Syrian Women Know How to Defeat ISIS

Originally posted on TIME:

To the Islamic State, Syrian women are slaves. To much of the rest of the world, they are victims.

It’s time we expose their real identity: an untapped resource for creating lasting peace. Listening to and implementing the ideas of women still living in Syria is key to weakening ISIS and stabilizing the region at large because, in many ways, they have a better track record laying the foundations for peace and democracy than any other group.

Over the last two years, we’ve worked side-by-side with Syrian women leaders as they propose concrete steps to end the war. Most recently, we brought several women representing large civil society networks to Washington, D.C., where they cautioned against the current approach of the international community – and proposed a very different blueprint for the region’s future.

More arms and more bombs, they said, are not the answer.

They insisted that the…

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Women in Scottish Politics: Travelling the Distance

Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

The announcement last week of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership bid to replace Alex Salmond heralds an important turning point in Scottish politics: for the first time ever, three of the main Scottish parties will be led by women, and Scotland will have a female first minister. It also comes on the heels of a two-year long independence referendum debate which, after an unpromising start marked by elite pacting and all-male platforms, ended on a more inclusive note, engaging strong women campaigners and activists from across the political spectrum.

As Sturgeon herself noted, her candidacy sends a ‘strong message to every girl and young woman in Scotland’ that ‘there is no glass ceiling on ambition.’ Yet, while this ground-breaking moment should be celebrated, there is a still a long way to go for women in Scottish politics. Women continue to be under-represented at all political levels in Scotland: they are only 24% of local councillors, 16.7% of Scottish MEPs, 35% of MSPs, and 22% of Scottish MPs. As we have argued elsewhere the time has come for tough action on women’s representation in Scotland, or nothing is going to change anytime soon.

What explains the continuing under-representation of women in Scottish politics? Our research highlights the important role of political parties as ‘gatekeepers’ to political office. When parties have adopted measures aimed at promoting women’s representation – such as gender quotas – the proportion of women in politics has increased. We can see this in the results of the first election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, when Scottish Labour implemented gender quotas in the form of ‘twinning’ in constituency seats as well as a placement policy on the regional lists. Its main electoral rival, the SNP, also implemented informal measures which ensured that female candidates were placed in favourable list positions. These measures had a clear impact on headline figures: notably, women made up 50% of Scottish Labour MSPs and 43% of SNP MSPs elected in 1999.

Since this high point, however, equal representation has slipped down the political agenda. Overall trends across the four main Scottish political parties point to either a stalling or falling in the number of women MSPs elected – in the case of Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats – or large percentage increases based on small numerical gains – in the case of the Conservatives. There has been little evidence that gender quotas have ‘caught on’ since 1999, either across political parties or different political levels. Scottish Labour has been the only party to adopt strong quota measures across all Scottish Parliament elections, while the SNP has adopted no measures to promote women’s representation (either formal or informal) since 1999. These differences are reflected in the numbers – while in 1999, the SNP’s performance on women’s representation closely matched Labour’s, since then it has been almost 20 percentage points behind its main competitor.

As we have repeatedly argued, these trends suggest that women’s representation is too important to be left up to political parties – in other words, the time has come for legislative quotas in Scottish politics. As such, we welcome the new cross-party campaign for 50:50 representation in Scotland, led by Women 50:50 which calls:

  • For all parties to strive to 50:50 candidates for the 2016 Holyrood elections
  • For a commitment to 50:50 in all 2016 party manifestos
  • For control over equality legislation (and power to legislate for gender quotas) to be devolved from Westminster to Edinburgh
  • For 2020 to be the first 50:50 Scottish Parliament by law

Equal representation in the Scottish Parliament was one of the original demands of devolution campaigners in the 1980s and 90s, with gender balance seen as a ‘shorthand’ for the wider reform movement’s aspirations to be a modern, democratic and inclusive Scotland. The current constitutional moment – in the aftermath of the independence referendum – has opened up a crucial window of opportunity to revisit and recharge these aspirations. In doing so, however, campaigners must draw on the lessons learned from devolution, as well as lessons from other 50:50 and parity campaigns currently underway – at UK level, in Ireland, in the European Union, and elsewhere:

