By Zarin Hamid, Programme Coordinator of the WILPF Women, Peace and Security Programme
On Tuesday, October 29, 2019, under the presidency of South Africa, the United Nations Security Council and 91 Member States and regional blocs commemorated the 19th Anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 during the annual open debate on women, peace, and security (WPS). The open debate focused on the full implementation of UNSCR 1325 and its related resolutions (the WPS Agenda) under the theme, “Towards the successful implementation of the women, peace and security agenda: moving from commitments to accomplishments in preparation for the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).” Unable to finish with member state statements to the Council on October 29, the debate concluded on November 4 under the new presidency of the United Kingdom.
In the debate concept note, member states were urged to pay particular attention to how they can move from making commitments on WPS to operationalisation and implementation of these commitments through measured progress and identified challenges in advance of the 20th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 in 2020. Briefers included: the UN Secretary-General (UNSG), UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, AU Special Envoy for Women, Peace, and Security Bineta Diop, Lina Ekomo from FEMWISE/AWLN, and one civil society briefer, Alaa Salah, who is a Sudanese activist, community leader, and a member of a coalition of Sudanese women’s civil and political groups, MANSAM. The debate also included a statement by Norway, on behalf of the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland) acknowledging the work of WILPF and other grassroots women’s peacebuilding organizations.
Briefers and member states considered the findings of the annual report of the UN Secretary-General on the implementation of UNSCR 1325, which focuses on accountability and institutional gaps. This year’s Secretary-General report built on an independent assessment of WPS recommendations in the three peace and security reviews conducted in 2015 on peace operations, peacebuilding, and WPS (public version expected to be published by the end of 2019). In his statement Guterres echoed the recommendations on priority areas made in his report, including: 1) Increasing women’s meaningful participation in peace processes and implementation of agreements; 2) Protecting civic space and the work of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders; 3) Preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence; 4) Strengthening women’s economic security and access to resources. The Secretary-General reminded member states that “women pay the price of violence.” Today, peace agreements are still adopted without provisions for the needs of women and girls; attacks against women human rights defenders (WHRDs), humanitarian and peace builders, and sexual and gender-based violence are all on the rise; and survivors are left without support or justice. The Secretary-General also called out the role of misogyny as core part of extremist groups’ ideology.
Alaa Salah provided the civil society briefing on behalf of MANSAM, a coalition of Sudanese women’s civil and political groups, and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, of which WILPF is an active member. Salah focused on two key issues in her statement to the Council: women’s meaningful participation and protection of women’s rights and accountability and disarmament. Salah detailed women’s key role in the Sudan uprising, securing women’s human rights, and providing humanitarian assistance to those in the country’s conflict-affected areas. Despite their crucial work, Salah indicated, women have not only been actively excluded from political processes, but also endured backlash and attacks. She stated that given women’s vital contributions towards peace and development, “there is no excuse for us [women] not to have an equal seat at every single table.” Salah reminded member states that the availability of weapons exacerbates the possibility of sexual and gender-based violence, calling states to put an end to arms exports to Sudan as well as highlighting the need for accountability and justice for all crimes. Salah also underscored that gender equality and women’s rights must be at the heart of the peace process, ending her briefing with five key recommendations. These included urging the Security Council and the international community to ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of women; implement all women, peace and security obligations; support accountability and end impunity; support civil society organizations and women human rights defenders and end the use of force against protestors; and stop the export of weapons to Sudan.
Overall the 2019 open debate focused on the need for greater accountability and the full implementation of the WPS agenda. However, although the concept note for the debate and also the purported aim of the resolution both focused on accountability, only twenty-one states and regional blocs (23.08%) referenced accountability directly (i.e. regarding WPS implementation generally, gender-based violence, or sexual violence in conflict). The main focus of the debate was on meaningful participation, with substantial attention also to civil society, women human rights defenders, and women in peacekeeping and security sector. Many states and briefers recalled the Secretary-General’s report which highlights the critical importance of women’s meaningful participation in peace processes and the implementation of peace agreements, the protection of civil society space and the work of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders, as well as a call for action and necessary response on prevention of sexual violence in conflict. In their response statement to an explanation of the vote on the new resolution, the United Kingdom strongly emphasised that “focus should now be on delivering on the ambition of the full existing framework of Women, Peace and Security resolutions, and not producing more texts.”
