Sustaining Peace and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda: Strengthening Synergies for Action



Madeleine Rees is speaking at the dialogue on synergies between Sustainable Peace and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (Photo: Anwar Mhajne)


On 9 November 2017, the Group of Friends of UNSCR 1325 and the Group of Friends of Sustainable Peace, in collaboration with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), hosted a joint dialogue on “Sustaining Peace and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda: Strengthening Synergies for Action”. The discussion explored opportunities for strengthening action on sustaining peace that makes a difference for women.

The meeting was facilitated by Simon Collard-Wexler and Peacebuilding Senior Political and Public Affairs Officer, Vanessa Wyeth, both representing the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, which chairs the Group of Friends of UNSCR 1325, along with Rodolfo Diaz Ortega of the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations, which chairs the Group of Friends of Sustaining Peace. WILPF Secretary-General Madeleine Rees and UN Peacebuilding Support Office Chief of Policy, Planning and Application Henk-Jan Brinkman briefed.

The participants acknowledged the progress made in integrating the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in peace work. Since October 2000, the Security Council has now adopted eight resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, which commit Member States to strengthening women’s participation, protection and rights in conflict prevention through post-conflict reconstruction processes. In April 2016, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and Security Council adopted identical resolutions (A/70/262 and S/RES/2282(2016)), which underscored the importance of women’s leadership and participation in conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding. The resolutions specifically call for action to strengthen gender-sensitive programming (OP 22) and coherence within the UN system (OP 30 (a)); to strengthen partnerships including with civil society (OP 30(d)) and women’s organisations (OP 30(h)) and to mobilise resources for initiatives that advance gender equality (OP 27). 

The normative commitment to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in peace work is apparent and should be able to ensure that the approach to Sustaining Peace is based on a continuous gender analysis, guarantees the inclusion of women and recognises and builds on the role women play in building the social structures needed to maintain peace. Much of the discussion between the participants was focused on how these commitments could actually be realised.

The event started with a screening of a video of highlights from WILPF’s 2017 Convening on “Strengthening Women’s Meaningful Participation at the United Nations”. In April 2017, WILPF gathered more than 150 women's rights and peace activists from around the world to discuss how to make the United Nations more inclusive and make women count within the UN system for sustainable and lasting peace. The video highlights the ongoing obstacles to women’s meaningful participation and its impact on sustainability of peace. At the convening, women called for a paradigm shift in the approach taken to peacebuilding, one which ensures that local women speak for themselves (rather than be spoken for), addresses women’s human rights and understands gender inequalities as one of the root causes of conflict.

As WILPF Secretary-General Madeleine Rees suggested, the absence of such an understanding challenges prevention work and enables particular and binary narratives to emerge making conflict more likely. When conflict occurs, the approach of the UN in its interventions can then compound these narratives. For example, in Syria and Yemen, the UN has primarily included women around initiatives on sexual violence rather than recognising and valuing the role of women in political and humanitarian work.  As a result, women’s participation, recognition and credibility within communities has been undermined, and attempted “solutions” fail to capture local knowledge.

Rees also highlighted that there are inevitable consequences of women's exclusion for peace and transitional justice. When the harms suffered during conflict are not sufficiently understood or recognised because of the lack of women’s participation and a gender analysis, those processes are not only flawed from a justice perspective but can also build the fault lines for renewed conflict. For example, in Bosnia, a peace agreement which contained the constitution drawn up by the perpetrators of the conflict, and the absence of a comprehensive transitional justice strategy has lead to the institutionalisation of nationalism and economic divisions. In contrast, Colombia provides a good practice example: despite challenges, the peace process has been built on partnership with a strong Colombian feminist movement and the long-term presence of the UN in Colombia. “It is not a question of women in the peripheries, but throughout the process”, stated Rees.

UN Peacebuilding Support Office Chief of Policy, Planning and Application Henk-Jan Brinkman then highlighted key areas of priority for the Sustainable Peace Agenda and major linkages with the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. According to Brinkman, a key linkage between Women, Peace and Security and Sustaining Peace is a common commitment to prevention, as well as recognition of exclusion and marginalisation as drivers of violent conflict. Despite prevention being the least developed and most under-resourced aspect of Women, Peace and Security, both Sustaining Peace and Sustainable Development discussions provide an opportunity to address this key gap issue for long-lasting peace.

Brinkman referred to the new UN-World Bank study on conflict prevention that shows a strong correlation between interpersonal violence and communal violence that highlights the importance of preventing a culture of impunity from the personal to the political levels. The report uses as an example, the work of the Liberian Peace Huts, where the role of women in mediation and dispute resolution has been shown to be critical to building peace, especially in a context where formal conflict resolution systems were insufficient. As this suggests, strengthened prevention builds on a variety of international tools on rights and development to eliminate and minimise marginalisation and address root causes of conflict and conflict relapse.

Sustaining Peace discussions have placed a particular emphasis on the importance of building strong partnerships, including with regional actors, neighbouring countries and civil society, and strengthening national ownership that ensures the needs of all segments of the population are met. “Inclusivity is key”, stated Brinkman. “You need to expand inclusiveness over time. You have to include peacemakers without the guns.” To achieve such inclusiveness for sustainable peace, Brinkman suggested to “feed women's strategic analysis up the command structure”.

Strengthening good practice in the UN system is also critical. The work of UN Peacebuilding Support Office provides a variety of good practice examples that could be learned from. This includes support for the 2010 UN Secretary General Report on Women’s Participation in Peacebuilding and subsequent Seven Point Action Plan on Gender-Responsive Peacebuilding. It also includes the Peacebuilding Fund’s Gender Promotion Initiatives (2011-2017), which targets projects on women’s empowerment and gender equality and broke new ground in opening funding to civil society. The adoption of the 15 per cent target for UN Peacebuilding funds to be allocated on gender-sensitive work and towards civil society is one important step towards changing power structures. Making gender equality a top priority is key to building a “One UN” approach that ensures conflict prevention and long-lasting peace.

In the discussion period, the participants explored what reorienting work around local women’s voices and gender conflict analysis would mean in concrete terms. Overall, the participants agreed that, as one participant put it, “we are not that good at conflict analysis, and very bad at gender and power analysis”. In addition, the international community also tends to be bad at recognising what is working on the ground and building on this, or adjusting when they are not getting it right. Rather than assuming the need to start from scratch in rebuilding everything, or assuming that things are working, the international community should ask what is working, and then build on that.

The participants agreed that prioritising what is working for sustainable peace requires engaging with local women leaders. It requires ensuring that the process for peace in Track 1 builds on the Track 3 dialogue, often led by women and with substantial successes, as a potentially more effective method of building democratic peace. It requires engaging women from early stages and in an on-going way in the UN Security Council missions and reporting. It requires not being formulaic in analysing conflict, but instead taking initiative - whether through the Security Council field visits, C34 Committee military planner committee meetings or gender action points for the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) or peacekeeping missions - to work from the ground up, to look for women (where it would otherwise be men) and amplify their expertise and analysis in strengthening solutions. It requires prioritising gender adviser positions in peacekeeping missions, as well as including civil society engagement in mission mandates. It requires not waiting for the Security Council to follow up, but looking for alternative spaces, such as the Strategic Reviews of Peace Operations, to strengthen collaboration with grassroots civil society and build on good practice experience on prevention, peace processes and peacebuilding. And it requires that the UN reclaim its heritage as a peace organisation