BLOG: From IPJ Conference, WPS: It's Not Just About 'Them,' It's About 'Us' Too

Gender Across Borders
Thursday, September 30, 2010 - 20:00
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Initiative Type: 
Online Dialogues & Blogs

I am currently at the 2010 Women Peacemaker Conference at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. This year's conference —“Precarious Progress: UN Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security” — brings together 175 practitioners, policymakers, academics, and activists from over 40 countries to examine where and how United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 has had and can have impact.

Before I go any further, do you know about UNSCR 1325?

I ask because, 10 years after its signing, it appears that many people don't. This explains why, after a decade, there has been little more than precarious progress in its implementation. As Nana Pratt from Sierra Leone stated today in a panel discussion, “if people don't know about something how can they apply it.”

UNSCR 1325, which was signed on October 31, 2000, is the first legal document from the U.N. Security Council that requires parties to respect women's rights in conflict and to support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction. All things that really should just be givens.

The resolution states: … civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict, including as refugees and internally displaced persons, and increasingly are targeted by combatants and armed elements, and recognizing the consequent impact this has on durable peace and reconciliation,

Reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building, and stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution . . .

This October marks the 10-year anniversary of the signing of UNSCR 1325. At the time of its signing, this resolution was a truly remarkable feat for the global women's movement. Women have been playing a key role in peacebuilding for as long as there has been war, and they have suffered the brunt of war's devastation for equally as long. Yet, prior to ten years ago, it would have been unfathomable to gather, as we are now, with women from around the world — female, Indian peacekeepers serving in Sudan; a woman from Sierra Leone who is a lead prosecutor on the International Criminal Court; the only female signatory to the Guatemala peace agreement, etc., etc. — who are influencing peace and security at the highest levels.

Yet, as someone who is immersed in the fight for gender justice and constantly reminded of the horrific injustices women face, I tend to see how far we have to go rather than how far we've come. There are after all, still hundreds of thousands of women being raped in the DRC. And since 2005, less than 3% of the signatories to peace agreements have been women. These numbers only begin to tell the story.

But to be honest, I think there is another reason that I can easily overlook how remarkable the very existence of UNSCR 1325 is, never mind an international call for it to be strengthened. As an American woman, my rights, safety, and well-being are not dependent on this or any other U.N. resolution. Or at least, that's what I've been encouraged to believe.

In countries around the world — Nepal, Serbia, Liberia, the UK, etc. — feminists have mobilized around UNSCR 1325 to leverage their aspirations at national and international levels. This isn't to say that there has been enough progress in turning those aspirations into guarantees. But there is at least the acknowledgement that the resolution exists, that the population needs to be sensitized to its importance, and that the government should be pressured to implement it.

Yet, this isn't the case in the United States. As with Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) — which the United States, along with only a handful of other countries including Iran, Somalia, and Sudan, has yet to sign — it's as though the U.S. exists outside of — and perhaps above — the framework of international rights and responsibilities.

UNSCR 1325 is specifically about women, peace, and security. It's about the different impacts of conflict on women and men and the recognition that women have a critical role to play in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. What about that doesn't have to do with the United States? Our day-to-day lives look very different than that of life in countries like the DRC and Afghanistan. However, that doesn't mean we're not impacted by war and armed conflict. In fact on any given day, our national security and the rhetoric of being “a nation at war” is bandied about. So why then, isn't there more widespread investment in this country for the mechanisms that protect and promote women in war?

It is a privilege to assume that this, and other UN resolutions, somehow do not apply to us or require our awareness and advocacy. And I don't mean that we should simply recognize it as a tool to use in advocating on behalf of vulnerable women in other countries. UNSCR 1325 doesn't just apply to “them;” it's about “us” too. War and armed conflict may not be immediately apparent in our daily surroundings, but it does apply to our lives. I think we, as American feminists, need to stand alongside other feminists in ensuring that there is a gender perspective on peace and security.