Don’t go changing – Syria and the international law on the use of force

by Katie Johnston, University of Oxford.

 

41463387952_73fb42f0c2_o

‘Don’t Bomb Syria’ rally outside the House of Commons, London, April 16th 2018. Photo by Steve Eason.

In which situations may a State lawfully use force against another State? Is it possible that the law may change over time, so that what would previously be considered an unlawful use of force will come to be seen as lawful?

These questions were at the centre of the debate about the legality of the airstrikes against the Assad government in Syria, carried out by the US, UK and France on 13 April 2018.[1] Yet they also go to the heart of the modern jus ad bellum, the rules of international law that govern the use of force by States in their international relations. My research looks at how the law in this area is structured and aims to identify the processes by which the jus ad bellum can change.

International law, as a decentralised system of States, has no central legislative body that enacts binding laws for the international community. States become subject to international legal obligations primarily by entering into treaties and through the emergence of rules of customary law as a result of the practice of States.

The adoption of the United Nations Charter in 1945 brought about a paradigm shift in how international law regulated war. From a sovereign right and a legitimate policy choice, albeit subject to increasing restriction over the first half of the twentieth century, the use of force by States became subject to a comprehensive prohibition, set out in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.[2] There are only two narrow exceptions to this prohibition, when force may lawfully be used: collective measures authorised by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter, and the right of States to use necessary and proportionate force unilaterally in self-defence, if an armed attack occurs.

In addition to this treaty law rule in Article 2(4) which binds all UN member States, the prohibition on force also developed into a parallel rule of customary international law, binding on all States.[3] It is also widely accepted that the prohibition on the use of force has the status of a “jus cogens” norm of international law, from which no derogation is permitted. Although the existence, definition and content of this category of international legal rules remains contested, typically jus cogens norms protect the fundamental values of the international community and include, for example the prohibitions on genocide and torture.

Thus, the prohibition on the use of force is expressed in three forms: the treaty provision in Article 2(4) of the Charter, a parallel rule of customary international law, and a jus cogens norm. To draw an imperfect analogy with domestic law, imagine the same prohibition of murder existing in a criminal statute, as a common law rule developed by the courts, and as a provision in the Constitution.

This account is necessarily a simplified one that skips over the many debates surrounding the definition of force, self-defence, and the functioning of the collective security system that have arisen since the Charter’s adoption, and some of which remain unresolved. However, fundamentally, this is the international legal framework that regulates the use of force by States today: a comprehensive prohibition on the use of force, with two narrow exceptions.

It is against this backdrop that the UK government’s claimed legal basis for the airstrikes on 13 April 2018 must be assessed. In a legal position published on 14 April, the UK government asserted that “the UK is permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering.”[4] This is almost certainly not correct under international law as it stands – as noted above, there are only two exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force, neither of which applies in this case. The UK  position is inconsistent with the text of the Charter and very few States take the view that a legal right of humanitarian intervention currently exists, while many more have explicitly stated that they do not recognise the existence of any such doctrine.

Indeed, for the UK position to be correct, it would need to be shown that the legal framework set out above had evolved since 1945 so that a new legal basis for the unilateral use of force by states had come into existence. This could be, for example, through a change to the prohibition so that it no longer banned force used for humanitarian purposes, or creation of a third exception of humanitarian intervention. However, given the complex structure of the law in this area, any argument that the jus ad bellum has changed faces a number of obstacles.[5]

First, as described above, the prohibition on the use of force exists in multiple legal rules. Therefore, even if a State could show that a new customary international law rule permitting humanitarian intervention had come into existence, any State claiming to rely on that right would still be in violation of its treaty obligation as a UN member not to breach the prohibition on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the Charter. This situation is further complicated by Article 103 of the UN Charter, which provides that the obligations of UN members under the Charter take precedence over their other obligations. Any State wishing to rely on a right of humanitarian intervention would therefore need to show not only that a new rule of customary law had emerged – which requires widespread and consistent practice by States accompanied by their belief that such a legal rule exists – but also that the UN Charter had been reinterpreted to allow for humanitarian intervention. Demonstrating such a reinterpretation, although possible in principle, is a difficult standard to meet: practice would need to establish the agreement of all UN members that the Charter should now be interpreted in this way.[6]

A second, more difficult, obstacle is presented by the jus cogens status of the prohibition on the use of force. Jus cogens norms can only be modified by another norm of the same character, so it seems that any new legal basis permitting humanitarian intervention would also need to show that it had fulfilled the test for emergence of a new jus cogens norm: acceptance and recognition by the “international community as a whole” that the norm has such a status.[7] This threshold is lower than that required to demonstrate reinterpretation of the UN Charter through subsequent practice, described above, but there are other characteristics of jus cogens norms that may complicate the process of change. Jus cogens norms invalidate contrary practice, depriving it of any legal effect it may have to bring about an evolution in customary law.[8] The presence of the jus cogens norm therefore seems to put those arguing for a change to the prohibition of the use of force in an all-or-nothing position: either they show that the stringent requirements for changing a jus cogens norm have been met, or any practice short of that threshold will not only be in violation of the jus cogens prohibition, but also ineffective to bring about a change in the customary or treaty norms.

In sum, the existence of multiple legal rules prohibiting the use of force, and the characteristics of the Charter and the jus cogens norm that cause them to prevail over conflicting rules, mean that changing the prohibition on the use of force appears to be very difficult indeed. The UK legal position does not explain whether the purported new right of humanitarian intervention on which it relies is understood as a new rule of custom, a reinterpretation of the Charter, or a new jus cogens norm. As shown above, it appears that a plausible claim may need to demonstrate that it is all three, simultaneously.

 

There are good reasons why it should be difficult to change the prohibition on the use of force. Conceptual and methodological arguments about legal rules gloss over the death, suffering and displacement that is caused by armed conflict; historically, the impact on women has been particularly overlooked.[9] The drafters of the Charter wanted to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”[10] by creating a new international legal order where unilateral use of force by individual States became the rare exception and not the rule. Even if the prohibition on the use of force is not universally complied with (what law is?), the current legal framework requires States to justify any use of force in terms of its requirements or face international condemnation, which in itself has a restraining effect. Creating a new legal basis for States to use force – without collective authorisation – would upset the current balance, tilting it in favour of greater unilateralism. In addition, in the specific context of humanitarian intervention, any increased permissiveness is unlikely to benefit all States equally. States that already enjoy greater military and political power will be more able to take advantage of a new right to use force unilaterally. Less powerful States, on the other hand, will see their protection from foreign intervention diminished.[11]

Nevertheless, the arguments remain finely balanced. While a legal right of humanitarian intervention does not exist in international law today, with the Security Council sliding back into gridlock and unable to address threats to peace and humanitarian disasters, international consensus may well shift to accept that intervention without Security Council authorisation is permissible in some circumstances. In such a case, it may be preferable for the international legal framework to be able to evolve to accommodate a new legal basis for the use of force, either within or in addition to the existing exceptions, rather than risk the prohibition being repeatedly violated or ignored, as appears to have been the case with the US, UK and French strikes last month. Developments such as the provision in the Constitutive Act of the African Union for a collective, regional, treaty-based right of humanitarian intervention could provide a less disruptive alternative to increased unilateral uses of force.[12] Yet, as the law stands, this provision appears to be unlawful.

Clarifying the processes by which the rules of the jus ad bellum can change could help provide a shared basis for States and international lawyers to evaluate claims that the rules governing the law on the use of force have changed, and avoid a more unstable situation where States instead abandon or undermine the authority of the prohibition on the use of force or the Charter system. It is this question, of how the prohibition on the use of force and its exceptions can change, that my research will  address.

 

 

[1] See, for example, Milena Sterio, Syria and the Limits of International Law, IntLawGrrls, 12 April 2018: https://ilg2.org/2018/04/12/syria-and-the-limits-of-international-law/

[2] Charter of the United Nations (1945): https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-i/index.html

[3] As later confirmed by the International Court of Justice, Militarv and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America). Merits, Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1986, p. 14, at para. 190.

[4] Syria action – UK government legal position, 14 April 2018: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/syria-action-uk-government-legal-position/syria-action-uk-government-legal-position

[5] As noted by Professor Dapo Akande in his legal opinion of 16 April: Akande, The Legality of the UK’s Air Strikes on the Assad Government in Syria, 16 April 2018: https://www.scribd.com/document/376483861/Akande-Opinion-UK-Government-s-Legal-Position-on-Syria-Strike-April-2018

[6] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), Article 31(3)(b): http://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/1_1_1969.pdf

[7] VCLT, Article 53.

[8] Orakhelashvili, Changing Jus Cogens Through State Practice? The Case of the Prohibition of the Use of Force and its Exceptions, in Weller (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Use of Force in International Law (OUP 2015).

[9] Hilary Charlesworth, Christine Chinkin, Shelley Wright, Feminist Approaches to International Law, 85 American Journal of International Law, 613, 645 (1991); Christine Chinkin, A Gendered Perspective to the International Use of Force, 12 Australian Yearbook of International Law 279, 293 (1988-1989).

[10] Charter of the United Nations, Preamble.

[11] See Anne-Charlotte Martineau, Concerning Violence: A Post-Colonial Reading of the Debate on the Use of Force, Leiden Journal of International Law (2016), 29, pp. 95–112.

[12] Constitutive Act of the African Union (2000), Article 4(h): https://au.int/sites/default/files/treaties/7758-treaty-0021_-_constitutive_act_of_the_african_union_e.pdf

Advertisements

The unfinished gender politics of the Good Friday Agreement… and its 20th anniversary celebrations.

by Dr. Maria-Adriana Deiana, Assistant Professor, Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction (IICRR) , School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.

With the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), April 2018 was a milestone, filled with numerous events and discussions about the legacy of the peace settlement and its future prospects, both on the island of Ireland and internationally. Given my research on gender and post-conflict transformation, I was invited to the U.S. to speak at an academic event to mark two decades since the signing of agreement. As speakers, we were asked to reflect on the GFA’s legacy in bringing an end to decades of political violence and building peace for Northern Ireland. My aim was to discuss the implications for women’s citizenship that emerged throughout the peace process, drawing upon my research and over a decade spent in Belfast.

GFA

Cover of the Sunday Business Post’s magazine commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The newspaper has been criticised for ‘airbrushing’ women, in particular Dr. Mo Mowlam, from the peace process.

I began my contribution by acknowledging and discussing the role of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) as co-architects of the agreement. At the same time, I pointed out that the peace process has been ambivalent in addressing women’s demands for inclusion, equality and social justice, remaining therefore incomplete. My talk was abruptly interrupted by another participant who rebuked my assessment for “being ungrateful”. He then took his turn and offered what, he felt, was the proper account of the conflict and of the peace negotiations’ complexities. The gist of his intervention suggested that gender is not relevant to understanding the conflict in Northern Ireland. This is because more men than women died during decades of political violence. While acknowledging that women have suffered in the conflict, it was implied that the extent of this suffering was mostly confined to losing or caring for family members caught-up in the conflict.

