I started writing this article by reading the one I wrote for PIJ’s “Women and Power” issue on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of our beloved United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security (WPS). I’m a person who always sees the glass half full, so I would say there has been some progress in relation to the WPS agenda. I am also realistic, however, so I will outline below the implementation gaps and accountability deficits.
Over the past 20 years, the WPS agenda has been established as a critical component of global affairs, necessary for the effectiveness of the UN’s and the international community’s efforts in conflict resolution, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding. Moreover, the effective implementation of the WPS agenda has also been determined as a requisite in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In recent years, it has also been established that the WPS framework is essential in humanitarian action, particularly because many humanitarian emergencies are an offshoot of violent conflicts.
Adopted in October 2000, 1325 is the first of the 10 WPS resolutions. The others are 1820 (2008), 1888 (2008), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013), 2242 (2015), 2467 (2019), and 2493 (2019). It also serves as the founding document for UNSC Resolutions 2250 (2015), 2419 (2018), and 2535 (2020) on youth, peace and security.1
Furthermore, the WPS agenda is integral across the continuum of “sustaining peace,” a new approach to peacebuilding outlined in the 2015 review of the UN peacebuilding architecture and supported by the “twin” resolutions on peacebuilding (A/RES/70/262 and S/RES/2282) adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council on April 27, 2016.
The past two decades have produced strong evidence that women’s meaningful participation in peace and security and political processes enhances efforts in preventing and resolving conflict, protecting women and girls and all civilians, accelerating economic recovery, and promoting inclusive and sustainable peace. Despite much evidence that underpins the transformative power of this agenda, however, the actual implementation of the WPS agenda remains slow and uneven. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) reported that between 1992 and 2019, women constituted, on average, 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators, and 6% of signatories in major peace processes around the world.2 While there has been some progress in women’s participation, about seven out of every 10 peace processes still did not include women mediators or women signatories — the latter indicating that few women participated in leadership roles as negotiators, guarantors, or witnesses. The CFR adds that peace efforts in 2020 have similarly struggled to include women. Women represented only around 10% of negotiators in the Afghan talks, just 20% of negotiators in Libya’s political discussions, and 0% of negotiators in Libya’s military talks and Yemen’s recent process. One current peace process is led by a woman, Stephanie Williams, who is chief mediator and acting head of the UN Support Mission in Libya. This is the first time in six years that a woman holds this position.
The 20193 and 20204 UN secretary-general’s WPS reports to the Security Council highlighted the following six priority areas:
- Make leadership accountable for the implementation of the WPS agenda, through targeted data collection, joined-up analysis, strategic planning, and raised visibility;
- Enable, facilitate, and ensure the meaningful participation of women in peace processes, the implementation of peace agreements, and in all peace and security decision-making processes;
- Publicly condemn human rights violations and discrimination and prevent all forms of gender-based violence, including against women human rights defenders;
- Increase the number and influence of women uniformed personnel in peacekeeping missions and national security services;
- Guarantee access for women to economic security and resources; and
- Finance the WPS agenda and invest in women peacebuilders.
In his 2020 report, the secretary general also drew attention to the impact of climate change as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the WPS Agenda
The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated underlying root causes of armed conflicts around the world and caused delays and interruptions in peace negotiations, the implementation of peace agreements, and other peace and security processes.
On March 23, 2020, the UN secretary-general called for a global cease-fire to silence the guns and focus efforts on fighting the pandemic. His appeal prompted positive responses from member states, parties to conflict, regional organizations, and civil society; however, gestures of support for the call did not always translate into concrete improvements on the ground. On July 1, 2020, the UNSC reinforced the secretary general’s call for a global cease-fire through adoption of Resolution 2532 (2020).5 This resolution also “acknowledges the critical role that women are playing in COVID-19 response efforts, as well as the disproportionate negative impact of the pandemic, notably the socio-economic impact, on women and girls, children, refugees, internally displaced persons, older persons and persons with disabilities, and calls for concrete actions to minimize this impact and ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and youth in the development and implementation of an adequate and sustainable response to the pandemic….”6 The 2020 WPS report of the UN secretary-general to the UNSC points out:
Experts rightly fear the diversion of resources from women’s health, including sexual and reproductive health, the long-term
impact on the participation of girls in education and employment among women, and a backslide towards infringing women’s
rights with the pandemic as the pretext. The pandemic will have profound implications for international peace and security, including
through the further marginalization of women in political decision-making, in particular where peace agreements are being negotiated
or in countries undergoing political transitions. More generally, there is a strong correlation between gender inequality and conflict risk.7
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted peacebuilding efforts and has presented greater risks for local women peacebuilders because of dwindling economic resources and authoritarian governments taking advantage of the situation to impose more repressive policies, the pandemic has highlighted the outstanding work of women peacebuilders, particularly in local communities. In many conflict-affected communities, women and youth peacebuilders have taken on the roles of humanitarian and frontline workers during this crisis. They are the same women and youth who are working for peace, who are mediating, and who are advocating for gender-inclusive peace processes and for the implementation of peace agreements. Hence, the pandemic has given women and youth peacebuilders opportunities to:
- Demonstrate in very concrete terms that the WPS agenda is a sustainable, inclusive, intersectional, and integrative agenda because it calls for — among many things — social protection, quality and accessible health care systems, food security, and economic security. It also brings forth the nexus of peace, humanitarian work, and development. After all, poverty and conflict are sociopolitical determinants of people’s health, and at the same time, poverty is one of the root causes of conflict;
- Assert the importance of a more comprehensive framework of human security;
- Strengthen confidence, build trust in local communities, and broaden peace constituencies;
- Emphasize that similar to global efforts in implementing 1325 and the WPS agenda overall, COVID-19 response needs to put women peacebuilders at the forefront; and
- Strengthen the nexus between WPS and humanitarian action.8
Climate Change and Increased Risk of Armed Conflict, Deprioritization of the WPS agenda
Climate change results in widespread loss of livelihood and increased poverty, both of which are key drivers of conflict, especially in developing and underdeveloped countries. Often, it also leads to displacement and increased internal and international migration. In ongoing conflict situations, climate change increases the risk of violent conflict, creates risks to human security, and undermines relief and recovery as well as peacebuilding initiatives. For example, the flooding in Yemen between April and August 2020, which displaced more than 160,000 people and killed at least 130,9 aggravated the consequences of the prolonged armed conflict. In situations of environmental calamities such as this, advocacy and capacity-building on women’s meaningful participation in peace and security decision-making take a backseat.
