Victimization of Women by Extremist Groups
Jointly organized by the Academic Council on the United Nations System, Vienna Liaison, and Webster University Vienna, co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Norway and France to the UN, 25th of November 2015
Report by Andrada Filip
The symposium brought together a number of prominent speakers with diverse backgrounds: ambassadors, civil society representatives, academics, and lawyers. During the symposium there were two sessions: one analysing the situation from various countries and regions and a second one addressing practical measures, which can be taken in order to tackle this problem.
Prof. Bernd Marin, Director of Webster University Vienna, delivered the welcoming speech, highlighting the importance of the topic. The focus is particularly relevant given Webster University’s international outlook and the importance of fostering mutual tolerance, respect and humanitarianism in today’s world.
Dr. Michael Platzer, ACUNS Vienna Representative, opened the discussion by reiterating some remarks from the statement released by the UN Special Rapporteur on VAW, Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, to commemorate that day. Such points included the need to establish a Femicide Watch, so that people can report on the deaths that have occurred in their respective countries.
H.E. Ambassador Bente Angell-Hansen of Norway made an analysis of the current global situation regarding VAW and women’s rights, highlighting some existing gaps and ongoing challenges. According to Angell-Hansen, we lack the implementation of relevant resolutions and international legal instruments. Furthermore, a much stronger commitment is needed by governments to address these pressing issues. Lastly, offering gender-sensitive training to security officers and military personnel is of utmost importance.
H.E. Ambassador Ol’ga Algayerová of Slovakia spoke about the role of women in peace and security, emphasizing that peace is inextricably linked with gender equality. Involving women in peace building efforts strongly increases the probability of ending violence. This process also makes women less vulnerable to the impact of violent extremism. Therefore, women must be included in all areas of work, including counter terrorism strategies.
Ms. Amal Naggamy from Israel touched upon the situation of women in the Arab world, and addressed how people are shocked because of the atrocities committed by the Islamic State (IS). As she stressed, the Arab world is against the IS. Furthermore this violent extremist group is spreading a politicized and fundamentalist version of Islam. Everyone needs to be aware of the need to separate Islam as a religion and from Islam as a political tool.
Dr. Muhammad Nasir Khan from Pakistan spoke about the situation of women’s rights in Pakistan and the influence of the Taliban on this issue. Generally speaking, the government has taken revolutionary steps to protect and enforce women’s rights. However, there are many obstacles that prevent this from happening. Such obstacles include dysfunctional state institutions, a failing educational system, patriarchal rural customs, and similar issues. In traditional rural areas of Pakistan, the situation of women’s rights is particularly precarious. Educational institutions, parental environment and society are crucial in combatting extremism and VAW. Currently, the school curriculum in Pakistan is not representing gender equality and it is necessary to reform society in order to integrate these issues.
Ms. Shantu Watt spoke about the role of NGOs in preventing and responding to violence as well as their contribution to de-radicalization. In the context of the ongoing crisis in Syria, women can become victims and victimizers. This possibility is influenced by push and pull factors, often connected to violence within their own families. We need to allocate sufficient funds to be able to offer a meaningful education to younger generations. When states fail to protect women from violence, civil society must step in. Once extremists are in power, it becomes a generational endeavour. More attention has to be allocated to preventing a political association to extremism. This requires work from families and schools in particular.
Ms. Corinna Milborn moderated the second session and guided the discussion by asking a series of questions to the panelists.
H.E. Ambassador Marion Paradas of France stated that diplomats seek to approach conflicts through negotiations, forums of discussion, and mediations. She further elaborated on the existing international legal framework through which our collective action against radical extremist groups is channelled. States are encouraged to act when they feel they are at stake. France is a relevant example, since it is confronting itself with this problem on a national level. Presently France is running a humanitarian action programme in Nigeria to support victims of Boko Haram. In order to combat the influence of such extremist groups, cooperation between the civil and religious society is highly important. Furthermore, governments and relevant stakeholders must ensure the protection of victims, and create safe zones if the situation demands it. Victims’ rights and their needs must be prioritized by national security agendas.
Ms. Barbara Spinelli, member of the ELDH Executive Committee, argued that patriarchy is an ancient form of oppression, used by dictators and extremist groups to maintain power and control, and to resist democratic change. Furthermore, providing protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees escaping from Daesh is crucial. Girls who manage to escape from their enslavement often commit suicide or face stigmatization on behalf of their families and communities. When the Daesh occupy a territory, they usually kill the elderly and the disabled and enslave women. Protection and empowerment are crucial for those who do manage to escape and survive. At the moment, the majority of women escaping from Daesh go to Turkey. The country is currently hosting over 2.2 million refugees, however many of these find themselves in highly vulnerable situations. In order to provide adequate support to refugee women and girls, refugee camps should apply the gender protocol developed by UNHCR.
Ms. Marie Therese Kiriaky, founder and Chairperson of the Association of Arab Women in Vienna, delivered an impassioned speech about the situation in Syria and the plight of the refugees in Turkey, and explained how women are disproportionately affected and victimized by the ongoing crisis. Syrian women face three groups of oppressors: first, in the prisons, where they were raped and harassed by prison guards. Second, after their release they wish to have no connection with their relatives, since they may be killed because of the shame they had brought upon their families. Thirdly, they are victimized by the war itself and violent, extremist insurgents. It was repeatedly emphasized that what the international community is doing is not enough. It is imperative to stop the war at all costs, since this is the source of the problems.
Dr. Samuel Schubert from Webster University pointed out that this discussion about women’s victimization should not ignore non-Muslim groups, such as the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and several animist groups that practice female genital mutilation. When it comes to annihilating the IS, the fact of the matter is that you need boots on the ground. It is imperative to destroy these groups and their capability to control territories. Daesh is a quasi-state at the moment, the only feature it lacks is international recognition. They are capable of imposing their moral authority over a territory, which has its own economy, system of taxation, education, authority, and army. Furthermore, the norms we consider universal are actually not. To be more precise, women’s rights are not universal across all societies. When it comes to imposing a set of norms on a different society ̶ this amounts to a process of colonization, even conquest.
H.E. Ambassador Henry Ensher of the US contended that intervention raises a number of complications, and often these strategies and policies are not efficient. Women’s empowerment however is always important. Women must be included in the reconciliation process and negotiations; they must be regarded as active agents and allowed to fully participate. When it comes to systems, institutions, and companies, there is a tendency to try and put women away from the centres of power. For example, in the context of state-building and reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict, if women do not control money or guns, they do not really play a meaningful role. Lastly, it was emphasized that international politics consists of an array of moral dilemmas; hence, it is difficult to solve one without opening a multitude of others. The panelists reached the conclusion that the problem this panel discussion sought to address is broader than the victimization of women by extremist groups; it is a question of war, international law, money, capabilities, and even morality.