result, the monthly rent for an apartment in Bebnine increased from around $200 in 2011 to $450 in 2013. 

Refugees we met expressed anguish about their inability to pay the rent after their savings had been exhausted. Those who cannot afford the open rental market live in makeshift shelters designed for other uses than accommodations, usually without adequate water, electricity, and sanitation. Refugees in Bebnine have turned shops, garages, store rooms, hallways, and even a slaughterhouse into makeshift shelters. The latest arrivals to the village were often only offered improvised tents constructed with wooden poles wrapped in plastic. These shelters had only rudimentary water and sanitation facilities and are not weather-proof. A local charity organization in Bebnine was in the process of renting some land to accommodate 100 more plastic shelters for refugees. Clusters of such informal living arrangements have popped up several places in Bebnine, and more than 400 informal tent camps are registered around Lebanon to accommodate Syrian refugees. 



South Sudan Crisis Brings Questions for UNMISS

Nepalese peacekeepers arrive in Juba from Haiti to reinforce the military component of UNMISS, February 4, 2013. (UN Photo/Isaac Billy)

Only two and a half years after its independence, South Sudan was plunged into crisis when fighting erupted within the presidential guard on the night of December 15th. The violence spread quickly across the capital, Juba, and to the rest of the country, leaving over a thousand people dead; 870,000 people fled their homes, 145,000 to neighboring countries.

The outbreak of violence has renewed focus on the response capability of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Since its deployment in 2011, the mission has been plagued by questions about its effectiveness in carrying out its mandate to protect the civilians of South Sudan while at the same time supporting the government in statebuilding—questions the crisis brought into stark relief. However, the ongoing crisis presents an opportunity for UNMISS to re-examine its mandate to better align its objectives with the needs of the people of South Sudan.

Over 85,000 civilians sought refuge in UN base camps around the country, leaving UNMISS in a predicament: how could it uphold its mandate to protect civilians against the government troops it was supposed to support? As fighting erupted in the capital Juba, UNMISS was unable to deal with the crisis as it quickly spread across South Sudan and its head, Hilde Johnson, later admitted they were taken by surprise. 

Accounts of precisely what triggered the violence vary, but what is clear is that fighting broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing the former Vice President, Riek Machar. The unresolved power struggles and ideological differences within both the SPLM and the Army exacerbated tensions leading up to the crisis that erupted in December. Moreover, within the two and half years since independence, the SPLM failed to transition from a political movement fighting the government in Khartoum into a viable political party seeking to influence policy and represent citizens’ interests. 



Report From Mali: Humanitarian Situation Complicated, and Ripe for Innovative Solutions

In Addrass, 30 kilometers from Ménaka, Gao, Mali, Red Cross personnel distribute food to displaced persons. (ICRC / M. Douma)

Last month, separate incidents where two aid workers were injured and five others went missing in northern Mali caused speculation that humanitarian workers are now more at risk. But according to François Grünewald, head of Groupe URD, a leading French think tank specializing in humanitarian and recovery issues, it is still unclear what happened. 

“Up until recently, the impression was that humanitarians were kind of protected by their status as humanitarian actors. Has this situation changed or not? We don't know,” he said in this interview from Bamako. 

One dynamic that can increase the risk to humanitarian actors is when there is a perception they are in collusion with the military or other political actors, though Mr. Grünewald said in Mali there is a mechanism in place to avert this, “a sort of interface/firewall between humanitarian actors and the military” to protect the neutrality of humanitarian actors.

Mr. Grünewald said some parts of northern Mali are empty since Malians fled the violence to refugee camps in Mauritania, Burkina, and Niger. “Assistance is being delivered in the camps and not yet deep inside northern Mali,” he said.

"However, humanitarian actors do have access to the riverine areas of the Niger river. So they can access these communities and deliver through local NGOs and other local partners," he said, adding, "Difficulties will arise, of course, if local actors and national staff of aid organizations become targets themselves."

“It is clear, however, that if the situation deteriorates in terms of food security indicators and if humanitarian access does not improve, then we have a problem,” he said. 

Mr. Grünewald said that a recent workshop in Mali hosted by Groupe URD and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tried to better understand who the different stakeholders are on the political, military, and security scene in northern Mali. "By and large, we have some ideas, but we have no clear vision of what the logic is behind those actors," he said.

The workshop also brought discussions of innovative ideas around  military/humanitarian planning and new technologies to increase access and safety. One of the greatest challenges, however, is how to reach out to different violent groups in Mali.

