Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet
17 September 2021
Pursuant to the Human Rights Council resolution 45/28, I am pleased to present you our report (48/32) on how to strengthen the promotion and protection of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations, including linkages with the women and peace and security agenda.
The peace and security of our societies is intrinsically interconnected to the human rights of women and girls. This has been explicitly emphasized in different UN resolutions as well as by reports of the Secretary General.
This linkage is also clearly reflected in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325.
This Council and its mechanisms play a critical role in promoting the full implementation of women’s and girls’ rights in conflict and humanitarian contexts, including by investigating and analysing situations of concern, and calling for gender-transformative actions by the international community.
In conflicts and disasters, women and girls – already burdened by wide-ranging discrimination – often face heightened vulnerability and even deeper discrimination. Insecurity and displacement also fuel increased sexual and gender-based violence, as well as other crimes and human rights violations such as trafficking, child, early and forced marriages, or denial of access to sexual and reproductive health services.
In the last five years, the Human Rights Council has contributed to increased promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post conflict situations through its resolutions, UPR recommendations, Special Procedures reports and the work of investigative bodies. However, focus on the experience and human rights of women and girls is still not consistent throughout the Council’s analysis of conflict and post conflict situations and should be enhanced.
Approximately 20 per cent of relevant country resolutions contain references to the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations. And out of 500 Universal Periodic Review recommendations to conflict affected countries reviewed in the reporting period, about 7 per cent address the human rights of women in conflict and post conflict situations.
Thematic resolutions focusing on humanitarian settings tend to be more comprehensive in addressing the human rights of women and girls, including from an intersectional approach. For instance, some focussed on protection needs of internally displaced women and girls or of women and girls with disabilities. Many such resolutions also recognize the continuum of violations that women and girls suffer, including due to the breakdown of rule of law or to stigma associated with sexual and gender-based violence.
Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council have increasingly promoted an intersectional approach to the issue of women’s and girls’ rights in conflict and post-conflict situations.
The reports of the 13 thematic mandates analysed stress the need to consider the intersectional and aggravating factors of discrimination faced by women and girls, including in protection and reparation programmes. Those factors include ethnicity, culture, social status, ability and displacement status, and being women defenders or journalists. For instance, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has reported that in conflict and post-conflict situations the lack of equal access to inclusive and quality education particularly affects girls and young women with disabilities.
Investigative bodies have also analysed gender discrimination and inequality, which disproportionately affect women and girls in conflict and post conflict settings. The thematic reports on sexual and gender-based violence produced by the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and the International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar have examined the root causes of sexual violence and have stressed the need for accountability and access to comprehensive health services for survivors.
Despite significant progress, women’s and girls’ rights in conflict contexts are still not given consistent and adequate attention in some of the Council's resolutions and mechanisms. Furthermore, essential issues affecting women and girls in these contexts are often overlooked. These include women and girls’ human rights to food, adequate housing, health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, and equal participation in economic and public life.
Other issues that need further exploration include the negative impact of the diversion of arms and unregulated or illicit arms transfer; the use of explosive weapons; and the impact of abuses by non-state actors, including personnel of private security companies.
The existing imbalance in the type of issues addressed, results in an overall narrative still mainly reducing women's experience of conflict to victimization.
For example, in several UPR reviews, the majority of recommendations focused on sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, with limited reference to issues such as participation, or sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The analysis and recommendations produced do not consistently take into account how gender-based discrimination shape women’s and girls’ experience of conflict. Being displaced, having reduced access to food, disruption of education and health services, just to mention some common features of conflict, have different and specific impacts on women and girls. Not taking these into account result in overlooking exclusion and suffering and failing to provide adequate attention to matters that can determine life or death or condition the capacity to thrive and recover after conflict.
In conflict and post-conflict situations, women play critical roles as human rights defenders, journalists, peace-builders, community leaders. They often organise themselves to provide for basic needs for their communities, ensuring services such as education and healthcare.
A full understanding of women’s experience of conflict is critical for inclusive responses, and for promoting an enabling environment for women and girls in all their diversity to thrive and meaningfully participate in peace processes, peacebuilding, and recovery efforts. It is also critical to build resilient societies and prevent further instability.
I invite the Council and its mechanisms to consistently integrate a gender perspective in the analysis of human rights in conflict and post conflict situations. In particular, I encourage the Human Rights Council to more consistently and comprehensively analyse women’s and girls’ experience of conflict.
Overall, I encourage the Council and its mechanisms to consider the full range of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations in their work. To this end, I encourage the Council to work closely with the Informal Expert Group on Women and Peace and Security, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
And I call on the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms to expand and strengthen meaningful engagement with civil society organizations, including women’s organizations and women peacebuilders.