Lesson #1: Organised women and their allies can make a difference. The election of Nordic levels of women MSPs in 1999 did not happen by accident, but was instead the result of a sustained struggle by a diverse coalition of women’s organizations, grassroots activists, female trade unionists, party women and gender experts who were able to successfully insert gendered claims for inclusion into the devolution process. For the current 50:50 campaign to be successful, the constituent parts of the women’s movement, the trade union movement and wider civic society must be brought together – a task which may be more complicated in the shadow of the independence referendum, where the often adversarial nature of the debate has potentially made cross-party and cross-sectional alliances more difficult to form.

Women must also be equal participants in all discussions and structures that determine any new constitutional settlement in Scotland and the UK – and these processes must engage with women’s voices in civic Scotland more broadly. Worryingly, the fast-track deal made by the three unionist parties to boost Scotland’s powers leaves little to no scope for public consultation – in sharp contrast to the more inclusive processes that existed in the run-up to devolution – which has prompted calls for a citizen-led UK-wide Constitutional Convention.

Lesson #2: Quotas work, but the devil’s in the detail. Those who oppose gender quotas often advance a set of well-worn criticisms – they are un-democratic, they discriminate against men, they create ‘token’ women politicians, and so on. These sorts of claims are simply not supported by the evidence, either in Scotland or internationally, which overwhelmingly demonstrates that quotas are the most effective way of ensuring significant increases in women’s representation. As already highlighted, the use of quota measures by the Labour Party continues to have a significant impact on headline figures – delivering gender equality (or better) in the party’s Scottish Parliament cohort until 2011.

However, the presence of quotas alone is not sufficient to ensure high levels of women in political office – what matters also is how they are implemented. In other words, the devil’s in the detail. Evidence from Scotland shows that post-1999, equality measures have been inconsistently applied and unevenly enforced – with women generally placed in lower positions on party lists and less likely to be selected to contest safe or winnable constituency seats. Thus for legislative quotas to deliver substantial increases in women’s representation in Scotland, they would have to be well-designed, appropriate to the electoral system, and accompanied by effective and robust sanctions for non-compliance. In some Spanish political parties, for example, a representative of the Women’s Section sits in the state-wide electoral commission and holds veto power, so party lists that don’t comply with legal and party quota regulations are rejected. In Ireland, where gender quotas are now law, parties who fail to comply with the 30% quota law will lose half of their annual state funding.

Lesson #3: Don’t take your eye off the ball. Lessons from devolution point not only to the importance of constitutional ‘moments’, or windows of opportunity, but also to the importance of what follows afterwards. Gains made can be easily reversed and memories are short. Indeed, while the ‘historical moment’ of devolution in 1999 opened up new opportunities for women’s political participation, it also resulted in a loss of momentum for women activists and their allies, making it difficult for campaigners to press for further reforms. In the absence of sustained commitment and strong party action on women’s representation, the previous highs of women’s representation at Holyrood are beginning to look like distant memories. As such, there is little room for complacency in the run-up to the 2016 elections.

Campaigners must also look beyond Holyrood – we cannot assume that any gains made at Scottish Parliament level will ‘catch on’ across the political system. Any push for legal quotas, then, must also include local government elections, where the proportion of Scottish women councillors has flat-lined, hovering around 22% until 2012, when the numbers rose slightly to just over 24%. There is already scope for action here, as local government elections in Scotland are a matter devolved to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act.

Any future efforts to legislate on the issue of women’s representation in Scotland should also require parties to ‘count for themselves’ – that is, to regularly report their performance on women’s and minority representation. Despite the espoused concern from most Scottish political parties about women’s political under-representation, it is left to others to count women, because parties don’t. The Westminster Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation which reported in 2010 recommended that parties be required to report candidate gender and ethnicity breakdowns every six months (recommendation 25) and that parties should publish a gender/diversity breakdown, together with targets (recommendation 26). These recommendations should be adopted in Scotland at all political levels – the public reporting by political parties, local councils and parliaments of the gender and ethnicity breakdowns of candidates and elected members would serve to keep the issue and party performance in public view.

