A look at UNSC’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda



Wed, 14 Nov 2018 - 12:22 GMT


Wed, 14 Nov 2018 - 12:22 GMT

Women in Cairo protest against violence against women, June 2014. (Reuters)

Women in Cairo protest against violence against women, June 2014. (Reuters)

CAIRO – 14 November 2018: With the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women fast approaching on November 25, it is important to shed the light on gender equality and significance of the UN Security Council's Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda in women’s journey towards equal rights.

Issues of gender equality have been central to human rights doctrine over the last century, and have been the basis of a wealth of international legislation concerned with promoting the acceptance of these rights across the globe. The United Nations have played a large role in providing the foundations for state obligations to citizens, and since 1945 have played an active part in pushing for change for minority groups, including work in increasing the protections afforded to women and children.

Embodying the motivations for UN involvement at domestic and international level in matters of women’s and children’s rights, in 2010 the Department of Economic and Social Affairs stated that two-thirds of the 72 million children excluded from school systems are girls and that women hold only 18 percent of the world’s parliamentary seats. This suggests, as they did, that there is a need to urge governments to change attitudes and implement policies that decrease inequality and discrimination.

A history of the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda

According to the UN Charter, a commitment to the support of gender equality remains central to ensuring the on-going enjoyment of human rights across the globe. In recognition of this, the United Nations’ have historically fought for the fundamental rights of women and girls, establishing an increasingly responsive framework to the needs of female populations, specifically in countries in conflict (United Nations: Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, 2017). This is as a result of the impacts of armed conflicts on women and girls worldwide, and similarly represents the mounting involvement of women as integral parts of the conflict resolution process, and in maintaining peacekeeping efforts around the world.

Although the UN Charter was first signed in 1945, and the UN showed their commitment to gender equality as soon as 1946, when the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which initially had 15 members only, was established, almost one quarter of a century passed before steps were taken to afford women and children increased protection during times of conflict, according to a paper published in 2014 by the United Nations Peace Operations Training Institute.

The United Nations was not the first international institution to introduce protections for women in conflict, nor to include them in policy and procedure relating to the decision-making process. Indeed, this affinity of women as peacemakers was recognised as early as 1931, by the Assembly of the League of Nations, which called for the involvement of women’s groups in their peace work.

The UN adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, in 1979, along with the 1982 Declaration on the Participation of Women in Promoting International Peace and Cooperation, did little to actually support the equality of women, and commentators have criticised the emergence of these instruments as ‘people-pleasing’ tactics introduced to quell the increasing public furore centred on emerging public recognition of female equality. Both of these pieces of UN legislation have also been similarly criticised for their failure to achieve ‘true’ change, as a result of an over-reliance upon those in power of state territories to enact into domestic law the recommended provisions. Indeed, the lack of female inclusion in peace-making processes after this point is often cited as evidence of a distinct failure of these UN commitments to achieve levels of recognition at a domestic level that would lead to their support from global leaders.

Across a series of ‘World Conferences’, the Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing, in 1995, is often considered a critical ‘turning point’ in the UN’s history of supporting equal rights for women. Specifically, it referred to the rights of women and children in situations of armed conflict as a critical area for concern, and encouraged the discussion of female involvement in decision-making processes, as well as the abilities to incorporate more women’s institutions into peace-making.

Perhaps the most notable development to be included in any considerations of the significance of the UN’s WPS agenda is the introduction of the Security Council Resolution 1325, in 2000. This Resolution serves to uphold the need to include women in all levels of peace-making, conflict resolution, and peacekeeping processes; it also recognised the increased danger to women and girls of armed conflict, and included provisions for their protection during conflict. The Resolution has, in general, been afforded great respect from human rights commentators for its role in increasing state participation in the promotion of the rights of women, and of incorporating gender-based discussion into all future United Nations work in both peace-making and security. Its implementation is overseen by a dedicated Interagency Taskforce on Women, Peace and Security, supported by a variety of international NGO’s and women’s organisations, invoking a multi-agency approach to implementation and critique.

Assessing ‘significance’: The need for the UN WPS agenda, and the issues faced by women and children worldwide

In order to coherently assess the significance of the UN’s WPS agenda, it is necessary to first establish the backdrop to UN action on behalf of women and girls, through an evaluation of evidence utilised in supporting the introduction of international policy, legislation, and guidelines since 1945. In large part, the Security Council took guidance from a selection of female representatives from a number of NGO’s, including those based in war and poverty-stricken nations, such as Sierra Leone and Somalia, according to the Office of the Security General in 2002.

