This article looks at the conceptions of violence within WPS and thus within these diverse international legal regimes as they relate to women and girls. It first examines the regulation of inter-state violence, both legal recourse to the use of force and constraints upon the means and methods of warfare. It then outlines how state obligations to prevent and punish violence against women were brought into human rights law in the early 1990s, primarily by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee).

The WPS resolutions are then summarised, focusing on provisions for the prevention of and protection from conflict-affected sexual violence against women and girls. The article explores some of the tensions created by different understandings of and approaches to addressing violence within international law. One such tension is that between the objectives of women’s peace and human rights activists and the formulation of the WPS agenda by the Security Council, a hierarchical and patriarchal institution that reduces women’s experiences of conflict to sexual violence that disrupts international peace and security. Another is the disparity between the Security Council’s militaristic approach and that of the CEDAW Committee in its recommendations on violence against women. The latter – a human rights treaty body – understands violence against women as encompassing much more than sexual violence and as rooted in everyday inequalities and the social subordination of women. For the Committee, the spectacular – armed conflict and the sexual violence within it – and the everyday – for instance domestic violence, ‘normal’ rape – are not distinct phenomena but are linked in a continuum of violence.

Consequently efforts to combat all violence against women should address societal inequalities and structural violence, which in turn would enhance the prospects for peaceful societies. Such a holistic understanding is impeded by the international institutional divide between responsibility for security (Security Council) and for social justice, including human rights (General Assembly, Human Rights Council). The article concludes with some reflections on how these tensions are exacerbated by the current push-back against human rights and the misuse of a gender ideology that feeds further violence.

Image credit: Staffan Cederborg, CC BY-SA 2.0