The Women, Peace and Security Agenda is relatively new on the global policy landscape, but women have always engaged in war and peace. Our own organisational history tells that story. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was formed in 1915, when 1,200 women from diverse cultures and nations met at the Hague, the Netherlands to protest war and advocate for women’s rights to make decisions in matters of peace and security.
It took the United Nations (UN) and States several decades to create a normative framework and operational policies and procedures that are tailored and responsive to the rights of women and girls in conflict-affected countries.
Early efforts to address the situation of women in armed conflict include: the 1969 Commission on the Status of Women, which questioned whether women and children should be afforded special protection during conflict, and the 1974 General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict. The UN World Conferences on Women (1975-1995) were also important milestones in building upon the idea that women are indispensable participants and active agents of peace, and their interests, voices, and capabilities must be accounted for and harnessed. The first conference in Mexico in 1975 initiated an ongoing dialogue on the status of women in a new space and gave impetus to the drafting and passing of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is an international treaty often referred to as the women’s international bill of rights. The second and third conferences in Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985) continued to raise the profile of these discussions. At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, women mobilised to bring more attention to women and peace. WILPF women and thousands of others came together and advocated for Chapter E (Women and Armed Conflict) into the Platform for Action (PfA). The Beijing Platform recognised that civilian casualties outnumber military casualties, with women and children comprising a significant number of the victims, and proposed strategic objectives including reducing military spending in order to redirect resources to peace; it also asserted that international humanitarian and human rights law need to be upheld and applied to offenses against women.
The new millennium brought increasing focus on gender disparity, with civil society pressure continuing to push the United Nations to increasingly address gender issues. In 2000, the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century" reaffirmed the commitments made in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The outcome document called for the full participation of women at all levels of decision-making in peace processes, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
Also in 2000, the Security Council issued a presidential statement commemorating International Women’s Day (March 8th). This statement recognised the connection between peace and women’s rights. The Secretary-General created a team to review the UN’s peace and security activities, resulting in the Report of the Panel on the United Nations Peace Operations. This report identified the need for equal gender representation in peacekeeping missions, especially in positions of authority. The report led to the adoption of The Windhoek Declaration, which calls for gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping operations, equal access and representation of women in peace processes, and the hiring of women for leadership positions.
Soon after these developments, the Security Council passed landmark Resolution 1325 (2000), the first Women, Peace and Security resolution. UNSCR1325 is the culmination of several decades of advocacy, from within the UN system and from civil society organisations. It is the result of the ever-increasing recognition that women experience conflict differently than men, and such variation requires tailored attention and expertise. It also recognises that women have a critical role to play in the ending of wars and the sustainability of peace.
Since 2000, eight more resolutions have passed, falling under the umbrella of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.