There were certainly some scepticisms and challenges of
ideas, which highlighted the open nature of the group and a willingness to
confront and debate. Karen Engle, who presented the public lecture entitled ‘From
the UN Security Council to Charlize Theron: “Getting Cross” about Sexual
Violence in War’, raised a few eyebrows. She criticised the UN, in particular
the Security Council, for emphasising the ‘shame’ brought to victims of rape
and other sexual violence in armed conflict. However, when asked about the fact
that in many societies, women are ostracised for being raped, and how Engle
would approach the issue, Engle did not have an answer. Thus, she presented a
criticism, but no solution. A related theme in some other presentations was
that of the ‘feti$hisation’ of sexual violence victims in armed conflict; how
this issue is overshadowing other concerns of women who have experienced armed
conflict, and being a key factor in NGO funding. This approach is one of the
concerns I have with feminism at times, where it seems to an extent that they
are shooting themselves in the foot. Women’s rights activists, professionals,
and academics have fought for years for recognition of the scale of sexual
violence against women in armed conflict (and Felicity Hill of WILPF spoke of
the fight by rights groups for SC Res 1325 on women in peacekeeping and peace
processes). Yet when this recognition is achieved, it is criticised. We should
be embracing the fact that organisations such as the UN, including through the
Security Council, are bringing up sexual violence in armed conflict on a
regular basis, and acknowledging the negative outcomes of such violence,
including the ostracisation and shaming of many victims. Di Otto found an
effective balance for this problem: pointing out the dilemmas created through
both the positive outcomes but also the dangers of what feminist activism has
achieved in international peace and security, including Heathcote’s scrutiny of
women victims as a validation for use of force.[1]
There is also a need to remember that men are also victims of sexual violence
in armed conflict, and for this particular kind of violence to be addressed; a
point that was emphasised by Chloe Lewis (University of Oxford).[2]

Another feminist contradiction that threaded its way through
the symposium was that of same vs different. This contradiction is the argument
that, on the one hand, women are the same as men, but on the other hand we
should celebrate our differences and what makes us women. This arose during the
symposium with the issue of women’s participation in peacekeeping missions and
in the peace process. One camp is of the opinion that women’s participation
makes a difference because of the different perspective that women bring, an
alternative way of dealing with situations- more conciliatory, tending more
towards arbitration than aggression as a first reaction. This is in contrast to
the idea that women in the military should not be perceived any differently to
men; that they can undertake the same tasks and achieve the same results; and
that just because someone in a military uniform is a woman, she should not be
viewed as weaker or as someone who won’t take militaristic action. Both sides
have valid arguments, and in reality, we should apply both. The Female
Engagement Teams (FETs) that LTCOL Penny Cumming of the ADF spoke about have
achieved results that male teams were previously not able to achieve, e.g.
obtain more information about male concerns that Afghani men did not feel
comfortable discussing with other men. The all-female CivPol units that Lesley
Pruitt (Victoria University, Aust.) spoke of have been perceived by the public
to be strong women, leaders, and the presence of female police officers have
encouraged more women to enlist in the local police force. Such successes
highlight the importance of women’s immersion in conflict and post-conflict
situations.  This is despite the
continued reluctance of the military to embrace women, and the sexual and other
harassment and abuse experienced by women in the military, as demonstrated by
the difficulties and abuse faced by women in the military (Kathryn Spurling,
ANU; Olivera Simic, Griffith University).

The practical engagement of women’s groups in the
Asia-Pacific region was considered by Sharon Bhagwan Rolls (femLINKPACIFIC,
Co-chair Pacific Regional Working Group on Women, Peace and Security) and by
the plenary speaker, Hilary Charlesworth. Bhagwan Rolls talked about Fiji and
Papua New Guinea, while Charlesworth revealed the inner workings of women in
the peace process in Timor Leste. Such engagement highlighted the foremost
concern of the symposium- the practicalities and realities faced by women in
post-conflict situations in being heard in the peace, reconciliation and
rebuilding processes.

Accountability of peacekeepers for criminal offences
including sexual exploitation and abuse has been an issue of much discussion
within the UN, NGOs, and amongst academics, over the past decade. The UN has
been trying to jump the hurdles of ensuring disciplinary action is taken,
fighting ‘boys will boys’ mentality and the lack of regulation and disciplinary
capabilities within the UN and sending states. The complex laws of peacekeeping
operations were tackled by Helen Durham (Australian Red Cross),[3]
who gave an overview of Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs), and Memoranda of
Understanding (MoUs).[4]
Roisin Burke addressed the issue of state responsibility for human rights
violations by peacekeepers.[5]
The fact that sending states are granted exclusive jurisdiction over their own
military and police personnel was mentioned, as was the lack of action taken by
states, but there was no analysis of whether or not states have the legislative
capabilities to actually do so. However, this is an omission that will be
included in the publication that will arise from the symposium.

Overall, the symposium reinforced the importance of gender in
peacekeeping and peace building, whether through policing, the military, peace
negotiations, or in any other capacity. Nor is gender is just about women. The
importance of engaging women in all aspects of peace processes is relevant for
women and men, boys and girls, across all ages, races, ethnicities, and

[1] G. Heathcote, ‘Feminist Politics and the Use of Force: Theorising Feminist
Action and Security Council Resolution 1325’, 7 Socio-legal Review (2011)
. See Otto’s article D. Otto, ‘Power and danger: Feminist engagement with International Law
through the UN Security Council’, 32 Australian
Feminist Law Journal
(2010) 97-121

[2] See
also S. Sivakumaran, ‘Sexual violence against men in armed conflict’, 18 (2) European Journal of International Law
(2007) 253-276

[3] B. Oswald, H. Durham and A. Bates, Documents
on the Law of UN Peace Operations
, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

[4] For
more on these laws, see M. O’Brien, ‘The Ascension of Blue Beret Accountability: International
Criminal Court Command and Superior Responsibility in Peace Operations ‘, 15
(3) Journal of Conflict and Security Law
(2010) 533-555
Deen-Racsmany, ‘The Amended UN Model Memorandum of Understanding: A New
Incentive for States to Discipline and Prosecute Military Members of National
Peacekeeping Contingents?’, 16 (2) Journal
of Conflict and Security Law
(2011) 321-355

[5] R. Burke, ‘Attribution of Responsibility: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation,
and Effective Control of Blue Helmets’, 16 Journal
of International Peacekeeping
(2012) 1-46
. See also this author’s piece
M. O’Brien, ‘State Responsibility for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse as
Human Rights Violations by Peacekeepers’, in A.P. Foley (ed.), Ethics, Evil, Law and the State: State Power
and Political Evil
Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2011), 17-28

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