(New York) - The UN Security Council should urgently establish a high-level post to fill a leadership gap relating to women and armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. A special representative of the secretary-general assigned to this issue would be able to push for protection against sexual violence and to promote equal participation by women in peace talks. The Security Council is to hold a discussion this morning on the issue of women, peace, and security.

"It has been 10 years since the Security Council acknowledged that women experience war differently than men and that this is a relevant security concern," said Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. "But at all levels - national, intergovernmental, the United Nations - it's been almost all talk and hardly any action."

In a recent report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, Human Rights Watch concluded that sexual violence continues unabated - or worse - despite condemnatory remarks from the Security Council.

Although the Security Council has recognized that involving women in peace processes and peacekeeping is essential to improving the response to such abuses, women continue to be substantially underrepresented in peacekeeping and peace negotiations. Only four of 23 leaders of UN peacekeeping field missions are women, based on information on the UN Peacekeeping Operations website. A recent study by UNIFEM, the UN fund for women, shows little if any movement on the participation of women in peace processes and negotiations over the past decade. 

"The leadership vacuum on women and armed conflict has enormous consequences," Mollmann said. "Where women have been more directly involved in peace processes, the negotiated solutions have been more likely to include the concerns of the society as a whole."

The United Nations has created a template for addressing this type of entrenched problem in its actions concerning the abuse of children in armed conflict. In 1996, the secretary-general appointed a special representative on children and armed conflict, and the Security Council created a working group and a monitoring and reporting mechanism on this issue in 2005. While the working group initially primarily dealt with the issue of child soldiers, the Security Council this week expanded its mission to include reducing sexual violence committed against children in conflict.

The Security Council is expected to return to the subject of a new mechanism on women, peace, and security and consider a resolution in September.

"The expansion of the mechanism on children and armed conflict is a tremendous step forward," said Mollmann. "But protecting a girl from rape, for example, shouldn't end when she turns 18. The Security Council should act quickly to provide the same protection for women."