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Procedure : 2005/2215(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0159/2006

Texts tabled :

A6-0159/2006

Debates :

PV 01/06/2006 - 5
CRE 01/06/2006 - 5

Votes :

PV 01/06/2006 - 7.18
CRE 01/06/2006 - 7.18
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2006)0245

Debates
Thursday, 1 June 2006 - Brussels OJ edition

5. Women in armed conflicts and their role in post-conflict reconstruction (debate)
PV
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  President. The next item is the report (A6-0159/2006) by Mrs De Keyser, on behalf of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, on the situation of women in armed conflicts and their role in reconstruction and the democratic process in post-conflict countries [2005/2215(INI)].

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser (PSE), rapporteur. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, this report on women in armed conflicts and reconstruction is based on three vital documents: United Nations resolution 1325 from 2000, Mrs Theorin's report to the European Parliament on the same issue in 2000 and, finally, the shocking report by Mrs Rehn and Mrs Sirleaf, now President of Liberia, also on the same subject.

What has happened since those reports were published? Well, now in 2006 everything still remains to be done, and in my report I wanted to shed light on three aspects of this. The first is that of women as victims of conflict. I must say that, in this field, which has already been widely discussed, the situation is absolutely unacceptable. Today, women are still being raped, because rape is an instrument of warfare. Today, women are still having their vaginas torn apart with bayonets. Today, ladies and gentlemen, living babies are still being torn from their mothers' wombs. Today in the displaced persons' camps, the sexual exploitation of women and children is still, whilst not permitted, common practice, including by the peace-keeping forces and members of the diplomatic corps. It is unbearable!

The second aspect I wanted to raise is that of women as vehicles of peace. Indeed, in situations of chaos throughout the world, there are brave women demanding justice, holding out their hand to the aggressors and saying 'we women want peace'. We must protect these associations, we must promote them, and we must allow these women of peace, once they reach the negotiating table, to have an equal part and to play a decisive role in the construction of democracy. We at least owe them that.

The third aspect is even more sensitive, because women are not only vehicles of peace, but also – alas – vehicles of war; the American servicewoman in the Abu Ghraib prison is a terrible example of that. So, women can be cruel, and I wanted to focus on the very sensitive subject of female suicide bombers. It is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing one. In Chechnya, 50% of women are suicide bombers, and in Palestine we have witnessed the appearance of a wave of female suicide bombers. What is causing this? We must analyse it in Parliament, we must undertake a study, and we must hold a conference, but we already know that there are three intermingled factors.

Firstly, it is true that there is a warped reading of the great religion of Islam: it is in fundamentalist countries that this happens. The second aspect is resistance, in situations of conflict that violate international law every day: a resistance which we must understand, whilst still rejecting it and condemning the fact that it kills innocent victims. The third factor is related to societies in which women are culturally isolated, or sometimes are even exiled from their villages because they have been raped. That is where we will find female suicide bombers – among women who are already the victims of society. I therefore call on the Commission and Parliament to look into this problem.

What can we do now about all this? Everything still remains to be done. Everything has been said and all the measures have been laid down, but what we now need to do is apply them. We do need to set up better reproductive health services, but that is not the main focus of this report. In all of our financial instruments, in all of our programmes – the stability instrument, the neighbourhood policy – and through our action plans, we must implement measures in which the issue of gender and the dignity of women is taken into account. We must also train our peace-keeping forces, now that we have them, to ensure that they, too, respect the rights of women, that they are sensitive and that they also include women in their midst.

In this enormous shambles, there is both cause for hope – in the form of the women of peace – and cause for concern. We have a lot on our plate, and I am grateful to all my colleagues in the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality for the way they have risen above ideological debates to say 'we agree with this report'. For my part, I will respect everything adopted in the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality and I should also like to thank the chairman of that committee, Mrs Záborská, who is not here today but who sent me a brief note this morning.