GFA2

Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition speaking outside Stormont following talks. Photo: Derek Speirs

 

I wish to dwell on this short-lived, yet telling, exchange to develop a reflection on the gender politics underpinning narratives of the Good Friday Agreement, as well as its 20th anniversary celebrations. Starting from the use of the word “ungrateful” to dismiss research that foregrounds women’s experiences and claims (how dare we critique the legacy of the peace process?), the arguments raised in response to my points offer a glaring example of a deep-seated reluctance to acknowledge that women and gender matter greatly in the politics of conflict and peace-making. To begin with, I was struck by the failure to even acknowledge evidence and research documenting the varied impact of conflict in women’s lives, such as the unequal economic and social hardship experienced by women in working-class and rural areas; women’s safety and gender based violence in relation to forms of paramilitary activity and sectarianism; the long-term effects of violence on health and well-being, and increasing caring responsibilities for women as a direct result of the conflict – for example, when family members were injured. Women’s (unequal) care and emotional labour, mentioned by my co-speaker, is  indeed a poignant example of the gendered legacy of the conflict!

What is more, obscured in such gender-blind narratives are the complex ways in which women, in their diversity, participated in the conflict and peace process. It has been documented that some women were actively involved in protests, marches and more overt forms of political activism. Others explicitly engaged in the conflict as combatants in republican/nationalist paramilitary groups, and through supportive/less visible roles in loyalist groups. Some women were involved in community groups and grass-roots organisations that emerged predominantly in working-class areas, as a response to the deficiencies of direct-rule government in dealing with the social and economic needs of communities fractured by conflict and deprivation. In some instances, these kinds of supporting networks would also extend across divided communities. Although conflicting views on the constitutional issues and on the identification with feminism remained, civic activism provided a crucial platform for women’s active engagement during the conflict.  When prospects for the peace settlement emerged in the late 90s, it offered a springboard for a more cohesive, and collective, albeit short-termed, mobilisation which led to the formation of the NIWC.

Not only do the arguments on gender’s irrelevance to understanding the complexities of the conflict suggest a partial view of its history, but this logic also sustains the tendency to dismiss women as full-fledged agents in the politics of the peace process. Beside my own experience at the international conference that prompted this reflection, this attitude has been on display during the GFA’s celebrations on occasions where women’s stake as co-architects in dealing with the legacy of conflict and building peace has been omitted or downplayed.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 15.10.10

Dr. Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, talking to the press after a visit to the Maze prison to speak with loyalist and republican prisoners in 1998, in a move described as ‘mad’ and ‘brave’. RTÉ News archives, www.rte.ie/archives/2018/0108/931726-m0-mowlam-visits-maze/

We should remember that when the Agreement was negotiated, women were unusually visible. Dr. Mo Mowlam, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, played a tremendous role both in her personal and institutional capacity.  Liz O’Donnell, as junior Minister of Foreign Affairs, also contributed to the talks as a member of the Irish government delegation. Martha Pope, Senator George Mitchell’s chief of staff, coordinated the involvement of the US delegation, playing an important formal and informal role during the negotiations.

Crucially, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) participated in the multiparty negotiations through their elected representatives, Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar. As a cross-community party, the NIWC put an emphasis on maintaining the inclusive character of the negotiations process and in keeping open the lines of communication with civil society and political groups excluded from the talks. Particularly important was the Coalition’s achievement of a separate clause in the Agreement affirming the right of full and equal political participation for women. While we agree that the NIWC was not perfect and that not all women felt represented in their political stance, their contribution was remarkable on many levels. As Danielle Roberts has written, the coalition introduced the principles of inclusion, human rights and equality through their engagement in the negotiations. In the process they also had to find creative ways to navigate the hostile terrain of the male-dominated peace talks and establish working relationships with a wide array of actors. That women’s presence and contribution to the making of the GFA are dismissed in narratives of the peace agreement’s legacy is simply unacceptable.

What a reflection on the GFA’s 20th anniversary should also not downplay is that the aspirations for inclusion and equality included in the agreement have remained peripheral in the subsequent implementation and negotiation of the settlement. As I have argued elsewhere, the divisive nature of ethno-national politics has taken centre stage, also as a result of the power-sharing consociational formula deployed in the agreement.  Gender concerns have been relegated to the margins of the dominant political agenda and often left unaddressed. Numerous reports highlight the continued economic and social hardship experienced by women living in divided and interface communities, and the lack of social services and education for young people in these areas. Women have continued to express concerns around issues of safety, violence and ‘new’ forms of paramilitary activity. Community activists report a lack of attention to the persistence of entrenched gendered violence and discrimination. The fight for reproductive justice and bodily autonomy, challenged by conservative attitudes of major political parties,  also continues thanks to huge efforts by individual activists and groups such as Alliance for Choice. As both Claire Pierson and Kellie Turtle point out, while there have been some gains in the field of political representation and in the leadership of major NI parties, women have had limited access to key institutions and processes that focus on unresolved legacies of conflict and crucial contested issues, such as the parade commission and more recently the ‘Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition’ Commission.

Generally, women’s and feminist groups have expressed dissatisfaction with a peace process wherein women and women’s claims are too often side-lined in favour of matters that are deemed of more immediate interest, such as ‘community relations’, ethnonational identity and stability/re-establishment of institutions.  This marginalisation has been intensified in the recent political deadlock that led to the suspension of NI devolved institutions, as well as in discussion around the uncertainties over  Brexit. In October 2017, I attended a consultation to discuss the implications for women, peace and security in the current moment of political crisis and uncertainty. Organised by Yvonne Galligan and Fiona Buckley, as chairs of the Gender Politics specialist group of the Political Studies Association of Ireland (PSAI), the meeting included NI activists, community development experts and interested academics. Participants expressed concerns over the unfinished gender equality politics of the peace process, as well as over the return of zero-sum positions spurred by controversies in NI local politics and  Brexit negotiations. Our discussion brought to the fore a sense that, yet again, a gender perspective and an attention to wider women’s concerns about the equality and rights agenda have been absent from political discussions over the future of the Agreement.

As fellow researchers and activists have argued, it is time that women’s contribution to building peace and their demands for social justice, equality and inclusion are fully acknowledged and taken seriously.  That 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement these complexities continue to be dismissed in discussions on the legacy and future of the peace process is why we insist that women’s and feminist critiques, in their diversity, are not only heard but amplified at every opportunity.

 

 

If you’d like to learn more about gender politics in Northern Ireland, take a look at Michelle Rouse’s piece here. For more pieces on the role of women and gender in conflict around the world, including such issues as sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, women in conflict mediation, how women terrorists are portrayed by the media, and more,  see here.

Ireland’s Ratification of the CRPD: What Does It Really Mean?

by Donna McNamara, PhD candidate at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.
CPRD map

A 2016 map showing the status of CRPD ratification

 

On Wednesday, the 7th of March 2018, the Government finally passed a motion to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities– eleven years since Ireland signed the Convention.[1] This marks a historic day in the fight for disability rights and is the culmination of a lengthy campaigning and advocacy among the disability community. Nevertheless, the celebratory mood is somewhat tinged with uncertainty.

As of now, it is unclear what reservations and declarations will be made on the rights to legal capacity, deprivation of liberty and employment.[2] It is also unclear if (or when) Ireland will ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, a separate instrument which would allow for individuals and groups of individuals to take a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the case of an alleged violation of their rights. So, while the Government’s commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities is worth celebrating, it is also important to note that there is still a long way to go before we achieve full equality for people with disabilities in Ireland.

What is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol were adopted by the UN General Assembly of the United Nations in 2006.[3] The first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century, it quickly gained international support to become one of the fastest ratified treaties in UN history. The Convention adopts a broad definition of persons with disabilities, to include:

[T]hose who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.[4]

The Convention is the product of an international disability rights movement which advocated for the full and effective participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in international human rights laws. During the treaty negotiations, people with disabilities and their representative organisations and NGO’s were invited to participate directly in the debates and treaty discussions. The motto ‘Nothing about us, without us!’ featured predominantly throughout these negotiations and since become synonymous with the spirit of the Convention – no longer is it acceptable for persons with disabilities to be excluded in decision-making in matters relating to them.

The rights contained within the Convention are wide-ranging and include the rights to non-discrimination, equal recognition before the law, access to justice, a right to liberty, a freedom from torture and other cruel and degrading treatment, among others.[5] Article 3 also sets out a list of guiding principles which are intended to guide the interpretation of the Convention, and include: respect for inherent dignity and autonomy, non-discrimination, full and effective participation, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity and equality between men and women, accessibility and respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities.

 

Ireland’s Progress So Far

Over the past eleven years, the reason for Ireland’s persistent delays in ratifying the Convention was attributed to a number of legislative changes that needed to be addressed to ensure Ireland’s compliance. In 2016, the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was brought forward ‘to remove the statutory barriers to ratification of the Convention.’[6] While this Bill was heralded as one of the final steps towards ratification, it has yet to progress to the Committee Stage in the Dáil. There are also serious concerns about the deprivation of liberty safeguards that are due to be introduced at committee stage – thereby reducing the opportunity for engagement with persons who are affected by this legislation to participate in the debates.[7]

Further clarity is also necessary in regard to how the right to liberty under Article 14 of the Convention will be protected. Article 14 provides an absolute prohibition on the deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability and is one of the core human rights protections outlined in the Convention. The lack of transparency in this area is most worrying when one considers the numbers of people with disabilities living in social care homes unnecessarily, including young people.[8] As of 2017, there were more than 1,200 people under the age of 65 (most with disabilities), living in nursing homes.[9] It is imperative that the 2016 Bill introduces safeguards to address these issues, in line with Article 14, in order to ensure that people with disabilities are not deprived of their liberty unlawfully.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 has also experienced delays, with a number of key sections yet to be commenced. The Act, which was signed by the President on the 30th December 2015, provides for the abolition of the existing Ward of Court regime and introduced a new Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission to support those persons in decision-making. This is in line with Article 12 of the Convention, which provides that all persons with disabilities have the right to equal recognition as persons before the law, and where necessary, should be supported to make decisions for themselves without resorting to substitute decision-making. States Parties are therefore required to put in place support structures to enable people to make their own decisions and abolish existing substitute decision-making regimes (including guardianship or in the Irish context, Wardship).[10]

One of the main aims of the 2015 Act was to repeal the existing Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871, which established Wardship and provides for a comprehensive framework of substitute decision-making in Irish law. Section 15 of this Act permits any individual to make an application to the Office of the Wards of Court, where they believe a person is of “unsound mind.”[11] If an individual is admitted to Wardship, they are thereby denied the right to exercise personal decision-making, which may include decisions about where to live, the ability to consent to medical treatment, entering and concluding contracts, and decisions to marry or have a relationship. These decisions are taken over by the President of the High Court, who may also appoint a Committee of the Ward, to make decisions which are in the Ward’s “best interests.” Despite the introduction of the 2015 Act and the growing consensus that similar regimes are contrary to the CRPD, the numbers of applications for Wardship continue to rise.[12] It is estimated that 300 people are made Wards of Court every year in Ireland; of this number the large majority of cases involve dementia or age-related illnesses.[13]

Once the 2015 Act is commenced, it will provide for the review of all existing Wards of Court within three years of the date of the Act’s commencement, introduces new support measures for decision-making and facilitates the making of Advance Healthcare Directives. Although the Act was introduced to meet Ireland’s obligations under the Convention, it is apparent that ‘it clearly does not comply with the requirements of’ Article 12.[14] Of concern, the 2015 Act retains a form of substituted decision-making through the use of decision-making representatives, in such cases where it is believed that the person lacks all capacity and decisions need to be made on their behalf.[15] While it is unclear at the moment what exact reservations or declarations will be made by the Government in respect of Article 12, it is clear that the current 2015 Act is non-compliant with the UN Committee’s interpretation of Article 12 and this will need to be addressed going forward.

