For many years and throughout the world, women’s roles in war and other types of violent conflict were perceived as marginal. Accounts of war tended to cast men as the doers and women as passive, innocent victims.Through time and the experiences of different women, the ways in which they live through wars – as fighters, community leaders, social organisers, workers, farmers, traders, and other roles – have become clearer.
While it is acknowledged that women are disproportionately affected by violent conflict, they are not simply passive victims. In many cases, at the local, national, regional, and international levels, women from Colombia to Papua New Guinea, from Nepal to Northern Ireland, and from Mexico to Macedonia are crossing the divide and engaging in peacebuilding activities.
However, for the most part, women’s role in peace processes has been constrained by their exclusion from the highest levels of decisionmaking and initiatives for good governance, as well as by the genderblindness of international and national policies. Women are still excluded from peace negotiations, and in peace and security circles at the global and national levels there is still a visible absence of the voices, views, and actions of women. In Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burundi, the DRC, Casamance (Senegal), and other areas of Africa, women’s livelihoods are affected by security issues. Women’s day-to-day activities are affected by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons such as landmines, whilst their ability to gather firewood and engage in agricultural activities is curtailed. A similar scenario exists in Asia, Latin America, and other regions.
A step forward
A vibrant women’s movement has flourished since the Fourth World Conference on Women, which resulted in the seminal Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and has mobilised to encourage the international community to adhere to commitments it made in 1995. In response, some steps have been taken to ensure that women’s concerns are mainstreamed across global institutions, agencies and policies, culminating with the United Nations Resolution 1325 that was unanimously adopted on 31 October 2000 (Adrian-Paul,‘Women, Peace and Security,’ unpublished work, 2002) The unprecedented unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is a great coup for women and women’s groups that have been fighting for women’s inclusion at all levels of decision-making and political participation for over twenty years. The Resolution reiterates the importance of bringing gender perspectives in all UN peacemaking, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. In so doing, the Resolution provides a number of operational mandates with implications both for individual Member States and the UN system (www.un.org/womenwatch/).
Undoubtedly, Resolution 1325 is a step forward for women and for their past and continued agency on the issues it encapsulates that have been highlighted by women’s activism everywhere. It is a tool that can be used for political negotiations, quiet diplomacy, and the mobilisation of women and their organisations as well as UN agencies and other constituencies. Most importantly, it is a tool for leveraging, advocacy, and for demanding accountability.1 Yet the binding nature of the tool is undermined by the weakness of the language in which it is written.The use of words such as ‘encourages’ and ‘requests’ is a dilution of the forceful language presented in the draft text by the NGOWG to the members of the Security Council.
The Resolution also has a number of weaknesses and gaps that need to be addressed.These include: First, early warning and early response mechanisms, though a crucial aspect of the UN’s work, are not addressed.There should be the development of gender-specific and early warning indicators, as well as the collection of disaggregated data to facilitate a better understanding of the impact of conflict on different sectors in society. Attention to this issue can enhance the planning of peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions.
Second, there is no overt mention of mechanisms, benchmarks or success indicators that can be used to ensure state accountability. Moreover, no such mechanisms have been developed for effective accountability and discipline of peacekeepers who exploit and violate women, girls and young boys in local populations where there are peacekeeping missions.
Third, there is a need for developing a database of the names and credentials of experienced women recommended to the Secretary-General by NGOs and governments as candidates to fill high-level positions in various UN agencies and departments, as well as positions in peacekeeping and other field missions.
Fourth, there are no mechanisms to ensure the peace and security of women living in unrecognised states. For example, what should be done about the issues affecting women’s peace and security in territories such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia (South Caucasus) and the New/South Sudan in the Horn of Africa, among others?
Last, there is a lack of any reference to justice – widely accepted as an integral prerequisite for sustainable peace and reconciliation. International Alert takes Resolution 1325 as the focus for its Gender and Peacebuilding programme, which is comprised of two interlinked and inter-related programmes: a global policy advocacy project and a gender peace audit. Together these programmes employ a two-way advocacy approach that works to inform practitioners at the local level of the existence of the global policy, consults with them on issues affecting women’s peace and security, and links these realities to the Resolution.
In the process the programme elicits women’s perspectives on how the tool addresses these issues and the relevance of the Resolution for women’s peacebuilding work in context-specific situations, identifies gaps that need to be addressed, and works with women to develop recommendations for policy makers as to how the Resolution could be implemented to better support women and their peacebuilding activities.The findings and recommendations of these consultations are then used to inform policy papers that programme disseminates widely, and which underpin informed and persistent dialogue with policy makers.
The programme works with UN agencies, other interested NGOs, and relevant institutions to ensure that the Resolution is widely publicised and that a gender perspective is incorporated, thus translating policy into practice and locating the policy formally in local realities.