Prepared by Colleen Bromberger
Randa Siniora Atallah, General Director of the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counselling in Jerusalem, addresses the Security Council meeting on women and peace and security. The meeting was convened with a focus on promoting the implementation of the women and peace and security agenda and sustaining peace through women's political and economic empowerment. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)
The annual United Nations Security Council (UNSC) open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) was convened on 25 October 2018 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Held during the UNSC Presidency of Bolivia, the debate reviewed the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Women, Peace and Security, and focused on "Promoting the Implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and Sustaining Peace through Women's Political and Economic Empowerment". Overall, the debate was an opportunity for representatives of Member States, Observer States and regional organisations to assess their progress in implementing the WPS Agenda as well as make new commitments towards advancing WPS at local, national and regional levels.
In his intervention, the Secretary-General focused on the importance of securing funding for women's organisations and expertise, as well as supporting women’s participation in peacebuilding at the local level. Civil society speaker Randa Siniora Atallah, the first Palestinian woman to address the UNSC in official public proceedings, shared the experiences of women in the Israeli occupation. In particular, she linked the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the reinforcement “of the patriarchal structures of Palestinian society”, noting the disproportionate and therefore gendered effects of violence, as well as the lack of access to resources, most recently due to the funding cuts of UNRWA to women in Palestine. “In committing to Women, Peace and Security, the Security Council recognised the importance of women’s meaningful participation, and that without women, there can be no peace”, said Randa. “The lives of Palestinian women are evidence that these commitments have not been met”. The most prominent themes of the discussion included the barriers that structural inequality poses to women, the effects of the lack of resources have on women’s meaningful participation, and the importance of civil society in future implementation.
Many representatives used their statements to address structural inequalities as an important theme to overcoming obstacles to women’s meaningful participation and how they are linked. The representative of Bolivia highlighted masculinities and patriarchal society as barriers to combating violence and ensuring women’s participation. The representative of Albania highlighted that masculinity was rooted in power. However, the discussion of such inequalities went beyond tangible barriers; for example, the representative of the International Organization of La Francophonie questioned the usefulness of discussing empowerment altogether, suggesting that the concept of women’s empowerment implied a stereotype that women required capacity-building to perform duties, a question which was not mentioned when discussing men’s capacity in peacebuilding. Therefore, the speakers agreed that it is critical to dismantle stereotypes.
Access to resources
Access to resources was highlighted by Member States as a critical issue to fulfilling the aspirations of the WPS Agenda, including around women’s meaningful participation in conflict. The representative of the Dominican Republic noted that women’s access to resources and economic empowerment were instrumental in the prevention of conflict and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The representative of Rwanda highlighted recent efforts to revise land laws, resulting in more women owning land titles than men. The representative of Djibouti provided a precise example of the types of resources that women require access to, specifying that the lack of access to water was a major source of hindering women’s access to power. This argument reflects a previous discussion during the UNSC Presidency of Sweden in July 2018 on climate change and the maintenance of international peace and security, indicating that the lack of access to resources can be understood as a root cause of conflict, particularly in regions that are affected by climate change.
Given the increase in civil society speakers that were invited to brief in the UNSC in the past three years, 6 (7%) of the 81 representatives praised this inclusion as progress for women’s meaningful participation. In particular, the representatives of Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United States highlighted the importance of increasing the number of civil society speakers in future UNSC briefings. The representative of Sweden, which during its Presidency of the UNSC invited three women civil society briefers to address the meetings, noted the importance of including civil society as a role model. More broadly, the importance of the work of civil society organisations was noted as an foundation for encouraging women’s meaningful participation. Furthermore, the representatives of Norway and Switzerland lauded WILPF in its work on the WPS Agenda.
Overall, the four pillars of the WPS Agenda, namely participation, prevention, protection and relief & recovery, were generally referenced by representatives. The theme of participation was addressed by 76 (94%) of the 81 representatives, primarily through general affirmations of the importance of women’s participation as a necessary step to accessing economic resources. Prevention and Relief & Recovery were both referenced frequently by Member States, by 55 (68%) and 53 (65%) representatives, respectively. These references were in the context of women’s participation as critical to ensuring peace in pre- and post-conflict societies. Protection was referenced by 48 (59%) Member States, largely within the capacity of providing protection services to women in relation to SGBV.
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
One of the most popular themes of the debate, as well as the discussions on the margin of the debate, was the methods of combating SGBV, referenced by 50 (62%) out of 81 representatives from Member States, Observer States and regional organisations; this is due to the fact that violence against women was linked as a root cause to preventing women from meaningfully participating. Similar to the Arria formula meeting on the use of sanctions as a deterrent to SGBV, briefers and representatives linked the prevention of conflict as well as economic empowerment to ending violence against women. Notably, the representative of the European Union highlighted its Spotlight Initiative on eliminating violence against women and girls as a criteria for implementing the WPS Agenda.
Another important theme referenced during the debate was the contributions of women to peace processes. 38 (47%) of the 81 representatives referenced women’s role as mediators, negotiators or participants during peace processes. The Secretary-General highlighted the important role of women in peace processes in Colombia and Guinea-Bissau. The representative of Kuwait, who referenced women’s roles in the Kuwaiti peace process, linked the role of women in peace negotiations to positive and sustainable lasting peace outcomes. The inclusion of women was not only referenced at the formal level; the representative of the United Arab Emirates highlighted that women’s roles in informal peace processes was equally as important to ensure durable peace. Moving forward, the representative of Portugal noted that UNSC resolution 1325 was an important framework for ensuring women’s roles in peace negotiations.