Hearing of theses representative’s experiences of living in a conflict zone was integral to informing the Security Council’s judgment on the needs of women from differing social and economic backgrounds, and the steps to be taken toward achieving peace and protections of women’s rights in nations highlighted as being home to gender-based violence, sexual violence, or discrimination. Sexual violence and widespread rape of civilian female populations in Sierra Leone and Rwanda was outlined as an example of the concerns faced by women across the world in direct relation to armed conflict.

The need for an updated consideration of women and girl’s human rights protections is partly based upon the changing nature of armed conflict. Since the introduction of the United Nations in 1945, when experiences of the First and Second World Wars were focused in external conflicts, across international borders, there have been significant developments in the landscape of conflict, with ‘modern’ armed conflicts incorporating elements of ‘terror’, in-fighting between differing factions, and targeted civilian attacks. Indeed, UNICEF found that whilst 5 percent of casualties of the First World War were civilians, an astonishing 90 percent of casualties of 1990’s conflicts were civilians. Studies of non-gender-specific civilian suffering found evidence of atrocities including the use of child soldiers, racial abuse, sexual violence, and torture.

The ‘state of mind’ of all-out warfare is not new; the technologies and advanced weaponries that are now accessible to combatants allow them to engage in mass examples of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and torture, on a large scale, as a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross mentioned in 2011. Whilst these tactics of warfare are often indiscriminate in the lives they affect, there is evidence that women and girls are more at risk as a result of their unequal place in society, and their existence as the target of much existing prejudice and discrimination, even outside of armed conflict.

There has been increasing recognition over the last two decades, of the suffering of women and girls in societies where they have no equal access to decision-making processes, and are hence unable to have any say in matters of conflict, conflict resolution, or peace-making. According to scholarship on conflict studies, women and girls are often the target of war, since their presence as key cultural providers, along with their abilities to bear the children of the targeted group are recognised by aggressors. Thus, gender-based crime including sexual violence, rape, forced impregnation or abortion, sex trafficking, sexual slavery, and the deliberate infecting of HIV are all strategies that have been implemented at one point or another during times of armed conflict, according to a 2002 report published by the United Nations Population Fund.

What has also been recognised, perhaps more so than ever since the emergence of ISIS and their widespread influence over extremists, is that women are not always the victims of warfare, and often take some level of involvement in conflict, as soldiers, suicide bombers, strategists, decoys, or the spreading of propaganda.

Moreover, in 2007, Von Knop argued that there is a certain sense of denial surrounding the extent to which women are actually involved in cases of armed conflict, particularly in that perpetrated by terrorist organisations, and claims that women’s ideological support and operational facilitating is integral to ensuring the success of their organisation. Knops’ construction of the ‘female Jihad’, women play active roles in encouraging and educating their children to work toward terrorist goals, managing financial issues, and supporting or looking after their men.

This demonstrates the need for security agencies, international governing bodies, and NGO’s to look more closely at the roles of women, and evaluate their presence as both victims and perpetrators in contemporary armed conflict. This somewhat provides an initial understanding of the significance of a UN WPS agenda, as it highlights the growing consensus that women need to be involved more during different stages of conflict and peace-building processes.

The UN’s contemporary WPS agenda: making strides, and Resolution 1325

A central part of the UN’s current work in protecting women and girls worldwide is based in Security Council Resolutions. Following a review of existing UN work in regard to peace and security, reported to the Secretary General in 2000, the Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Plan of Action on Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Operations were announced in June.

The Windhoek Declaration was an essential step toward the adoption of resolution 1325, which has been heralded as an important step toward the recognition of women’s issues, at an international level. This resolution has been praised for its recognition of the fact that women are integral in peace-making strategy, and feminist critique has claimed that this advantage is socially constructed, allowing women to think from a perspective of disadvantage and inequality in their work in this regard. Implying even greater significance, feminists and activists have hailed resolution 1325 as supporting women’s roles in peacekeeping, and their experiences as victims of violence and discrimination, particularly during times of armed conflict. Internationally renowned researchers De la Vega and Hayley Nelson also claim that this recognition of women is inspired by the hard work completed by women, women’s groups, and feminist organisations across the globe.

The introduction of Resolution 1325 has been integral in shaping an essential pathway for the merging of social change representing gender equality, and political transformation exemplified by situations of armed conflict. Its existence will allow the inclusion of women’s issues and gender equality into policy-making at both domestic and international levels, and will be central to the ensured respect for women in future considerations of wartime.

