EDITORIAL: The Politics of Peace: SCR 1325 at 10

Open Democracy
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - 20:00
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Initiative Type: 
Online Dialogues & Blogs

This year marks the 10th anniversary of a landmark piece of international law codifying the link between women, peace and security known as U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000). As a Security Council Resolution, it is by definition binding on member states, and in theory at least obligates them to: take special steps to protect women from violence; promote their increased participation in peacekeeping efforts; and to ensure women's valuable contributions to peace-building are acknowledged and elevated to formal roles in peace negotiation.

That was the dream. The reality has fallen something short of the mark, a failure by the international community that was, for the most part, embraced this weekend by delegates to a high-level ministerial meeting held to review progress and reaffirm commitment. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the meeting with an honest assessment:

In a month we will mark the tenth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325…The international community can point to some successes… but this… is a sombre occasion. Our achievements over the past decade have not met our own expectations. Women are still excluded from peace processes. The security sector in most countries is still dominated by men. When conflicts end, and international aid begins to come in, it is still not geared to the needs of girls and women. And -- most tragically and strikingly -- women and girls still suffer gender-based violence, including systematic sexual attacks, in and around armed conflict. The international community is still failing to protect.

The Secretary General's analysis is spot on. For the most part, women's experience of conflict is no less brutal than it was ages ago, before the proliferation of international decrees and research documenting the extent of rape as a weapon of war and pledging to prevent and combat it in future conflicts. The most egregious recent example of this took place only weeks ago in Eastern DR Congo, where reports are still emerging that up to 500 women and a few men were brutally gang-raped in the ongoing conflict there, in some instances just a few miles away from what is currently the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world.

Citing this example, a number of states including Canada, Uganda, Norway and the EU, pledged redoubled protection efforts, reinforcing the mandate of the Secretary General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, and pledging new funds (Spain has pledged $50 million) to support a Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. Others, including Iceland, France and Australia committed to ensure specialized gender training for military and peacekeeping forces, or increased efforts to end impunity for sexual violence.

This sounds promising, but belies something of a rift between what have emerged as two distinct thematic areas under the 1325 umbrella: protection and peace. Sexual violence is horrible; no one disputes this. Protection efforts are necessary and, to date, insufficient. But protection also appears to be a bit trendy—states are far more willing to dedicate policy and resources to combat sexual violence than they are to promote women's substantive participation in peace negotiations. Existing UN programs under 1325—including but not limited to the mandate of Special Representative Wallström and the Trust Fund—are more highly developed on the protection side than they are on the participation in peace-building and post-conflict recovery sides. Unsurprisingly, commitment announcements, such as Sweden's resolve to support Wallström's office, were more numerous on combating violence than on promoting women-led peace.

This is due in no small part to the fact that protection is politically an easier lift than promoting women's participation in substantive, decision-making roles in peace negotiations and emerging governments and economies. The statistics paint a clear picture on this: ten years after the penning of 1325, there has still never been a lead female mediator in a UN-moderated peace talk, and women's participation as representatives in those talks has only been roughly 8%. Warring parties have explained this small sum by citing fears that women will either be so firm as to hold sex crimes to account, or will be too weak and likely to compromise.

But political will isn't the only issue: cash has been equally scarce. A spokesperson for the UN Development Programme plainly stated as much: “The donor community has not adequately financed this issue; our Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women is the most underfunded of all. It's nice to have words, it's nicer to have action; it's even better to have funding.”

This sad fact is also reflected in the size of the operating budgets of UN agencies—the UN's gender agency, UNIFEM, is the smallest of all. As Anne-Marie Goetz, UNIFEM's chief advisor on women, peace and security recently told me, “We've done a lot, but we're the tiniest agency. We're a tiny David fighting a huge Goliath here.”

There are two upcoming opportunities that might shift funding in the right direction. The first is the creation of a new, elevated UN women's agency, UN Women, consolidating the four existing gender departments and increasing the total endowment of the combined agencies to $500 million, twice the current level. Former Defense Minister and then President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, has been nominated to head UN Women, inspiring a good deal of hope amongst civil society activists such as Charlotte Bunch, a leading voice in the campaign for the new agency: “Having a former head of state and minister of defense is the right person for the job; I'm hopeful for a real synergy given the tenth anniversary and the founding of UN Women at once… that really gives a chance for more serious attention to implementation of 1325.”

Yet even this proposition is not without its share of political problems, as rumor has it that certain unnamed member states refused to explicitly include women, peace and security in the UN Women mandate, subverting the integrity of the new agency to a political dispute between the General Assembly and the Security Council. However, Goetz, Bunch and others insist that this formality is purely that, and will in no way preclude the new agency from taking up the 1325 agenda.

The second gleaming hope is found in an upcoming report from the Secretary General's office on women and peace-building that would commit 15% of UN funding for conflict and post-conflict programs to women's issues. I spoke with Rob Jenkins, the lead author of the Secretary General's report, about the experience of shepherding it through the rather perilous political process of approval and adoption.

“There are still a few questions to be answered,” says Jenkins, “like how this figure will be measured, when it will happen and what it applies to, but generally it has survived, not totally unscathed but reasonably okay.” The earmark is both necessary and revolutionary by current standards, where some UN agencies have spent as little as 4% of funding on gender equality projects.

Yet even this advancement will be subject to its own institutional hurdles; it has reportedly been whittled down to exempt UN field mission funds, such as those for peacekeeping efforts. Jenkins doesn't know yet how much that exemption will impact the bottom line, but he has been assured that impact will be slight (large pots of money, such as the multi-donor trust funds, will be unaffected). “Plus,” he adds, “If the UN's peacekeeping body is the only one not bound by and not following the 15%, that doesn't look good.”

Cue civil society, the all-important watchdog that pressures the UN to keep its promises. Indeed, activists have anxiously awaited new commitments; they were out in force at Saturday's ministerial meeting, even rolling out an electronic database to monitor commitments, broadcasting globally the states who do—and don't—keep their promises. You can access the commitments database here. Activists, at least, are committed that the next high level review of progress on 1325 will show just that: progress.

As we head into the remaining month ahead of the 10th anniversary, it is with dual and conflicting senses of deep frustration with the past and tentative optimism for the future. Ours is an opportune moment for real progress ahead, yet it is preceded by a decade of real failure. Future reports from me over the next six weeks will record developments from the Secretary General's reports; open debates by member states; reflections of civil society activists; and the final day of events on 29 October, when the Security Council will take up the issue and present an outcome document outlining concrete steps the UN will take to advance implementation. Perhaps this time our commitment will extend beyond the day and into the coming years—years that can and should be, in the words of peace activist and the meeting's moderator, Mary Robinson, “a decade of action and account.”