Women have long played a positive role in the building of peace and security in the Pacific.
However, this vital role needs to be formally recognised and strengthened to ensure stability and development in the region.
Despite Pacific women's productive efforts in holding peace vigils and dialogue initiatives in Fiji; negotiating across crocodile-infested rivers with armed combatants in the Solomon Islands; working to bring about the laying down of arms in Bougainville; promoting voting through advocacy, research and education in Marshall Islands; striving to end violence against women in
Tonga, Kiribati, Vanuatu and across the region; and, developing commitments adopted in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, women's participation in peace and security issues is often still a matter for debate.
Women still struggle to be heard at the negotiating table in leadership roles and are not given sufficient recognition and resources to do their work. Ten years ago, the United Nation Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. It was the first resolution to place women at the heart of peace and security issues based on their experience of conflict.
It was a watershed in that it demonstrated what is possible when the UN, member states and women's civil society collaborate.
The resolution signalled a shift in the role of women from victimhood to critical change agents in conflict prevention and peace building. This happened because it not only focused on the protection of women in crisis situations, but also called for the effective participation of women in conflict prevention, resolution and peace building; the mainstreaming of gender equality in peacekeeping missions; and directed the UN to appoint women into strategic positions related to peace and security.
In 2006, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Centre convened a high-level meeting with government officials and women from civil society which resulted in the role of women in peace and security being recognised in the regional security agenda that year.
Despite this early success and follow-up consultations, it has not yet become a standing agenda item at the Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC) meeting.
Given the tenth anniversary of Resolution 1325, 2010 is the year for review, and 2011 the year for action. This will require a concerted effort by all stakeholders including civil society, regional inter-governmental bodies, governments and the UN.
It is not just a UN or a women's issue anymore; all stakeholders need to become better engaged in women, peace and security.
Now is a critical time for the region to sincerely embrace women's involvement in peace and security. The best vehicle for moving forward is the development of a Pacific Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security through a high-level multi-stakeholder conference to develop a broad framework to assist Pacific governments to develop national programmes and strategies.
Through a regional approach, states would be able to more easily learn from each other, draw upon civil society knowledge and receive regional support from the UN and possibly PIFS.
Recently, UNDP through its highest official, Helen Clark, gave a personal commitment to ensure that UNDP's policy and programmes continue to give high priority to women, especially in crisis contexts.
Pacific Leaders now have the opportunity to enhance women's participation in a range of preventive and peace-building initiatives—whether it is rebuilding communities and institutions in Bougainville or Solomon Islands, strengthening governance structures as Fiji works towards elections in 2014, or integrating gender perspectives in national security policies in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Furthermore, leaders of countries contributing to RAMSI and UN peacekeeping missions need to ensure greater women's participation and perspectives, and that soldiers and police officers are trained to be able to protect women in conflict situations.
Other measures include an annual high-level interactive dialogue on women, peace and security convened by the Pacific-based UN Resident Representatives to hear directly from regional stakeholders.
There should also be systematic reporting in official processes, including by UN Resident Representatives, on the integration of women in peace and security agendas to enable regular updates to be made on the progress, identification of priorities, lessons learned and good practices.
The excellent work in identifying and training “gender champions” including men in high-level security position needs to expand as does the promotion of less aggressive and alternative forms of what it is to be a “man” in the Pacific. Lastly, member states of the Pacific Islands Forum should call for women, peace and security to become a standing agenda item at the annual FRSC.
Women's participation is critical in every aspect of peace and security. It is about the systematic inclusion of women from an early stage at all levels in the establishment, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and renewal of all peace and security initiatives, including eminent persons groups; it is about recognising that without protection mechanisms in place sexual and gender based violence remains a barrier to women's participation; and, it is about ensuring the accountability to women's human-rights at all times.
Greater acknowledgement and involvement by women in peace and security issues can only contribute to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' vision of a prosperous, stable and peaceful Pacific.