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The UNSC Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security: An Effective Framework?

April 15, 2015

By Darja Schildknecht – Associate Fellow

This year, the international community not only celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women and its Platform for Action, but also 15 years of the Women, Peace and Security agenda at the Security Council. The Women, Peace and Security framework aims to improve women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict situations by including women in decision-making processes and protecting them from the disproportionate impact conflict situations have on women. Today, we have the chance to evaluate the effectiveness of the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

The widespread use of gender-based violence is increasingly reported in situations of complex emergencies, political instability, armed conflict and post-conflict conditions. Although men and boys are also affected by gender-based violence, the majority of victims are women and girls, which is a result of the unequal distribution of power in society between women and men.

In the 1990s, after decades of activism by women’s human rights advocates, the international discourse first recognised the importance of incorporating women into conflict and post-conflict strategies. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) in 1993 was a crucial step in acknowledging the failure of states to address violence against women as a direct obstacle to reaching gender parity, development and peace. Although the declaration has no binding legal authority, it is a landmark document for women’s rights as it covers physical, sexual and psychological forms of violence. Shortly afterwards, in 1995, the Beijing Conference and Platform for Action became the first official document calling for better protection of women in armed and other conflicts, and linked peace with women’s participation in society, thereby drawing attention to the role of women in fostering a culture of peace in conflict situations.

In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1325 (2000), intending to protect the rights of civilian women and girls during conflict and to strengthen the participation of women in peace processes at all levels. This was the first resolution of its kind, addressing the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and creating the Women, Peace and Security framework, which explicitly recognises the importance of women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict situations.

The framework addresses the relationship between a country’s peacefulness and its level of gender equality, targeting the underlying causes of conflict, fragility and gender inequality. Its agenda consists of three major pillars: prevention, participation and protection. The first element refers to the prevention of violence against women and girls in conflict situations; the second intends to fight the exclusion of women as a social group from participation in governance structures, particularly in peace processes and peace negotiations; and the third pillar aims to provide full protection against gender-based violence.

As of today, the Women, Peace and Security agenda consists of seven Security Council resolutions. After 1325 (2000), the Security Council adopted several resolutions to address the persistent gaps within the framework, such as sexual violence in conflict; the need for a report by the UN Secretary General to provide information on the systematic use of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations; and the establishment of a monitoring, analysis and reporting mechanism on conflict-related sexual violence.[1]

Remarkably, the agenda is comprehensive and does justice to gender-sensitive issues: it addresses the disproportionate effect of conflicts on women and girls, yet ensures women’s empowerment and their role as agents of change. Interestingly enough, the more recent resolutions recognise the influence of societal constructions of masculinity and femininity on gender-based violence in conflict situations, calling for men and boys to be part of the solution.

In March 2015, the international community celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing and the Platform for Action. Therefore, this year is marked by the evaluation of progress made for women’s rights within these twenty years. One of the areas identified to achieve women’s empowerment in 1995 is ‘women in armed conflict’. The report of this year’s conference gives us some valuable insights on the effectiveness of the Women, Peace and Security framework, assessing its progress on the ground as well as normative achievements made.

Today’s broader global context of insecurity, poverty and growing inequalities has set boundaries to progress on combatting gender-based violence in conflict situations on the ground. Governments around the world continue to neglect the strong correlation between gender equality and peace, particularly with regards to the relationship between militarism and women’s empowerment. In 2013, $1,709 billion dollars were spent globally on military expenditure, which contributes to a cycle of instability. Compared to peaceful countries, conflict-affected countries have fewer women in parliament (an average of 18 per cent) as well as less female ministers within the government (an average of 13 per cent). Furthermore, conflict related sexual and gender-based violence remains a huge problem, as numbers show that currently 34 parties to armed conflicts (including armed groups, militias, and government security forces) around the world are responsible for committing patterns of rape or other forms of violence.

However, looking at the Women, Peace and Security framework from a normative perspective, there are remarkable achievements to note. This year, the Security Council commemorates the 15th anniversary of the first Women, Peace, and Security resolution, which was followed by the above mentioned other resolutions. These resolutions are legally binding in their nature. Furthermore, in 2013, the Group of Eight (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and USA – under the presidency of the UK) adopted the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict; and as of today, 155 states have signed up to the challenge to improve the UN – as well as national – responses to sexual violence in conflict. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) introduced its first policy to endorse resolution 1325 (2000) in 2007, presenting an action plan for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda in 2010. Likewise, the UN Peacebuilding Commission adopted a declaration on women’s economic empowerment for peacebuilding in 2013; and the Arms Trade Treaty, adopted in 2013, included an element of gender-based violence.

This strong progress on the normative level indicates that the Women, Peace and Security agenda and gender-based considerations have influenced further policy and legislative fields on the international arena, raising awareness and achieving “gender-mainstreaming”[2] of this issue. The agenda has, therefore, established itself as a resilient norm, which is not internalised yet, but already at the stage of norm cascade, where more and more states are adopting measures against gender-based violence in conflict situations.[3]

The commitment of states to combat gender inequality and gender-based violence in conflict on an international level is of crucial importance, as such pledges can finally translate into policies on the national level to address the correlation between gender inequality and conflict situations. As indicated above, the Women, Peace and Security agenda has not yet achieved a full transformation on the ground. It is thus essential to push member states to go beyond mere commitments on the international level, and adopt specific policies to combat gender inequality and gender-based violence at the national level.

It is imperative to see the long-term benefits of the Women, Peace, Security agenda, believing in a strong norm that eventually trickles down to national policies. With the combination of a determined focus on the long-term goal and the right measures to address the short-term causes, we – the international community, states, policy makers, and individuals – will achieve gender equality, extinguishing gender-based violence in conflict situations.

Sources:

[1] The full Women, Peace and Security framework consists of resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013) and 2122 (2013).

[2] „Gender-mainstreaming” assesses the implications of any planned action on women and men in all areas at all levels.

[3] According to Finnemore and Sikkink’s “Life Cycle of a Norm” for a norm to be successful, it needs to achieve three major steps: 1) the “norm emergence”, where norm entrepreneurs press for change on the international arena through establishing a written document such as an UN declaration. States and actors adopt this norm for domestic political reasons. 2) the “norm cascade”, where after a certain tipping point is reached, states start to adopt the norm due to international pressure rather than domestic political preferences. 3) the “norm internalisation”, where norms are transferred to the local level and internalised by the actors to the point that a norm as such is not recognised anymore.

About Darja Schildknecht

Darja Schildknecht is an Associate Fellow in the Security and Defence Team. Darja is currently working at the London School of Economics (LSE) as a Graduate Intern on the research project Above the Parapet – Women in Public Life. Previously, Darja has worked for the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the UN, covering all Security Council issues.