References to justice, rule of law and security sector reform (SSR) were made by 29 (36%) of the 81 representatives. The topic of justice was framed through the lens of access. For example, the representative of Hungary highlighted that access to justice must be both youth-led and survivor-led, and the representative of Sri Lanka called for better access to transitional justice. Furthermore, the representative of Belgium called for increased participation of women in SSR to ensure inclusivity in developing rule of law. Within the context of access to resources and economic empowerment, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, noted the necessity of implementing programming on rule of law for women to ensure economic resilience.
As noted in the concept note, representatives of Member States, Observer States and organisations were encouraged to share future commitments to ensuring women’s meaningful participation in the implementation of the WPS Agenda. While 49 (60%) of 81 representatives shared their broad commitments to implementing the WPS Agenda, only 16 (20%) of the 81 representatives shared concrete action steps for the upcoming year.
As a whole, the statements made by representatives alluded to the progress and positive steps undertaken by Member States in the implementation of the WPS Agenda, such as the improving the inclusion of more civil society briefers to the UNSC, supporting the creation of regional mediation networks, and implementing the work of the Informal Expert Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security. Many good practices were shared during the debate. Notable examples include: organising the "Come and See, Go and Tell" program for women to assist in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants in Rwanda, hosting workshops at the International Association of Peacekeeping Training Centers (IAPTCs) in New Zealand and building the capacity of regional mediation networks. Several proposals that were shared at the debate included providing increased financial support to the women’s mediation network FemWise by Germany, supporting the inclusivity of the security sector reform (SSR) in Central African Republic by Slovakia and strengthening women’s initiatives in combating terrorism by Jordan.
With exception of a few references on conflict regions, the representatives of Member States, Observer States and regional organisations largely referenced implementation in their national capacities. In response to the statement delivered by the Palestinian civil society speaker, many Member States explained the ways in which they work to ease the situation of women in Palestine. For example, the representative of Israel noted the Golda Meir conference, which developed into a series of training courses to promote dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. In this context, the peace process in Colombia has often been referenced as a good practice example of gender inclusion in peacebuilding, despite the evidence that the peace process still remains ineffective on the ground, especially for women, due to the obstacles to effective implementation. Other WILPF-focused countries mentioned in the debate included the DRC, Syria and Yemen, with one notable example of Switzerland’s previous support for land rights in Burundi and the DRC.
Considering the role of weapons and armament in the WPS Agenda, the discussion of disarmament was overall a missed opportunity. Only six (7%) of 81 representatives made the link in their statements to the importance of reducing arms trade and encouraging disarmament efforts in ensuring commitments to the WPS Agenda. However, the representatives that highlighted the importance of disarmament to the effective implementation of the WPS Agenda provided substantive references. Estonia noted that there are effects of the arms trade on women’s meaningful participation. The representative of Trinidad and Tobago highlighted the importance of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) as a vehicle to “end the suffering of women and girls”. Furthermore, Venezuela linked the illicit trade of weapons through financial flows to terrorist organisations as a contributor to violence and therefore SGBV.
The implementation of WPS Agenda, particularly of NAPs, was an important feature of the debate. Notably, 63 (78%) of the 81 representatives noted the importance of implementation, with 23 sharing their progress on adopting and implementing NAPs, whether as the first (Albania, Czech Republic, Poland), second (Nepal, New Zealand, Slovenia), third (Belgium, France, Georgia, Ireland) or even fourth (Switzerland) adoption. As noted by the representative of China, “women are playing an indispensable role in reconciliation conflict" and countries must treat symptoms of conflict as possible root causes in the implementation of the WPS Agenda. However, a missed opportunity was to highlight the importance of finding synergies between the Sustainable Development goals and the WPS Agenda in future implementation, particularly beyond SDG 5 Gender Equality and work with the gender dimension in other SDGs on peace, namely SDG 16.
Moving forward, Member States, Observer States, regional organisations, civil society organisation and United Nations bodies must utilise every possibility to address root causes of barriers to women’s meaningful participation. In the wake of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UNSC resolution 1325, the WPS Agenda must be given full attention and priority, particularly with reliable funding and implementing prior commitments.
Therefore, in order to make sure that meaningful participation will not become a one-time exercise, or a success, such as in Colombia, that is quickly forgotten, the following suggestions are encouraged for the next year:
Ensure women’s meaningful participation in conflict prevention, democratic transition, reconciliation efforts, and any humanitarian work;
Call on states to stop exporting arms when there is a risk that they may be used to commit serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, in line with the Arms Trade Treaty. Governments, arms companies and arms dealers must be held accountable for transferring arms in situations where they fuel conflict and grave breaches of international law;
End the culture of impunity and ensure accountability for abuses and violations against women and women human rights defenders by armed forces and non-state actors;
Ensure all humanitarian efforts are gender-responsive; and
Use all tools at its disposal to ensure women’s meaningful participation and that gender analysis is integrated into any discussions, including by adding the OPT to the agenda of the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security and inviting women civil society representatives to brief the Council during country-specific discussions.
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