The women, peace and security agenda is finally making headway in SA

Feeling safe is a very personal thing. Every woman should be able to walk around in their neighbourhood without looking over their shoulder every 10 seconds. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
Feeling safe is a very personal thing. Every woman should be able to walk around in their neighbourhood without looking over their shoulder every 10 seconds. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

Peace and security is personal and means different things to different people.

For me, it is the confidence to walk around in my neighbourhood without looking over my shoulder every 10 seconds.

It means getting into an Uber without fear of being sexually violated or falling victim to human trafficking.

It means not worrying about where my next meal is going to come from or when I will finally land a job that will afford me the level of job security I need.

Peace and security to me is the assurance that a police or military officer who is mandated to protect, will do just that, and not do harm to me or others.

At the very least, peace and security means being safe in my own home!

It has taken South Africa nearly two decades to acknowledge the fact that the women, peace and security agenda is as important in this country as it is in a country in active armed conflict or in an immediate post-conflict period.

This is in light of feminist scholarship and activism that confirms that women’s peace and security challenges do not begin during armed conflict and end with a political transition to democracy.

In fact, a country such as South Africa is the proverbial poster-child for violence against women, as our statistics are akin to those countries in the midst of armed conflict.

However, with the recent development of the zero-draft South African national action plan on women, peace and security, the South African state has finally shown leadership and political will to address women, peace and security challenges in South Africa, the African continent and the world.

South Africa’s strategic location on the international stage as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the term 2019-2020 and chair of the African Union in 2020, both place the country in a great position to champion the women, peace and security agenda.

However, this cannot happen until South Africa sweeps clean its own house first and solidifies efforts for a nationally owned framework for implementation on its own shores.

Acknowledging women’s agency in peace processes

The women, peace and security agenda was first articulated in the October 2000 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which acknowledges the importance of gendered approaches to international peace and security and the need to address the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls.

Rather than viewing women solely as victims in need of protection, the resolution acknowledges women’s agency in relation to peace and security matters.

As such, the resolution calls for:

• The full and equal participation of women in decision-making processes at national, regional, and international levels with regard to conflict prevention, conflict management, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and relief and recovery processes;

• The protection of women’s rights, including defending women and girls from gender-based violence (GBV);

• A gender perspective in United Nations programming, reporting and missions of the security council;

• Gender training in UN peace support operations.

Why the women, peace and security agenda is important for South Africa

For the past 19 years, the two questions that animated South Africa’s discussions on women, peace and security have included: What does this agenda have to do with us?

Why does a post-conflict country such as South Africa need a national action plan on women, peace and security?

The answer is very simple. South African women have multiple sources of insecurity. Sexual violence is on the rise in conflict and non-conflict contexts; South Africa is no exception.

In fact, South Africa is home to some of the most harrowing violent crime statistics in the world.

One in five women older than 18 years have experienced violence in South Africa.

Three women die at the hands of their intimate partner every day. South Africa’s femicide rate is five times more than the global average.

The rate of sexual violence is among the highest in the world, so much that Interpol labelled South Africa the “rape capital” of the world.

Moreover, in light of the fact that South Africa cannot enjoy peace in isolation, the country also has an obligation to ensure that its national action plan is outward-looking and can be utilised as a foreign policy tool in peace processes across the world.

For these reasons and more, South Africa needs a national action plan on women, peace and security, one that will ensure that the provisions of the UN resolution are incorporated into the government’s diplomacy, defence and development work.

The opportunities afforded by the development of a national action plan

As various stakeholders in our country – such as the security cluster, women’s rights sector, academics, policy-makers, civil society and others interrogate the zero-draft in the months leading up to the anticipated launch of the national action plan on women, peace and security in September 2019, two things should be born in mind.

The national action plan needs to be a living, breathing, actionable and adequately financed document. We do not want another beautifully drafted document that is not implemented and therefore brings no substantial change for women, girls and gender non-conforming persons.

The national task team that provides overall guidance on enlivening the women, peace and security agenda is comprised of the of international relations and cooperation department, the South African National Defence Force and the department of women, youth and persons with disabilities.

They have their work cut out for them. Civil society has a wealth of policy and programmatic experience to offer, through a widely consultative national action plan process.

This process ought to reflect the diverse lived experiences of South African women who have yet to benefit from the basic Constitutional rights afforded to them in our Constitution.

The time has come for South Africa to make substantive commitments and advance women’s rights and gender equality.

There is no better time than the present to advance the women, peace and security agenda.

As women, we are ready to be at the forefront of shaping this agenda!

Nomathamsanqa Masiko-Mpaka is a senior advocacy officer at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. Follow her on Twitter @Noma_Masiko

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