Women influence Syrian peace talks
Peace talks aimed at bringing an end to the seven-year Syrian civil war resumed last week in the Russian city of Sochi. Participants in the conference agreed on a roadmap for a new constitution for the war-torn country and approved a document calling for “active measures” to increase women’s participation in future negotiations and political institutions, including a mechanism to achieve 30 percent representation in all decision-making structures. To date, women’s inclusion in the peace process has fluctuated: though several rounds of prior talks excluded women, up to 20 percent of negotiators in UN-mediated discussions in 2017 were female. In informal roles and as third-party observers, women have successfully worked across political lines to find consensus on controversial issues critical to stability, including aid delivery and the release of detainees.
President Sirleaf bans FGM in Liberia
Prior to stepping down from her post as Africa’s first elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an executive order banning female genital mutilation (FGM) in Liberia for one year. The legislation aims to reduce the prevalence of the harmful practice endured by nearly half of Liberian women and girls. While lauding the move as a positive step forward, many women’s groups and activists suggest that political will to enforce the new ban is lacking. Just last year, parliamentarians removed a provision criminalizing FGM from Liberia’s domestic violence bill, claiming that the practice was a cultural rather than legal matter. Only forty-two countries globally have outlawed FGM, despite overwhelming evidence of the dangers it poses to girls.
Sexual harassment allegations rise at the UN
Reports emerged last week that two senior UN officials are under investigation for alleged sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite a “zero tolerance” policy on the books for such misconduct, the UN system has faced mounting scrutiny over its handling of sexual harassment and assault cases in the wake of the global #MeToo movement. A recent investigation revealed that some victims lost their jobs or were threatened with termination after reporting harassment, while alleged perpetrators remained in senior positions with the power to influence proceedings. The latest revelations come just months after the UN secretary-general created a task force on sexual harassment to review, improve, and coordinate policies across various UN agencies and programs.