Going Forward

It is particularly disappointing that the Government did not announce plans to ratify the Optional Protocol alongside the Convention, which would allow for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to hear claims from or on behalf of individuals in respect of a violation of their rights.[16] A failure to ratify the Optional Protocol would have knock-on effects in respect of Article 13, on the right of access to justice, which is integral to the rule of law and includes the right to have ‘effective access to the systems, procedures, information, and locations used in the administration of justice.’[17] A refusal to ratify the Optional Protocol would inherently limit the effectiveness of the Convention and calls into question Ireland’s commitment towards advancing the rights of persons with disabilities.

 Ireland’s long overdue ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should be celebrated for the longstanding commitment and perseverance of the disability rights community. But, the journey has only just begun – and it must look beyond legislative changes. It demands a full reconsideration of the way we operate as a society and breaking down all existing barriers, including barriers to health care, education, employment, public transportation and so forth.

As part of this, we also need to raise awareness throughout all sectors of society in order to combat stereotypes relating to persons with disabilities and promote awareness of their rights, dignity and capabilities.[18] Sufficient resources are required to support civil society organisations to continue their work in this area, in the spirit of the ‘Nothing about us, without us’ movement. Article 33(3) of the Convention requires that civil society organisations, and in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organisations, are involved in the monitoring process.

Together, we must commit to the objectives of the Convention, which is to ‘promote, protect and ensure’ the rights of persons with disabilities as we go forward and continue to advocate for full implementation of the Convention.

References:

[1] See the transcript of the Dáil debate here: https://www.kildarestreet.com/debates/?id=2018-03-07a.457&s=uncrpd#g498

[2] See the Governments’ Roadmap to Ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), available here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Roadmap%20to%20Ratification%20of%20CRPD.pdf/Files/Roadmap%20to%20Ratification%20of%20CRPD.pdf

[3] The CRPD and the CRPD Optional Protocol were adopted during the 61st Session of the General Assembly: see GA Resolution 61/611, 13 December 2006

[4] UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 1.

[5] UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities , Article 5 (non-discrimination), Article 10 (right to life), Article 12 (equal recognition before the law), Article 13 (Access to Justice), Article 14 (Liberty and security of the person), Article 15 (Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment).

[6] Statement by Finian McGrath TD, Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Disability Issues, 31 January 2017.  Available here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/SP17000029

[7] See Inclusion Ireland, Briefing Note: Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 (January 2017) available here: http://www.inclusionireland.ie/sites/default/files/attach/basic-page/1110/inclusion-ireland-briefing-note-disability-miscellaneous-provisions-bill-2016.pdf

[8] Only 4% of persons with intellectual disability live in an independent setting: see Inclusion Ireland, Deinstitutionalisation in Ireland; a failure to act (Inclusion Ireland, 2018).

[9] RTE, ‘More than 1,200 people under 65 living in nursing homes for the elderly’ (8 August 2017) RTE Available: https://www.rte.ie/news/2017/0808/895907-disabilities-nursing-homes/ l

[10] Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ‘Article 12: Equal recognition before the law’ (United Nations 2014, General Comment No. 1.) para 7.

[11] The Act states that application can be made concerning an individual who is of unsound mind and is incapable of managing their property. When assessing the application, the court must be satisfied that the person and/or their property must be in need of protection or where there is some benefit to the proposed individual in being admitted to wardship.

[12] In 2016, 311 people were made wards, up from 237 in 2015. See Mary Carolan, ‘Ward of court system does not protect vulnerable adults – HSE’ (The Irish Times, 16th January 2018) Available: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/ward-of-court-system-does-not-protect-vulnerable-adults-hse-1.3356303

[13] Courts Service, ‘Annual Report 2016’ (2016) Available here: http://www.courts.ie/courts.ie/library3.nsf/pagecurrent/AC7C2772ABD0E1F880257FC0003D294C?opendocument&l=en&p=155, 57

[14] Charles O’Mahony and Catriona Moloney, ‘The Impact of International Human Rights Law on Irish Mental Health and Mental Capacity Law Reform’ (2017) 23(1) Medico-Legal Journal of Ireland 24-30, p. 27.

[15] Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, Section 38

[16] Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 1

[17] Janet Lord, Kathy Guernsey, Joelle Balfe, Valerie Karr and Nancy Flowers, eds, Human Rights. Yes! Action and Advocacy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Minneapolis: Human Rights Resource Center, 2009), Chapter 12, para. 12.1.

[18] CRPD, Article 8

Literary representations of maternity

Narrative obstetrics: on literary representations of maternity

by Helen Charman, PhD Candidate at Trinity Hall and the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge.

In February— in case you needed reminding— Beyoncé announced that she was pregnant with twins via a heavily symbolic photoshoot that drew on everything from 15th century Flemish portraiture to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to Queen Nefertiti. Announced on the first day of Black History Month in America, the pictures figure as a twofold celebration of historically marginalised and objectified physicalities. Amongst the inevitable media furore, the celebrations were countered by predictable complaints from the entire political spectrum of the media, backed up by censorious comments from members of the public. Readers all over the U.K. felt compelled to share that they ‘couldn’t care less’ about the announcement, urging the papers to ‘write about real news’ instead. In fact, many commenters professed to care so little about Beyoncé and her belly that they composed quite lengthy rants about it. Perhaps, as seems to have been the case for one visitor to The Sun online, the photographs were the final straw: ‘Yet another preggie publicly flaunting that ugly bump. Why cant these people wear sensible clothes and cover up, keep the naked pics for their own eyes.’

beyonce P1

A photo from Beyoncé’s photoshoot

The desire to censor the pregnant female body is nothing new, and it goes hand in hand with our inability to discuss things like the menstrual cycle without deferring to the delicate sensibilities of actual or imagined listeners, particularly male ones. Beyoncé’s photographs were accompanied by a poem by Warsan Shire, making the link to Venus— goddess of love— explicit, and reinforcing the sexual aspect of the images: ‘in the dream I am crowning / osun, / Nerfetiti, / and yemoja / pray around my bed’. The photograph that seemed to incense people the most was the one posed sitting on the roof of a car: a hyper-sexualised pose familiar to many from calendars and glamour magazines. Critics were also vocal about the ‘exploitative’ nature of the photographs, suggesting that there was something unseemly about Beyoncé— who, as of March 2017, has a net worth estimated by Forbes to be over $290 million — ‘using’ her pregnancy to contribute to her lucrative personal brand. The announcement illustrated a familiar truth: the intersection of female sexuality and economic power— and its mirror image, commodification— touches on deep-seated societal fears. Although the smattering of tight-lipped comment pieces framing their disapproval of the photograph’s lavish celebration of the pregnant body as concern for childless women were mostly disingenuous— this concern doesn’t usually seem to bother tabloid newspapers who mine ‘fertility’ dramas for exposure— they served to illuminate the paradox of maternity: censorship goes hand in hand with idealisation. Some of the positive responses to the announcement were deceptively conservative in their valourisation of motherhood as a woman’s ‘true’ purpose, something all too easily appropriated by exclusionary and harmful discussions about what ‘real’ womanhood is or should be.

My doctoral research evidences that these conflicting attitudes to motherhood are far from a new phenomenon. I am a PhD student in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, and my doctoral research uses the novels of the prolific Victorian author, translator and essayist George Eliot as a focus through which to explore the changing attitude towards maternity in the nineteenth century. In her seminal study of ‘motherhood as experience and institution’, Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich asks how have women given birth, who has helped them, and how, and why? These are not simply questions of the history of midwifery and obstetrics: they are political questions.’[1] My project contends that by the time Eliot published her last novel, Daniel Deronda, in 1876 the political aspects of these questions had become issues of economic and literary production, too: like the furore around Beyoncé’s baby bump, the response to pregnant bodies in the nineteenth century demonstrated subversive power they held over every aspect of society.

george-eliot-0

George Eliot

In the Victorian period the mother was idealised as, in Coventry Patmore’s phrase, ‘the angel in the house’: the pressures of the new industrial age created a divide between the public, masculine workplace and the feminine, domestic domain of the home, which was seen as place of moral stability in a changing world. Yet the domestic idolisation of the mother was closely linked to the rapid economic and political advancements occurring in ‘masculine’ society. From the eighteenth century onwards, childbirth itself had become radically medicalized: rather than midwives attending to expectant mothers in their homes— in exclusively female spaces— lying-in hospitals, male obstetricians and the use of forceps became the norm. Wet-nursing turned mother’s milk— and the lactating breast— into a commodity. Throughout the nineteenth century, the effectiveness of these medical advancements was fiercely debated in publications like the British Medical Journal and The Lancet: these discussions were overwhelmingly dominated by men who linked the debates around childbirth to broader political and moral debates of the time. Ruth Perry, Valerie Fildes and other historians of motherhood have made a persuasive argument that this medicalization, alongside the charitable drives to save infant lives in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries such as the establishment of the London Foundling Hospital, links the construction and valourisation of bourgeois motherhood to the Victorian concern with Empire. As Perry puts it,

… motherhood was a colonial form—the domestic, familial counterpart to land enclosure at home and imperialism abroad. Motherhood as it was constructed in the early modern period is a production-geared phenomenon analogous to the capitalizing of agriculture, the industrializing of manufacture, and the institutionalizing of the nation state.[2]

In the nineteenth century, the emergence of the maternal ideal was, rather than a positive or empowering development for women, a means of co-opting the female reproductive body into the service of a patriarchal societal and economic system.