It has to be said: we women will rise above partisan politics in this field. Thank you in advance for your support.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, Mrs De Keyser, ladies and gentlemen,

first of all, I should like to thank the House very much for this important debate and the important report. The report mentions women as victims, women as instruments of war and women as instruments of peace. Indeed, we also see the three trends that are there, and I agree with you that all the legal instruments are already there, but very often what is necessary is much better implementation. We will all have to work towards that goal and I will promise to try to make a difference at least in the regions where I am responsible.

We are fully committed to implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of October 2000, on women, peace and security, where indeed all these issues mentioned. Your report also addresses the question of women in conflicts and as peace-builders from many different angles. I very much support this approach because women cannot only be seen as victims. Very often they are key players in promoting peace.

For instance, in Palestine and Israel we see that women are coming together and they are those in the society that would like to go forward with peacemaking. The female suicide bomber is a striking example of the complexity of this issues, and a phenomenon that deserves further study. And as you said, very often it involves women who are somewhat isolated by their own societies and then, of course, who do not have any other chance, do not care for their lives anymore and then become suicide bombers.

The Commission’s two-pronged approach to promoting gender equality abroad is also well reflected in the report. First, we take on board gender concerns in all policies and programmes – so, there is a sort of mainstreaming. Secondly, we also fund specific projects to promote women. I am convinced this approach will remain valid in the future. Both mainstreaming and specific actions will continue to be necessary, but it is also about changing the societies there. It is about changing the mentality of the societies, as you very rightly said.

Mainstreaming is important because peace-building comprises this broad range of areas. These include peace negotiations, peacekeeping operations, demobilisation, disarmament, reintegration and rehabilitation. There, women always have their role – whether they are mothers, sisters, etc., women are there in the society and they see what is going on.

Also very important are election observation missions, security sector reform, institution-building and, particularly, strengthening of civil society. We have also training programmes that can perhaps be enhanced in the future, where more than 800 Commission officials and other staff are involved in channelling the implementation of those programmes.

Another example related to capacity-building, which is highly important here, is that we are supporting training in the area of crisis management, intended for Member State experts deployed in that field. Promoting gender equality in crisis management and conflict resolution is an integral part of this whole training. Gender aspects are there.

When I say that supporting civil society organisations plays a key role, I think this is very true for instance for women in Bosnia and Kosovo, but also for training women in conflict resolution in Rwanda or Burundi and strengthening women’s active participation in peace processes around the world, such as for instance in Georgia and Colombia. Through ECHO, our humanitarian programme, we are also supporting several projects focusing on women in affected areas like Afghanistan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This year, within our European Initiative on Democracy and Human Rights, we are also focusing on issues such as equal treatment, women who are victims of gender-based violence in conflict zones, and the trafficking of women and children. So, there is quite an impressive amount of project proposals that are there. In total EUR 9.7 million are available for this campaign from the 2005 budget and this year’s budget.

In addition, this year we will also be putting increased emphasis on gender in conflict prevention network funding. Here we have to encourage civil society, think-thanks and academia to provide external analytical experience. Then we have to see how we can implement that.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Feleknas Uca (GUE/NGL), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Development. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank Mrs De Keyser for her report, which contains much that is important and that I can unreservedly endorse, particularly the demands she makes in the field of reproductive health. If United Nations Resolution 1325 were to be consistently implemented, it would amount to a gigantic step forward in terms of women’s participation at every level of the institutions engaged in preventing, overcoming and resolving conflicts, yet it is a disgrace that there is still, apparently, a need for quotas in order to guarantee six and a half billion people around the world equal rights.

Women suicide bombers are a relatively new phenomenon and one that calls for expert analysis and special aid programmes. The religious context must not be allowed to conceal the fact that religion is here being perverted for political ends. I do not believe that a more substantial military presence – not even one consisting of women soldiers and police officers – would make for greater security.

