Sunday, September 14, 2008

Putting Sexual Exploitation on the UN Agenda

I believe it could be plausibly argued that the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse in conflict zones has a significant place on the global agenda and the issue is relatively close to the end of its life-cycle i.e. establishing a global norm, although my intention is not argue that the norm is universally accepted and applied.

I believe the most important indicator of its saliency on the global agenda is the prominent place it has on the UN agenda. The UN not only issued several reports, bulletins and resolutions but also kept and still keeps strict track of the application of those documents through OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

Following Joachim’s point of, the very place it occupies on the UN agenda is an indicator of this issue's importance on the global agenda. However, it is also an important indicator because the UN is the main actor whose behavior is aimed to be altered through this campaign, thus, its place on the UN agenda is also an indicator of “political change” which is the ultimate aim.

While the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse in conflict zones is a relatively new issue on the global agenda, there are certain factors that accelerated the advocacy process (which also exemplify some of the theories that we have covered).

Firstly, although the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse in conflict zones includes misconducts of several actors, the main actor who is held responsible is the UN. Once the issue is brought to the public attention, its effects on the UN was very clear and immediate. This urged the UN to take an active role and accelerated the speed of the process.

The UN indicates that:

The United Nations (UN) and its partners are pledged to care for the most vulnerable in our world… Sexual exploitation and abuse represents a catastrophic failure of protection. It brings harm to those whom the UN and its partners are mandated to protect and jeopardizes the reputation of the UN and its partners. (OCHA)

As Keck and Sikkink (p.29) argued, in order for an advocacy campaign to be successful, “target actors [in this case, the UN] must be vulnerable either to material incentives or to sanctions from outside actors, or they must be sensitive to pressure because of gaps between stated commitments and practice”. In this case, the sharp contrast between the UN’s mandate and the norms it fosters, on the one hand and the accusations of conducts of sexual exploitation by UN forces, on the other made it easier for the issue to find salience on the global agenda. This case also exemplifies how political opportunity structure such as access to institutions can contribute to a cause as it is argued by Joachim.

Keck and Sikkink (p.27) also argued that “issues involving physical harm to vulnerable individuals, especially when there is a short and clear causal chain assigning responsibility”, they become particularly compelling. In this issue, it was relatively easy to point not only the physical harm but also the actor who caused it which in turn strengthened the advocacy efforts.

Although the developments in this issue area support some of the main arguments proposed by the theories we have covered, it does not necessarily prove that the theories fully capture the reality. Moreover, the relative success that was achieved in this issue area illustrates that case specific factors are crucial in the process. This, I believe, is important in urging us to adopt a critical approach to the model that we are trying to develop and making us more tuned to the peculiarities of different cases.

1 comment:

Charli Carpenter said...

Sirin, good discussion of the basis for which you argue the issue is now salient. Yes - attention by the UN really proves it's hit the "agenda"! Trying to figure out the moment when that happened is trickier in hindsight. I wonder if you have a sense of the timeline there.