The ‘War on Terror’ and Extremism: What is the Relevance of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda?

War on Terror Panel pic 1

On Thursday, March 3, 2016, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law hosted Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the Robina Chair in Law, Public Policy and Society at the University of Minnesota Law School, Professor of Law & Associate Director at Ulster University’s Transitional Justice Institute (Belfast), and Executive Editor of Just Security, as well as Nahla Valji, Deputy Chief of the Peace and Security section in UN Women’s headquarters in New York. CHRGJ Faculty Director, Philip Alston moderated the panel.

Throughout the evening, both speakers highlighted the growing attention paid by the international community, particularly the UN Security Council, to the increasing threat extremist violence poses towards international peace and security. Narrowing their focus on the consequences this has on women and girls, the speakers presented a more nuanced view of the role women themselves play in international peace and security as some take on the positive preventative or peace building role, while others adopt a more destructive role as supporters or even perpetrators of extreme violence.

While both speakers applauded efforts made by women’s organizations to advance the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda and acknowledged the fact that such visibility raises the profile of women’s voices, Ni Aoláin cautioned the dangerous prospects such attention brings forth. According to her argument, by making wartime rape more visible, greater focus is placed on penetrative sexual harm, which can make women only visible when raped. Such emphasis on rape can cause harm and can reinforce emphasis on cultural expectations of purity for women. Also given the new shift in focus from external conflicts to internal armed conflicts and thus the increasing focus on and terrorism/counterterrorism, Ni Aoláin argued that in the context of countering violent extremism, women and security were initially considered irrelevant and thus women became marginalized from dialogue. She expressed concern that engagement in the male dominated member state system could contribute to the ongoing marginalization of women’s issues, but with the legitimacy of invoking women’s rights and may lead to the commodification of women to multilateral state interests.

Valji recognized that while the criticisms set against newly adopted UN Resolutions–including United Nations Security Council Resolution 2242— are legitimate, it is equally important to recognize the gains broadly achieved through women’s engagement in Peace and Security. Accordingly, she argued the adoption of UNSC Res 2242 brings Women, Peace, and Security to the forefront not only because it places women into the discussions on issues of terrorism and counterterrorism, but also because it provides the space for them to engage on other security issues including refugees, internally displaced peoples, global health epidemics and the threat of climate change. Valji also noted contributions of women’s movements to bring forward core security issues alongside counterterrorism including: prevention, demilitarization, empowerment, equality and the rights agenda.