Dr Georgina Holmes, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Reading - Written Evidence (ZAF0046)



Executive summary

  1. Twenty years after the adoption of the landmark Security Council Resolution 1325, which acknowledges that armed conflict has a differential and disproportionate impact on women, the UK is playing a strategic role in international efforts to prevent and respond to Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) and is the penholder on Women Peace and Security (WPS) in the UN Security Council.
  2. The UK supports implementation of the UN’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa through its diplomatic, defence and development efforts, including the high profile Prevent Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI). However, the UK’s programming is fragmented and is not fully aligned to the African Union’s own WPS agenda, which is working towards establishing a cross-continental approach to the eradication of structural gendered inequalities and all forms of discrimination that underpin CRSV, while emphasising the critical role of African women as agents of change.
  3. This written evidence will consider how the UK’s Prevent Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) could better contribute to existing programming across the continent to prevent and respond to CRSV, with specific focus on peacekeeping.
  4. The new AU-UK Strategic Partnership (2019) provides an opportunity to strengthen PSVI efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa to support the AU’s African Peace and Security Architecture and the AU’s protection of civilians principles in peacekeeping. The UK’s diplomatic relations in the African Union should be leveraged, and the collation and sharing of good practice on preventing and responding to CRSV embedded in the UK’s in-country programming should be improved. There is an opportunity for the UK to lead on developing peacekeeping training to facilitate survivor-centric responses to CRSV, delivered by the British Peace Support Team (Africa). The UK’s support for the UN and AU’s women, peace and security agendas should not be lost during the COVID-19 the pandemic, which is expected to acerbate structural inequalities and gender insecurities in African conflict and post-conflict environments.


Context and background

  1. I conduct research into how African and British male and female uniformed peacekeepers are trained and prepared for deployment to peacekeeping missions and gender and security sector reform initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Reading, Co-Chair of the British International Studies Association’s Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Working Group and an academic advisor on WPS issues to the British Army training division.


  1. The UN defines Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) as ‘incidents or patterns of sexual violence that is rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity, against women, men, girls or boys. Such incidents or patterns occur in conflict or post-conflict settings or other situations of concern (e.g. political strife).’[1] CRSV is no longer considered an inevitable bi-product of war, but the continuum of violence resulting from structural gender inequalities and discrimination in societies that transition from peace into conflict and post-conflict situations. The devastating impact CRSV, including sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) committed by uniformed and civilian peacekeepers has on survivors is life-changing.
  2. UN Security Council 1325 and its related resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013), 2242 (2015) and 2467 (2019) acknowledge that women, men, girls and boys of all ages, sexuality, ability, religion, ethnicity and class are vulnerable to CRSV. While men of battle age are more likely to be killed, prevailing structural gender inequalities render women and children more vulnerable to CRSV and more likely to experience domestic violence and gender insecurities in the aftermath of conflict. CRSV is determined by conflict-specific drivers and characteristics and may be strategic or opportunist, though in most conflicts both forms occur. In north-Nigeria, sexual violence sustains Boko Harem’s political economy of terrorism, is used to disrupt social networks, illicit information and recruit fighters. Women and girls have been abducted for sexual slavery, enforced marriage, to carry weapons and person-borne improvised explosive devices and used as child soldiers. Nigerian military officers engaged in counter-insurgency efforts in the region have perpetuated opportunistic sexual violence.[2] Country-level political and socio-economic factors influence women’s participation in conflicts on the continent. In Mali, where there is a very transient population, women operate as informants and some engage in criminal networks including human trafficking and smuggling. This has also been observed in Somali and South Sudan. Women survivors of CRSV may join non-state armed groups for a combination of reasons including protection, economic security and political activism.