Women in Scotland have already travelled a distance, but still have a long way to go. The time for change is now.

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Missing Women: It’s Time for Legislative Quotas in British Politics


Where are the Women? PSA Women & Politics Group demand action

Originally posted on UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group:

Rosie Campbell, Sarah Childs, and Meryl Kenny

and the other members of the UK Political Studies Association (PSA) Women and Politics Specialist Group

Last week the Counting Women In coalition published its 2014 report into Sex and Power in the UK. Yet again women will be reading that they are under-represented in British politics: at Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff, Stormont, and in local government across the UK. Meanwhile, resistance to gender quotas continues, with a recent YouGov poll highlighting the lack of popular support for all-women shortlists. It’s time for political parties to show leadership on this issue and follow the global evidence – well-designed and properly implemented quotas are the most effective way to address the under-representation of women. Patience is no longer an option – the time has come for legislative quotas in British politics.

Still Counting

The findings from last week’s Sex and Power in the UK…

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Presenting Feminist Institutionalist Perspectives

Rowman & Littlefield International have launched a new series – Feminist Institutionalist Perspectives – which seeks to publish cutting-edge work on gender and political institutions. Edited by Fiona Mackay, Elin Bjarnegard and Meryl Kenny – and launched in partnership with the Feminism and Institutionalism International Network (FIIN) – this series represents the ‘next stage’ of development of Feminist Institutionalism.

FIIN logoAccording to new institutionalist scholars, institutions – the formal and informal ‘rules of the game’ – shape politics and political outcomes. Feminist political scientists, applying a gendered lens, illuminate the ways in which political institutions are gendered, and the processes by which particular gendered patterns of power are replicated or challenged. There has never been a more pressing time to expose, understand and explain the dynamics of gendered power inequalities in public and political life. So, how do feminists challenge and change global and local institutions of governance, security, development and justice?

Our new series, Feminist Institutionalist Perspectives, represents the ‘next stage’ of development of Feminist Institutionalism, a novel approach to the study of politics which combines the insights of gendered analysis and institutionalist theory. It is animated by questions such as how and why do seemingly neutral rules (such as constitutions, peace agreements and laws) and institutions (such as parliaments, courts and international organisations) continue to affect the daily lives of women and men, and different groups of women and men, differently? Why do institutions often reproduce or exacerbate patterns of disadvantage and discrimination, even when formally espousing ideals of equality? As well as seeking to expose the rules, norms and practices through which institutions produce gendered outcomes, it is also concerned with the potential for, and limits of, institutional innovation and reform in pursuit of gender equality, gender justice and the promotion of women’s human rights.

Launched in partnership with the Feminism and Institutionalism International Network (FIIN network), Feminist Institutionalist Perspectives will publish leading, cutting-edge work on gender and political institutions from around the world. We welcome manuscript submissions using feminist instutitutionalist approaches in all their diversity, ranging from rational choice to discursive paradigms, as well as those which combine elements from across the variants. Our series will cover single and comparative cases from the global North and global South, as well as the international system – and an important part of our agenda is to explore the interplay between the local and the global; the domestic and the international. Whilst the primary focus of the series is on gendered institutional analysis, we also welcome submissions which take an intersectional approach as well as interdisciplinary projects whose work on political institutions intersects with feminist institutionalism, including state feminist approaches and feminist critical frame analysis.

The aims of the Feminist Institutionalist Perspectives series are:

• To provide a ‘home’ and ‘brand’ for Feminist Institutionalism as a distinctive approach to politics; and for feminist institutionalist scholars as an emerging intellectual community

• To consolidate, refine and advance core concepts and theory building, facilitating the development of feminist institutionalism in the academy including its incorporation into undergraduate, Masters and doctoral training

• To showcase book-length studies that apply feminist institutionalism in single case studies and comparatively

• To bring together the very best work in the field, primarily, but not exclusively, by early career scholars including those beyond the global North

• To promote dialogue with wider academic and engaged practitioner communities by providing a bridge between feminist institutionalist work and ‘non-feminist’ political science, and between feminist institutionalism and feminist scholarship in law, organisational studies, sociology and beyond.