So how does this link to the literature? By the end of the nineteenth century, the novel had become the most prominent literary form in Britain. The revival of serialisation increased accessibility and, combined with the dominance of social realism, meant prose fiction was a highly relevant and reactive art form. In the first half of the century, economists had reformulated traditional concepts of value according to the ability to generate financial returns. As the novel became increasingly concerned with an explicitly capitalist system of value, the figure of the mother became symbolic of these ongoing debates about worth: the commodification of care. The reproductive bodies of the female protagonists in George Eliot’s novels, as well as in the work of her contemporaries like Charles Dickens, are embedded in a complex value system in which their idealized virtue is directly related to their economic function as producers.

Maternal virtue, however, was inconveniently linked to sexuality. The female body was most acceptable when it could be rationalised as fulfilling the function of maternity, but the physical reality of pregnancy was a threat to repressive norms that governed Victorian society. As Carolyn Dever notes, novels of this period were struggling of an impossible reconciliation of ‘a maternal ideal with the representation of the embodied—and potentially eroticized—female subject.’[3] Consequently, the idealised mother loomed large in Victorian fiction, but more often than not these texts feature mothers who are absent, or dead: psychologically overwhelming, but physically absent. Although recent developments in historical thought suggest that the maternal mortality rate in the nineteenth century was not as high as was once assumed, it is true that the medicalization of childbirth brought with it an epidemic of puerperal fever, or ‘childbed fever’. Maternal death in nineteenth-century fiction, however, far exceeded the actual rates of childbed death, which consistently remained well below 1%. Dever and others have linked this trope to Freudian psychoanalysis, and the destabilising effect the idea of the sexual maternal body could have upon the identities of children raised in a culture that linked female sexuality with hysteria and disorder. In nineteenth-century narrative, the tragic death of the mother ensured her virtue: free of the troubling aspects of her embodied existence, she could fulfil the symbolic role society required of her.

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

In a letter of 1866, George Eliot referred to her fiction as an attempt to ‘make certain ideas thoroughly incarnate, as if they had revealed themselves to me first in the flesh and not in the spirit’. This notion of ‘incarnation’ is undermined, however, by the fact that Eliot largely avoids any engagement with matters of the flesh. Indeed, Eliot seems to want to avoid biological maternity altogether. In her novels mothers either die young— often in childbirth— or are comically incompetent or grotesque and replaced by substitutionary maternal figures who are able to provide moral guidance uncomplicated by the problem of physical maternity. The few female protagonists in her work who do go on to have children have to sacrifice something of themselves in the process: Dorothea Brooke, the heroine of Middlemarch (1871-1872), lives happily with her husband and two children, but we learn in the novel’s final passage that although her husband is an active social reformer, Dorothea’s own ambitions remain unfulfilled. It could be argued that the reason for the dearth of maternal characters in Eliot’s novels is the narrative dead end the circumstances of maternity provided for so many nineteenth-century women. We’ve got a long way to go before we can honestly say that this isn’t still the case for many women today. In Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich— writing in 1986— comments on the metaphorical resonance that death in childbirth retains:

Even in a place and time where maternal mortality is low, a woman’s fantasies of her own death in childbirth have the accuracy of metaphor. Typically, under patriarchy, the mother’s life is exchanged for the child; her autonomy as a separate being seems fated to conflict with the infant she will bear. The self-denying, self-annihilating role of the Good Mother (linked implicitly with suffering and with the repression of anger) will spell the “death” of the woman or girl who once has hopes, expectations, fantasies for herself—especially when those hopes and fantasies have never been acted on.[4]

The valourised, idealised Good Mother is a trope that works against women, not for them. If we want to change it, we need to understand where it came from, and how inherently linked it is to our economic and political systems, and we need more ‘preggies’ like Beyoncé to ‘flaunt’ their maternity in a way that includes, rather than denies, their autonomous, sexual identities.

[1] Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (London: Virago, 1976, reissued with a new introduction by the author [1986], reprinted 1992), p.128.

[2] Ruth Perry, ‘Colonising the Breast: Sexuality and Maternity in Eighteenth-Century England’, (Journal of the History of Sexuality,Vol. 2, No. 2, Special Issue, Part 1: The State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe (Oct., 1991), pp. 204-234), p. 205.

[3]Carolyn Dever, Death and the Mother from Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins (Cambridge: CUP, 1998), p. 19.

[4] Rich, p.166.

Commemoration, Inclusion, and Dialogue in 1916 Centenary Drama in Northern Ireland

By: Kayla Rush

The sanctuary of Belfast’s Fitzroy Presbyterian Church buzzed with activity. Friends and neighbours chatted among the dark wooden pews, the columns of the pipe organ soaring high above their heads. The congenial atmosphere felt like the minutes before the start of a church service, save for the Beatles tunes playing softly in the background.

Halfway House

At precisely 7:30, the music stopped, and those assembled fell silent as the lights dimmed and a spotlight focused on the platform in the middle of the sanctuary, turning it into a minimalist theatre stage. A white-haired man walked onto the stage. He introduced himself to us as Philip Orr, the author of Halfway House, the play we had all come to see. He explained that the play is set in 1966, in a snowed-in pub in the Sperrin Mountains. As he described the particular historical setting of the mid-1960s – a time of significant social change in the Western world, and in Northern Ireland the years directly preceding the conflict known as ‘the Troubles’ – the Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’ began to play softly, and two women joined him on stage, entering from opposite doors on either side of the platform.
In the course of the next hour, we watched as the two women, Bronagh and Valerie, weathered the snowstorm – of which we were occasionally reminded by an audio clip of a howling winter wind – in conversation with one another, a conversation that ranged from congenial and sympathetic to tense and, at times, openly hostile. We soon learned that one woman is Protestant, the other Catholic; one’s father a veteran of the Easter Rising, the other’s father a veteran of the Battle of the Somme.

Parallels and Contemporary Politics

The essence of the play rests in these parallels: both women grew up in Downpatrick, County Down, but due to the divided nature of the community they have only heard of each other’s families, never met – ‘a question of “same place but separate lives”’, as one of the women puts it (Orr 2016: 5).

Both are equally proud of their respective parents’ brief military service in 1916, and both tell stories of national and familial hurts occasioned by the other ‘side’.

Halfway House[i] capitalized on an important historic concurrence: the close proximity of the Easter Rising (24-29 April 1916) and the Battle of the Somme (1 July-18 November 1916). The Easter Rising is commemorated each year as an important event in the formation of an independent Irish state, and relatedly with the Partition of Ireland. It is associated with an Irish identity, and thus with Catholicism, nationalism, and republicanism. The Battle of the Somme serves as a sort of opposite: it is commemorated as an important event in British history, and is thus associated with British-ness, Protestantism, unionism, and loyalism (see Grayson and McGarry 2016)[ii].
Commemorations serve the present: they harness the past and shape it in ways that suit the commemorators’ present-day needs. As anthropologist Dominic Bryan puts it, ‘The marking of a centenary is an act of contemporary politics… the commemorative practices are constructed in the present, for the present’ (in Bryan et al. 2013: 66).

Female Voices and Cross-Community Dialogue 

As part of my Ph.D. research, I look at one particular approach to commemoration, in which artists, particularly those working in community arts, engaged with the dual centenary of the Somme and the Easter Rising in their work. Halfway House is one of my case studies.
I would like to draw out two key projects that such artistic endeavours attempt to accomplish, using Halfway House as an example. First, the play mirrors a wider move toward more inclusive commemorations in Northern Ireland in the twenty-first century. Commemorations that recognize both the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising, and the roles of both Catholics and Protestants in each, have become increasingly common (Daly and O’Callaghan 2007: 4; McCarthy 2012: 430-439; Grayson and McGarry 2016: 2-3).

Likewise, Orr’s choice to write women characters reflects a growing desire to include women’s voices in the narratives told during and around commemorations (see Mullally 2016).

While the stories that Valerie and Bronagh tell are still in many ways men’s stories – the stories of their fathers’ involvement in armed conflict, and of their fathers’, brothers’, and uncles’ pride in the respective commemorations – they also speak of the fabric of their everyday lives as women in the Northern Ireland of the 1960s: leaving the workforce after having children, moving to the ‘big city’ of Belfast versus staying at ‘home’ in Downpatrick, caring for elderly relatives, and so forth.

Second, Halfway House represents a desire for increased dialogue, both between individuals and, more widely, between the two main ‘communities’ in Northern Ireland. The two women model ‘good’ dialogue for their audiences: while they may disagree on certain points, they never raise their voices or interrupt each other, and each actively listens and attempts to empathize with her counterpart. They are ultimately respectful of one another, and willing and able to reflect on their own biases. Neither do they shy away from difficult or painful discussions. For example, midway through the play, Bronagh, the Catholic woman, tells Valerie that the Ulster Special Constabulary, known as the ‘“B” Specials’, regularly visit her family’s home to search their barns and house. She reveals a great amount of hurt at this felt invasion of her family’s property and privacy. Shortly after, Valerie hesitantly reveals that her father and uncle both joined the ‘B’ Specials after the war, and we can see her struggling to reconcile her own pride in their service with Bronagh’s experiences of hurt. The following exchange takes place at the end of this telling:

Valerie: But what you also have to realise, Bronagh, was the fear, back then. Uncle Joe still says you could have cut it with a knife.

Bronagh: The town was miles away from the riots in Belfast and it was miles from the border.

Valerie: But we were afraid.

Bronagh: Afraid of whom?

Valerie: Afraid of you. (Orr 2016:22)

Tellingly to the play’s project, the two characters have an equal number of spoken lines, so that neither dominates the dramatic action or dialogue. One reviewer commented on this phenomenon of ‘good’ dialogue, and the way in which it encouraged the audience to participate in similar conversations, writing that ‘the quality of listening on stage was echoed in the venue’s café afterwards as people sat round and discussed the play over a cup of coffee’ (Meban 2016).

A Major Shift: Re-Imagining the ‘Other’ 

This approach to cross-community dialogue in theatre evidences an important shift in the past thirty or so years. Take, for example, Frank McGuinness’s (1986) play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, which dramatizes the journey of eight (fictional) Protestant, Northern Ireland-born World War I soldiers to the Battle of the Somme[iii]. McGuinness, born in County Donegal and hailing from an Irish Catholic background, famously drew his inspiration for this play from living for the first time in a majority Protestant community, while teaching at the (then) New University of Ulster in Coleraine. Grene (1999: 242-245) considers Observe the Sons an exercise in ‘imagining the other’ and encouraging audiences to do the same, as ‘[f]or southern Catholic nationalists Ulster Protestant Unionism is as other as you can get … The play represents therefore a new sort of imaginative reaching out in Irish drama’. Lojek (2004: 77-79) similarly notes that in both the play’s premiere and each of its subsequent stage revivals, Observe the Sons has been heralded as ‘an icon of cross-cultural understanding’, and ‘an indication of increased understanding by Irish Catholics that Irish Protestantism is also part of the island’s culture and heritage’.