African women as agents of change

  1. Women across the African continent have been at the forefront of campaigning to prevent and end CRSV and establish peace for over five decades, building on their long history of political activism spanning colonial and postcolonial eras. African women have been the driving force in developing cross-continental and sub-regional initiatives to end structural gender inequalities and empower women. At the local level women mobilise in the absence of external support to create grassroot initiatives ranging from providing financial, medical, psychological and legal support to survivors of CRSV, to evidence gathering for judicial cases, campaigning for legal reform and developing campaigns to end social stigma against survivors. In remote areas of eastern DRC, women have created liaison assistant networks and community alert networks to ensure first responders are on hand in isolated communities. These networks engage with larger NGOs in the capital Kinshasa for additional support. At the international level, African women’s experiences of and responses to intra-state wars in the 1990s and their mobilisation through cross-continental organisations (e.g. Femme Africa Solidarité and the African Women’s Committee on Peace and Development) shaped the United Nation’s Women, Peace and Security agenda as well the AU’s African Peace and Security Architecture.[3] In this sense, the AU’s approach is historically more survivor-centric than the UN’s.
  2. Uniformed African women are deploying to UN and African Union peacekeeping operations in large numbers, but their representation is still low in comparison to the numbers of African men deployed. South African Hester Paneras became the first female Police Commissioner in UNAMID in 2012. The UN’s Senior Women’s talent pipeline, established in 2017, is helping to increase women’s participation in peacekeeping. However, African women’s representation in senior leadership and middle management is still low. With some exceptions, women are poorly represented in senior ranks within African security forces and in African militaries in particular despite higher representation of women in African parliaments. In Rwanda women represent 64 percent of Parliamentarians, but only around 4 percent of the Rwanda Defence Force, and 22 percent of the National Police Force. The slow pace of change within African security institutions restricts women’s opportunities to act as agents of changes at the strategic level in UN and AU peace operations.
  3.         There is a prevailing assumption that African female peacekeepers are better able to build rapport with local communities in host countries than their white, western counterparts. In this sense, African women’s ‘Africanness’ and gender are an exploited resource. As a result, African women’s primary contribution to peacekeeping operations is limited to tactical-level community engagements with local populations, assisting survivors of CRSV, low-level intelligence gathering, and functioning as African role models for women in host countries.
  4.         My own research in Rwanda, Ghana and UK has shown that tactical-level female military peacekeepers require more training on how to support survivors of CRSV. Peacekeepers are taught processes and procedures, but not the soft skills required to support survivors of CRSV over a sustained period of time. In pre-deployment training, the gendered needs of male survivors of CRSV are often brushed over or ignored altogether. Military leaders and trainers assume that female peacekeepers naturally know how to respond to local women’s needs by dint of being the same sex. In Rwanda, female military personnel wrongly assumed they would be good at providing victim assistance because of their country’s own history of CRSV. This points to the requirement to develop training that draws on the experiences of male and female survivors of CRSV, as well as peacekeepers to better understand what support survivors need at each stage of the engagement cycle.[4]


International and regional efforts to prevent and respond to CRSV


The United Nations

  1.         In matters related to peacekeeping, the UN has a comprehensive framework to address CRSV. Security Council resolution (SCR) 1960 calls for the Secretary General to establish monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements (MARA) for CRSV and in accordance with SCR 1888 (2009), a dedicated core capacity is deployed to all peacekeeping operations. All UN/African Union peacekeeping missions have strong protection of civilians (POC) mandates and will typically include representation from UN Women, UNICEF, UNHCR, UN OCHA, UN Action and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Senior Women's Protection Advisor (SWPA) oversees a range of functions, including Monitoring and verifying incidents of CRSV; mainstreaming CRSV in the mission’s planning processes and policies and supporting to the host Government and civil society to address CRSV and strengthen national ownership. Senior Protection Advisors are deployed to five peacekeeping missions in Sub-Saharan Africa: MINUSCA, MINUSMA, MONUSCO, UNAMID and UNMISS.
  2.         Despite the continued strengthening of the UN’s normative framework, divisions within the Security Council threaten to undermine the WPS agenda, as when the US pushed back on including important language on provisions on sexual and reproductive health rights of survivors of CRSV in UNSCR 2467 (2019). A forthcoming Security Council report Women, Peace and Security: The Agenda at 20 recommends that the Council refocus attention on implementation to ensure women’s experiences and perspectives are reflected in peacekeeping and conflict prevention policy’.[5] Funding of peace operations on the continent continues to be a source of tension between the Security Council and the African Union. AU members argue that an African approach to peacekeeping provides added value on matters related to protection principles. Both Councils need to strengthen their partnership to address specific conflicts in Africa.