Speaking as draftsman of the Committee on Development’s opinion, I have to say that I, instead, see the best possibility of long-term stability and security being established through reinforcement of the civil society actors. It is absolutely vital that political dialogue should take precedence; in time of conflict, women must be offered more protection and better access to food and health care, and security in refugee camps also plays a major part in this, for the conditions in the regions of under-developed countries hit by conflict are catastrophic. More soldiers – and I want to emphasise again that whether they are male or female, hostile or members of the so-called peacekeeping forces, is irrelevant – do nothing to bring more security; on the contrary, they make it more likely that women will become the victims of sexual violence.

 
  
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  Edit Bauer, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (HU) Mr President, firstly I would like to thank Mrs De Keyser for her excellent cooperation.

The report drafted by Mrs De Keyser on the role of women in armed conflicts goes beyond the prevailing public opinion stereotypes. It is a fact that in armed conflicts, the majority of women are passive sufferers and often victims. They are more vulnerable; they are those who save the children, as well as those who often become victims of violence. However, the situation is changing rapidly and substantially, because women today are part of the armed forces and are present in the peacekeeping forces; they are also present on the side of those who commit violence, as stated in the report.

The rapporteur can clearly see that women are no better and no worse than men, and they do not necessarily take a greater part in creating peace and democracy than men. Obviously, they usually have fewer opportunities to do this. A definite positive point of the report is that it avoids the simplification that comes to mind straight away, because it is indisputable that due to their biological characteristics, women view the value of life differently.

The report is trying to find out, bearing in mind European values, what women could do to prevent conflict and restore peace. It does not only call attention to the fact that the role of women has changed, but also to the fact that – and I would like to place special emphasis on this – mass rape has become an instrument of war, and I can only support the proposal that mass rape should be treated as a war crime and punished efficiently. This may help reduce this horrendously inhuman and humiliating type of violence, the seriousness of which can only be compared to genocide.

Experience has shown that when armed conflicts are over, the high level of violence persists, directed against the weak, women, children and elderly. Therefore, we cannot underestimate the need for women to be present in larger numbers in peacemaking, diplomacy and the police force, to ensure that victims are given appropriate attention and help, and perhaps, ultimately, to reduce the number of victims. Once more, I thank the rapporteur for this extremely good report.

 
  
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  Lissy Gröner, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, actions speak louder than words, and I want to thank Mrs De Keyser most warmly for her very compact report, which considers every angle, not least the imbalance of power between women and men as the cause of many conflicts.

While we see women as both perpetrators and victims, we also see solutions, and it is most important that we should recognise that women are often among the first victims of conflicts between states or within them, since they are among the weakest members of society, yet, paradoxically, they find themselves playing the role of the strongest in coping with conflict situations. It was women searching through the rubble of a Germany devastated after the Second World War who were the driving force behind that country’s reconstruction, and yet they were, true to form, again excluded from political responsibility.

Wherever in the world there is war, the norm is that women become the victims of sexual violence. In countries such as Iraq and Palestine, they are excluded from assuming political responsibility; in the conflict in Sudan, sexual violence is getting out of hand.

For social democrats such as ourselves, then, it is for this reason that the participation of women, through gender mainstreaming, in all missions, as described in UN Resolution 1325, is so enormously important. We want them to have an equal say in all areas of diplomatic policy even before conflicts set in.

It is an unfortunate fact, Commissioner, that only three EU missions around the world are headed up by women. Our group is continuing to work on this issue, and we will be using the Gomes report to pursue at greater depth in the diplomatic field, an issue that is of enormous importance for us as a group. We have been addressing the issues of reproductive health, of suicide bombings, and of anti-personnel mines, from the after-effects of which women and children continue to suffer.

What we can be sure of is that this report shows us not only that women are per se better people, but we want to get actively involved in playing our part, we want to play it ourselves, and this is where Europe must lead the way.

 
  
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  Raül Romeva i Rueda, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (ES) Mr President, I agree that this report is of two-fold importance: on the one hand, it stresses the huge and serious situation suffered by women as victims in armed conflicts, while, on the other, it indicates very positively the fundamental – and often exclusive – role that women can play in peace processes and in post-war reconstruction.