What is particularly interesting is the major shift that can be seen between the type of imagining undertaken in Observe the Sons and that found in Halfway House. In the former, the playwright imagines the community that is ‘other’ to him, probing its trauma and writing from a place of empathy. It is indeed a type of dialogue, but much of the work of dialogue is implicit, having already taken place in the experiences of the playwright, though of course as spectators or readers we can choose to dialogue with the play’s material ourselves. In Halfway House, however, the dialogue is physically presented on stage. While we can, of course, choose not to engage with the material in an inner dialogue of our own, we cannot sidestep the fact of the dialogue itself, as it forms the very substance of the play. This great shift, then, is one from ‘imagining the other’ to imagining ways in which oneself – or someone very like oneself – might encounter the other in an everyday situation such as a snowbound pub.

[i] Halfway House and its companion play, Stormont House Rules!, were commissioned by evangelical Christian organization Contemporary Christianity as part of a project entitled ‘1916, a Hundred Years On’ (see Contemporary Christianity n.d.).

[ii] Of course, individual identities do not fall so neatly into these two categories, and plenty of residents of Northern Ireland, including its growing migrant population, do not consider themselves part of either the Protestant community or the Catholic community.

[iii] Dublin’s Abbey Theatre staged Observe the Sons of Ulster as part of its 2016 centenary commemoration programme. This production was staged at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre in early July 2016, around the time of the local commemorations of the Battle of the Somme (1 July) and the Battle of the Boyne (12 July) (see Coyle 2016, Hardy 2016).

References

Bryan, Dominic, Mike Cronin, Tina O’Toole, and Catriona Pennell. 2013 Ireland’s Decade of Commemorations: a Roundtable. New Hibernia Review 17 (3): 63-86.

Contemporary Christianity. n.d. ‘1916: A Hundred Years On’. http://www.contemporarychristianity.net/website/1916-a-hundred-years-on/.

Coyle, Matthew. 2016. ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme’, Culture Northern Ireland, 30 June. http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/features/performing-arts/observe-sons-ulster-marching-towards-somme.

Daly, Mary E., and Margaret O’Callaghan. 2007 Introduction: Irish modernity and “the patriot dead” in 1966. In Mary E. Daly and Margaret O’Callaghan (eds.), 1916 in 1966: commemorating the Easter Rising. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, pp. 1-17.

Grayson, Richard S., and Fearghal McGarry. 2016. ‘Introduction’, in Richard S. Grayson and Fearghal McGarry (eds), Remembering 1916: The Easter Rising, the Somme and the Politics of Memory in Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University, pp. 1-9.

Grene, Nicholas. 1999. The Politics of Irish Drama: Plays in Context from Boucicault to Friel. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Hardy, Jane. 2016. ‘Review: Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre’, The Irish News, 5 July. http://www.irishnews.com/arts/stage/2016/07/05/news/review-observe-the-sons-of-ulster-marching-towards-the-somme-at-belfast-s-lyric-theatre-593218/.

Lojek, Helen Heusner. 2004. Contexts for Frank McGuinness’s Drama. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America.

McCarthy, Mark. 2012 Ireland’s 1916 Rising: explorations of history-making, commemoration & heritage in modern times. Farnham: Ashgate.

McGuinness, Frank. 1986. Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. London: Faber and Faber.

Meban, Alan. 2016. ‘Halfway House – Philip Orr’s New Play Exploring 1916 from the Vantage Point of 1966’, Alan in Belfast, 19 January. http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/halfway-house-philip-orrs-new-play.html.

Mullally, Una. 2016. ‘Why Women Have Risen to the Top in 1916 Lore’, The Irish Times, 28 March. http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/una-mullally-why-women-have-risen-to-the-top-in-1916-lore-1.2588986.

Orr, Philip. 2016. Halfway House. Belfast: Contemporary Christianity.

Austerity, women and health inequalities in the UK

by Amy Greer Murphy, Durham University

My PhD is part of a five year research project entitled ‘Local Health Inequalities in an Age of Austerity: The Stockton-on-Tees study’. It’s a mixed method case study exploring the localised impacts of austerity on health. My role is examining the experiences of women living in Stockton using qualitative research.

A few key terms

Austerity refers to attempts to reduce government deficits through spending cuts and sometimes tax increases. Across Europe, austerity was implemented in many countries, such as Greece and Ireland, as a precondition of receiving bailouts in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. In the UK, a major restructuring of the public sector and welfare system has been undertaken since 2010.

Neoliberalism refers to the application of free market principles to public policy. It has been enacted in the UK since Thatcher’s Conservative government came to power in the 1980s and has comprised of deregulation (e.g. of the banking and financial system), privatisation (e.g. of bus and rail services) and, more recently, austerity (e.g. extensive welfare reforms).

‘Health inequalities’ refer to disparities in life expectancy and years of health life (‘mortality’ and ‘morbidity’) within and across nations. There is a gradient in all countries – those with more socio-economic resources also have better health (Marmot, 2010). In the UK, health inequalities are widening since austerity began. Schrecker and Bambra (2015) have referred to the process of widening health inequalities and liberalised economic and social policies as a ‘neoliberal epidemic’.

Austerity and inequality in the UK

The UK is a large country, and one of great social contrasts. The contrasts that are relevant to my research are related to inequality of opportunity, resources, health, and the government policies, political decisions and historical legacies that bring these about. The North East has experienced a huge restructuring of its’ social landscape in recent decades. Mining, heavy industry and manufacturing have all but ceased to operate there. The jobs that once provided decent incomes and rooted people to their communities, providing clear routes through the lifecourse and class allegiances, have slipped away. In their place are zero hour contracts in care homes and nurseries, seasonal work in factories and as agency staff providing security in shopping centres.

Through this research process I have tried to understand what neoliberalism and austerity feel like if you’re not on the winning side of them, focussing on gender and class. I’ve then tried to see the wider connection to globalised economies and deregulated financial markets.

Stockton-on-Tees

One of the ways austerity is affecting places and people differently is through health. In Stockton-on-Tees, the gap in life expectancy for men is the largest in all of England, at 17.3 years, and one of the widest for women, at 11.4 (Public Health England, 2015). If you are a man born in one of the wealthier, typically less urbanised parts of Stockton you can expect, on average, to live 17.3 years longer, and more of those years in good health, than a man born just a short walk away, in a more built-up and less well-off part of town. You are also at a higher risk of cardio-vascular disease, obesity, cancer, mental health issues, suicide, alcoholism, to be more socially isolated, have a worse paying, precarious job or no job at all, and to be at the mercy of an increasingly retrenched welfare state for your income and livelihood. The picture for women is similar, but different in crucial ways I will explore later.

This, of course, isn’t the picture for everyone in Stockton; I don’t want to paint a doomsday caricature (Benefits Street, the Channel 4 show, made a noble attempt at that in 2014 with their ‘poverty porn’ foray into life on Kingston Road). Stockton is steeped in a proud industrial legacy, is surrounded by beautiful dales and hills, has a vibrant town centre, and is home to thousands of people of all kinds who are creating thriving and enduring communities. Undeniably, however, government policy is making the lives of an increasing number of its residents tougher.

The research topic

Women face a distinct set of risks under austerity, as their lives, choices and opportunities often play out differently. This led me to develop my research project, to be carried out with mothers from across the borough. I wanted to understand what the experiences are of being a woman living in a place like Stockton – what can they tell us about other similar places that have experienced stark deindustrialisation and withdrawal of resources and traditional routes to employment and social stability? What does it feel like to live through welfare reform, as a mother, with enough money or very little, in an area with lots of different inequalities?

The methods

The research design was informed by the work of Sociologists who have used their skills to bring to the academic and policy world narratives that are otherwise silenced – quite often the voices of women. Berverley Skeggs (1997), wrote about class and gender and respectability in an area of England not so far from Stockton, Ann Oakley (1979; 1993) spent years with mothers asking them what they thought about housework, women’s health and becoming a mother, and Arlie Hochschild (1989) delved into the lives of women trapped in the double- or triple-bind of work, caring for children and elderly relatives. The methods I used are similar to theirs, and ‘qualitative’, meaning they are designed to explore diverse social worlds and understand why certain groups of people or individuals make choices or live in certain ways, or why their lives are presented in a certain light. I had a methodology (system of methods) and sampling strategy (idea of why I wanted to contact, and why). Unlike some quantitative social research or scientific experiment, or the research wasn’t designed with representativeness or generalisability in mind.

I used ethnography, or participant observation; I spent 16 months at a women’s group where I gained friends and mentors and learned about being woman living on a low income in Stockton. I also interviewed 15 women, 14 of whom are mothers, from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds and from many different walks of life. I recruited participants through the local Sure Start centres, Twitter, Thrive, the anti-poverty charity I spent a lot of time at, and through snowball sampling (asking people I met if they could recommend someone, or pass on my details). I offered a voucher as a thank-you and recorded my interviews.

Some findings

Continuing austerity and the decline of opportunities: For respondents and their wider networks, there is a huge concern about the likely continuation of austerity and what that might mean for families and communities. We spoke about diminishing opportunity and prospects, the long-term decline of services, the quality and availability of housing and work in the area.

The desire to ‘just be a mam’: Respondents found their roles as mothers and carers increasingly devalued, with the expectation that caring work should be provided by the market and that they should seek formal work as a primary source of income. However, quality work is unavailable, childcare unaffordable, and an important source of identity formation, their role as carers and mothers, diminished under austerity.

Mental health: It became increasingly obvious as I spent more time in the field that the deterioration of participants’ mental health and sense of wellbeing was stark. Discussions of everyday struggles with depression, anxiety and serious bouts of post-natal depression were worryingly frequent. Furthermore, long-term physical health and chronic pain issues were part and parcel of life for many of the women I spent time with, symptoms of a lifetime of stress, poor quality housing and other inequalities (Mattheys et al. 2015).

Conclusion

Underpinning my research is the understanding that women, particularly mothers, face a set of distinct risks under austerity, through labour market changes, reliance on the welfare system and the public sector. They are employed in higher numbers in the public sector, and so more vulnerable to job losses there, and more likely to be underemployed or in low-paid work in ‘feminised’ sectors. They may also face maternity discrimination in their workplace, experience a large gender pay gap and are absent from the labour market for extended periods while they take care of young children. Women also make use of public sector services in high numbers, the very services being cut back during austerity. They rely on the welfare state for many reasons to a much larger extent than men. Welfare reforms like the benefit cap, bedroom tax and sanctions, closures of community centres and privatisation of Sure Starts and lone parent conditionality hit not just women in large numbers, but children and families too. This research is trying to illustrate how austerity is regressive and contributing to growing inequality, and how this group, like many all around the UK, are finding it a challenging time to live through.