In fact, feminist commentators and activists have voiced their beliefs that Resolution 1325 will be useful in fighting against sex trafficking, and the sexual exploitation of women and children, encouraging policy makers to confer with women’s organisations, and requiring the inclusion of women in decision-making. There can assuredly be no harm caused by increasing the visibility of these issues, and there is certainly a lot to be said for the UN’s presence as an ‘international stage’ on which to present international women’s issues. Similarly to the ways in which the United Nations has been essential in other areas of peacekeeping, the ‘accountability’ that it places onto member states to ensure the complete security and human rights of its’ citizens, and the tried-and-tested benefits of asserting pressure to ‘keep up appearances’ amongst neighbouring states.

Specifically, Resolution 1325 has enabled the measurement of accountability at both a domestic and international level, for the ensuring of rights to all female populations. What is necessary to maintain the momentum provided by this Resolution, however, is detailed strategy outlining the ways in which its implementation may be monitored from an international standpoint. The UN’s work in encouraging and supporting the training of military personnel of the meanings of Resolution 1325, the issues that it is concerned with regarding women and girl’s safety, and the new meaning that it has for women in important peacekeeping roles, is undoubtedly exciting in bringing the Resolution to life at grassroots level.

Challenges to UN WPS agenda: Implementation and Enforcement of Resolution 1325

The UN-Women Department, including the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW), has had, and continues to have, a major role in overseeing and assessing the implementation of Resolution 1325. A ‘Virtual Dialogue’ set up between the UN-INSTRAW and other organisations privy to the implementation, in 2010, focused on the experiences and commentaries of a variety of armed forces representatives, ground-level peacekeepers, and policy makers to identify the positive strides made in bringing Resolution 1325 to reality, and the challenges that were faced in continued efforts, according to the UN-INSTRAW in 2010.

This discussion raised the importance of issuing pre-deployment training to military personnel, and of on-going efforts alongside NGO’s in ensuring support for implementation at all levels. Overall, also, it was noted that whilst this need for training was recognised, and for the most part was being fulfilled, there was a further need to ensure the sufficiency of this training, in making sure that it was fit for purpose. According to the information provided from those at ground-level, the main issues in putting this training in place surrounded limited resources, either financial or human, and lack of time.

The following excerpt from UN-INSTRAW 2010 (page 3) is vital to discussion of Resolution 1325’s effectiveness as a tool for fulfilling UN WPS agenda, “The impact of gender training differs from situation to situation. Human rights training provided in Angola in 2000 and 2001 helped to reduce the number of shootings of civilians, rape, incidents of property damage and theft carried out by security forces. The training included a sensitization to the roles and responsibilities of being a member of the security services and was provided to local police and military units [William Tarpai]…training regarding feminine care in the field was conducted separately and privately. While this may have made the training itself more comfortable, it exacerbated the problem of men not knowing and not being trained to understand the basic needs of women in the field. This is particularly problematic in the case of male officers who are in charge of female soldiers.”

The information contained within this report is vital to understanding the on-going nature of the challenges of implementing Resolution 1325, and raises concerns regarding the transferal of good intentions in policy making to those interacting with potentially at-risk women and girls at ground level.

It would seem that even the process of implementation of Resolution 1325 is not free from discrimination against women. The overall attitudes still undermining the efforts of the UN in promoting equality are shown in the claim of the Australian Defence Forces that women’s physical differences meant that they could not serve on the front line in peacekeeping missions, Puechguirbal similarly refers to the failure of the UN to internally represent a good example of gender mainstreaming, claiming that a lack of accountability mechanisms to keep track of how Resolution 1325 is implemented within the UN’s own operations has meant that, at the time of the author’s study, only 6 of 66 individuals in top management positions within the UN peacebuilding teams are women.

Charlesworth, a prominent researcher, notes that this institutionalisation represents the longstanding failure of both national and international organisations to include female perspectives, and that as such, men’s experiences remain ‘a general, rather than a gendered, category’, whilst women’s experiences are ‘regarded as a distinct and limited category, related to a specialized and marginalized sphere and regulated, if at all, in a weaker way’. This represents a failure of the UN in managing to convey the importance, and the reasons for, the need to include women in peacekeeping strategy, and to deploy them alongside men in protecting women and girl’s needs in matters of armed conflict.

Moreover, Barrow, in 2009, points to the further difficulties that may be incurred when including women in these matters, and asserts the importance of considerations for race, faith, and culture, in making sure that it is ‘safe’ for women to participate in active roles. Utilising an example of the Israeli armed forces, whereupon mandatory conscription of both male and female officers occurs, it is possible to undercover evidence of sexual abuse and discrimination from within the Israeli army itself.