Series Editors:
Professor Fiona Mackay, University of Edinburgh
Dr. Elin Bjarnegård, Uppsala University
Dr. Meryl Kenny, University of Leicester

For further information on the series, please visit:

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Where are all the women?

Originally posted on Andrew McFadyen:

The creation of the Scottish Parliament was a giant leap forward for women’s representation in Scotland.

In the first Scottish Parliament elections, in 1999, 48 women were elected, out of 129 MSPs. To put this in context, it was a greater number than Scotland had sent to the House of Commons in its entire history. 

But the hopes of some campaigners for a ‘new politics’ that would be more open and transparent have not been realised. Holyrood can be even more small-minded and tribalistic than Westminster.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that even though there are more women in Parliament, the media narrative is still written by men.

The Sunday Herald’s Investigations Editor, Paul Hutcheon, tweeted a very telling image of what he called “the seekers of truth and justice” ahead of STV’s recent debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. Strikingly, there is not a single…

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Tackling Sexual Violence in Conflict: A Report from the Global Summit

The Global Summit on Sexual Violence is the largest and most high-profile event ever held on this topic. But while it has brought much needed attention to the issue of sexual violence in conflict, it has also attracted significant criticism. Genderpol member Claire Duncanson reports from the summit and reflects on its achievements and limitations.

s300_ESVIC-Global-_-London_960x6The tone of the Global Summit on Sexual Violence, hosted by UK Foreign Minister William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, was confident and ambitious: sexual violence is not inevitable, it was repeated often, and we can end it. Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee inserted a dose of reality into the proceedings when she pointed out that to imagine that we can stop sexual violence in conflict without stopping war itself is like imagining we can draw blood without breaking the skin. Until then, at least in the sessions I attended, war was very much the elephant in the room. The plenaries were full of rousing speeches full of conviction that sexual violence in conflict can and will be eradicated, and that this summit marked the beginning of the end of sexual violence in conflict. Of course, plenary speeches are supposed to be full of aspiration and inspiration, but even in the breakout sessions, there was very little mention of violent conflict itself.

Many feminists have made this point before. Cora Weiss, President of the Hague Appeal for Peace, has argued that our focus must not be on making war safe for women; it must be on abolishing war. The Democratic Republic of Congo, the rape capital of the world, was repeatedly cited at the summit, but I heard very little about the context or causes of the conflict, and the role of international actors in fuelling the violence. Indeed, such discussion may have been actively blocked. The DRC sits on vast resources of minerals needed for the electronic goods industry, such as tin, coltan and tantalum, estimated to be worth $24 trillion. With so much at stake, conflict over control of the mines is brutal. The focus on tackling the impunity of perpetrators through improving the judicial system and the education of soldiers seemed too narrow, given the incentives for continued lawlessness and fighting.

Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern’s recent book reminds us that the horrors of war are not experienced by women as single-issues. They note that most rape survivors tell of the many violences they have experienced: stories of pillage and of family members being killed, tortured, or abducted. Their main worries are often the lack of basic means of survival, lack of land to cultivate, lack of clear water, and concerns about hungry and often malnourished children. These insecurities will not be resolved by tackling sexual violence in conflict.

Many feminists have also pointed to the analytical myopia inherent in separating sexual violence in war from the sexual violence which occurs in ‘peace’. Gender-based violence affects women in all countries, and is endemic even in societies which have not experienced ‘conflict’ for decades. In this vein, Caron Gentry has expressed frustration with the Summit for the way in which it constructs sexual violence as a problem which happens ‘over there,’ denying the extent to which violence against women happens within western ‘civilized’ countries

Meanwhile, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini suggests that William Hague has taken the wrong tack with his inclusive approach to the Global Summit. 151 countries were invited and 123 were said to have attended – an impressive gathering on a subject which has hitherto been very much neglected by state leaders. Anderlini argues that countries with a bad record on gender based violence should not have been allowed to attend, but this risks ranking different countries in ways which could reinforce the colonial Othering highlighted by Gentry. Anderlini is clear that western nations are far from perfect when it comes to gender based violence, and is as focused as Gentry on the need for the international community to recognise the links between sexual violence in war and peace, but the different approaches illustrate the complexity and difficulty of tackling sexual violence. If there is consensus in the commentary, it is on the argument that achieving gender equality is fundamental if sexual violence, and war, are to be abolished.