References

  • Blyth, M. 2013. Austerity: the history of a dangerous idea. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Hochschild, A. 1989. The Second Shift: working parents and the revolution at home. Viking Penguin, New York.
  • Konzelmann, S., 2014. The political economics of austerity. Cambridge Journal of Economics 38 (4) pp. 701–741.
  • Marmot, M., Allen, J., Goldblatt, P., Boyce, T., McNeish, D., Grady, M., and Geddes, I. 2010. Fair society healthy lives. The Marmot review executive summary. The Marmot Review. UCL Institute of health equity, London.
  • Mattheys, K. Bambra, C. Kasim, A. Akhter, B. 2015. Inequalities in mental health and well-being in a time of austerity: Baseline findings from the Stockton-on-Tees cohort study. SSM -Population Health 2 Pp. 350–359.
  • Oakley, A. 1979. Becoming a mother. Martin Roberston and Company Ltd., Oxford.
  • Oakley, A. 1993. Essays on women, medicine and health. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
  • Public Health England, 2015. Stockton-on-Tees Health Profile 2015.
  • Robson, S., and Robinson., J., 2012. Findings and recommendations from interim case study: the impact of austerity measures upon women in the North East of England. The Women’s Resource Centre, London.
  • Rubery, J. and Rafferty, A. 2014. Gender, recession and austerity in the UK. In: Karamessini, M. and Rubery, J. 2014. Women and Austerity, the economic crisis and the future of gender equality. Routledge, Oxon. pp. 123-144.
  • Schrecker, T., and Bambra, C., 2015. How politics makes us sick: neoliberal epidemics. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  • Skeggs, B., 1997. Formations of class and gender, Theory, Culture & Society. Sage Publications, London.

 

Mediating Violent Conflict: Where are the Women?

by Dr Catherine Turner

Durham Law School, Durham University.

mary-r592677

Former Irish President Mary Robinson (left) and Ethiopia’s Hiroute Guebre Sellasie, the UN’s only female lead mediators

In his December 2016 inauguration speech, the newly elected Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guetterres, indicated that one of the priorities of his term in office would be conflict prevention. He emphasised the need to take more creative approaches to prevent the escalation of conflict, including notably a much stronger emphasis on the use of mediation and creative diplomacy. Prevention, it is said, is better than cure, particularly when conflicts such as Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Israel/Palestine are proving so difficult to ‘cure’. The emphasis on mediation marks the culmination of a longer process of review within the UN of the ways it responds to violent conflict. A series of reports evaluating the UN’s peacebuilding architecture led to the 2016 adoption of the ‘Sustaining Peace Agenda’, marking a commitment to increased coherence across the organisation in co-ordinating peacebuilding activities.[1] Resolution 2282 (2016) emphasises ‘the importance of a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace, particularly through the prevention of conflict and addressing its root causes, […] and promoting […] inclusive dialogue and mediation…’

 This priority is also accompanied by a commitment by the new Secretary General to address a persistent problem within the UN – the need to ensure gender parity.

Resolution 2282 reaffirms the importance of women’s participation in peace and security, as well as stressing the importance of increasing women’s leadership and decision-making in relation to conflict prevention. The bringing together of these two priorities, namely an increased role for mediation in international peace and security and a commitment to increasing the participation of women in leadership roles within the UN, presents a good opportunity to consider the role of women in conflict mediation.

Of course, a commitment to increasing women’s participation in conflict prevention and peacebuilding is not new. Since the Security Council passed its landmark Resolution 1325 in 2000, the role of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding has been on the Security Council agenda. The ‘Women, Peace and Security Agenda’ has consistently highlighted the underrepresentation of women in peacebuilding and a number of strategies have been implemented to try and redress this imbalance. There is a very significant body of work on the reasons that women should be included in peacebuilding. This work has highlighted the benefits of including women and has highlighted the different roles that women play within peacebuilding,[2] however it has largely overlooked the specific category of women in the role of mediator. This is despite clear policy commitments throughout the WPS resolutions that call for greater representation of women within high-level UN mediation teams.[3] And yet, despite over 10 years work on the WPS agenda, the number of women actively included in peace talks as mediators remains persistently low. Research shows that, of 31 UN-led mediation processes between 1991 and 2011, only 3 were led by women as the chief mediator. This translates into only 2.7 % of all chief mediators.[4] As a result in 2013 the Security Council passed resolution 2122 further requesting the Secretary General to support the appointments of women at senior levels as UN mediators and within the composition of UN mediation teams. By 2014 the UN had appointed two female lead mediators – the former Irish president Mary Robinson, and Hiroute Guebre Sellasie of Ethiopia – and women held a further 14% of senior UN mediation positions.[5] However this figure remains low in light of the Secretary General’s 2010 commitment to increasing the number of women appointed to lead UN peace processes.[6]

The very low statistics of women in the role of chief UN mediator creates an impression that women are simply not engaged in the mediation of violent conflict. Yet, in practice, we know this is not true.

In conflicted states across the globe women are actively involved in the mediation of violent conflict. The roles they play are increasingly being recognised through the creation of networks of women mediators such as those created by Nordic States, by African States, and in support of the peace process in Colombia. So why, when women are so active in mediation at the local level, do we not see more women in high level UN led processes? My research suggests a number of reasons for this apparent contradiction.

Responsibility for increasing the participation of women in mediation is divided across different departments within the UN. The appointment of high-level envoys or Special Representatives of the Secretary General – those we all recognise as the public face of UN-led mediation – lies with the Department of Political Affairs. The appointment of a mediator in this context refers specifically to the appointment of an individual by the Secretary General to pursue conflict diplomacy on his behalf. These are high-level political appointments and are almost exclusively at the discretion of the Secretary General himself. The Envoy will be the person responsible for convening the Track I – or state-level- talks. Women are very under-represented in these positions.

This focus on high-level talks and on the leadership role of international mediators can be contrasted with the approach taken by UN Women, the body tasked with working with member states to further the empowerment of women and support peacebuilding capacity within the State. At this level, mediation happens at a local level, within and between communities. It is at this level that women mediators are most strongly represented.[7] Women are regarded as bringing significant skills to mediation not only while official Track I processes are happening, but before and after those processes, in some cases enabling the process to take place. Through their roles as intermediaries women can create the conditions whereby talks are possible, for example by negotiating the cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian access or opening channels for dialogue.[8]

The division of responsibility between the DPA and UN Women, both of which have very different operational mandates, creates a potential gap between mediation in local or national contexts and mediation that occurs at the international level. While women may demonstrate strong mediation skills and have considerable experience of mediating disputes, this experience does not result in inclusion in international mediation teams. There is a point at which women mediators tend to drop out of peace talks, and this is the point at which international actors become involved. At this stage, women are not considered to be ‘political’ enough to want to play a role in high-level mediation.

In these circumstances, women’s local experience is often overlooked in favour of bringing in international experts (who may also be women) to consult on the design and delivery of mediation processes. This means that not only do local women become marginalised in the process, but their insight into the conflict dynamics is also lost.

When women return to the process they return in the role of participants in the process—as a vulnerable group to be consulted rather than as the agents of change they have been. Further, the extent of women’s participation is also largely dependent on how willing the mediator is to include them,[9] leaving women inherently vulnerable to exclusion.

Of course not all women who engage in mediation at the community level will seek international opportunities. Similarly, there may be local gender dynamics that make it difficult for local women to step into political positions. But it is patronising to suggest that all women mediators are satisfied with working at the local level. Many have the skill, the experience and the ambition to play greater roles internationally. What is missing is a route to integrate them into formal processes.[10] While the role of Envoy will always be available only to a very small category of people, there is no reason that women should not play more prominent roles within high-level mediation teams.

There may be a very practical reason for the failure of women mediators to make the transition from local or national experience to international experience. It may simply be, for example, that they are not coming to the attention of the DPA at the time at which mediation teams are being selected. Member States therefore have a role to play in the career development and the nomination of women for inclusion within UN teams. If the DPA relies on nominations from Member States for identifying suitable candidates, then States can potentially support the work of both UN Women and the DPA by bridging the gap between the local and the global. This would include identifying women working as mediators within the community sector, the private sector as well as the Women’s sector, thereby casting the net much wider than traditional approaches. It would involve recognising the contribution that women mediators are already making to conflict resolution.

Taking a proactive approach to identifying women mediators, and ensuring that they benefit from the necessary career development opportunities at the national level, would be a big step towards a more coherent approach to ensuring that women’s contribution to mediation is made visible internationally.

Taking such an approach is consistent with the Sustaining Peace Agenda and speaks directly to the need for greater synergy between the relevant agencies responsible for sustaining peace and promoting gender parity.

[1] Resolution 2282 (2016)

[2] Anderlini, SN and J Tinman (2010) ‘What the Women Say: Participation and UNSCR 1325’ International Civil Society Action Network and Centre for International Studies; Paffenholz T et al. (2016) ‘Making Women Count- Not Just Counting Women: Assessing Women’s Inclusion and Influence on Peace Negotiations’ (Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative & UN Women)

[3] Resolution 1325 (2000); Resolution 1889 (2009); UN Strategic Framework on Women Peace and Security 2011-2020; Resolution 2122 (2013)

[4] UN Women (2012) Women’s Participation in Peace Processes: Connections Between Presence and Influence. New York. United Nations

[5] Statistics from the International Peace Institute, 2013

[6] UN, 2010 UN Doc A/65/35- S/2010/466

[7] Conciliation Resources (2013) ‘Women Building Peace’ Accord Insight 16

[8] United Nations Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2015) 54

[9] Global Study

[10] UN Women (2012) Women’s Participation in Peace Processes: Connections Between Presence and Influence. New York. United Nations

What She Means to Me: On Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Candidacy

by Anne Kauth.

The Patriarchy, every day

I refrain from blurting out the P word in my everyday life: for fear of being written off as a nasty feminist. For fear that you may stop reading, may stop listening. But any story about what she means to me must include mention of it. The Patriarchy is to us women as water is to fish: a system of external domination of which most of us spend our lives blithely unaware, even though we are constantly swimming against its undertow, or else trying to ignore it because that chronic awareness is so painfully debilitating once we begin to recognize it in every aspect of our daily lives.

dsc_0861

Anne (r) meets Hillary Rodham Clinton, then Secretary of State, in the U.S. Mission to the EU, Brussels, December 2012.

Who am I to talk about the Patriarchy, though? I’m a child of the nineties. I’m American, white, privileged, educated, cis-gendered, gainfully employed, and have a supportive network of mentors and advocates. I grew up with Girl Power and Sally Ride and Jane Goodall and Susan Rice and Madeleine Albright. Not only did I leave my native Minnesota for college on the East Coast, I was an athlete, a campus leader, I traveled nonstop, dated whomever I wanted, had killer internships, and knew I would be employed from the moment I graduated in a job that was engaging, well-compensated, and progressively responsible. I have had fabulous bosses, managers, and colleagues. I have had respectful, empowering, enlightened romantic partners. I have made a life for myself in nine cities on three continents. And here I am in San Francisco in my late 20s, enjoying a period of life that for women the world over is truly unprecedented. I do not yet have a family of my own, I’m not yet married, but I’m no longer living with the family that raised me. I’m living independently as a young professional with the support, love, and pride of my family, friends, and community. This is a chapter that my mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers never experienced, and one that I endeavor to take advantage of to the fullest.