In fact, this report – on which I congratulate the rapporteur, and I would also like to congratulate her on the sensitivity she has shown in accepting many of our amendments – goes even further than what is laid down in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and the Bulletin of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on special measures for protection from exploitation and sexual violence.

For example, it points to the importance of access to reproductive health services, particularly in war and post-war situations and, especially, in refugee camps; it stresses the need to tackle violence against women; it demands that acts of sexual violence, such as rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, forced prostitution and forced sterilisation, amongst other practices, be treated as war crimes and crimes against humanity; and it calls for the women who are victims of these practices to be able to take their cases directly to international judicial bodies.

It is also necessary to stress the fundamental role played by women in peace-building processes and we are therefore calling upon the Commission and the Council, as well as the Member States involved in the management of conflicts, for greater sensitivity to the issue of guaranteeing the technical and financial assistance necessary to promote programmes to enable women to be actors with their own voices in those processes, as requested by groups of Kosovan women, for example, who are asking to be included in the negotiating delegation, whose current seven members are all men.

Furthermore, we are also asking for international missions, both civil and military, to take very good account of the gender approach in their actions on the ground and to impose harsh penalties on any participants in those missions who abuse their status and impunity to commit degrading acts and rapes on women and girls – something that we have unfortunately seen on several occasions.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Eva-Britt Svensson, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (SV) Mr President, in peace movements around the world, women often take the initiative and are in the majority. They have realised that bombs do not create peace. On the contrary, military violence gives rise to hatred and to demands for revenge, as well as producing suicide bombers. An escalation in military violence also involves untold acts of horrific cruelty against women and children, as is also shown by this report.

Through the peace movement, women have shown another and better way – one of conflict resolution and measures to bring about peace. I think that large parts of the report point to this other and better way, something for which I particularly thank the rapporteur.

However, paragraphs 14 to 20 indicate a risk of further militarisation. I therefore think that these paragraphs should be removed so that we obtain a report that goes down the route of peace shown by women, rather than the route of militarisation.

 
  
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  Urszula Krupa, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (PL) Mr President, as I have one minute to take the floor about the report on the situation of women in armed conflicts and their role in reconstruction and the democratisation process in post-conflict countries, I would like to point out that one of the conditions for the playing of a positive role in conflict resolution, and not only by women, is a high level of personal development, which makes it possible to work in the family and to promote the development of the family as well as bringing up children, but which also makes it possible to strive to achieve justice, security and respect for human dignity in other communities, all of which are of the utmost importance to the younger generation, which is particularly exposed to the trauma of armed conflicts. Furthermore, the role of women is especially justified because women, who protect life with their maternal instinct, are particularly predisposed to caring and to preventing conflict through their characteristics of kindness, selflessness, empathy and compassion with other people and their willingness to help them.

 
  
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  Amalia Sartori (PPE-DE).(IT) Mr President, I too am going to speak about this extremely sensitive issue, which has been addressed very intelligently and very thoroughly by Mrs De Keyser. I too will focus on three fundamental points that were highlighted in the report and which I would like to emphasise here.

The first point concerns the age-old evil of sexual violence at times of war. I believe there can only be one modern response to this age-old evil (we are all familiar with it and I shall not mention it again now): in a word, zero tolerance on the part of any society that considers itself a democracy, like our own.

The second point: zero tolerance means many things, including clamping down by punishing these crimes and not accepting excuses of any kind. The second point, in contrast, is more recent, and is the fact that women themselves are committing acts of violence. They may be doing that, again, partly as victims, as in the case of women suicide bombers, who once again are often being used, but it has to be recognised that there are cases where women, in the name of equality, have used violence just like anyone else. Here too, in such cases there should be no gender tolerance, so to speak.

There is a third fact that concerns me even more and which I should like to highlight more emphatically: their role is so important that there is even talk of quotas for women in all political and administrative spheres connected with matters of war. I should like to see them sitting at all tables where peace and reconstruction are discussed. I think that the presence of women in this area is what our world can offer in terms of modernity and democracy: a really new, contemporary contribution.

