The International Women, Peace and Security Agenda: Australian Leadership, Australian Research

Castan Centre for Human Rights Law and Women Peace and Security Academic Collective, proudly presents

Mr Noel Campbell, Assistant Secretary, International Organisations Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Dr Sharon Pickering, Professor of Criminology and Australian Research Council Future Fellow on Border Policing, Monash University

Dr Ronli Sifris, Monash University Law School Lecturer and Castan Centre for Human Rights Law Associate

Dr Lesley Pruitt, McKenzie Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

Thursday, 15 August 2013
Held at Monash University Law Chambers, 555 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne


Audio recording of forum


Women Take the Lead on International Peace and Security Issues

Report by Kate Nancy Taylor

In August 2013, the Australian government committed to using its Presidency of the United Nations Security Council to highlight the women, peace and security agenda. Ahead of this thematic focus, the Castan Centre hosted a public forum to discuss the unique position of women in conflict. While Australia's presidential theme was ultimately changed to ‘small arms' by the newly-elected federal government, the Centre's public forum nevertheless provided an opportunity for a dedicated panel and curious audience to discuss how best to ensure women play an active role in conflict prevention and the post-conflict rebuilding of communities.

Dr Jacqui True, who chaired the evening, began by introducing the important work conducted by the Australian and New Zealandbased Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective (WPSAC). WPSAC is a group firmly committed to furthering academic feminist efforts in relation to Australia's term on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and focuses on the importance of women's agency and the provision of appropriate structural conditions for lasting peace.

While the international community has already made significant headway in recognising the role of women within the peace and security agenda - as demonstrated by, for example, the UNSC's unanimous adoption in 2001 of Resolution 1325, which calls for a gender perspective in post-conflict reconstruction - there is a current lack of concrete mechanisms to ensure such promises are met, Dr True explained.

Perhaps more positive were the remarks by Dr Sifris, who remarked that gender-based crimes play an increasingly prominent role in prosecutions for breaches of international criminal law. For example, she reminded the audience, the 1998 International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda case Prosecutor v Akayesu is considered a landmark decision for its recognition of rape as a formof torture, genocide and as a crime against humanity.

Dr Sifris went on to address transitional justice - a term that refers to various measures that may be implemented in order to redress a legacy of human rights abuses - and its link with gender.

As she explained, a truly restorative approach to transitional justice must recognise that men and women experience conflict differently and, in particular, that women are disproportionately affected by the deprivation of their economic, social and cultural rights during conflict. Similarly, Dr Sifris noted, a restorative approach to transitional justice must acknowledge that because these issues are seen as ‘non-traditional' breaches of international law, they require non-traditional agents of change - such as women in leadership positions. On this note, Dr Sifris light-heartedly reminded the audience that "if you're not at the table, you're probably on the menu!"

Following Dr Sifris' remarks, Dr Lesley Pruitt presented her research concerning all-female UN peacekeeping units. As she explained, the UN deployed its first all-female formed police unit (FFPU) from India to Liberia In 2007. As Dr Pruitt reported, in a climate where peacekeeping operations are hyper-masculine, FFPUs are a novel and revolutionary idea - and, since the introduction of the FFPU, Liberia has made major gains on the ground in relation to women, peace and security. For example, UN sources state that reporting of sexual crimes in Liberia has increased, likely due to the greater presence of women fostering a less fearful environment. In addition, Dr Pruitt said, the percentage of local female admissions to the Liberian police force has seen a marked increase.

Dr Sharon Pickering brought a different perspective to the evening, highlighting the research conducted by Monash University's Border Crossing Observatory on the experiences of female asylum seekers. With the percentage of women who seek asylum on the rise, Dr Pickering explained, women are increasingly reluctant to ‘stay behind' and wait for their husbands and families to ‘send for them'. This migratory trend has cast into light the violent, illicit and unregulated spaces which disproportionately affect female asylum seekers, she said.

Dr Pickering further highlighted that women are more likely to die, and be subject to sexual abuse, arbitrary detention and expulsion in their attempts to seek asylum. Thus, she explained, conducting robust and independent research is of the utmost importance in shaping national debate and allowing these women's voices to be heard.

Following the diverse presentations by these impressive women, the room was turned over to the audience for a thorough discussion about how to effect real change in a world that often doesn't listen. Asked what the best ways to make a different in this area might be, the panelists thoughtfully suggested independent research, social media, and an enduring commitment to keep talking to those most affected.

As the world gradually moves closer to recognising women's important role in the peace and security agenda, these are messages that surely won't be forgotten by the evening's receptive audience.

Many thanks to the Law Faculty Associate Dean of Research and the Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective for their support of this event.

Check out these photos from the event on our Facebook page.


With a seat on the United Nations Security Council until 2015, Australia is uniquely positioned on the world stage to make a real difference to women's lives in conflict, transitional and post-conflict  countries. In September this year Australia takes up the Presidency of the Security Council and has chosen to focus on promoting ‘Women's Leadership in Peacebuilding'. This focus includes ensuring that women are actively represented and able to participate in all peace negotiations, as UN peacekeepers and in other roles on UN missions, and recognising the contribution of women leaders from the grassroots to the peace table in conflict-resolution, prevention and the recovery of societies. Australian researchers are also committed to furthering the international Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. This event will highlight the important law and social science research that demonstrates women's agency in the context of conflict and insecurity. Panelists will discuss the disproportionate numbers of women and girls displaced by conflict crossing borders (including Australia's borders), the impact of female peacekeepers in conflict settings, and the centrality of gender justice, not only in the prosecution of recent war crimes, but in post-conflict recovery and the creation of a lasting peace.


Mr Noel Campbell is Assistant Secretary, International Organisations Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Dr Sharon Pickering is a Professor of Criminology and Australian Research Council Future Fellow on Border Policing at Monash University in Melbourne Australia. Her books include Sex Work:Labour Mobility and Sexual Services (with Maher and Gerard) (2012); Borders and Crime (with McCulloch) (2012); Gender, Borders and Violence (2010); Sex Trafficking (2009) (with Segrave and Miliovjevic); Counter-Terrorism Policing (2008); Borders, Mobilities and Technologies of Control (2006) (with Weber); Refugees and State Crime (2005). Most recently she co-authored with Leanne Weber Globalization and Borders: Deaths at the Global Frontier which documented and analysed over 40, 000 border related deaths in Europe, North America and Australia.

Dr Ronli Sifris is a lecturer at Monash University's Faculty of Law and an Associate of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. She has published extensively on issues relating to gender and international law and has worked as a consultant with the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York. Her forthcoming book, entitled Reproductive Freedom, Torture and International Human Rights: Challenging the Masculinisation of Torture, will be published by Routledge in December 2013.

Dr Lesley Pruitt is a McKenzie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Her book, Youth Peacebuilding: Music, Gender, and Change, Albany, NY: SUNY Press was published in 2013. Lesley's current research projects include work on (a) the role of young women and girls in peacebuilding and (b) women in peacekeeping.


Dr Jacqui True is a Professor of Politics and International Relations at Monash University. She is a specialist in gender and international relations, feminist research methodologies, and violence against women globally. Her book, The Political Economy of Violence against Women (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) recently won the American Political Science Association 2012 prize for the best book in human rights.

Coordinated by the Monash University Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Law

cc logo    wpsac logo