“Unless we find a way to establish dialogue with [the political movements and radical groups in Mali] so that we can explain that humanitarian actors are not the enemy, that we are not political, that we are just there to help suffering people, we will continue facing substantial threats in the country,” he said.

The interview was conducted by Jérémie Labbé, Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute. He tweets at @jeremie_labbe.

Interview

Jérémie Labbé: I am here today with François Grünewald, Executive and Scientific Director of Groupe URD, a leading French think tank specializing in humanitarian and recovery issues. François, thanks for being with us on the Global Observatory today. 

You are currently in Bamako, Mali where Groupe URD and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently organized a workshop on humanitarian space and humanitarian access in Mali. What is the overall assessment that came out of this workshop concerning the security situation in northern Mali, particularly with regards to recent security incidents concerning humanitarian actors, such as the abduction of five humanitarian staff affiliated to the Red Cross in early February and an improvised explosive device that injured two staff of the organization Doctors of the World last week?

François Grünewald: There are a few things. One, of course, is to try to better understand who the different stakeholders are on the political, military, and security scene in northern Mali. By and large, we have some ideas, but we have no clear vision of what the logic is behind those actors. For example, it's far too early to enter into conjecture to try to identify what has happened with the staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Similarly for the Kidal incident against Doctors of the World, it is still not clear what happened.

For a long time, it was said that humanitarian actors were not targeted by the different actors of violence, be they political movements—MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) and others—or be they the new radical Islamic movements, MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), Ansar Dine, and others. Up until recently, the impression was that humanitarians were kind of protected by their status as humanitarian actors.



NATO Moves Forward on Implementing Women, Peace and Security Agenda: Interview with Mari Skåre

Mari Skåre, Special Representative of the Secretary-General of NATO on Women, Peace and Security, with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. (Photo credit: NATO HQ)

The key to including more women at the table in defense and security matters at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “is recognizing that women have a rightful place there,” said Mari Skåre, Special Representative of the Secretary-General of NATO on Women, Peace and Security. 

“And to achieve such recognition, leadership is everything,” she said. "So, I am very pleased that I have a very strong backing from the Secretary-General of NATO, showing his leadership on this issue, and it is key to continue to raise awareness among the leadership of the organization in NATO."

Ms. Skåre said her role as special representative—created in 2012, though NATO has had a policy on women, peace, and security since 2007—is to push for implementation. 

“Gender integration—or mainstreaming of gender into our everyday business—is indeed the core aim, I would say, of our policy on women, peace and security, and we see today a much stronger degree of integration of this perspective into, for instance, our operational planning,” she said. Operational planning is one of three areas targeted for implementation, she said; the other areas are defense planning and cooperation with partners. 

“I see great opportunities working with our partners,” she said. “My experience is that I am met with open doors and a real commitment, a real understanding that if we are going to meet the security challenges of this century, we do need to understand the gender dimension of them, and we need to have women on board.”

When asked about lessons learned for NATO from an independent study on the impact of women in peace and security on operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, she said, “This review documents, in a sense, what we already knew. It documents that we need to have the competence—within our troops, within the leadership of the missions and operations—on gender. It documents that we would benefit greatly from having expertise on gender matters deployed. It documents that we really would benefit from a stronger engagement with the local population, with women—that we would be better able to understand the situation in the area where we operate if we also engage with female activists and female leaders.” 

She said her ambition is to influence how NATO is conducting its work. “If I can, when I finish this position, look back and say I managed to make a difference, if only for a miniscule part, I will be really happy because this is a really complex and vast agenda to move.”

The interview was conducted by Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript

Maureen Quinn: Good morning, welcome to the Global Observatory. I am Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs at the International Peace Institute, and I'm very pleased to have with us today Mari Skåre, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of NATO on Women, Peace and Security. Mari, welcome to the Global Observatory and thank you so much for being here. 

We here at the International Peace Institute have a program of research and convening on women, peace, and security, and we're very pleased to have you in your groundbreaking role at NATO to speak to us today on the Global Observatory

My first question is: Since 2007, NATO has a policy on women, peace, and security and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, but you assumed this roll in 2012. What obstacles to meeting the NATO goals for full and equal participation of women did you find when you took the position, and what strategies are you pursuing to overcome those obstacles?

Mari Skåre: Thank you, Maureen, and thank you for having me here at IPI. It's my pleasure to be here. You're asking good questions. 

It’s correct that we've had a policy, together with our partners, in place since 2007, and the political momentum has really been growing over the past years. The intention by having a Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security is really to push for implementation. When it comes to reaching the objectives of including women more at the table when defense and security matters are being discussed and decided on—and include women also in the execution of these tasks—I think that the key is really to raise awareness, recognizing that women have a rightful place at the table when we are deciding on these matters. And to achieve such recognition, leadership is everything. 



