East Congo more dangerous for women than soldiers

It's been a long time since wars and armed conflicts were played out on battlefields between two military forces, following a formal declaration if war. Modern conflicts can blow up anywhere, and have an effect on the entire population. For this reason 80 percent of all victims of way today are civilians, and those in most danger are women and children.

Charlotte Isaksson is special adviser to the Armed Forces on gender issues.

It has always been difficult to elicit the views and opinions of women since male soldiers have dealings only with the men of the local population, which makes gauging the security needs of all groups in society problematic
"When only 48 percent of the population are asked, you can't see the whole picture. An incomplete, possibly erroneous, perspective on security can be the result. We don't then see that security concerns differ for men and women, for example women are safer on the move than they are in many camps", explains Charlotte Isaksson, adviser on gender issues to the Armed Forces.

Minimise vulnerability

The United Nations resolution 1325 was passed in a bid in to counteract the vulnerability that women especially feel in situations of war and combat. The resolution asserts that women's full participation in conflict prevention, crisis management, conflict resolution, peace building and responses to humanitarian catastrophes contributes to democracy, increased respect for human rights and development.
UN resolution 1325 was adopted on the 31 October 2000 and is legally binding on all ratifying states. Sweden was, in June 2006, one of the first countries to acquire a national action plan for the implementation of resolution 1325. This plan is currently being put into action at national, regional and global levels.

Legally binding

The UN resolution is a basis for dealing with gender issues, and makes a positive contribution to our work in international operations in many ways. Charlotte Isaksson explains that it works in both strengthening and motivating women, as well as in enabling well-functioning channels of information from women's organisations.
1325 is incredibly important. The resolution is legally binding for states and stipulates a code of conduct for our overseas forces. It tells us that we should contribute to advances for women; and it is a first step on the path to the strengthening of women's rights in the future. The new policies for our activities are very clear in establishing that women's situations in a crisis can never be assumed to be the same as those of men.

Women in greater danger

Charlotte Isaksson informs us that women are today in greater danger in eastern Congo than soldiers, and that the particular situation of women is seldom considered by those working on security issues.
A thorough analysis of the security situation from the perspective of women is required if light is to be cast on women's particular concerns - those factors which have an effect on women's safety, freedom and feelings of security
The legally binding UN resolution 1325 stipulates guidelines for the treatment of women's issues as regards international military operations.
"In order to get away from the often misleading picture that is provided by men, 1325 clearly states: in a conflict zone the security needs of women can never be assumed to be identical to those of men."

Taking action

As a result of work done on issues of gender and sex equality, as well as the operational implementation of resolution 1325, the Swedish Armed Forces received an invitation from Harvard University. Charlotte Isaksson chose to describe how the Armed Forces had left the stage of pure theory and had started to apply a gender perspective to practical operations, putting the theory into practice.
"We have long taken a leading position among the various Armed Forces of the world as regards working with issues of sex equality in our organisation, and recently with a particular focus on the conduct of our military operations. As a direct result of joint operations with Sweden, and of regular discussions at the highest level, Germany is now, for the first time, to institute a position of gender adviser, who will work together with their equivalent of our director of operations."
Sweden is unique as regards how well integrated the sex equality agenda is in the ordinary organisation.

By Felix Björklund
Photo by Niklas Ehlén, Försvarets Bildbyrå