And yet the conversation comes up again and again, over brunch with friends who are similarly educated, gainfully employed, freely dating, living full lives in global hubs. That feeling. That question. Am I just imagining this uncomfortable power dynamic with the guy at work? Am I really overreacting to this imbalance in my relationship? Was that uncomfortable interaction with the stranger at the airport harmless? Is there anything to complain about, really, when for decades it was so much worse? When for women in most other parts of the world– and for many in our country who do not have the privileges, security and agency that my peers have– it is still so much worse?

The Patriarchy and the 2016 presidential campaign

Then the 2016 presidential campaign gained momentum, overtook the national consciousness. And as frustrating, embarrassing, terrifying as it is, it also has provided us with a platform to discuss the Patriarchy in a way that won’t, that can’t, be written off. Michelle Obama made the speech of the year in New Hampshire on October 13th, and it hit home in a way that has women of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds, talking about experiences with harassment, abuse, and assault, sometimes for the first time.

“We thought all of that was ancient history, didn’t we? And so many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect, but here we are, in 2016, and we’re hearing these exact same things every day on the campaign trail. We are drowning in it. And all of us are doing what women have always done: We’re trying to keep our heads above water, just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak.

Maybe we’re afraid to be that vulnerable. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet, because we’ve seen that people often won’t take our word over his. Or maybe we don’t want to believe that there are still people out there who think so little of us as women. Too many are treating this as just another day’s headline, as if our outrage is overblown or unwarranted, as if this is normal, just politics as usual.”

It is not normal. It is not politics as usual.

This is the election of our time, mostly for reasons that mar the face of the American political landscape, save for one. 

What she means to me

Her. Our candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. A female nominee for president representing one of the major political parties for the first time in history. A candidate who is, as the sitting President remarked, the most qualified candidate ever for the highest office in the land. She’s ours. She is us. It was her voice that was finally heard when she confirmed that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. And she has contended with what every woman in America breaking through personal and professional barriers has had to confront.

She is vilified for being inauthentic, but women who know her and know American politics also know that she has been misunderstood because she has spent so much time and energy responding to every negative experience any one of us has had thrown our way in the workplace, in our relationships, in our daily lives. She, however, has done all that in parallel with, and within the confines of, the rise of the 24 hour news cycle. Having her appearance, her accent, her cookie baking skills, her motherhood, her energy, her warmth or lack thereof, her stamina, her unacceptable pattern of continually asking for a promotion by running for office continually mocked, questioned, and denigrated by a male-dominated opposition punditry.

dsc_0736

Anne (r) and Secretary Clinton, U.S. Mission to the EU, Brussels, December 2012

How we could ever know the “real her” is unfathomable under these conditions. What we do know is that she has spent all four challenging, painful, and still triumphant decades of her professional life as a tireless public servant. I won’t rattle off her resume again here, but do love restating that she is the most-traveled Secretary of State in history: she visited 112 countries during her four-year tenure, traversing 956,733 miles — enough to span the globe more than 38 times. And it is she whom I have looked up to for many years as the ultimate example of leadership.

I take nothing for granted one week from election day in America. I can’t tell you what will happen for sure, sadly, not even Nate Silver can. What I can tell you is that while I have never been more concerned about the state of American politics, I also have never been more hopeful about the possibilities for American women who collectively are owning their experiences with the Patriarchy and naming them for what they are– the most essential step to bring about change.

So, thank you Hillary. I am with you. Here’s to November 9th.

With thanks to Joanna Pinto-Coelho, Jules Shell, Gunnar Kauth, and Antonia Kerle

A note on the WomenAreBoring Blog:

Women Are Boring is dedicated to disseminating interesting research and writing by interesting women.  As with all things worth doing, we are aware that research and opinion is debatable and worthy of contestation. This is something we encourage. As such, the opinions and views shared are those of each individual article’s author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Women Are Boring team.

CHILD SOLDIERS: Where are the girls?

CHILD SOLDIERS: Where are the girls?  Kids, guns and the Patriarchy

By Marie Penicaut

Much has been written lately about African child soldiers.[1] We, in the West, are all familiar with the image of an eight or ten year old boy, holding an AK-47 too big for him, in a pseudo-military uniform, his eyes crying for help. We see him in newspapers and on television. We hear his horrifying story in documentaries, interviews, and sometimes self-written memoirs. Since Blood Diamond[2], we also see him in fiction films, poignant and stereotypical representations of these kids’ tragic lives that we too readily take for granted. And, as Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wonderfully puts it in an inspiring TedTalk, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make the single story become the only story”.[3]

 

image-1

The ‘typical’ child soldier

But where are the girls in all of that? Why don’t we see pictures of little girls carrying AK-47s? Why is there virtually no girl – not a single one – in Netflix’s critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation[4], while many studies have proven that they constitute up to 40% of all child soldiers in some African contexts? Why are they so often completely ignored by academic literature, governments, international organisations and NGOs alike?

 

2

Agu’s all-boys unit marching towards combat. Screenshot from Beasts of No Nation.

The answer should not come as a surprise. Once again, the Patriarchy strikes: society puts us in two clear-cut categories, where according to our biological sex – male or female[5] – we are expected to behave in a certain way. Girls will naturally be peaceful, pacifist, and passive; boys will be inherently violent, aggressive, and impulsive. Hence the common belief that on one side, ‘girls don’t fight’, while on the other, ‘boys will be boys’ – which inevitably leads to the idea that war is the realm of men, and of men uniquely.

No wonder, then, that girl child soldiers are invisible, even when confronted with evidence that 10 to 30% of child soldiers worldwide are female, and 30 to 40% in recent African conflicts.[6]

When – and if – mentioned, it is only as simple camp followers. As the ‘good little women’ they are, they cook, do the laundry and take care of the youngest. But in reality, many receive military training and fight just like the boys.[7] During the Mozambican War of Independence (1964-74), which opposed the Portuguese government and FREMILO (The Mozambique Liberation Front), the rebels had mixed and female-only military units where girls and young women fought for the liberation of their country.[8] War was an opportunity for them to escape their gender roles. They were treated just the same as men. But once the country became independent in 1975, it was not long before they were sent back to the kitchen, and the crucial role they played was progressively forgotten.

 

 

Johnny Mad Dog or the stereotypical child soldier narrative

We should not underestimate the power of the media and of pop-culture. They both represent and influence the way we make sense of the world. The first thing I did when I started researching child soldiering in Africa (for my master’s dissertation) was to try to find as many fiction films and documentaries on the topic I could. Before entering the more nuanced and detailed academic discussion, I wanted to have the exact same perception of the phenomenon as everyone else.

I was shocked when I watched Johnny Mad Dog[9], the ultraviolent and ultra-clichéd adaptation of the eponymous novel by Emmanuel Dongala[10]. It tells Johnny’s story, abducted at 9 by rebels, now 15, in yet another unnamed African country torn by a senseless conflict – the Western discourse on African child soldiers is also profoundly racist: most movies are entirely decontextualized, as if the story could take place anywhere on the continent, negating the vast diversity of its 54 countries and the complex reasons that lead to armed conflict.

In the book, there are two narrators: Johnny and Laokolé, a strong and smart girl, who manages her way through a world of violence and chaos. But Sauvaire completely silences her to put Johnny at the centre of the story. She becomes a character of secondary importance. Even worse: while in the book she cold-bloodedly plans to kill Johnny, and does it, as she knows he intends to rape and kill her, the film ends on her indecision whether to shoot at him in self-defence. Her originally strong agency is simply erased.

Dongala’s resistant discourse is violated and distorted to conform to the expectations of a public for which violence is the monopoly of males.

 

image-4

Johnny Mad Dog’s last image: Laokolé pointing a gun towards Johnny, breathing heavily, undecided.

 

Girl soldiers, the “ultimate victim[s] in need of rescue”[11]

If you are active on social media, there is a good chance that you have heard of the Kony2012[12] phenomenon. The 30-minute video posted on YouTube by Invisible Children, an NGO built by three American missionaries, was created with the aim of fighting the child-soldiering the three “discovered” in Uganda. The viral video – which gained 100 million views in less than a week – sums up pretty well all the stereotypes on child combatants. It also illustrates the difference of treatment between girls and boys in the global discourse: “the girls are turned into sex slaves, and the boys into child soldiers”. Things are simple. Girls do all the chores and are sex slaves. Boys are forced to fight and to commit atrocities. Girls don’t fight and boys don’t get raped. Even more than their male counterparts, girls are voiceless victims in need of rescue by the West.

 

image-5

Kony and his ‘army of children’. Source: Screenshot of Kony2012

Many girls and women are victims of sexual violence, especially in the climate of conflict and instability that has affected a number of African countries in the past decades. But stories of rape and abuse too often eclipse other stories of bravery, resilience and survival.

Even more than boys, girls are denied any agency, any voice; they are denied the possibility to speak out and tell their story as they experienced it and not as we want to hear it.

In some contexts, becoming a soldier can be empowering for them. They can gain power, a surrogate family where they had none, and escape their traditional gender roles.[13] Their experience is too often reduced to the sexual violence they may or may not have undergone. In virtually every documentary I have watched for my dissertation project, girls are interviewed uniquely to talk about their experience of sexual violence, and often asked to provide gruesome details to satisfy the journalist’s, and the public’s, morbid curiosity.

It is not the first and certainly not the last time that women have been misunderstood and misrepresented because of sexist stereotypes. But the tragedy lies in the consequences this has on the ground, for real girls that have served weeks, months, and sometimes years in militias. Because ‘girls don’t fight’, many demobilisation, disintegration and rehabilitation programmes[14] exclude them. Only 5% benefit from them.[15] And when they do, their special needs are rarely addressed: no female clothing in the aid packages, no tampons or pads, no reproductive healthcare, etc. Skills training and camp activities are often biased towards males – learning masonry, carpentry, mechanics etc.[16] When going back to civilian life, because they are labelled as sexual victims, they are affected by a stigma of sexual activity. Whether real or not, this stigma leads to social exclusion. Many girls hide their rebel lives from their family and community and decide not to register for demobilisation because they are too afraid of the consequences – of being seen as monsters, as dangerous rebels, as ‘bush wives’[17] that can no longer marry.