Cawkill, et al.’s (2009), Puechguirbal’s (2010), and Barrow’s (Barrow, 2009) findings, as presented above, not only undermine the efficacy of Resolution 1325, but also the successive Resolutions passed in its support (1820, 1888, 1889), and the work of the Peace Commission that was established in 2005 to directly oversee the Resolutions’ implementation. Whilst successive Resolutions will not be directly discussed here, due both to the limited word count and their basis in 1325’s content, it is important to note that any criticisms levelled here at 1325 will most likely also apply to its subsequent UNSCR’s. Utilising a similar study of the efficacy of Resolution 1325 and its ‘successors’: of 112 peace agreements signed between the adoption of 1325 and the end of 2008, only 5 included recognition for gender-based violence, or invoked responsibility for gender-based discrimination.

Other researchers also levels criticisms at this Resolution’s failure at grassroots level, and at the UN’s WPS agenda in general, claiming that much of the activity of women’s organisations has aimed at raising awareness regarding Resolution 1325 and lobbying governments, rather than applying them to the locally resonant community-controlled peace-building programs.

It would appear that, when taking a closer look at the UN’s WPS agenda and particularly Resolution 1325, there are serious doubts voiced about its capability to really change attitudes about women, rather than to simply present an outward appearance of changed attitudes. The next section of this assignment will look to the existence of ‘National Action Plans’, and how successful these have been as tools for on-the-ground implementation of Resolution 1325.

Efficacy ‘on-the-ground’: WPS in action, NAP’s, and implications

Tomić (2015) recognises the importance of analysing the UN’s WPS agenda at its ‘front line’, and thus presents an analysis of the effects of WPS and Resolution 1325 in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tomić highlights the beginnings of the important changes undergone in Bosnia and Herzegovina as being Amendments to the Law on Gender Equality in 2003, bringing it into line with UN regulations, including a provision citing an inclusion of gender equality meant a minimum 40% male and female involvement.

The Gender Equality Agency have also been integral in ensuring that Resolution 1325 is included within other areas of legislation, it has similarly been adopted within the Ministry of Security, whom have incorporated its requirements for gender equality into their framework. Bosnia and Herzegovina has, in many ways, been the ideal ‘poster child’ for the UN’s WPS agenda, with the Ministry of Defence developing an awareness course based upon the need for gender equality, and aimed at increasing awareness of specific gender issues.

This made the country the top contributor of female peacekeepers to UN-sponsored peacekeeping missions, and reaffirmed the benefits that Resolution 1325 had set out as being possible from the inclusion of women into such process. Although this example coherently represents the positive effects of Resolution 1325 in ameliorating gender-based policy, critics cite the lack of ‘enforceability’ mechanisms available to the UN in ensuring that this policy is both implemented and followed. As highlighted by Gumru and Fritz, the gentle language of UNSCR 1325, including words like ‘consider’ and ‘urge’, has caused member states to inconsistently implement the resolution.

Other refer to the ways in which states may seemingly be dedicated to implementing elements of 1325 into their domestic policy, but that upon closer analysis many NAP’s incorporate ‘smoke and mirror’ tactics to feign advocacy of the UN WPS agenda. In support of this theory, Lee-Koo’s analysis of Australia’s NAP condemns the lack of consistency reflected in policy-making, and the lack of ‘concrete steps’, and ‘architecture’ to fully commit to the upholding of WPS agenda.

After all

There is no doubt that the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda has been central to increasing the recognition of women and girls’ issues across the globe. These issues have included matters from discrimination, to sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and rap. Whilst a limited word count has left this research unable to tackle some of the issues raised in these areas, it has presented a coherent analysis of the significance of the WPS agenda, alongside the challenges faced by those in charge of its implementation.

The success of the agenda in presenting a framework for states to abide by and to track their own progress in implementing its contents has achieved positive results for the most part, proven in the evaluation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s post-conflict National Action Plan. However, there are critical barriers to its effective implementation, highlighted in the failure of the WPS agenda to tackle attitudes of discrimination within the UN’s own organization. These same barriers were evident in the criticisms of Australia’s NAP, and the excuses which it outlined for the prevention of women entering the frontline of its peacekeeping efforts.

Overall, the UN’s WPS agenda presents a working foundation from which to build in future, and has coherently outlined the main areas requiring improvement in areas of national and international governance. Its significance is unfortunately limited, however, to the accord that state actors pay to its contents, and whilst in places this seems evident, any progress made in the political sphere has been undermined by a failure to make progress at the most basic grassroots level, which is often where such progress is needed the most.



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