Report | 2021

Executive Summary

This report explores overlaps and synergies between International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda, specifically the protection and participation pillars of WPS. A summary of initial findings was presented in a policy brief of the same name in December 2020: Can the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and International Humanitarian Law Join Forces? (Policy Brief).

IHL is the body of law that governs armed conflict. It is designed to protect combatants and civilians of all genders by restricting the means and methods of warfare. Although IHL has a track record of meaningfully protecting the rights of people in conflict-affected areas over the past five decades, there are notable shortcomings and blind spots in its ability to address the gendered dimensions of conflict. 

While the authors of the report do not advocate for the merging of these two agendas, they argue that there is potential to broaden the focus of the WPS protection pillar to ensure women and girls are safe from all forms of violence, and to use IHL to add legal force to the WPS agenda.

Three case studies on the militaries of South Africa, Israel, and the United States highlight progress and challenges around WPS implementation and IHL compliance. South Africa is a case in which the military is engaged in peacekeeping operations, with frequent allegations made against it of sexual assault against civilians. The United States is a case in which women’s participation in combat roles has increased significantly in recent years, as well as one in which soldiers are deployed in nonconflict situations (such as partner military training missions and black-site prison facilities) where IHL does not formally apply. Israel has the largest rate of women’s participation of any state military in the world. These cases demonstrate persistent shortcomings but also crucial opportunities to better leverage WPS to promote IHL compliance and improve women’s protection.

This research paper is the second in a series of outputs of a research program on the synergies between IHL and WPS at the Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace and Security with support from the Government of Liechtenstein. 

Watch the recording of a high-level panel discussion of the synergies between IHL and WPS below.

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