Twenty-eight states and regional blocs (30.77%) asserted the importance of respecting women’s human rights and gender equality for women's participation in civil and political life, including prevention of armed conflict and peace processes. Belgium connected the promotion of gender equality and the promotion of “economic emancipation of women” as essential to the WPS agenda implementation. Kuwait also underscored that the responsibility to respect human rights and put an end to violence against women must be on states, and welcomed the UN to build states’ capacity with regard to the WPS agenda. As an indicator of whether and to what level human rights are respected and protected in a given country, gender equality is a predictor of conflict. It is therefore an imperative on the United Nations, the UN Security Council, and member states who speak and act on the WPS agenda to prioritise human rights of women, LGBTQI, and others most marginalised, including as part of conflict prevention. Some states such as Morocco, Panama, and Liechtenstein spoke of the importance of non-discrimination, gender equality and respect for women and girls. In particular, Morocco called on member states to “ensure gender equality, respect for women and girls rights is integral [and that they must] combat impunity and ensure accountability for gender-based violence”. Lichtenstein reminded states that for women to be “agents of change, we need to ensure they can fully enjoy their rights…[by enabling] an environment free of discrimination.” Panama spoke boldly in support of human rights of women and the need for states to uphold these rights as prevention from violence against women who speak out.
Sixty-seven states and regional blocs (73.63%) called out the continued roadblocks set before meaningful participation of women. The United Kingdom spoke of its commitment to increasing women’s meaningful participation in peace processes through efforts in Afghanistan, South Sudan and Yemen, calling on the UN to step up its role in ensuring that gender expertise and gender perspectives are integrated throughout missions, making progress on the Global Alliance of Women Mediators and holding UN Special Envoys accountable for their commitment to the WPS Agenda. The Dominican Republic called for “gender equality and the promotion and protection of women's rights and full participation to play a key role in preventing and resolving armed conflict.” Ireland and Equatorial Guinea echoed this call. Briefers to the Council, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and FEMWISE/AWLN Representative Lina Ekomo called for improved and sustained efforts on bringing women’s meaningful participation in peace and political processes and institutions to bear substantially. Lina Ekomo urged states to make priority the inclusion of women in the organization of peaceful elections for lasting peace by addressing the vital need to address the gap between the commitments and action. Mlambo-Ngcuka reminded the Council that more can be done to address “the issue of participation and inclusion of women in all peace processes and women in the uniformed services,” urging specifically that “UN and member states should not be giving support to peace processes that exclude women... [when] we know that such processes have limited chance of bringing peace”. Moving forward, women’s human rights must no longer be secondary to getting conflict parties to the table. The exclusion of women’s participation and rights results in agreements that do not reflect their rights and needs, and undermines the sustainability of peace processes.
In March 2019, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders reported a rise in “misogynistic, sexist and homophobic speech” by political leaders normalising targeted violence against women, women human rights defenders and gender non-conforming people. Twenty-nine states and regional blocs (31.87%) made references to the situation of women human rights defenders, peacebuilders, and their ability to do their work without threats or reprisals. Violence against women human rights defenders, political actors, and peacebuilders continue to go unabated around the world. Leading the discussion on this, Alaa Salah apprised the Council that women, including “activists, politicians, human rights defenders, and peacebuilders continue to be systematically attacked and targeted, including through sexual violence, which has forced many out of the country entirely.” Salah reminded states that “women’s organizations are at the front line of meeting basic needs and protecting rights in conflict-affected areas, but security restrictions and obstructive administrative requirements prevent critical work from being carried out…” In particular, they “continue to be systematically attacked and targeted, including through sexual violence, which has forced many out of the country entirely”.
The Dominican Republic called for the establishment of tools to protect WHRDs and other civil society actors who are threatened with violence. Sweden called out the increased hostility toward WHRDs when instead civil society is an untapped partner with member states looking to implement the WPS agenda as a whole, stating that it is “moral obligation to stand up” for women leading change around the world. Other member states such as Estonia, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden recalled the growing difficulty for WHRDs to do the vital work of progressing human rights and the WPS agenda in their regions and communities. Sweden drew attention to the “increased hostility” towards WHRDs. Mentioning the vital role that women’s organizations and WHRDs play in promoting security, the Netherlands emphasized the need “to ensure across the world that WHRDs are protected and can do their work without fear.” Considering the depth and breadth of impact that conflict plays in the lives of women, it is critical that those with power to require room at the table do not ensure that women have an equal and substantive seat. The role of civil society and women human rights defenders must be protected by states and supported without reserve by the UN Security Council and UN so that they may carry out the critical work which feeds the implementation of the WPS Agenda without fear of reprisals.
