Women in armed conflicts

A brief introduction on women in armed conflicts

Armed conflicts always impact on the local civilian population. War and conflict prevent people from continuing to go about their daily lives and hinder their personal development.
Most victims are women and children (See the section entitled Children and Armed Conflicts). Warring factions also regularly use sexual violence as a ‘weapon of war’, and the consequences of this for the civilian population directly affect the possibilities for peace and reconciliation.
Women play an important role in both preventing and resolving conflicts, so they ought to be allowed to participate on an equal footing in peace processes. Furthermore, frequently no female soldiers or gender advisors have been involved in UN peacekeeping operations. Here, too, it is important to bear gender equality in mind.

International instruments

On 31 October 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security based on previous decrees. That resolution calls for the acknowledgement of the role played by women in conflict prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding. The UN Member States were urged to ensure increased representation of women at all levels of decision-making. The UN secretary-general was asked to appoint more women as special representatives and envoys and to expand their role in peacekeeping operations, e.g. as military observers, civilian police and human rights and humanitarian personnel. The Security Council pledged to bear in mind the gender dimension in peacekeeping operations. Resolution 1325 also states that women must be involved in peace talks and that the particular needs of women need to be taken into account. Women must also be involved in initiatives concerned with democratisation, peacebuilding and human rights. In addition, the various needs of male and female combatants need to be borne in mind in a demobilisation context.

On 19 June 2008, the UN Security Council adopted a second, groundbreaking resolution on women and peace and security: Resolution 1820. This resolution focuses primarily on protecting women against sexual violence. In addition, it stipulates that the perpetrators of sexual violence have to be prosecuted. Finally, Resolution 1820 recalls the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (see the page entitled Gender and Women’s Rights) and Resolution 1325 (see above).

Action by Belgium

Combating and prosecuting the perpetrators of any forms of violence against women, especially sexual violence, is a priority issue in Belgian foreign policy and development cooperation. Belgium systematically calls for active measures to address failures to prevent violence against women and sexual violence, trivialise it or tolerate impunity in conflict areas or post-conflict areas and makes sure that the associated problems feature on the European and international agenda. The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war is systematically condemned. Belgium is constantly endeavouring to make sure that all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence, remain outside the scope of any amnesties.

Since the implementation of Resolution 1325 can definitely not be taken for granted, in 2004 the Security Council called on all UN Member States to draw up their own national action plan, because such plans are considered to be the most effective way of attaining the objectives set out in the resolution. Since February 2009 Belgium has had its own national action plan, drawn up by the FPS Foreign Affairs in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence, Belgian Development Cooperation, the FPS Home Affairs, the FPS Justice, the Institute for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men (IEFH/IGVM) and the Commission on Women and Development (CWD).

In June 2006, together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the European Commission, Belgium organised an International Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond, which led to the declaration known as the Brussels Call to Action. All participants pledged to take additional measures to prevent sexual violence in conflict areas or post-conflict areas and to make perpetrators responsible for their actions. This declaration is still regularly invoked in UN circles.

During its membership of the UN Security Council (2007-2008), Belgium worked actively on Resolution 1820 with a view to combating sexual violence. Our country also called for the introduction of measures designed to protect women serving in peacekeeping missions against sexual violence, e.g. members of the MONUC Gender Unit working for the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo). Sexual violence was included as a ground for sanctions in the UN’s sanctions regime for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Belgium hopes that this will set a precedent for other sanctions regimes, too.
Belgium is also backing initiatives like the UN secretary-general’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign and the UN’s Stop Rape Now campaign.

 UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (PDF, 35.61 KB)

 Belgian National Action Plan on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (PDF, 9.9 MB)

 UN Security Council Resolution 1820  (PDF, 35.61 KB) 

 Women, Peace and Security (PDF, 317.14 KB)
State of Play – 12 December 2011

 Second National Action Plan “Women, Peace, Security” (2013-2016), implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (PDF, 252.03 KB)