This is problematic because women’s agency to contribute to finding peaceful solutions to conflict and mitigating the impact of climate change remains untapped. Moreover, their leadership and peacebuilding capacities are not realized. There are outstanding examples of women’s leadership on issues of environment and peace and security. A notable one is the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, which works at the grassroots, national, and international levels to promote environmental conservation; build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls; and foster democratic space and sustainable livelihoods.
In his 2020 WPS report, the UN secretary-general underscored that efforts to prevent and respond to contemporary security challenges cannot ignore climate change. “A growing body of evidence points to the critical role of gender norms and power structures in determining the impact of climate-related security risks on women and men. However, a more concerted effort is needed to integrate and address the linkages between gender, climate, and security in policymaking and prioritize women’s participation in response and prevention mechanisms,” he stressed. The secretary-general’s report also points out that out of the 85 National Action Plans (NAP) on women, peace, and security, only 17 even mention climate change, and gender is largely absent from policy debates on climate change and security.10
National and Local Action Plans
At the time of the 10th anniversary of 1325, 25 countries had adopted NAPs. There were only five WPS resolutions back then, and local women peacebuilders were already saying: “Enough of these new resolutions. We would like to focus on implementation!”
Ten years later, as of July 2020, 85 member states (44% of the UN membership) have adopted NAPs; however, only 24% included a budget at adoption.11 There are 55 Local Action Plans (LAPs) on women, peace, and security that have been adopted in 16 countries facilitated by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders.
Lack of funding remains one of the biggest obstacles to effective implementation of the NAPs and LAPs. Interestingly, the total bilateral allocable aid committed to support gender equality in fragile and conflict-affected countries continued to increase, with $20.5 billion per year between 2017 and 2018, compared with $18 billion per year between 2015 and 2016. Bilateral aid to women’s organizations, however, has stagnated at 0.2% of total bilateral aid ($96 million on average per year).12 Another astounding figure is on global military expenditure, which reached USD $1.9 trillion in 2019, following the largest annual increase in a decade! Meanwhile, only 30% of NAPs include disarmament as a focus area. We need to change policy and the decision-making culture and shift from hard, state-centric, militarized approaches to security to prevention-based, community-driven, human security approaches. Changing political culture and reducing military spending should lead to adequate and sustainable funding for NAPs and LAPs and greater investment in women peacebuilders.
It is also important to point out opportunities that could address the gaps in national action planning. One such opportunity is the establishment of the Compact on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action that was announced during the 20th anniversary of 1325. The Compact is a new partnership between the UN, civil society, governments, and philanthropies that aims to accelerate the implementation of the WPS agenda and increase accountability. The establishment of the Compact is a result of the strong advocacy of civil society to intentionally integrate the WPS and youth, peace, and security agendas in the Beijing + 25 anniversary/Generation Equality Forum coordinated by GNWP.
Twenty years after the adoption of 1325, there is a strong normative framework for the implementation of the WPS agenda. We do not need more documents that will not add any value. What is necessary now is concrete action to encourage and put pressure on governments, the UN, regional organizations, and other actors to implement the existing commitments and develop clear mechanisms to hold them accountable. Hopefully, the next decade will just be one of exponential progress! No more “buts.”
1 S/Res/2250 (2015) // http://unscr.com/files/2015/02250.pdf
2 Council on Foreign Relations. Women’s participation in peace processes. Accessed from https://on.cfr.org/33UZpHP on December 8, 2020.
3 https://undocs.org/en/S/2019/800. 9 October 2019
4 https://undocs.org/en/S/2020/946. 25 September 2020
6 UN Security Council Resolution 2532 (S/RES/2532 (2020)) Accessed from http://www.unscr.com/files/2020/02532.pdf on October 20, 2020
7 World Bank and United Nations, Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict (Washington, D.C., World Bank, 2018) as cited in the 2020 WPS report of the UN Secretary-General to the Security Council. https://undocs.org/en/S/2020/946
8 Mavic Cabrera-Balleza’s presentation at the virtual event “Connected or muted? New opportunities for women’s participation in peace processes in times of COVID-19” organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway on 06 May 2020.
10 https://undocs.org/en/S/2020/946. 25 September 2020