Act Now to Celebrate the U.N. Women, Peace and Security Agenda in 2020

The United Nations Security Council took a historic step in October 2000 to promote the role of women in global peace and security issues. In passing Resolution 1325 unanimously, the Council affirmed that the leadership and engagement of women is essential in preventing and resolving deadly conflict and in successful peace operations; that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those killed and displaced by armed conflict; and that the U.N. is obliged to protect the safety and human rights of women and girls and ensure their access to humanitarian assistance during and after conflicts.

Moving beyond empty rhetoric, the resolution outlined 17 specific steps that the U.N., member states, civil society, and the broader international community should take to ensure gender equity, women’s empowerment, and civilian protection in times of conflict and crisis.

But if we want to be in a position to truly celebrate the 20th anniversary of this resolution in 2020, it’s time to take a hardline approach, starting with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly next month.

The resolution was among the first of its kind in linking “hard” issues of international peace and security with supposedly “soft” issues of human security and gender equality. Under the leadership of diplomats like Bangladeshi Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, who brought forward the women, peace and security agenda in early 2000 as president of the Security Council, it also enhanced the growing partnership between civil society actors, like-minded governments, and international organizations. In particular, the resolution drew on progress achieved in NGO-led efforts that had led to the Beijing Women’s Declaration of 1995 and the Namibia Plan of Action in 2000.

Heady Times

For those of us who had long advocated for these progressive steps, these were heady times.  Governments in conflict-affected and donor countries alike began to adopt National Action Plans to implement the resolution’s vision. The mandates of U.N. peacekeeping missions were rapidly modified to incorporate the resolution’s requirements. Civil society embraced the resolution as an organizing agenda. And a flood of supportive speeches and proclamations followed.

Personally, as an American diplomat and peace negotiator, I felt newly empowered to work within the U.S. government on this agenda. I was a “true believer,” having been engaged in peace processes in Angola, Haiti, Sudan, and beyond – efforts that tragically faltered due largely to the absence of women.

Over the years, new U.N. resolutions and national commitments have elaborated and expanded on this agenda to address such issues as gender-based violence, humanitarian assistance programs, reproductive health care, and the rights and protection of other marginalized populations. The United Nations created UN Women to promote and protect the rights of women, and regional organizations like NATO, the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and others signed up for forceful action.

Sporadic Progress…And the Risk of a False Peace

Still, two decades later, progress has been slow, halting, and sporadic. For example, it took the United States more than a decade to adopt its national plan in 2011 to implement the resolution, and even longer to incorporate the commitment in U.S. law through the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017.

We still see the pervasive use of rape as a weapon of war. In many countries, there has been a disturbing crackdown on citizen action and suppression of civil society organizations. And too many peace negotiations and operations remain devoid of effective grassroots women’s participation and leadership, such as the U.S. government’s ongoing discussions with the Taliban in Afghanistan. This raises the specter of a wholesale abandonment of the progress achieved in Afghanistan on women’s rights, reproductive health care, girls’ education, and female political and economic participation on the altar of a false peace with extremists.

One reason for this slow progress is the language of Resolution 1325 itself. Delving into uncharted territory, the Security Council was reluctant to use directive and forcing language.  Instead, Resolution 1325 “encourages,” “urges,” and “requests” actions rather than demanding them. It did not adopt enforcement mechanisms, identify resources to be devoted to the agenda, authorize permanent structures to monitor implementation, provide deadlines for actions to be taken, or approve sanctions on countries or non-state actors that violate its provisions.

The Danger of a New Resolution

Fast forward to today. As we approach the 20th anniversary of Resolution 1325, some have proposed that the Security Council arrange a high-level conference in October 2020 to celebrate our achievements, take stock of progress, identify new commitments, and adopt a new resolution strengthening the language and obligations of Resolution 1325.

But there are two key problems with this approach. First, a new resolution might very well result in backsliding, as the trend toward authoritarian leadership, national sovereignty, and resistance to international “interference in internal affairs” has intensified in many countries, including those on the Security Council. Just this April, for example, when Germany proposed a forward-leaning resolution on sexual violence, the United States insisted on excluding references to the right of women to reproductive health care in humanitarian crises.

Second, why must we wait another year? If we want to celebrate two decades of progress, we should use the forthcoming U.N. General Assembly meeting this September and upcoming meetings of the G-7 and G-20 and other international forums to adopt new commitments that would give us more to legitimately celebrate.

