Cambridge, MA – During the fall 2022 semester, Rangita de Silva de Alwis—Expert Member to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Adjunct Professor of Public Policy, and WAPPP Leader in Practice (2020-2022)—taught "Continuing Conflict: Old Challenges and New Debates" at Harvard Kennedy School. The course focused on two continuing conflict zones, Afghanistan and the Sahel region in Africa, the world's most conflict-heavy region. Collaborating with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) non-permanent members and other ambassadors to the United Nations, students examined these recent conflicts, their impact on women, and the role of women as peacebuilders. Throughout the semester, course participants wrote policy briefs that focused critically on the identity of women and intersectionality in security in a time of the confluence of conflict, climate crisis, and covid.
One unique aspect of the class required students to write a draft UNSC Resolution on "Girls and Women's Education During and After Conflict." The model UNSC Resolution poses a critique of the normative framework of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) adopted in 2000, the nine Resolutions that followed, and the indicators of WPS National Action Plans. The draft challenges the orthodoxy of UNSCR 1325 and 1820's focus on women's bodies—sexual abuse is mentioned 189 times across the entire corpus of WPS Resolutions, while education is mentioned nine times—the vestiges of colonialism in the framing of the WPS, and the hierarchy of violence created by the paradigm of "conflict-related sexual violence (see UNSC Res. 1820). The model UNSC Resolution acknowledges an understanding of a more nuanced and structural analysis that looks at violence as layered rather than episodic and criticizes the fetishization of women's bodies over women's intellectual empowerment. Students make clear in the draft Resolution that the Taliban's explicit and blanket denial of girls' education needs to be located within a broader definition of WPS, which narrowly defines violence as interpersonal rather than structural.
This assignment provided students with the concrete skills needed to draft a UNSC Resolution and will have a real-world impact. The model was submitted to Sierra Leone's Ambassador to the UN and Gabon's Ambassador to the UNSC. During the writing of the class's model UNSC Resolution, Gabon assumed the presidency of the UNSC, and Ambassador Michel Biang spoke to the class. Among the ambassadors who engaged with course participants was Ambassador Fandy Turay, Sierra Leone's Ambassador to the UN. Sierra Leone will assume the Presidency of the UNSC in 2023. Sierra Leone co-sponsored the first-ever UN General Assembly Resolution on Access to Justice for Survivors of Sexual Violence in August 2022 and hopes to pass a similar resolution in the Security Council. The model Resolution written in Professor Rangita's course will inform that work.
Read the model UNSC Resolution drafted by the class here, and explore student reflections on the course below.
"Our draft resolution focuses on conflict-related intellectual violence, specifically the gender-based denial of women and girls' education in conflict and post-conflict situations. We were inspired to write this resolution after speaking to Afghan women leaders in exile about the Taliban's decision to prohibit girls above the sixth grade from attending school. The resolution discusses the interconnection between girls' education and security, climate change, and civic participation. We specifically address the need to protect the rights of the most marginalized groups of women and girls and ensure they can attend and finish school. We call on states to ensure that all students have safe, reliable, and affordable access to transportation so that they can travel safely to and from school, as well as acknowledge the need to address systemic and socioeconomic inequalities that often prevent women and girls from attending school, including a lack of access to healthcare, contraception and reproductive services, menstrual products, safe drinking water, and sanitation. We believe that ensuring gender-equal access to education in conflict and post-conflict situations requires addressing structural violence and the root causes of conflict."
"Taking Professor Rangita's class has been a genuinely transformative experience. We heard the unheard voices and perspectives often tokenized or sidelined in international platforms. We let the people inextricably connected to activism and human rights struggle to speak on their terms and give us a nuanced understanding of their challenges. This essential local understanding was complemented by Professor Rangita's approach to critique existing frameworks. For instance, we extended the categories to view the manifestations of injustice in Afghanistan. We rightfully view the denial of education for women and girls in Afghanistan and beyond as a form of intellectual violence. As a policymaker, I'm glad to have been part of a community that recognized the importance of collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches to solving the most pressing problems in Afghanistan and the Sahel."
"I am overly happy and grateful for having joined "Continuing Conflict: Old Challenges and New Debates." Whether I think about all of our wonderful guest speakers, Professor Rangita's inspiring teachings, or the dear friends that I have made, it is still unbelievable to me how much one course at Harvard can have an impact on you. Professor Rangita created a space beyond academics, fostering deep friendships and creating motivation to become the next generation's leaders. It brings tears to my eyes to know that I have a professor and other Afghan classmates who care so deeply about issues in my home country. Certainly, I will never forget this beautiful and empowering first-year experience at Harvard."
"Growing up in Japan, I had never had a formal education about gender. As a young female physician, my aspiration was sometimes criticized, and I had never envisioned myself as a "leader." However, Professor Rangita's class and all the discussions gave me a new perspective on the intersectionality of gender and many areas, not only in health but in conflicts, climate change, the digital world, and so on. This learning experience gave me a new direction in my goal of narrowing health disparities due to social and structural factors in infectious disease care. Galvanized by Professor Rangita, I will work on a gender-sensitive COVID-19 resilience program in Nigeria. I will look at what factors of resilience women in a Nigerian community feel they need the most support and create a project to address that need with a Nigerian non-profit organization. I will keep working on gender disparities in infectious disease care globally."
"Our class put us on the front lines of discussions with leaders, especially leaders from the Global South. We engaged directly with those working to address systemic challenges in countries which have long been ravaged by colonialism, corruption, and imperialism. It was inspiring to hear and see how we can empower woman through education policies, climate change policies, and food security policies, etc. I want to devote my life's work to this.”