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10 years on, the promises to women need to be kept

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury who, as as the President of the UN Security Council in March 2000,

led the initiative on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on the role of women in peace and security

International Women's Day in 2000 was a special day for me and for women. That day, I had the honor, on behalf of the UN Security Council as its President, of issuing a statement that formally brought to global attention the unrecognised, under-utilised and under-valued contribution women have been making to preventing war, building peace and engaging people to live in harmony.

The members of the Security Council recognised in that statement that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men. They affirmed equal access and full participation of women in power structures and their full involvement in all efforts for peace and security.

It was unfortunate that the intrinsic role of women in peace and security had remained unrecognised since the creation of the United Nations. For a long time, there has been an impression of women as helpless victims of wars and conflicts. Women’s role in fostering peace in their communities and beyond has often been overlooked. But on 8th of March 2000, that inexplicable silence of 55 long years was broken for the first time. The seed for Security Council resolution 1325 was sown.

Adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women, who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in the post-conflict architecture.

Peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men.

The main question is not to make war safe for women, but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. That is why women need to be at the peace tables, involved in the decision-making and in peace-keeping teams. They need to be there particularly as civilians, to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace. 1325 marked the first time that such a proposition was recognised as an objective of the Council. As such, its implementation places a unique and all-embracing responsibility on the international community - particularly the United Nations.

When I first brought up the issue of women, peace and security into the Security Council, wide-ranging disinterest - even indifference - was expressed by some of my colleagues. Some said that the President was diluting the Council’s mandate by trying to bring a “soft issue” onto its agenda. But I believe that the passage of 1325 is an impressive step forward for women’s equality agenda in contemporary security politics.

However, the resolution’s value as the first international policy mechanism explicitly recognising the gendered nature of war and peace processes has been undercut by the disappointing record of its implementation. The complicity of the Security Council in international practices that make women insecure, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarised inter-state security arrangements, is disappointing. Also, we should keep in mind that the Security Council itself is yet to internalise gender considerations into its operational behavior.

The role of the UN Secretariat, and the Secretary-General in particular, leaves much to be desired. Undoubtedly there is a clear need for his genuinely active and dedicated engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325.

As a start, even after ten years, the leadership of the Secretary-General should be manifested at least in four areas.

First, the Secretary-General should give top priority to energising and supporting UN member states to prepare 1325 National Action Plans. Of 192 countries, only 20 have prepared such Plans so far – a meagre one-third of which are by developing countries. He should personally write to heads of state and governments suggesting a timeframe to have their Plans ready and get the UN Resident Coordinators to follow that up.

Second, the area that deserves special attention is the need for awareness, sensitivity and training of senior officials within the United Nations system as a whole with regard to 1325.

Third, urgent attention should be given to stopping altogether sexual violence and the abuses which take place in the name of peacekeeping and have been ignored, tolerated and left unpunished for years by the UN. There should be no impunity whatsoever by invoking national sovereignty.

Fourth, the Secretary-General needs to take the lead in setting up a six-monthly inclusive consultative process for 1325 implementation with civil society organisations at all levels, involving the relevant UN entities. He should encourage a similar consultative process with non-governmental organisations at country level.

Organisations like NATO and the African Union, that are engaged in peace operations, should internalise 1325 in real terms, both from the women’s victims and participation perspectives in their work.

1325 is not an end, but the beginning of the processes that will gradually help reduce the gap in inequalities.

As has been said often, “1325 is not an end, but the beginning of the processes that will gradually help reduce the gap in inequalities.” In peace and security context, women are not just a vulnerable group, they are empowering as well.

As we have seen, when women have been included in peace negotiations, their contribution and perspective have often ensured that peace accords address demands for gender equality in new constitutional, judicial and electoral structures.

Calling upon warring parties to adopt "a gender perspective" on peace negotiations and "gender mainstreaming" in all UN peacekeeping missions would be hollow and meaningless unless we build women’s capacity and provide real opportunity and support women to get political and economic empowerment, a place at the peace negotiating table and represented equally at all levels of decision-making.

As my personal contribution to the effective implementation of 1325, I launched my own proposal entitled “Doable First-Track Indicators for Realising the 1325 Promise into Reality” in July at a Working Meeting on 1325 at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC. This outlines measures that could be initiated without further delays and without prolonging the international community’s agony and frustration after ten years of wait in expectation.

Finally, we should not forget that when women are marginalised and ignored, there is little chance for the world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

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