After the UN Goal on Women Expires, What Happens to the Quest for Gender Parity?

A child held by her mother at a gathering to celebrate International Women's Day in El Fasher, North Darfur,
Sudan, March 8, 2010. (UNAMID/Albert Gonzalez Farran)

2015 will bring the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one of which focused specifically on promoting gender parity: Goal 3. This week, delegates from the around the world are gathering at UN Headquarters to discuss the challenges and opportunities all eight goals have provided for women and girls—and how they could be addressed post-2015. That is the focus of this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), running from March 10th to 21st. 

Last week, I spoke with Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, about what she thinks the priorities and obstacles are when it comes to empowering women and girls and achieving gender parity. What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.

Ms. Puri, as the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women gets started, what do you see as the gaps and achievements in implementing the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls? 

This is really the opportunity for the international community to identify how the MDGs worked or did not work for women and girls on the ground; what was in the MDGs for women and girls, even in terms of the targets and indicators; and therefore, what lessons do we take from that. 

If you take the key messages from this inquiry, one is that it pays to have a separate goal on gender equality and women's empowerment, because it focuses your attention—you prioritize it. At the same time, the lesson is that what is in that goal is unfinished business. There is good progress, but there is also mixed progress. 

Illiteracy is still much higher amongst girls than amongst boys. Secondary and tertiary education is still a challenge for girls. Similarly, there is only 20 percent representation of women in parliaments if you take the global average, and only in 30 countries have they exceeded 33 percent. So, it's unfinished business, even if you look at the limited number of targets and indicators that you had in MDG 3 and in other goals. 

So, what does that mean? It means that we must take MDG 3 forward but in a more structurally transformative way, and we must also address the root causes of inequality and structural barriers to equality and discrimination. And that's why we are now looking to use this CSW 58 as a platform for really getting a consensus on what that next generation of gender equality, women's empowerment, and women's rights goal should be.



South Sudan, Back in Crisis, Finds Advocates in Former Child Refugees

South Sudanese woman wait in line for water during a temporary water shortage in a refugee camp in northern Uganda. UNHCR/F.Noy

In this interview, two former child refugees from Sudan discuss how they are working to provide assistance to the South Sudanese displaced by the deadly conflict that began December 15. Both men have joined four others to form an initiative called the Mal Clinic –“mal” means “peace”–which they envision will provide medical assistance during the crisis.

“Half a million people have been displaced. They need medical attention. They need food and shelter. They need places where they can live,” said Manyang Reath, a refugee from age 3-18 who, after finding his way to the United States, founded Humanity Helping Sudan, where he serves as CEO.

Mr. Reath and Ger Duany, a former child solider, are calling on the South Sudanese diaspora to help. “Even though [the diaspora] might be aware by now [of the crisis], they still need to be engaged,” said Mr. Reath. "Many of us here… have contributed a lot to the community—for instance, sending books to schools, shoes, money, and other things that could help.”

Describing the current state of these refugees, Mr. Reath said, “Children are forced [by the conflict] to go to United Nations compounds, live there—women give birth inside UN compounds. This is an unstable situation…you’re placed in one center and become susceptible to diarrhea, cholera, and all diseases that you might not become infected when staying in your own home. It's a mess.” 

As a child, Mr. Reath spent 13 years in a refugee camp on the Sudanese/Ethiopian border. “Living in camps is hard to define because you’re put there to live in one place…The only way you can move is when the UN decides to put you in another camp for security or medical reasons.” He said the camp is also a place where diseases spread easily. “If someone coughs TB, everybody will get sick. And that’s a life in the camp.”

Ger Duany, who was forcefully recruited into being a child soldier before making his way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, said that child soldiers are still recruited in South Sudan, adding that, “many kids are being lured into it because they have no choice.” 

“It is not like they have a process of how to recruit people. The entire area becomes subject to violence. It's not safe, and everybody wants to protect themselves and their families. And I think that's the one thing that lured me into being a child soldier, too,” he said. 

Mr. Duany said that international agencies should focus on evacuating South Sudanese refugees all the way to the border, “where they can be safe.” 

The interview was conducted by Waleed Alhariri, Research Assistant in the Middle East program at the International Peace Institute.

Waleed Alhariri: Today, I welcome Manyang Reath and Ger Duany to the Global Observatory. Manyang is a founder and CEO of Humanity Helping Sudan, which provides aid and assistance to the Sudanese diaspora in Ethiopia along the eastern border of South Sudan. Ger is a South Sudanese actor and a model based in the United States. Both Manyang and Ger were refugees for most of their lives, and after coming to the US, they decided to work in providing assistance to refugees, especially those fleeing the current conflict from South Sudan. Thank you for speaking with us today. 