 
  
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  Pia Elda Locatelli (PSE).(IT) Mr President, I too congratulate the rapporteur on producing a really good report. I shall just deal with two points.

I should like to emphasise that the nature of conflicts has changed in recent years, and one of the most tragic changes that has occurred is the rise in sexual violence against women. This has happened because women are considered the bearers of cultural identity and, since sexual violence carries both a symbolic and a political message, it has been turned into a strategy of war.

Because of this new style of conflict, there are very few mechanisms to protect girls and women, and it is therefore vital to reinforce preventive measures, but preventive measures cannot be created from nothing. Practical steps need to be taken and thought out and implemented through an early warning and early response system. Sexual violence, rape and prostitution associated with the armed forces are indicators that warn of possible conflicts, as is a reduction in the participation of women in civil society and in political parties, as was seen in the case of Afghanistan.

First, then, I want to highlight the importance of this early warning system; secondly, it is essential for women to be included in all stages of the peace process, because they are not caught up in the traditional models of combative behaviour, or not to the same extent as men. That is what needs to be done, but it is not yet happening, and so we are calling for quotas to ensure that women take part in all peace negotiation processes.

 
  
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  Hiltrud Breyer (Verts/ALE).(DE) Mr President, sexual violence and torture meted out to women and girls are inseparable from any armed conflict, yet women and girls are far from being no more than victims. There are very many women’s initiatives working for dialogue, peace and reconciliation, and so women are taking an active role with great social potential, and one that the international community must do everything possible to support them in.

As I see it, the most important demand in Resolution 1325 is the one that reads: ‘there must be increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict’. This demand must be actively realised through concrete targets, in the shape, for example, of quotas. Time and time again, doing without quotas is an invitation to opt for the ‘take it or leave it’ approach, and strengthens the hand of those forces who, for whatever reasons, want to keep women out of the political process.

I would have liked to see the Commission drawing up quite concrete requirements for how this resolution should be implemented in the short and long terms. It is also quite essential that gender budgeting should be given an important part to play in humanitarian aid. My expectation, then, is that the Commission will come up with some really concrete measures as means of implementing this resolution in practical terms.

 
  
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  Godfrey Bloom (IND/DEM). – Mr President, I am very worried indeed about this report: it introduces the concept of positive discrimination. I have to say, as usual, that I have never heard so much nonsense talked in my life as I have today. Clearly, nobody here has any experience of the armed forces.

I spent a lot of time in the British Army and I am a member of the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces Committee. I can tell you that I have been at sea recently on board Her Majesty’s ships with women who are navigation officers, aviators, filling all sorts of very complex and senior roles within the British armed forces.

How would you feel if you were the captain of a ship and you have a navigating officer joining you who is a lieutenant commander and a female? Could you trust her or not? Is she there because she is good at her job, or is she there because she is part of a quota? Let us stop this silly nonsense from people with no experience of the armed forces at all!

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE).(FR) Mr President, I congratulate Mrs De Keyser in all sincerity on the commitment she has shown in the own-initiative report presented to Parliament. She has undertaken a methodical analysis both of the situation of women in armed conflicts and of their role in peace processes.

The courage shown by many women in the face of adversity gives the lie to the cliché that depicts women as the most vulnerable members of society in situations of armed conflict. Nonetheless, when war breaks out, women may be in great danger. Whilst some of these risks are common to the whole of their community, it is true that others are specifically related to the fact that they are women. Millions of women are suffering under the effects of the vicious cycle of poverty, discrimination and fanaticism, and they are often the ones who suffer the most from armed conflicts, particularly due to pre-existing inequalities between the sexes in terms of literacy, health and income. Discrimination against women is both the cause and the consequence of the hardships they suffer in times of war.

