Fiona Hodgson "Britain should be the champion of women and girls in war zones"

As part of CFID's recent Essay Collection, published with Save the Children, Baroness Fiona Hodgson sets out how the UK is uniquely placed to drive the agenda and champion women and girls in war zones. She argues that if we are serious about tackling the protection of civilians crisis and the prevalent impunity for atrocities, then we will need full support from across Government departments and must remember to listen to the needs of those women and girls we are seeking to help.

Britain should be the champion of women and girls in war zones

By Baroness Hodgson of Abinger

Armed conflict disproportionately affects women and children. In recent years conflict has changed, shifting from battlefields to populated areas in cities and towns. Thus, women and children are ever more vulnerable and according to Save the Children, today more than 350 million children live in conflict zones where they are at high risk of being sexually abused, killed, injured or recruited. That is one in six children.

However, it is not only the immediate impact of conflict, the breakdown of law and order has many other negative effects. Conflict causes rates of domestic violence to soar, so even if women are not caught up in conflict they are often being abused behind closed doors. In countries such as Afghanistan, it is estimated that almost 90% of women suffer from domestic violence. I attended a symposium in Kabul last year where I heard an Afghan psychologist talk about how the implications of the high levels of violence in the family detrimentally affect society and create a further challenge to achieving peace in the long term.

That is why through my work as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security, we have demonstrated that in order to successfully deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, we must put women and children at the heart of British development and foreign policy. The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, of which I am a member of the Steering Board, has addressed tackling sexual violence in armed conflict, which is today used as a weapon of war.

In Iraq, I saw first-hand the difficulties faced by women there and the high levels of sexual violence committed by Daesh against the Yazidis. The need for Daesh men to be held accountable for these crimes remains vital for delivering justice for women and girls, and for ending impunity.

Yet the crisis of accountability is a key theme in the protection of civilians. Attacks on civilians like the recent school bus attack in Yemen that killed 40 children, and the violence experienced by the Rohingya community last year that involved rape, murder and forced displacement, highlight the urgent need to end impunity for perpetrators and improve protection for civilians.

Despite the world’s progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, there is more work to be done to ensure that women and girls are better protected in conflict. The Government has a proud reputation of leading on civilian protection issues such as the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and its involvement in the global campaign to ban landmines.

As a NATO member, permanent member of the UN Security Council and the penholder on women, peace and security as well as the protection of civilians at the UN, Britain is uniquely placed to champion this agenda globally. The Government’s renewed focus on the international rules-based order is welcome and provides an opportunity to embed this agenda at the heart of Global Britain.

Britain is already a world-leader in responding to crises. Our aid makes a difference for millions of children and their families around the world, helping save lives and boost our global influence at the same time. However, there is more Britain can do to lead the work in championing the protection of women and children, and help put an end to the abuse, exploitation and impunity that so many face today.

The first step is to update the Government’s strategy on protection of civilians which the UK Permanent Representative, Karen Pierce, recently announced at the start of the UK Presidency of the Security Council in August. This was also a recommendation in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s recently published report on Global Britain and humanitarian intervention.

A joined up cross-government strategy that brings together the skills and expertise across the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence is essential. If we are serious about tackling the protection of civilians crisis and the prevalent impunity for atrocities, then we will need full support from across Government.

Above all, we need to ensure that women and girls in crisis situations are communicated with, listened to and their needs addressed. Too often in the past they have been ignored. It is essential that women are included in peace processes – without their voices being heard there will not be peace and security for all. We have come a long way but there is still a long way to go. I hope that Global Britain will continue to play a leading role in driving forward progress on protecting women and children in conflict.