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What Does the New Security Council Resolution on Sexual Violence in Conflict Mean for Women and Girls in Emergencies?

United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution (SCR) 2467 was adopted on 23 April 2019 in New York with 13 votes in favor during the annual Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict1. The lack of consensus and absence of explicit mention of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in response to the threat of a veto by the United States signified a new threat of future attacks on SRHR guarantees across the multilateral system, but ultimately the outcome of the resolution has left in place historical guarantees of human rights-based sexual and reproductive health services within the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda.

Much has been said about the implications of 2467 for the WPS agenda, 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 new resolution?

Firstly, the normative framework and within it, the previously agreed language on SRHR protections for women and girls in conflict affected and humanitarian settings are secured2. The affirmation of the 8 preceding WPS resolutions, the inclusion of explicit reference to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its optional protocol all reflect specific SRHR guarantees and corresponding obligations for States. The addition of reference to CEDAW General Recommendation 30 arguably goes further and strengthens the reference to existing State obligations that provide access to safe abortion in conflict within the WPS agenda3. Further to this, an aspect of Resolution 2467 that provides hope for improvements on the ground is the centrality it gives to a survivor-centered approach to gender-based violence (GBV). Within this context Resolution 2467 goes some way in repositioning girls and women in conflict-affected areas from ‘victims’ in need of help to 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.

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 organisations receive the smallest portion of these scarce resources4.

If heeded, the resolution’s call to the United Nations 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.

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 settings5. We saw this with the unexpected decision of the US to threaten to use its veto unless previously agreed language on the provision of SRH services to survivors of sexual violence was deleted from the final draft of Resolution 24676. 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 Resolution 24677. Just a month earlier, we saw the Russian Federation 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”8.

For those of us monitoring UN negotiations, and in particular, the behavior of the Trump Administration across multiple multilateral fora, the veto threat to remove SRH was in fact not a surprise. Despite being in direct conflict with established constitutional rights in the US, the Trump Administration has consistently attempted to restrict SRHR for women and girls since President Trump was elected in 2016. The central take away of Resolution 2467 for future negotiations is confirmation of the lengths this Administration is willing to go to dismantle the rights of women and girls beyond its own borders. This outcome adds to a growing list of attacks including the Administration’s recent decision to extend the reach of the ‘Global Gag Rule’ which imposes significant barriers to SRH services globally through the imposition of unnecessary and severe restrictions to U.S. global health assistance9.

The present pushback against human rights and gender equality by some permanent Security Council members is a deeply concerning part of a broader global context in which liberal democracy, human rights, and within that, the rights of women and girls, are under increasing ad sustained attack. As shown by the number of national and cross regional statements supporting SRHR during the April 23rd Security Council Open Debate on Conflict Related Sexual Violence, many States are willing to speak up in support of SRHR during negotiations. The extent to which their rhetorical support translates into Security Council outcomes and lifesaving programs on the ground however, will only become clear if States are prepared to adequately fund the provision of SRH services in conflict and if the inclusion of SRHR protections does in fact represent a red line in future their multilateral negotiations.

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 in relation to new opportunities. Yes, 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.

No matter what the politics in New York, girls and women will continue to be the first responders. When armed conflict erupts in their communities 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.

Acknowledgements

Written with appreciation to Anushka Kalyanpur, Joe Read and Christina Wegs at CARE, and Rebecca Brown from the Center, for their advice and input on the text.

  1. S/RES/2467 (2019)
  2. United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010), and 2106 (2013) deal explicitly with conflict-related sexual violence
  3. CEDAW/C/GC/30
  4. 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. Source: https://www.unocha.org/story/gender-based-violence-closer-look-numbers 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The Security Council adopted Resolution 2106 in 2013, which ‘urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the specific needs of persons with disabilities’ (OP.19).
  7. Most thematic Security Council resolutions are adopted unanimously. However, there have been abstentions cast on thematic resolutions in the past. For example, Resolution 2068(2012) on children and armed conflict was adopted with 11 votes in favor and four 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 but 1 abstention (Egypt).
  8. United Nations meetings coverage and press release (SC 13738), Security Council extends mandate of United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Adopting Resolution 2459 (2019) by 14 votes to none (one abstention), https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/sc13738.doc.htm
  9. PAI, Trump Administrations GRR Interpretation, 2019 Accessed: https://pai.org/newsletters/ab...