The African Union

  1.         The AU’s African Peace and Security Architecture sets out how member states prevent and respond to prevent CRSV. Article 4L of the Constitutive Act provides the legal framework for gender issues and the principle for gender equality in Africa and several instruments strengthen this legal framework, including the Maputo Protocol (2003) and the Kampala Convention (2009). The most instructive instrument is the Maputo Protocol, which commits member states to adopt legislation on gender equality, including in the security sector. However, in 2019 only 40 states had signed the protocol and less than 20 has ratified it, demonstrating a willingness of heads of government to sign up to conventions, but a reluctance to ratify them in their domestic law. Overall, implementation of the AU’s legal framework is a challenge, as is its enforcement across the continent.
  2.         In peacekeeping, the AU ascribes to all UN’s guidelines and legislation, which are included in AU peace operation mandates. The AU is currently developing its compliance framework but the pace is slow and the work has been devolved to junior staff. The draft Peace Support Operations (PSO) doctrine also references Protection of Civilian issues including CRSV and emphasises the need for African troop contributing member states to develop 1325 National Action Plans. There is broad agreement with the AU doctrine by staff members, Regional Economic Communities and member states and it has gone through the AU’s Specialized Technical Committee on Defence, Safety and Security Committee (STCDSS). Although still under review, it is anticipated that these provisions will be included in the final agreed version.
  3.         The AU has a zero-tolerance policy on SEA and a robust set of standards for conduct and discipline which are referred to in the AU’s draft Peace Operations Support (PSO) doctrine. The top ten African troop contributing member states take enforcement of zero tolerance on SEA seriously and understand the nature of the problem, as Congolese withdrawal of 630 troops from Central African Republic in 2017 and Ghana’s investigation of police peacekeepers accused in UNMISS in 2018 demonstrate. However, the AU has limited resource to conduct investigations on SEA accusations, and how investigations are carried out by the AU needs to be more transparent.
  4.         Peacekeeping training is regarded as important arena for implementing UN and AU WPS objectives. Across the continent there is momentum to incorporate some gender training, though mainly only focusing on awareness-raising around CRSV and SEA prevention in pre-deployment training programmes run by troop contributing militaries and police services, and standards vary.


Bilateral partnerships

  1.         Nation states are responsible for implementing the UN and AU’s WPS agendas and international support across the continent is mainly undertaken at the bilateral level. Bilateral programming is determined by resources available and is often very targeted, time specific and driven by the agendas of funders, resulting in fragmentation. For example, peacekeeper training and military education programmes funded by bilateral partners, e.g. the US, Canada, Turkey and the UK are taught in different languages, and definitions of gender and human rights vary between providers, which has implications for multicultural working to prevent and respond to CRSV in UN/AU missions.