Fifty-four states and regional blocs (59.34%) focused on peacekeeping as an important element in the WPS agenda. Many called for women’s participation in the security forces nationally and in peacekeeping as a means to improve humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations and reach women and children. Jordan, along with Hungary, Egypt, and Poland, among others, stated their firm belief that “increasing women’s participation in peacekeeping is a critical factor for the overall success of peace missions.” Others like Poland called for women’s participation in peacekeeping as a “crucial element to bringing change in post-conflict environments [which itself] requires a mind shift on how politicians view the role of women in conflict prevention and peacekeeping.” Others like Egypt spoke of efforts in training peacekeepers to “deal with sexual abuse and exploitation in conflict situations and it raises awareness of the different aspects of the WPS Agenda.” Gender experts and particularly women continue to be in need at the highest levels in UN operations, including as UN mediators and senior experts in peace operations. Beside participation, peacekeeping was the most popular issue discussed by member states. However, while increasing women’s participation in the security sector is only one dimension of mainstreaming gender in Security Sector Reform (SSR) efforts, efforts to bring a gender-mainstreamed and gender-responsive structure within SSR as a way to improve and advance WPS within institutions focused on implementing the rule of law in countries, requires moving beyond the numbers of women in forces. Most concretely, Kazakhstan gave emphasis to need that “troop contributions must be accompanied by gender specialists in every sector, including in [work concerning] human rights and security sector reform [and] women must be involved in peace education, reconstruction activities, [and] assisting in the DDR process.”
While women in peacekeeping is important, the intent of UNSCR 1325 was not to add women to the war system but to end war. The WPS agenda must centre on prevention and accountability, which includes addressing and respecting human rights and disarmament so as to prevent conflict and build the foundation for gender equitable peace.
Sexual violence in conflict (SVIC)
Twenty-nine states and regional blocs (31.87%) touched on, albeit mostly indirectly, the urgent need to have accountability for sexual and gender-based violence. For example, Sierra Leone focused on learning from the past and ensuring prevention measures for sexual violence; Rwanda on holding perpetrators to account as way of giving justice to victims; and Iran called on the Council to see women as the main victims of sexual violence used as a tactic of war and terrorism, and for accountability for these acts to be undertaken. The CSO briefer, Alaa Salah, called for an international fact-finding mission to investigate and bring to justice human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence. Kazakhstan, Lichtenstein, and Slovakia all expressed support for ending impunity, with Lichtenstein drawing attention to the urgent need of accountability measures with their statement that “perpetrators of SV continue to enjoy impunity while survivors are left alone.”
Additionally, nine countries — Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Lichtenstein, the Netherlands, Rwanda, and South Korea — emphasized the urgent need to develop support and services for the survivors. The Netherlands underlined that “survivors should be the drivers of the personal recovery process.” Japan also expressed support for the International Fund for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, stating that “sexual violence in conflict is a great obstacle to sustaining peace.” Eleven states and regional blocs (12.09%), such as Croatia, Morocco, and South Africa stressed the importance of accountability for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Croatia summarised the problem as “we still live in a world where women face exclusion from peace and political processes and grave abuses including sexual violence continue to go on,” urging protection for women in armed conflict along with “enhancing” women’s contributions to peace processes.
While the focus of the debate was on tracking progress and pushing forward the implementation of the WPS Agenda, there were multiple gaps in the discussion. There was scant attention on the issue of proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the logical need to address disarmament as a means toward prevention of conflict. It is the role of the United Nations to take “effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”, and the UN Security Council’s job is to take action for the maintenance of international peace and security, including through prevention of conflict and crisis and ending war. Despite this, only eleven states and regional blocs (12.09%), including the Dominican Republic, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Namibia, and Sudan, spoke about the importance of disarmament for the WPS agenda. In particular, women’s inclusion in conflict prevention, mediation and peace processes along with women’s underrepresentation in arms control and disarmament fora were highlighted. Among the mentions, Italy reiterated their support for the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). In particular, they drew attention to the importance of Article 7.4, highlighting the link between gender-based violence (GBV) and arms transfers, especially the impact of small arms and light weapons on girls. Similarly, calling on states parties to the ATT, Latvia, which recently served as President of the Fifth Conference of the States Parties to the ATT, spoke of the Plan of Action on gender and gender-based violence, which aims at improving meaningful participation of women in disarmament fora, and outlines the steps parties can take to implement provisions of the ATT related to risk assessment based on gender-based violence criteria. UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, stated that “Feminist organizations’ repeated calls for disarmament, arms control and shifting military spending to social investment go unanswered” and underlined that procuring arms seems to be more important than access to clean water.