It is absolutely vital for humanitarian workers to bear that in mind and to work to ensure that women are directly consulted and closely involved in all the activities undertaken for their benefit, so that they and their children can fully exercise their right to human dignity and integrity. The voice of women is still not being heard at the peace negotiating tables, and their needs and interests are not being taken into consideration in peace treaties. The report demonstrates that, 10 years on, the actions mandated by the Beijing Platform have still had no effect. It is clear that the fate of women affected by war can only be improved if there is the political will to do so.

Commissioner, you have demonstrated this. The government and the international and regional institutions need to increase the participation of women in all the forums and activities related to peace at all levels, and we must not forget that training for prosecutors, judges and other people with responsibility must take account of the differences between the sexes.

 
  
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  Britta Thomsen (PSE). – (DA) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it is an important report that we are adopting today, and I am glad that the subject in question is now being focused on. I am particularly pleased about the emphasis now being placed on women as peacemakers. It is the weakest people who are the first victims of wars and other conflicts, namely women, children and the elderly. Women are exposed to horrifying acts of cruelty such as violence, rape and even worse things. Women must not be regarded only as victims, however. Women can make an important contribution to bringing about peace, reintegrating child soldiers and creating political dialogue between the warring parties. It is important that we secure adequate resources for projects in which women can play an active role in resolving conflicts. It is important that we bring about greater cooperation with local women’s organisations and that we insist on the need to integrate the gender aspect into peace research, conflict prevention and conflict resolution.

I should like to thank Mrs De Keyser for this important report and for the splendid work she has done, and I hope that the Commission will be receptive to the report and will straight away get some practical work under way that will improve the situation of women in armed conflicts.

 
  
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  Teresa Riera Madurell (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, I would like to thank the rapporteur for her work on an issue that is particularly sensitive, because armed conflicts affect women especially. The majority of refugees and displaced persons are women and children. It is women who are burdened with the needs of their families, facing more dangers than men, including the danger of being raped. This drama faced by women is common to all conflicts.

I would like to stress, however, that the decisions leading to such a situation were probably not taken by women, because there are practically no women in the places where decisions are taken on security policy or at negotiation tables.

Despite the recommendations of the Beijing Action Platform, despite Resolution 1325 of the United Nations Security Council, which recommends including women in all peace processes, and despite the fact that we women know a lot about giving, preserving and caring for life, about fighting courageously for subsistence, about negotiating and reaching agreements, it is a paradox that the majority of NGOs that play an active role in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction processes are made up of women, and we in the institutions must support them and help them, and we must take measures to increase the presence of women wherever decisions are made that affect our collective destiny, because furthermore, ladies and gentlemen, the absence of women indicates a democratic deficit.

 
  
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  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, first of all I should like to thank you, Mrs De Keyser, once again for this very comprehensive and very balanced report. The Commission's approach, which I have explained in detail, is also reflected in full in this report.

One key aspect that was widely acknowledged during the debate was education and training. It is a main focus of our approach and of the action plans in the Neighbourhood Policy. We need to train women: we need to train them so that they can play their role in society – a more political role, and a role within those forums that will ultimately result in peace negotiations. We are in the process of doing so, not only as part of the Neighbourhood Policy, but also, for example, in Latin America – as was discussed at the summit – and, in general, in the context of mainstreaming.

In this context, I would also point out that we are in the process of organising a Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference which will deal specifically with the following question: how can we improve the role of women in the societies in the region? In this regard, women themselves must be able to take on much more political roles. A preparatory meeting will be held in two weeks in Rabat.

With regard to prevention, I absolutely agree that women must benefit more from it. A realistic approach could consist in encouraging the parties negotiating peace to get many more women involved. It is a much more realistic approach than laying down quotas: it is not up to us to impose quotas, but we need to say to the parties involved that they also need to think of the other half of society, namely women. I absolutely agree that we need to examine this point in more detail and more depth.

Finally, in our new development strategy, we are going to put a greater emphasis on the issue of gender equality in development cooperation.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 11 a.m.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR TRAKATELLIS
Vice-President

 
Last updated: 13 September 2006Legal notice