SC Vote on 2467

What Does April’s Security Council Resolution on Sexual Violence in Conflict Mean for Women and Girls?

The Security Council voting on resolution 2467 on sexual violence in conflict. The vote was 13 in favor, with 2 abstentions (Russian Federation and China). (UN Photo/Loey Felipe)

In April, the United Nations Security Council—under Germany’s presidency—adopted its ninth resolution on women, peace, and security, with a particular focus on sexual violence in conflict. Much has been said about the implications of resolution 2467, but less discussed is whether it will benefit girls and women whose communities are caught up in armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies. So what can women and girls in conflict-affected countries expect from this resolution?

It is precisely in moments of conflict that girls and women face increased risks of multiple forms of gender-based violence (GBV), unplanned pregnancy, death or disability during pregnancy and childbirth, unsafe abortion, and sexually transmitted infections.[1] It is also when access to non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services can be truly life-saving, including sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, mental health and psychosocial support, legal assistance, and access to justice. But all too often, financial donors supporting people in conflict zones deem these services to be “not life-saving enough” and opt to fund programs focused on providing food, water, and shelter instead.

One aspect of resolution 2467 that provides hope there can be improvements on the ground is the centrality it gives to a survivor-centered approach to gender-based violence. Girls and women in conflict-affected areas should no longer be seen as “victims” in need of help, but treated as rights-holders who have agency and choices.

Implicit in a survivor-centered approach is an acknowledgement that when a girl is raped, forced into an early marriage, or experiences intimate partner violence, her human rights have been violated and she is entitled to redress and remedy. Non-discriminatory access to clinical management of rape, including post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV within 72 hours, and emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy within 120 hours, is her right, not an “optional extra.” And her rights don’t end there. She is entitled to longer-term care and support so she can cope with the trauma, begin to learn skills to generate an income and support her family, and decide if she wants to hold the perpetrator of the violence accountable.

In Syria, for example, after eight years of war and four years of actually having these services available, women and girls have only recently begun to come forward to seek the care they need. They have been held back by a range of factors, including the stigma and shame that survivors of sexual violence face; the fear that they will be blamed; the constraints on their own mobility (a male relative must accompany a woman or girl outside the home); and the high levels of insecurity and targeting of health facilities throughout the conflict.

But the Syrian context shows that provision of these life-saving services with privacy, confidentiality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination is the bedrock of ensuring survivor-centered approaches in conflict and other humanitarian settings. This should be complemented with community-based efforts on prevention, as well as the creation of supportive environments for affected populations to come forward of their own accord to receive services that prevent morbidity and mortality of conflict-affected populations, especially women, adolescent girls, and others at increased risk, such as LGBTQI groups.

Another major change that resolution 2467 could herald is a more central role for local, grassroots, women-led organizations in leading efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict. Underpinning the resolution is an implicit recognition that girls’ and women’s groups are vital frontline humanitarian actors and powerful agents of change in crises. They convene assistance networks, negotiate humanitarian access, coordinate responses, and assess humanitarian needs, including the risk of GBV.

Yet less than one percent of humanitarian assistance is allocated to GBV programming, and women-led organizations receive the smallest portion of these scarce resources.[2] All too often, local organizations are forced to compete with international humanitarian actors in the same funding windows. They struggle to access funds that are not tied to specific activities and, as a result, often lack the core funding that would allow them to invest in the training, skills, and support required to access and influence decision-makers and to comply with rigorous donor reporting requirements. Not surprisingly, many of these grassroots organizations struggle to keep their doors open for more than a few months at a time.

If heeded, the resolution’s call to the UN and other international donors to support and promote local women’s organizations through capacity building and other measures, could see them become empowered and better-resourced frontline service providers who have a real say in what GBV prevention and response efforts are implemented. This would reinforce and bolster the survivor-centered approach intended by the Security Council, because most local women’s organizations working in emergencies already take this approach.

