Symposium on the Plight of Women and Children in Conflict Situations
ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) ‘Symposium on the Plight of Women and Children in Conflict Situations’
8-9 December 2015
Tagaytay City, Philippines
Heads of Delegation, speakers, moderators, members of the ASEAN-IPR Governing Council and Ambassadors pose with Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy, Hon. Evan P. Garcia, during the Symposiums opening ceremony.
ASEAN Member States should continue undertaking activities to formulate policy recommendations, including the development and implementation of national action plans on women, peace and security in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to address the needs of women and children in conflict and post-conflict situations. This was one of the key recommendations that emerged after the conclusion of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) Symposium on the Plight of Women and Children in Conflict Situations held in Tagaytay City, the Philippines from 8-9 December 2015, which was organized by the Philippine Permanent Mission to ASEAN, headed by Ambassador Elizabeth P. Buensuceso.
In her message to the Symposium, then-Philippine Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon J. Soliman emphasized the need to work together to formulate a responsive framework for peace to be eventually supported by policies and programs to which every ASEAN Member State will adhere.
Women and children are the most vulnerable and most affected when fighting erupts. But they must not be viewed as the weak sectors, because they are not. Children and women are the potential strongest tools of nations in peace-building, peace-making and peace-keeping. We have the chance to consolidate all the best practices and possible opportunities we can utilize to achieve that elusive piece in development which is peace, Secretary Soliman stressed.
Ambassador Buensuceso, who is the Philippine Permanent Representative to ASEAN, echoed Secretary Solimans call, suggesting that the main recommendations of the conference be forwarded to the various ASEAN mechanisms and for possible inclusion in their work programs and plans of action.
Participants also urged ASEAN to support the development of preventive measures to conflict, such as the advancement of a culture of peace and the promotion of moderation in the region. They said that this can be implemented through activities and initiatives in education, culture, human rights, and political-security, among others, under the various ASEAN-led mechanisms.
The two-day Symposium discussed the following: surfacing the plight of women and children in conflict situations; the abuses women and children are exposed to, such as sexual violence, threats to their lives, identity and property, and others; women and children as active participants in conflict resolution and the peace process; and programs and mechanisms to ensure protection and promotion of the rights and welfare of women and children are protected during armed conflict and/or in post-conflict situations.
Representatives from all ASEAN Member States, including members of the ASEAN-IPR Governing Council, the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), participated in the Symposium.
Executive Summary of the Symposium
The objectives of the Workshop were to: 1) surface the situation of women and children in conflict situations, exposing various ways they are exploited in such conditions; 2) look closely at the recruitment by religious extremists of children and women as future terrorists and society destabilizers; 3) explore the role of women and children as peacebuilders and peacekeepers; 4) discuss existing domestic and regional initiatives and mechanisms, as well as to share best practices and models, to help protect and promote the welfare of women and children in conflict situations; 5) formulate policy recommendations to address the problems arising from the exploitation of women and children in conflict situations.
The 2015 Chair of the ASEAN-IPR Governing Council and Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) to ASEAN, H.E. Dato Hasnudin Hamzah, underscored the need to uphold the welfare of children, who are our future. In his message, he emphasized that children should be given the highest priority in the process of providing support to those facing difficult situations. He called women and children as great treasures and underlined that protecting them would mean protecting the worlds future. He stressed that convening the Symposium is timely and noted that while ASEAN has a long way to go in protecting vulnerable groups, there is a need to steadfastly address the needs of women and children. He underscored the importance of ASEAN in addressing the issue and urged ASEAN to ensure that the vulnerable groups are not sidelined through the establishment of mechanisms that would protect their rights. He noted that these groups equally take part, with the rest of the population, in the economic, political and social spheres in the region as it moves towards becoming a community.
Norway, which along with Switzerland, supported the Symposium, noted the urgency to discuss the issue given the situation in the Middle East and the rise of the extremist group Daesh or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). H.E. Stig Ingemar Traavik stressed that Norway is not supporting the activity merely out of humanitarian concern but because it is legally obliged as most ASEAN Member States are, being a signatory to relevant international legal instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He shared his experience during his posting in Afghanistan where he witnessed first-hand the coming together of various groups, such as UN agencies, foreign governments, CSOs and local stakeholders to successfully handle a humanitarian crisis involving a nomadic community in the country. He emphasized the importance of holding the Symposium as a follow-up activity to the ASEAN-IPR Workshop on Strengthening Womens Participation in Peace Processes and Conflict Prevention held in Cebu City. He noted the workshops conclusion on the importance of womens involvement in peace processes. He added that the ongoing Symposium shows the need to handle conflict situations together with all stakeholders.
H.E. Yvonne Baumann of Switzerland underscored that the commitment to protect vulnerable groups is a priority of her countrys foreign policy. Its support for peace processes and the protection of women in conflict and post-conflict situations reflects the importance it attaches to gender equality and protection of women and children. She noted that women and gender-based violence has caught the attention of the international community. She also noted that 2015 marks the 15th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which was the first UN SC resolution to incorporate gender perspective into peace and security matters. She also stressed that ASEAN and Switzerlands relations are based on longstanding mutual trust and respect and increasing fruitful economic cooperation. She emphasized ASEANs pivotal role in addressing regional issues and fostering prosperity, peace and stability in the region, which is also important to the world.