Manyang, what is the situation like for civilians in South Sudan? 

Manyang Reath: The situation in South Sudan has escalated to become an ethnic conflict. It did not start like this, and we thought we had enough war. However, as of December 15, we find 15,000 individuals killed and half a million forced to go to bordering countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. Children are forced [by the conflict] to go to United Nations compounds, live there—women give birth inside UN compounds. This is an unstable situation…you’re placed in one center and become susceptible to diarrhea, cholera, and all diseases that you might not become infected when staying in your own home. It's a mess.



Aid Workers, More on the Front Lines, Suffer Increased Attacks: Interview with Abby Stoddard

Photo credit: Catalina-Martin Chico/European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr

Aid worker attacks and attacks against civilian aid operations were at their highest levels last year, said Abby Stoddard, senior program adviser for humanitarian action at New York University's Center on International Cooperation and a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research group. Preliminary numbers show 172 major attacks on aid workers in 2013; the previous peak year was 2008, when there were 165 attacks. 

More aid workers in the field is partially responsible for the increase in attacks, which are generally targeted attacks and ambushes. “Before 1990,” Dr. Stoddard observed, “you wouldn't see many aid workers at all in active combat situations. They tended to wait at the borders for refugees.”

But, she cautioned, this is not the only reason for the increase. She noted that in some high-violence environments, aid workers are seen as linked with Western interests. "When you have an internationalized insurgency the way you do in Afghanistan...  you see a greater targeting of aid workers because they are perceived to be associated with the Western agenda."

“The majority of incidents for the past several years have taken place in just a small number of extremely high-violence environments, and for the past at least seven years, those have included Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan (and now South Sudan), and Pakistan. In 2013, Syria joined the top five in terms of the most attacks on aid workers,” she said.

She said there is no strong evidence of a correlation between increased attacks and areas where the United Nations plays a more aggressive role in the conflict, “but you do see anecdotally that it does affect the UN agencies.”

She said the UN uses a protective strategy towards security threats, using armed guards and armed escorts, for example, while NGOs focus on an acceptance approach, which involves reaching out to all parties to the conflict; reaching out to local communities; and actively and continually negotiating their presence. 

“We found in our research that the agencies that were able to do this more effectively and able to invest more in an active acceptance strategy tended to have better success in maintaining secure access,” she said.

She said a recent report by Humanitarian Outcomes, which manages the Aid Workers Security Database, found higher aid workers attacks correlated with areas of armed conflict, but also high levels of state fragility and low levels of rule of law. Surprisingly, she said, they did not find any real significant relationship between aid worker violence and the general crime or murder rates in the country.

“It's important to stress that there's no way to eliminate the risk entirely, no matter what you do or how much money you spend on your security,” she added.

Despite assumptions that humanitarian actors have become more risk averse, she finds the contrary. “I think risk tolerance has actually gone up,” she said.

She noted that in the Central African Republic, “a lot of agencies were claiming security risks as one of the reasons why they couldn't respond better to the emergency there, but I think the issue really had more to do with low capacity than with risk aversion.”

The interview was conducted by Jérémie Labbé, Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute. He tweets at @jeremie_labbe.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript

Jérémie Labbé: I am here today with Abby Stoddard, a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research group on humanitarian issues, and Senior Program Adviser for Humanitarian Action at New York University's Center on International Cooperation. 

Abby has extensively researched and analyzed international humanitarian action for the last 15 years, and is the author of numerous reports and articles, including on the issue of security of aid workers, the focus of today's interview. Of particular relevance to our discussion, Humanitarian Outcomes manages the Aid Workers Security Database, which compiles incidents involving aid workers worldwide and publishes an annual report, the Aid Worker Security Report, providing the latest statistics and highlighting current trends. Abby, thanks for being with us on the Global Observatory. 

A number of security incidents concerning aid workers were reported in recent months in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Somalia, and Mali. For that matter, two recent incidents happened in Mali. Five ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] staff were abducted in early February, and just this week, two staff from Doctors of the World (MDM) had a security incident with an explosive improvised device. So, is there an increase overall in the number of security incidents concerning aid workers?

Abby Stoddard: Yes, there is overall, and particularly this year. We've seen the numbers both of aid worker victims and the number of major attacks against civilian aid operations go up this year. They're at their highest levels since 2008, which was the prior peak in violence.

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