An Agenda for Urgent Action

In outlining the agenda for urgent action, we need only return to the visionary language of Resolution 1325. The resolution and its successors identified action items in five principal areas:

  • Increasing women’s representation and leadership in national, regional, and U.N. conflict-resolution processes, including peace negotiations, demobilization of combatants, and post-conflict reconstruction and development.
  • Providing for the physical protection, rights, and socio-economic needs of women in areas of conflict and in the humanitarian situations it causes, with an emphasis on gender-based violence and reproductive health services.
  • Putting an end to impunity and insisting on accountability for war crimes and other human rights violations that occur under the fog of conflict, including rape as a weapon of war.
  • Engaging women and other historically marginalized groups in all political, economic, social, and security decisions affecting their lives under the watchwords, “Nothing about us without us.”
  • Incorporating a gender perspective into all peace operations to ensure that these issues are mainstreamed and integrated, including through the identification of sex-disaggregated data.

Using the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals as a model, we should now articulate an ambitious set of time-bound, measurable goals for the women, peace and security agenda, backed by accountability provisions, identification of financial and human resources, mechanisms for sanctioning or at least naming and shaming offending parties, and feedback loops to help fine-tune our efforts.

Empirical research and on-the-ground experiences alike show that peace processes without a critical mass of women participants produce agreements far more likely to fail within the first decade of implementation. Why then do we continue to fund expensive peacekeeping missions and donor reconstruction conferences that result from these flawed processes?

The United States – the largest contributor to peacekeeping and reconstruction missions – and other major donors should use the power of their purses to:

  • Announce at the 2019 U.N. General Assembly that, as of October 2020, they will support only those peace processes that have at least 30 percent women’s participation at the negotiating table, with that percentage rising rapidly over time to full gender equity.
  • Refuse to fund peacekeeping missions for agreements based on widespread amnesties for war crimes, which too often mean that men with guns forgive other men with guns for atrocities committed against women.
  • Fund only those reconstruction packages and humanitarian assistance operations that address the need of both women and men and provide at least 15 percent of their funding for reproductive health, girls’ education, psychosocial support for survivors of violence, and similar socio-economic projects. This commitment was part of the 2010 U.N. Secretary General’s Action Plan for Gender-Responsive Peacebuilding, but has never been honored.
  • Support security sector reforms, demobilization programs, and power-sharing agreements only when they are based on full respect for human rights and human dignity of all marginalized groups.
  • Use funds freed up by the above measures to support the peace and security work of UN Women, which is almost totally dependent on voluntary contributions for its outstanding efforts.

This hardline approach should be applied to identify goals for all the priorities in Resolution 1325 and its successor resolutions, and it should be incorporated into national strategies such as the Trump administration’s June 2019 U.S. Strategy for Women, Peace and Security.

National Security Imperative

Does it make sense to condition support for vital peace operations on the full leadership and engagement of women?

We have seen too often the tragic cost in human lives and resources from the repeating cycle of violence from failed men-only peace processes. Countries faced with the resulting instability are more likely to traffic in drugs, people, and weapons; force large numbers of refugees across borders and oceans; incubate and transmit pandemic diseases; harbor criminal networks, pirates, and terrorists; and require foreign military engagement and humanitarian assistance.

Thus, we should ask instead whether it makes sense not to insist on these measures.

IMAGE: (L to R) Director of Afghan Women Network (AWN) Mary Akrami, Afghan civil society and women’s rights activist Laila Jafari, and Member of the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the Afghan assembly) Fawzia Koofi attend the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha on July 7, 2019. Dozens of Afghans met with a Taliban delegation on July 7, amid separate talks between the US and the insurgents seeking to end 18 years of war. The separate intra-Afghan talks were attended by about 60 delegates, including political figures, women and other Afghan stakeholders. The Taliban, who have steadfastly refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, have stressed that those attending are only doing so in a “personal capacity”. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)

  

About the Author(s)

Ambassador Donald Steinberg

Fellow at Our Secure Future foundation, a senior fellow at InterAction, and co-chair of the Women’s Refugee Commission. Formerly served as U.S. Ambassador to Angola and other top U.S. government posts, and as a member of the U.N. Secretary General’s Civil Society Advisory Group on Women, Peace and Security.