On Surfacing the Plight of Women and Children in Conflict Situations, participants were able to discuss the various situations in which women and children find themselves during conflict. The session benefited from the regional and national perspectives on the subject shared by experts and practitioners in the region. UN Women presented the effects of conflict on women and girls with a particular focus on Myanmar. UN Women stressed that conflict, including war, affects women, men, girls and boys in different ways. The presentation was guided by the most recent research of UN Women titled, Why Gender Matters in Conflict and Peace. The study advocates for greater participation of women in peace processes and discusses their contributions to peacebuilding. UN Women also gave a snapshot of the varying impacts of conflict on women, children and men in Southeast Asia and discussed the key findings of the Global Study on the Implementation of UN Resolution 1325 (on Women Peace and Security), including the following: implementing prevention than cure measures and the need to allocate resources towards peacekeeping with a gender equality component are important in alleviating the effects of conflict on women and children; womens of peacekeeping and conflict resolution programs; national-led approaches to Women Peace and Security and their effective implementation, including the development of National Action Plans of UNSCR 1325, are crucial in implementing UNSCR 1325.
The Commission of Human Rights of the Philippines explained the mandate of the Commission in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. She exposed the effects of conflict on women and children, including but not limited to the following: threats to personal safety and health, exposure to sexual harassment, displacement and restriction of freedom of movement, loss of sources of livelihood, damage to houses and personal properties, such as documents, disruption of education and limitations on practice of religious and cultural traditions.
Women and Gender Institute (WAGI), a non-government organization, presented stories and narratives of women survivors of conflict who used their own concept of womens security and safety. She spoke about the experiences of women in armed conflicts in Southern Philippines, which included being caught in the middle of clan wars as well as secessionist- related conflict. Despite enduring the negative effects of conflict, women are able to go beyond their tragic experiences and take the lead in crisis management for themselves and their children. The presentation concluded that women are not only victims but active agents of peacebuilding processes.
In the discussions of Women and Children as Active Participants in Conflict Resolution and the Peace Process, the unique roles of women and children in working towards conflict resolution and improving their own plight during conflict and post-conflict situations were discussed.
Various presentations showed how women and children have actively participated in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, for instance in Cambodia. Socio-cultural factors, like the observance of traditional patriarchal practices and norms, and belief in societal stereotypes, have contributed to the further marginalization of women, which render them vulnerable. Discussions also noted that capacitating women at the grassroots level in leading peace and social development programs has a multiplier effect, thereby contributing to the advancement of peace and reconciliation advocacy in the region.
The Symposium also presented the unique perspectives that women brought into the reconstruction of Aceh after the 2004 tsunami. These included their influence in rebuilding their houses and encouraging their menfolk and communities to closely participate in the reconstruction process. It was noted that the Acehnese experience was trailblazing in many counts, especially with regard to the direct participation of women in the reconstruction of the traditionally male-dominated communities of Aceh. There were breakthroughs in the reconstruction process, including the involvement of women in discussions and decision on land ownership.
Discussions emphasized that ASEAN needs to have an integrated approach in addressing the interlinked issues of human rights, strengthening the rule of law and mainstreaming gender issues, education and legal frameworks in peace building. He noted that while ASEAN is forging ahead on its 2025 agenda, inter-ASEAN-pillar linkages (ASEAN Political Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community) should be emphasized in building more integrated activities in the area.
Wunpawng Ninghtoi, a Kachin humanitarian non-government organization in Myanmar, shared the experience of internally displaced ethnic groups in Kachin and Northern Shan States and how NGOs are trying their best to address the needs of affected communities, primarily women and children. To date, there are 120,000 IDPs from 24,000 households in 168 camps in Kachin and Northern Shan States. It was also shared that given this context, challenges, such as militarization, human trafficking and loss of livelihood, are met in finalizing and implementing concluded peace protracted displacement of people impact negatively on education and social development of women and children. It was stressed that these effects of conflict heighten the vulnerability of women to sexual abuse and exploitation. Such ground realities press the need for the inclusion and participation of women in peace processes as a fundamental principle toward ensuring the viability and durability of peace.
The Symposium also saw how gender equality could be integrated in peace and reconciliation efforts. For instance, there were a number of Cambodian women in local communities that tackled their roles and the traditional roles of men step-by-step, beginning in their families, making efforts at challenging the societies conventional perception of women and roles to which they are relegated. It was also stressed that men too have to be involved in the resolution of conflict since their support is critical to the realization of peace processes and conflict resolution.
There were also discussions on the push and pull factors on why women and children are recruited by armed groups, noting that psycho-social factors need to be taken into consideration in crafting humanitarian interventions for women and children who were once involved in conflict.
