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POLITICS: Post-Conflict Security in Need of Women

Suzanne Hoeksema

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2009 (IPS) - Women need to get involved more actively and more equally in the reform of the security sector in post-conflict states, says Ecoma Alaga, a Gender and Security Sector Reform (SSR) expert of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa.

Alaga presented a policy paper in a seminar on SSR and the Protection of Women in Africa on Tuesday, which was attended by leading experts in the field of gender, peacekeeping and SSR.

The seminar took place one day after the U.N. General Assembly’s unanimous decision to create a new gender entity at the United Nations, which was welcomed by the seminar’s chair, Patrick Hayford, director of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA).

It is hoped that the new gender entity will be able to increase the limited four percent of post-conflict spending by the United Nations that is now designated to gender specific issues.

Active participation of women in SSR is “essential to increase the protection of women and girls from all forms violence and discrimination, including sexual and gender-based violence”, says Alaga.

UNIFEM panelist Kristin Valasek, gender and SSR project coordinator at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), underlined the need for participation rather than protection since women do not benefit from being portrayed as victims.

Valasek noted that the security sector not only includes the defence force and the police service, but also the democratic overseeing bodies that are responsible for the implementation of gender sensitivity in the security sector.

Not emphasised in Alaga’s paper, but well pointed out by the panellists Valasek and Adedeji Ebo, chief of SSR Unit in the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, was the need to include customary providers of security and justice in SSR processes.

In many developing states, state security services do not reach beyond the capital centre, which means that people living in the rural areas or suburban slums rely on an informal network of security providers.

For post-conflict security reform to take root, the gap between formal and informal security – such as youth gangs and civilian watchdogs – need to be included in SSR.

Ebo reminded the audience that “state security agencies in Africa for decades have been perceived as agencies of insecurity rather than security by the majority of the people”.

For example, in the Yoruba language spoken in Nigeria, the word used for police is “olopa”, which also means “man with the stick”.

A shift seems needed from state-centred security to people-centred security, experts say.

Security officers in many African states have been used to protect the state from its opponents rather than the people from harassment, which often came from the state.

The core of this problem lies in the “crisis of the African state”, says Ebo. Therefore, he adds, “security sector reform cannot occur in itself, but has to be embedded in a larger process of transformation”.

What kind of recommendations on the integration of women in SSR can be made so far?

Both panellists and the audience made recommendations to key actors such as the United Nations, the international community, including donor bodies, the African Union, national governments and civil society groups.

Alaga suggested that the U.N. should support “national efforts to evolve a special protection mechanism for prosecuting offenders and improving access to justice for women” for example by special courts or women’s units.

The U.N. should also “provide leadership in formulating a code to guide the interactions of multilateral, bilateral and other donor bodies involved in SSR to prioritise resources for enhancing protections of women”.

The need to bridge informal and formal security structures, however, is difficult to address by the U.N., since it is a function of member states. For the U.N. to get involved in a state’s SSR, it needs a resolution from the Security Council.

UNIFEM as well as DCAF argued that local and international civil society organisations should try and fill the gap between gender rights-based NGOs and security sector-based NGOs.

Civil society might also be better equipped in bridging different interests by various security providers.

In terms of practical implementation, Alaga mentioned gender training for men and women on high and low levels in the security sector, and suggested that recruitment quotas be set for women, as has been done in South Africa, Rwanda and Liberia.

All agreed that masculinity in the security sector has to be scrutinised on all levels: security can no longer be a men’s business.

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