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Women under attack in Iraq, Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS --Women are facing increasing violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, especially when they speak out publicly to defend women's rights, a senior U.N. official told the U.N. Security Council.

Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the U.N. Development Fund for Women, called on for fresh efforts to ensure the safety of women in countries emerging from conflicts, to provide them with jobs, and ensure that they receive justice, including compensation for rape.

"What UNIFEM is seeing on the ground -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia -- is that public space for women in these situations is shrinking," Heyzer said Thursday. "Women are becoming assassination targets when they dare defend women's rights in public decision-making."

Heyzer spoke at a daylong open council meeting on implementation of a 2000 resolution that called for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of striking and building on peace deals. It also called for the prosecution of crimes against women and increased protection of women and girls during war.

Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno said that, in the past year, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman head of state in Africa, Liberia adopted an anti-rape law, women in Sierra Leone pushed for laws on human trafficking, inheritance and property rights and women in East Timor submitted a draft domestic violence bill to parliament.

Despite these positive developments, he said, women face widespread insecurity and in many societies violence is still used as a tool to control and regulate the actions of women and girls seeking to rebuild their homes and communities.

"In Afghanistan, attacks on school establishments put the lives of girls at risk when they attempt to exercise their basic rights to education," Guehenno said. "Women and girls are raped when they go out to fetch firewood in Darfur. In Liberia, over 40 percent of women and girls surveyed have been victims of sexual violence. In the eastern Congo, over 12,000 rapes of women and girls have been reported in the last six months alone."

Assistant Secretary-General Rachel Mayanja, the U.N. special adviser on women's issues, said that from Congo and Sudan to Somalia and East Timor, she said, "women continue to be exposed to violence or targeted by parties to the conflict ... lacking the basic means of survival and health care."

At the same time, Mayanja said, they remain "underrepresented in decision-making, particularly on war and peace issues."

Assistant Secretary-General Carolyn McAskie, who is in charge of supporting the new U.N. Peacebuilding Commission which was established this year to help countries emerging from conflict, said her office will try to ensure that "space is created for women's active participation in political, economic and social life."

"We cannot ignore the voices of the women from the time we broker peace onwards," McAskie said. "Peacemaking is not just an exercise involving combatants, it must involve all of society, and that means women."

At the end of the meeting, the council said it "remains deeply concerned by the pervasiveness of all forms of violence against women in armed conflicts." and reiterated its strong condemnation of all acts of sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeeping personnel.

Allegations of sexual abuse have also been reported in peacekeeping missions in Congo, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, East Timor and West Africa.

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