On the Programs and Mechanisms to Ensure Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Welfare of Women and Children during Armed Conflict and/or in Post-Conflict Situations, the Symposium delved into the programs and mechanisms to ensure that the rights and welfare of women and children are protected during armed conflict and/or in post-conflict situations.
Discussions also featured the experience of Timor Leste in incorporating in its legislation, primarily its Constitution, the implementation of the UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. In particular, the efforts at enhancing womens leadership and gender equality in the promotion of sustainable peace and establishment of democratic governance in post-conflict Timor Leste were noted. The role and achievements of the Womens Parliamentary Caucus in terms of empowering women to become significant contributors to the society were highlighted. This was implemented through the passage of relevant legislations, increasing awareness on gender empowerment, and strengthening collaboration among the government, parliament and civil society groups.
The Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) of the Philippines presented the CWCs initiatives for children in situations of armed conflict, with emphasis on facilitating the adoption and implementation of laws for this purpose. The importance of passing necessary legislations in protecting children in conflict, and the significant role of relevant government agencies in protecting the welfare of these children were underscored.
- Conflict, primarily war, and post-conflict situations affect women and children in different ways compared to the other sectors of the communities, including men.
- There are parallelisms to the experiences of ASEAN women and children in conflict and post-conflict situations in terms of the increased threats to their security, ill effects on their health, education, livelihood, cultural, religious practices and general well-being.
- Internal displacement of persons due to conflict remains a major concern in countries of the region.
- While there are available studies by the UN on the subject matter, particularly UN Women, there is a need for reliable gender-aggregated data and researches on issues relating to conflict and their effects on stakeholders, such as women and children in the region.
- Women and children play an important role in peace processes since they bring with them unique perspectives and experiences. Involving them would help ensure addressing their specific needs in a more targeted fashion.
- Women and children are important actors and stakeholders in peacebuilding. They must be given appropriate venues to participate in processes and programs to alleviate their plight, such as those implemented at the community level, and help ensure inclusive and sustainable peace.
- Solving conflict-related problems requires addressing root causes. New ideas and innovation will naturally encounter initial resistance because of deep-seated political culture, societal views and traditional cultural and religious practices, e.g. property ownership rights of women and children, land titling, means of livelihood, etc.
- Prevention of conflict is crucial in order to protect and promote the welfare of women and children. There is a great need for programs to prevent conflict and spare women and children from enduring the outcomes of conflict. There is no justification for violence and terror against women and children.
- Humanitarian assistance in conflict situations, including in post disaster situations, must be developed and implemented in a holistic manner, taking into account the needs of the affected country. As in the case of Aceh, Indonesia, the success of the post- tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation necessitated addressing the conflict involving decades-old separatist movements and the government securing peace in the area to pave the way for reconstruction and development.
- Empowering women involves not just capacitating women but, more importantly, it requires interventions targeted at influencing cultural norms, practices and belief systems of the society at large. Related activities and programs on conflict resolution and peacebuilding, such as community trainings and fora, may integrate cultural context in the course of resolving conflicts.
- Men are equal stakeholders in promoting womens rights. Getting the buy-in and support of men is critical in eliminating gender-related issues, such as violence against women as well as in mainstreaming womens participation.
- There is a need for greater engagement of AMS governments with members of civil society in order to sustain progress in addressing the needs of women and children in conflict situations, in particular the protection of women and children from the impact of conflict.
Recommendations included the following:
- Undertake greater efforts at implementing UNSCR 1325, particularly through the development and implementation of Women Peace and Security National Action Plans;
- Promote the use of gender perspectives in addressing the humanitarian needs of women and children in conflict situations;
- Support the development of reliable gender-aggregated data and researches on issues relating to conflict and their effects on stakeholders, such as women and children;
- Promote equal participation of women and other stakeholders, including men, in conflict-resolution and conflict-prevention processes;
- Continue undertaking ASEAN-IPR activities (such as symposia and workshops) to increase knowledge base in ASEAN with the view of supporting the expansion of the role of women in conflict resolution and peace processes. ASEAN may continue to share and compile the experiences and actions of AMS national governments to help address the needs of women and children in conflict and post-conflict situations;
- For ASEAN to continue efforts at mainstreaming gender perspectives in ASEAN;
- For ASEAN to support the development of preventive measures to conflict, including preventive diplomacy. Examples of preventive measures, include developing a culture of peace and of rejection of violence and extremism especially directed towards women, promoting moderation and tolerance in the region through programs and activities to promote tolerance and moderation, and promoting respect for diversity. These can be implemented through activities in various sectors under all the ASEAN community pillars, such as education, culture, human rights, and political- security, among others. Inter-pillar linkages among APSC, AEC, ASCC and building integrated programs and activities are important in the implementation of ASEAN Vision 2025;
- Efforts should be undertaken by AMS in aligning their national laws and policies, specifically those that have bearing on women and childrens rights as well as the equality of rights between women and men, and participation of ASEAN in regional as well as UN/ international commitments. AMS must endeavor to provide corresponding resource and budget support at the national level;