Of course, the more focused the topic of a global conference, the more likely it is that clear action points and policies can be agreed on by nation states. Indeed, the narrow focus and goals arguably made it possible to get so many countries to attend. To some extent, then, it’s understandable why the focus was restricted to ending sexual violence in conflict, and why many speakers avoided mentioning sexual violence in peacetime and the need to tackle militarism and war itself.

This approach did result in more concrete discussion and recommendations to the Ministers than many conferences I’ve attended. There was much focus on tackling impunity, including promises from western countries to provide more resources to judicial systems in conflict affected countries in order to tackle the problem of impunity. There was also a focus on training militaries – both on how to respond to sexual violence, and on gender equality and sexual violence more broadly, so that the scandals of peacekeepers themselves sexually exploiting and abusing civilians could be consigned to the history books. There seemed to be careful attention to the fact that men and boys are also victims of sexual violence. An excellent fringe event organised by the OSCE and DCAF on changing military culture was addressed by Australian Army Chief, Lt Gen David Morrison, who tackled the issue of militarised masculinities head-on, in ways reminiscent of his 2013 address, which has become something of a You-Tube sensation.  Perhaps the most concrete commitment was given to the need to provide more services to survivors, and the Summit ended with the launch of a global advocacy and support network, Survivors United for Action.

Some might say these policies are little more than a sticking plaster. Strengthening the legal and judicial system in the DRC, for example, might lead to an increase in arrests and convictions for perpetrators of sexual violence, but it will inevitably be too little, too late given the extent of the problem and the powerful economic drivers motivating armed militia to rule through terror. Until these root causes driving the conflict are tackled, some argue, attempts to tackle impunity through legal processes have serious limitations.

I would liken the suggested policies and actions less to a sticking plaster, however, and more to rocks forming a dam – each rock seems to do little, but together they can turn a river into something else entirely, a reservoir. The policies do seem to only get at sexual violence in war, not at war itself, but the sorts of actions being talked about – strengthening and improving the implementation of international humanitarian law – add up to challenging war as an institution. Yes, lots of things were not mentioned at the summit, most notably the global networks of profit-making in arms and minerals, but that doesn’t mean that smart feminists weren’t working on getting the policies in place that will address war itself and that will address sexual violence in peacetime. It may have been focused on sexual violence in conflict alone, but the policies recommended do not necessarily leave war or patriarchy intact. If all countries were to commit to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence; to training their militaries to the highest human rights standards, including women’s human rights; if all peace processes were to take gender based violence seriously, and include measures to hold perpetrators accountable and to ensure the participation of women; war becomes restricted to so few legitimate means of waging that it can become de facto obsolete. The next step, of course, is to see these policies become a reality.

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Forging New Paths for Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court?


Louise Chappell and Rose Grey (UNSW) analyse recent developments at the ICC

Originally posted on Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective:

The International Criminal Court (josef.stuefer).  Retrieved from, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The International Criminal Court (josef.stuefer). Retrieved from, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

During the International Criminal Court’s first decade, Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was strongly criticised for his failure to use powers available under the Rome Statute to investigate and charge crimes involving sexual and gender violence. The ICC’s first case, concerning DRC warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, was emblematic of this problem. Prosecutor Ocampo came under fire from human rights groups for failing to include any sexual crimes on the arrest warrant, when there was evidence that Lubanga’s UPC-FPLC militia had committed sexual crimes against civilians in the Ituri region of the DRC and against female child soldiers in the group.

The absence of these charges reverberated throughout the Lubanga trial; when the majority of judges handed down their verdict in 2012 they declined to find Lubanga culpable for the acts of sexual violence against child soldiers…

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