UK’s PSVI programming in Africa

  1.         The Prevent Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative is a high-profile, cross-governmental initiative established in 2012 under the leadership of William (now Lord) Hague. The PSVI is led by the Gender Unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Projects are delivered by the FCO, Department for International Development (DFID) and Ministry of Defence. DFID contributes via its extensive programming on violence against women and girls (VAWG), established in 2010. Following the Oxfam scandal in 2018, DFID has produced guidance and protocols on preventing staff employed by DFID partners from committing SEA. A recent independent report criticised the PSVI for failing to be survivor-centric.[6] The Gender Unit maintains they do champion a survivor-centric approach but have been held back by a substantial reduction in budget (from £15m in 2014-15 to just below £2m in 2018-19); short-term funding cycles and human resource constraints. This follows the redirection of resources within the FCO to Brexit. Planned work, including a second international conference on strengthening justice for survivors scheduled for November 2019, was put on hold because of the UK’s General Election in December 2019 and has since been further delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2.         The FCO PSVI team uses the UK’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2018-2022) as a policy tool. Five of the nine ‘focus countries’ identified in the NAP are African: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Libya, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. However, it is a challenge to map and assess PSVI work in Sub-Saharan Africa because programmes delivered by in-country teams do not work to an overarching PSVI strategy, and definitions of what constitutes PSVI work vary. In-country teams bid directly for budgets from the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and the Global Britain Fund. In 2018/19, the FCO team deployed the UN Team of Experts across Africa to strengthen collection of evidence for cases of conflict-related sexual violence, and provided training on the International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict to faith leaders in Uganda. Programming in the DRC has been more extensive and focused on restorative justice and ending stigma for survivors. In 2019, the Gender Unit deployed a Regional Gender Advisor to Nairobi to work on implementing NAP priorities within East Africa. Due to staff shortages, the current incumbent was temporarily redeployed to another embassy and work has been stalled.
  3.         The UK government has provided £1.3 million to support the Canadian Elsie Initiative, which is currently assessing barriers to uniformed women’s integration in peacekeeping. The UK established the Chief of Defence Staff Network in 2017 to encourage senior military leaders to integrate gender perspectives and promote the role of women in armed forces and peacekeeping. Leadership of this network was handed over to the Canadians in 2019. More innovative programming has been delivered by in-country teams, though much of this work is dependent on the personalities within British embassies. For example, in 2019 the British Embassy in Somalia funded the Somali National Armed Forces to partake in in-mission gender-sensitive human security training provided for UNSOM peacekeepers. The co-training scheme also improved partnership working.
  4.         The MOD oversees the British Peace Support Team (Africa), an integrated team engaged in building continental capacity for UN/AU Peace Support Operations in Africa. Based in Kenya and funded jointly by the MOD and the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund, BPST(A) delivers training for partner nations and troop contributing countries, including troops deploying to UNSOM. Since 2019, BPST(A) has delivered specialist training to 272 people from countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda and supported the delivery of human security training (incorporating CRSV and SEA) through modules on other training packages, resulting in over 3,000 people representing 26 different African countries being exposed to awareness-level training. These statistics are impressive. Yet monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of training packages is a challenge and BPST(A) does not follow up on how their training is implemented in practice in UN/AU missions or once trainees returned to their TCC. BPST(A) maintains that all pre-deployment training incorporates a gendered approach. However, only one junior-level, locally employed civilian trainer is responsible for its design and delivery. A perception is held that BPST(A) provides ‘jobs for the boys’ – i.e. British soldiers on short term deployments to Kenyaand integrating gender sensitivity into training is not seen as a major priority, but more of a tick-box exercise.



  1.         The UK can no longer provide support to the African Union via the EU. However, the new AU-UK Strategic Partnership (2019) provides an opportunity to strengthen the UK’s PSVI by working more closely with the African Union to deliver survivor-centric programming that is aligned to the AU WPS objectives of the African Peace and Security Architecture and Agenda 63, the blueprint for trade and development across the continent. To do this, the PSVI team should engage more with the UK’s Ambassador to the AU. From this, the UK could develop a more comprehensive PSVI strategy for the continent.
  2.         The PSVI team should improve collating and disseminating good practice on preventing and responding to CRSV developed or funded by in-country teams. The UK should also utilise existing in-country networks and relationships, as well as the UK’s diplomatic presence in the AU to encourage more African nations to join the Chief of Defence Staff network, and to promote the value of gender and Security Sector Reform and integrating women into peacekeeping at all decision-making levels.
  3.         The UK should take advantage of the British Peace Support Team (Africa) to become a leader in capacity building on monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements (MARA) for CRSV in UN-AU peace support operations at strategic, tactical and operational levels. This could involve working with CRSV survivor groups and female and male peacekeepers to produce gender-sensitive human security training (incorporating engagement and communication) to ensure uniformed peacekeepers are better equipped to assist and respond to female and male survivors of CRSV. To achieve this, more resource within BPST(A) would be required.


Received 27 April 2020




[1] United Nations, 2020. ‘Conflict Related Sexual Violence’. https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/conflict-related-sexual-violence, accessed 27 March 2020.

[2] United Nations, 2019. ‘Conflict Related Sexual Violence: Report of the United Nations Secretary-General’, p.6.

[3] Toni Haastrup. 2019. ‘WPS and the African Union’, The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace and Security, edited by Sara E. Davies and Jacqui True (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

[4] Holmes, Georgina. ‘Situating Agency, Embodied Practices and Norm Implementation in Peacekeeping Training’, International Peacekeeping, 26:1 (January 2019), pp: 55-84.

[5] United Nations. 2020. ‘United Nations Security Council Report: Monthly Forecast April 2020’, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/, accessed 20 April 2020.

[6] Independent Commission for Aid Impact. 2020. ‘The UK's Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative’. https://icai.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-UKs-preventing-sexual-violence-in-conflict-initiative.pdf, accessed 27 March 2020.