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Issue 2022/01

Women, Peace & Security: The Long Road to Gender Justice

On February 24, 2022, Russia launched its war of aggression against Ukraine. Although preparations for this edition of Ethics and Armed Forces had already reached an advanced stage, the question arose of whether the “war in Europe” might not be a more pressing topic. An understandable, but also treacherous urge, given that gender issues often take second place to supposedly “hard” security questions.

Yet events in Ukraine demonstrate once again, with great clarity, how crises and armed conflicts affect women and men differently. For example, there are mounting reports of sexual violence, especially against women. At the same time, the predominantly female refugees and their children are at serious risk of exploitation and human trafficking. Those who are curious to know how women are violated, enslaved, sold and displaced in conflicts around the world should read Christina Lamb’s book Our Bodies, Their Battlefields.

Adopted in 2000, UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security acknowledged for the first time that women often suffer disproportionately in war and its aftermath, while remaining shamefully marginalized. The text and follow-up resolutions – which have come to be known as the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda – formulate demands for the successful participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution, and call for their concerns to be taken into account. In other words, this is about gender equality in security issues.

In an interview with Isadora Quay from CARE International, I asked her about gender aspects and discrimination against women in humanitarian aid. She began by reciting a simple everyday example: For obvious reasons, having the same number of women’s and men’s toilets will often lead to a line forming in front of the former. So, in order to achieve a more just outcome – i.e. the same waiting time for all genders – shouldn’t the number of ladies’ toilets be doubled? This led us into an insightful conversation about the vulnerability of women during the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional role assignment and power relations, and crises as an opportunity for change and greater participation.

This edition aims to show that the WPS agenda involves much more than protecting women in war or increasing the number of female uniformed personnel – however important those goals may be. The articles describe the normative content of the Security Council resolutions, and examine the causes, prevention and prosecution of sexual violence as well as the living conditions of children born of war. They assess the policy implementation of the agenda in National Action Plans, and the unethical consequences of a failure to include women in armed forces. The special looks at the state of implementation of the agenda in the German Federal Ministry of Defense and Bundeswehr, and Major Isabel Borkstett, Deputy Gender Advisor in the NATO International Military Staff, explains the relevance of the topic in an extensive interview.

Of course there is not always agreement even among advocates of gender mainstreaming – for example, on what a feminist foreign policy should look like. However, it is right to demand that analyzing gender roles and corresponding power relations should be given much more space – not least in the area of security. “Women, Peace and Security” cannot be dismissed as a “women’s issue”, because the agenda concerns all people and all institutions.

The editorial team would like to thank everyone who contributed to this edition. We are sure that sticking with the topic was the right decision – and we invite you, our readers, to form your own opinions about it.

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Rüdiger Frank

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