However, resolution 2467 failed to call out the enormous funding gap for organizations that are delivering survivor-centered approaches in crisis situations. Relatively early-on in the negotiations, Germany, as the penholder, had to delete language that called on donors to prioritize closing the funding gap. This was an important missed opportunity for the Security Council to signal to international donors that they too have a responsibility when it comes to delivering survivor-centered approaches and ensuring local women-led organizations have a lead role in these responses. It is an opportunity the Council could take action on as preparations for the twentieth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 continue.

For all the potential that resolution 2467 holds out for GBV survivors and local, women-led civil society organizations, there is a risk that it could remain a largely aspirational text. It is true that the resolution signals an important political shift that is intended to make UN peace operations, UN agencies, and all humanitarian actors more accountable to any person who experiences sexual violence in conflict. However, for it to have real impact, the Security Council needs to translate this political commitment into changes on the ground that will benefit survivors of GBV in all conflict-affected countries on its agenda. The best way to do this will be through country-specific resolutions—like UN peacekeeping mandates—which spell out what roles and responsibilities UN peacekeepers, the government, parties to the conflict, and humanitarian actors have, including when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict.

Unfortunately, resolution 2467 has exposed how divided Security Council members now are when it comes to the rights of survivors of sexual violence and what services they are entitled to access in conflict settings.[3] We saw this with the unexpected decision of the United States to threaten to use its veto unless previously agreed-upon language on the provision of SRH services to survivors of sexual violence was deleted from the final draft of the resolution.

Two other permanent members of the Security Council, namely the Russian Federation and China, also distanced themselves from what was consensus language in the Council for over five years when they took the highly unusual step of abstaining from the vote on the resolution.[4] Just a month earlier, we saw Russia abstain from a resolution that strengthened the UN’s response to gender-based violence in South Sudan following UN reports of over 134 mass rapes near Bentiu in 2018. In that instance, Russia explained that the text put forward by the US was “overburdened with language on gender and human rights issues.”

These voting patterns all suggest that when the Security Council negotiates the renewal of existing mandates in the near future, such as Mali or Libya, we should not assume that a survivor-centered approach to sexual violence in conflict will feature in the resolution adopted. Regardless, UN member states, donors, and organizations who are committed to achieving gender equality and ending gender-based violence, should seize the opportunity to remind the Council of commitments in these areas.

The present pushback against human rights and gender equality by some permanent Security Council members is deeply concerning. But it will not deter girls and women from continuing to be the first responders when armed conflict erupts in their communities. No matter what the politics in New York, they will stay and deliver throughout the emergency, and continue working in their communities once the guns are silenced. Their commitment to a survivor-centered approach exemplifies what the Security Council set out to achieve through resolution 2467 and should be supported and scaled up by international donors.

Vanessa Jackson is the United Nations Representative for CARE International. With appreciation to CARE colleagues Anushka Kalyanpur, Joe Read, and Christina Wegs for their advice and input on the text.

[1] The UN estimates that one in five internally displaced or refugee women living in humanitarian crisis and armed conflict have experienced sexual violence. There are currently 35 million girls and women of reproductive age who are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2019.

[2] Currently, only 3-4 percent of all humanitarian spending goes to protection activities, but even less, around half of one percent, is spent on GBV services. The bulk of these funds go to UN agencies and international NGOs, and the smallest portion to national NGOs. Within national civil society, by far the smallest portion of GBV funding goes to women-led organizations.

[3] Both the 2018 SPHERE Humanitarian Standards and the 2018 Interagency Field Manual for Reproductive Health in Crisis (IAFM) define a minimum set of life-saving, reproductive health services that must be available to survivors of gender-based violence in humanitarian settings.

[4] Most thematic Security Council resolutions are adopted unanimously. However, there have been cases of abstentions. For example, resolution 2068 (2012) on children and armed conflict was adopted with 11 votes in favor and 4 abstentions (Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan and Russia), while resolution 2272 (2016) on sexual exploitation and abuse in peace operations was adopted by 14 votes in favor and 1 abstention (Egypt).