8. März 2016

“Gender equality is the ideological frontline of this century.”

Interview with Pablo Castillo-Diaz by Sylvia Wittmer


Pablo Castillo-Diaz, Policy Specialist of UN Women, joined the UN system after completing his PhD and has been working on issues related to sexual and gender-based violence and peacekeeping for the past 7 years. UN Women recently coordinated the Global Study on the Implementation of Resolution 1325.


Why have you joined UN Women to work on sexual and gender-based violence?

To me, gender equality is the ideological frontline of this century, and I want to be a part of it. My studies were focused on international peace and security, and I was quickly inspired by the leading experts who were working on women, peace and security at the time, because they were speaking about war and peace in ways that I had never heard in the more traditional curriculum and that seemed to better reflect for all people –both men and women- in conflict situations. I was lucky to intern at the United Nations at the time when the issue of sexual violence in conflict was gaining recognition and the UN was stepping up its work in this area. 

Ursula von der Leyen was inaugurated as the first female defense minister in Germany in 2013 and one of the major discussions she initiated is to make the Bundeswehr more inclusive. Have you seen a similar shift on an international level and is Germany considered as sympathetic to your cause?

Most countries state that they are sympathetic to the agenda, but some invest more political and financial capital on it than others. Germany is one of more than fifty countries that have a national action plan on women, peace and security. We have certainly seen more women becoming defense ministers, but the increase of women’s representation in leadership positions in all spheres is moving at a very slow pace.

Why do you think member states choose to be supportive to this particular agenda?

One reason is that this is not just an advocacy agenda, but the UN has made it an established global norm, and one that articulates in the peace and security context what is already one of the UN’s cardinal values: gender equality. The insistent push of the global women’s movement and women’s organizations is hugely responsible for the visibility of this issue in places like the UN Security Council. But support does not equate with adequate implementation. Many actors who are in principle very supportive of women, peace and security do not always apply these principles in their day-to-day foreign policy. And as a percentage of official development assistance, the support provided to women, peace and security is very small. For example, only 2 percent of aid to peace and security interventions in fragile states and economies in 2012 and 2013 targeted gender equality as a principal objective, and only 130 million dollars out of almost 32 billion dollars of total aid went to women’s organizations.

But political support is even more important. The decisions that they make when they are brokering peace agreements make a huge different. Who do they appoint to mediate? Who do they consult with and meet with? What executive decisions do they make about the conduct of the negotiations they support? The more informal networks that sometimes make so-called backroom decisions are even more exclusionary of women and gender advocates, and are very heavily dominated by men.

Resolution 2242, the last resolution to be adopted on WPS, appears to be very focused on issues of counter-terrorism and internal UN structural reform. On what was this emphasis based and how do you ensure accountability? In what relationship do these priorities stand with the outcome of the Review of Resolution 1325?

The issue of counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism is very present in the news and policymaking discussions at the UN and elsewhere at the moment, and there is a deliberate effort by UN Women to integrate a gender perspective into a space that has been largely gender-blind until now and did not include gender equality in the crucial years at the beginning of the last decade.

The inclusion of the internal UN Structure issue is a response to inadequate implementation, weak accountability, but also to take into account new structures within the UN. For example, UN Women did not exist when 1325 was adopted and is still a young entity. Part of the mandate of UN Women is to hold the UN system accountable for implementation of gender equality commitments, including on women, peace and security. For example, the peacekeeping budget is approximately around 8.5 billion dollars, and yet we don’t know anything about how much of that is invested on protecting women’s rights or advancing gender equality. That’s something that we are working to change.

And we are still performing poorly on gender balance. Gender parity should have already been achieved and we really do suffer in terms of our legitimacy and our relevance because of it. It is hard to ask parties to the conflict “where are your women” when they can simply reply “where are yours.”

We hope that these Security Council resolutions can help change that. 2242 is by now the 8th resolution on this, and if all the previous ones had been implemented it wouldn’t have been necessary to adopt it. But they haven’t. These resolutions are binding global norms, but they are not written in a legally enforceable way, except for criminal issues like sexual and gender-based violence, which have been part of international criminal law for decades. Seven of these resolutions have been adopted in the last seven years, and even gender advocates wondered whether we were devaluing the currency of Security Council resolutions by issuing too many of them. But there is something about this process, and about governments having to report frequently to the Council on their actions on women, peace and security, that helps move the agenda forward. In that sense, there has been more progress in the last seven years than in the previous seven.

What are the major changes that would have the most impact on the ground that Germany could adopt in its foreign and security policy?

I think Germany would be a good candidate to ensure that there are more female military peacekeepers and military observers in peace operations missions. It is extremely limiting that our peacekeeping operations only have 3 % of women in the military component. For example, they could host every year an international course for female military officers from all over the world, like the one that UN Women has recently developed. However, in terms of things what would have a lot of impact on the ground, funding for women’s NGOs in conflict affected settings should be everyone’s priority. UN Women has established a new Global Acceleration Instrument to channel funds to these NGOs, and it would be great to partner with Germany on it.

Another issue that I’m particularly interested in and would make a huge difference on the ground has to do with abortion rights. Safe abortions are often not an option for these women and girls that have been raped in conflict situations, and this creates enormous problems for their lives. The overwhelming majority of the victims hide for weeks, they don’t tell anyone and then it is too late for post-exposure prophylaxis and for emergency contraception. Prompted by the excellent advocacy of many NGOs, what the European Parliament and several European governments are now saying is that, in the Geneva Conventions, the non-discriminatory nature of medical attention to war wounded should cover any treatment the victim of the sexual violence needs or wants, and this means abortion too. The Geneva Conventions don’t specify abortion, but they don’t mention other medical treatments either. If this is understood as part of international humanitarian law, this should have precedence over national legislation but also the policies of some donor countries, like the United States, where this issue has become tangled up with domestic debates over women’s reproductive rights but affect women in many of these conflict contexts.


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