More than anything else, girl child soldiers are victims of the Patriarchy. In the West, which ignores and silences them; and in their own societies that stigmatise and exclude them both as rebels and as trespassers of their gender roles. The child soldier phenomenon is a complex one. Its gender dimension is only one aspect of the issue, but one that deserves much more attention than it gets now.

Movies like Beasts of No Nation, Blood Diamond and Johnny Mad Dog, with a large audience and good critiques, are missed opportunities to challenge a simplistic, essentialist and dangerous understanding of child soldiers.

They perpetuate many harmful ideas and are representative of the status quo on the place of women in war: none.  “Just as these films were made mostly by whites and thus show a white bias, so were they made mostly by men and show a male bias.”[18]

 

—–

[1] Understood as “any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used a fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes” (The Paris Principles, 2007).

[2] Blood Diamond, 2006. Directed by Edward Zwick.

[3] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg.

[4] Beasts of No Nation, 2015. Directed by Cary J. Fukunaga.

[5] Many do not identify with these two categories.

[6] Denov, 2010, p. 13.

[7] Keairns, 2002, p. 13; Annan et al., 2009, p. 9.

[8] West, 2005.

[9] Johnny Mad Dog, 2008. Directed by Jean-Sébastien Sauvaire.

[10] Dongala, E. (2002) Johnny Chién Méchant. Paris: Le Serpent à Plumes.

[11] Macdonald, 2008, p. 136.

[12] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc.

[13] Valder, 2014, p. 44.

[14] UN-led child-specific programmes whose goal is to facilitate their return to civilian life. NGOs often intervene and collaborate at different steps of the process (UNDDR Resource Centre).

[15] Taylor-Jones, 2016, p. 185.

[16] Coutler, 2009, p. 64.

[17] Girls and women forced to ‘marry’ within the rebel group.

[18] Cameron, 1994, p. 188.

Introducing UN Resolution 2272: preventing sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers

by Dr. Sarah Smith.

Barack_Obama_chairs_a_United_Nations_Security_Council_meeting

A United Nations Security Council meeting

Sexual exploitation and abuse committed by peacekeepers – and others attached to peacekeeping missions – against the populations they are mandated to protect has been a recurrent issue for the UN. Recognising this, in March 2016 the UN adopted its first Security Council resolution aimed at preventing sexual exploitation and abuse (given the acronym SEA) by those under UN mandate. The development and eventual adoption of this resolution took place in response to widespread reporting of allegations against peacekeepers, especially in the Central African Republic (CAR), as well as claims that peacekeepers continued to enjoy impunity despite evidence of a widespread problem. This resolution – Resolution 2272 – bodes well for accountability for SEA within the UN, something that has been blatantly absent previously. However, it is not a panacea and much will depend on whether and how the resolution is fully implemented in practice.

From the 1990s, monitors in peacekeeping missions began to problematise the sexual conduct of peacekeepers, highlighting among other things issues such as the proliferation of brothels and prostitution at peacekeeping sites, peacekeeper involvement in trafficking, and rape and sexual assault. The UN mission in Cambodia is an oft cited case, made infamous by the head of that mission who responded with ‘boys will be boys’ when Cambodians complained of the sexual misconduct of peacekeepers. Reports have also found that sexual misconduct is not limited to peacekeepers, but that humanitarian and aid workers, government and non-government organisation personnel, and private military contractors commit SEA as well. The Dyncorp scandal, popularised in the film The Whistle Blower, is perhaps the best-known example here. Each time new allegations surface, impunity and lack of accountability are cited as major obstacles for both preventing SEA in peacekeeping missions, and providing justice to those survivors who do report.

The UN mission in Cambodia is an oft cited case, made infamous by the head of that mission who responded with ‘boys will be boys’ when Cambodians complained of the sexual misconduct of peacekeepers.

Following a 2003 bulletin from the Secretary General, the UN instituted a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on peacekeeper SEA. Zero tolerance explicitly prohibited peacekeeper sexual relations with persons less than 18 years of age; exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex; and sexual relations between UN staff and beneficiaries of assistance. Yet the zero tolerance approach has had its challenges and has neither improved accountability nor reduced the number of allegations of SEA made against peacekeepers. Due to the extent of under-reporting by victims, and a culture of not reporting incidences of abuse among personnel, zero tolerance is really only effective in those cases that are identified. In turn, because of the legal framework set out by the Status of Forces Agreement (an agreement between the host government and the UN concerning the privileges, immunities and criminal accountability of UN personnel and peacekeepers), close cooperation between troop contributing countries, who are responsible for prosecuting their personnel, and the UN is required. Troop contributing countries have proven reluctant to prosecute those who return with allegations of SEA made against them. While the UN can make moral claims about the ideal performance of its personnel, it has often claimed that it lacks the mechanisms to respond appropriately or enforce accountability given its lack of jurisdiction over peacekeeper personnel.

UN_battalion_Bastille_Day_2008_n2

A multinational group of peacekeepers march at a Bastille Day parade in Paris.

While peacekeeper SEA has been a recurrent issue then, it reached another zenith in terms of public attention in 2015 and 2016. Attention focused on allegations of child abuse by peacekeepers in the CAR, and particularly on the failures of the UN to respond to these allegations. In April 2015, UN aid worker Anders Kompass was suspended for disclosing to French authorities reports of French troop involvement in the sexual abuse of children. While he was eventually exonerated and reinstated, Kompass announced his resignation in June 2016, citing impunity for those who were found to be abusing their authority and lack of accountability. As a result of consistent allegations though, and the public attention they were garnering, the UN established an inquiry into peacekeeper SEA in the CAR, the results of which are yet to be made public; however early reports indicate a widespread problem of sexual misconduct, including allegations of rape of minors and forced bestiality. In late-2015, the head of the mission in the CAR was forcibly resigned by UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, a move that perhaps presaged what may become an enforcement of accountability up the food chain for the crimes committed by peacekeepers.

Also in 2015, the NGO Aids Free World leaked an internal UN report that highlighted lack of enforcement of zero tolerance policy, lack of reporting and resultant impunity for peacekeepers who committed SEA. Paula Donavan, who co-founded the NGO, also established the Code Blue campaign to end immunity for peacekeeper SEA and cites the misapplication of the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities, via Status of Forces Agreements, as a major obstacle. The leaking of this report and the widespread reporting of allegations, especially in CAR, led the Security Council to consider a resolution aimed at preventing peacekeeper SEA.

As groundswell grew, a precursor to the adoption of Resolution 2272 was the Secretary General’s report on SEA released in March 2016, which, as well as noting that allegations had increased, for the first time listed the nationalities of those peacekeepers that had had allegations made against them. As part of previously instituted measures to respond to SEA, the Secretary General is obliged to report to the Security Council on the number of allegations for each mission and the status of investigations into those allegations. The listing of nationalities in the March 2016 report was a break from past practice: the long held claim that  ‘naming and shaming’ countries that contributed troops that went on to be accused of SEA would be reluctant to contribute troops in the future – not an insignificant concern given difficulties in raising numbers for peacekeeping missions. As the UN has frequently cited that accountability enforcement lies with troop contributing countries, the idea that naming and shaming those countries that do not act would force their hand is considered to be one tool in the UN’s arsenal for ensuring accountability. The reluctance to do this has been viewed as acquiescence to politics over and above the rights and needs of abuse survivors.

The reluctance to do this has been viewed as acquiescence to politics over and above the rights and needs of abuse survivors.

It is not surprising then that the UN has previously been criticised for an apathetic response to allegations of SEA. While the problem is by no means resolved, Resolution 2272 marks a new break, in some respects, from how peacekeeper SEA has been handled previously. It is the first time the Security Council has devoted a session to the issue of SEA, much less adopted a resolution devoted to preventing it. As well as reaffirming zero tolerance, it mandates for the repatriation of entire military contingents or police units with allegations made against them. This is a significant change, beyond a lackadaisical implementation of zero tolerance, signalling a preparedness to put prevention of SEA above the politics of the Security Council. Should repatriation of entire contingents occur, this would, in effect, be a ‘naming and shaming’ of those countries because the repatriation of entire units cannot be done discreetly. This makes the repatriation of entire units – when and if that occurs – a deeply political statement. The resolution notes that the primary responsibility of investigating allegations of peacekeeper SEA still lies with troop contributing countries, but in essence establishes a response mechanism – repatriation – if the actions of troop contributing countries are found wanting.

There are however, a couple of potential problems facing the implementation of Resolution 2272. First, is in defining what the resolution actually stipulates. As Kelly Neudorfer has pointed out, terms in the resolution – in particular the criteria of “systematic and widespread” and “credible allegations” – remain undefined: that is, what constitutes ‘widespread and systematic’ and what is considered a ‘credible allegation’? Furthermore, where is the tipping point that needs to be reached for the resolution, and thus repatriation, to be triggered? These as well leave aside the important question of whether repatriation of entire contingents will eventually occur, even if these triggers are both defined and met. Inherent in the sending home of whole contingents is a preparedness to name and shame countries whose peacekeepers abuse. Given how such processes can be politicised, it is important that the implementation of Resolution 2272 does not succumb to the same political machinations that have seen a deep reluctance to name and shame troop contributing countries take precedent over accountability for peacekeeper SEA.

Second, it is unclear whether the repatriation of entire units will lead to better justice outcomes for survivors, when and if repatriation does happen. Certainly there is an immediate effect of removing perpetrators from the environment in which they are committing abuses. However, in terms of broader justice outcomes for survivors, the repatriation process raises some questions, even if the opaqueness of the resolutions terms is set aside. In the past, individual perpetrators of SEA have been repatriated, quietly removed from peacekeeping sites. This has in effect contributed to the silence surrounding the issue, as the perpetrator is no longer accessible, to their accuser or to investigating units (both local and UN) that are under-resourced and/or unwilling to pursue the matter forcibly. Even if a worthy investigation is conducted, it rests with the troop contributing country to act on it, which has proven unlikely. Based on my research in Timor-Leste, the repatriation of individuals is actually associated with limited justice outcomes and continuing impunity for peacekeepers – it was a source of frustration that perpetrators would disappear, not to face justice in the country. No information on what happened to the accused was provided to victims once they were removed from the mission. To quietly remove an offender, where they are out of access of accusers, to a home country unwilling to prosecute, does little in terms of justice or real change in the institutional culture.

While the adoption of Resolution 2272 deserves credit where credit is due, there justifiably remain questions in terms of both its scope and implementation. These relate chiefly to the exact parameters of the resolution and what the terms therein mean, which in turn impacts when and how the resolution is implemented. At the very least, at an institutional level, the adoption of Resolution 2272 represents a rhetorical commitment, a break from past practice – some evidence of institutional steps towards improved transparency and accountability. The practice of Resolution 2272 will need to move beyond rhetoric though if the prevention – the stated aim of the resolution – and, ideally, improved justice outcomes for survivors, are to be met.

For more on this topic, read Sarah’s article in the Australian Journal of International Affairs.