On 2 February 2010 the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki- Moon, appointed Margot Wallström as the first-ever Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Her mission is to prevent sexual violence used as a weapon of war and to strengthen women’s participation in peace processes.
Sexual violence has since long been used as a deliberate strategy of warfare, especially against women and children, and is an effective method of breaking down a society. Wallström’s mission may seem impossible, however, there has been some progress made in terms of UN resolutions adopted by the Security Council. It is now recognised that systematic rape can constitute a threat to international peace and security and furthermore, there are increased opportunities to bring perpetrators to justice. Ending the culture of impunity and establishing justice are important cornerstones of peacebuilding, according to Wallström. Read more in the interview about what she has to say about peace initiatives and methods of peaceful conflict resolution.
PM: Do you think that successful peace initiatives and success stories in peace work are highlighted enough out to the public?
No, I think a lot more can be done to also highlight good examples and not only shortcomings of peace initiatives. This is why I helped launch an Inventory of best peacekeeping practices [see recomended reading at end of page] last year.
PM: Why do you think the media seldom highlights these initiatives?
The media logic dictates that in general conflicts, contradictions, and shortcomings are more interesting to cover than success stories – unfortunately.
PM: In what way do you think we (media, civil society, and politicians) can get better at highlighting successful peace initiatives and peace projects?
In many different ways, I think, but perhaps most compelling are human interest stories. Tell the story of a successful initiative or project using concrete examples and details – that makes the narrative gripping. People tend to relate more to individual stories and one person’s fate than to numbers, statistics and general statements.
PM: Do you have any examples, and experiences, of successful peace agreements or peace projects at a local level which has not been highlighted in the media? (For instance within your work in UN)
My main priority as Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict is to fight impunity for this type of crimes. As such, I’ve ensured that we go after the perpetrators and that alleged criminals are pursued through the legal system. We have started doing this in the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond in a successful manner, and I wish this received more attention. This is not a peace agreement as such, but peace without justice is not sustainable and fighting impunity is therefore very important.
PM: Are there any common factors as to why different peace agreements have failed? Are there recurring mistakes that are made too often?
That women are not allowed to participate in negotiations and peace agreements. How can you expect a lasting and just peace when half of the population is excluded? This needs to change now.
PM: What more can we (media, civil society and politicians) do to highlight the methods of peaceful conflict resolution?
Again, include women from the get-go. We know that too few peace negotiations or agreements have had women present – in fact, in recent peace negotiations only eight percent of women have been present, and fewer than three percent have been signatories to formal peace agreements.
PM: You are working with women’s rights; do you believe that sustainable peace can be achieved without women’s participation in some peace processes?
No, absolutely not, and I simply cannot understand how it is possible that still today this has not been remedied.
PM: What are the most common obstacles you encounter in your work for the UN regarding women’s situation in wars and conflicts?
That women are excluded – be it in informal or more formal contexts. We know from experience that when women are included and in decision-making positions, the results for everybody are more sustainable.
PM: In what way do you find inspiration to work with the hard issues that you are dealing with as a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict?
As difficult as it is, in my work I meet amazing women – and men – that give me inspiration. At times I also get angry, and I think that energy is needed to keep fighting this scourge – to ultimately stop rape now