States continue to undermine peace by supporting warring parties and transferring arms despite substantial risk that they may be used to commit serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, against the Arms Trade Treaty. Alaa Salah emphasised, “We do not need more firearms, yet many governments continue to sell weapons which directly contribute to and perpetuate conflict, ongoing violations of human rights and forced displacement.” Azerbaijan and Djibouti were among the only states to echo the civil society briefer in addressing the effects of armed violence on displacement of populations, with Djibouti reminding the Council that “conflict in Africa has been one of the drivers of displacement [with] women being the main victims of smuggling and trafficking.” Slovenia was the only Member State, as well as the only speaker that mentioned migration, briefly touching upon the subject during their overview of how Slovenia integrated a gender perspective into several areas of their national strategy.
Only eleven states and regional blocs (12.09%), including Australia, Equatorial Guinea, Ireland, Korea, Peru, and Sierra Leone, mentioned the significance of addressing the root causes of conflict, inequalities, and contributors to violence. Among these statements, Korea underscored that prevention should be “the first priority” to sustain peace and security with a call to “promote deeper understandings of the root causes of conflict.” Hungary, along with similar calls from Albania and Morocco, underscored that the implementation of the WPS agenda needs to start during times of peace by “addressing the root causes of conflict, preventing militarization and armed proliferation, and also protecting and promoting women’s and girl’s human rights.” Peru drew attention to the importance of data and approach to the differentiated impacts and root causes of conflict and gender equality on women and girls. Morocco added that combating impunity and ensuring accountability for gender-based violence is part of tackling root causes and predictors of conflict. Equatorial Guinea suggested that eliminating root causes of violence requires going beyond gender equality alone and also working towards equality between states as well as towards sustainable development. Conflict prevention and ensuring that peace is sustainable, inclusive, and far-reaching, requires going beyond ending armed conflict. Fundamental to prevention is addressing root causes of conflict, such as pervading inequality, discrimination, human rights violations, including the effects of climate change, as well as proliferation of weapons and continuous bolstering and normalisation of the political economy of war fuelling conflicts across the globe.
At this year’s Security Council WPS debate, a 10th Resolution on Women, Peace and Security was adopted unanimously. South Africa tabled UNSCR 2493 with the apparent aim to rebuild consensus around the WPS agenda and focus attention on accountability. As our coalition, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security noted in their analysis of the resolution text, there have been concerns raised that it set a less than ambitious tone for the 19th anniversary of the WPS agenda. However, it affirmed Security Council consensus and cross-regional support around the existing normative framework.
In the end, UNSCR 2493 reaffirms “continuing and full implementation, in a mutually reinforcing manner” of all previous WPS resolutions. It also introduces substantive references to women’s “full, equal, and meaningful” participation, and contains an indirect reference to human rights defenders, as well as recognition of the importance of a broader legislative and political environment to allow them and other civil society to carry out their work. The text requests the UN Secretary General, among other things, to “develop context-specific approaches for women’s participation in all UN-supported peace talks, including country specific situations, in order to contribute to full, equal and meaningful participation of women in peace and security, to ensure more inclusive participation”. Regarding how member states can move the agenda forward, the resolution also calls on member states to “promote all the rights of women, including civil, political and economic rights, [urging] them to increase their funding on women, peace and security.”
While the principle of accountability is important, it requires not just words but action. As we prepare for the 20th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 in 2020, governments should focus on concrete actions for implementation that change women’s lives on the ground.
If the UN Security Council is to deliver on its mandate to maintain international peace and security in a way that works for women — and men and gender non-conforming people — it must accelerate holistic accountability by taking bold action for peace based on local women’s leadership and rights.
With our coalition, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, WILPF is sharing five key messages for Member States and Security Council members, to which we urge them to commit full political support:
Take decisive action to prevent conflict, avert crisis and end war.
Gender equality and the human rights of all women and girls are central to international peace and security.
Women’s right to full, equal and meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and security, including all formal and informal processes, must be safe-guarded and non-negotiable.
Defend the legitimacy of the work of all human rights defenders and their role in promoting peace and security, and condemn all attacks against them.
Meaningful action on women, peace and security requires recognizing the interrelated, inseparable and mutually reinforcing nature of all elements of the WPS agenda, and committing to full implementation.
Read NGO Working Group on Women Peace and Security 2019 WPS Open Letter here>>
More information about WILPF's Engagement can be found here>>