Are we there yet? Implementing the Women, Peace and Security agenda: if not now, when?

Thoughts from Clare Hutchinson, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security

  • 16 Nov. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Nov. 2020 14:48

On 31 October 2000, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). The resolution illustrates the dispro­portionate and harmful affect that conflict has on women and girls, and stresses the need for full participation of women as active agents in peace and security.

Building on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women1 and the Beijing Platform2, Resolution 1325 was anchored to the extant frameworks addressing women's rights. It was - and remains today - a groundbreaking resolution because for the first time in the annals of the Security Council, women were central to peace and security discourse.

WPS highlights that women's exclusion from defining risk, and thus security, is a basis for women's marginalization in peace and security. For example, wom­en are unlikely to be able to participate effectively in peace and security gover­nance if their immediate security envi­ronment is compromised by the preva­lence of sexualized violence.

Since 2000, Resolution 1325 has be­come the matriarch in the family of ten resolutions, collectively known as the Women, Peace and Security agenda3, each building on and strengthening the global commitment to women in peace and security. The package of res­olutions provides structure for a wider scope on peace and security viewed through a gender lens.

While UNSCR 1325 did not refer to security in relation to conventional de­fence, it does recognize the complexity of security and in doing so broadens the scope to involve a wider range of actors to implement this agenda, including NATO.

This broadening of the agenda has led to positive results. There has been sweeping change and positive momen­tum. There is more investment in the agenda than ever before, a growing, au­thentic recognition of the myriad roles women play in peace and security, as victim and agent, and appreciation of the precariousness of women's rights, especially in relation to their sexual and reproductive health. More women are includ­ed in national forces and are involved in decision making in defence and security. There is heightened accountability through National Action Plans on WPS, gendered defence strategies and feminist foreign policies. And there is recogni­tion that sexual violence in conflict is a major impediment to peace and security.

NATO has been part of this change. But with the expansion of the mandate, and with a broader collection of actors engaged in what had been a relatively narrow community at the start, a number of dynamics have emerged that could threaten further progress. The challenge for the future of WPS will be to over­come silos, segmentation, and stasis.

When it comes to WPS, the silo challenge often manifests in the perception that the responsibility for integrating gender perspec­tives lies primarily or solely with a department or office with the words "woman" or "gender" in its title. The success of WPS, how­ever, relies on the cross-cutting dynamics of the agenda, where it can transcend the concept of 'women only' to all-inclusive. The responsibility for the integration of gender perspectives and ultimately gender equality lies with everyone. Changing mind-sets and upending traditional norms that marginalize women, is not the responsibility of women. Improving operational ef­fectiveness, changing attitudes on sexual exploitation and abuse and creating conditions for dignity and respect to flourish is not the purview of women. It is a collective responsibility. Cultural change across an institution requires more than the creation of a team charged with overseeing gender equality. It demands lead­ership commitment along with awareness of how that change relates to everyone's work and appreciation that it is critical.

The second challenge we face in implementing the WPS agen­da in the years ahead is segmentation. As the mandate has ex­panded, there has been fracturing among 'old school and new'. A division that has emerged between WPS purists and more pro­gressive elements advocating for a mandate that transcends the traditional. The principles of protection, prevention, and partici­pation are interdependent. And in order to create a truly gender equal world we need to avoid the kind of segmentation that can divide us. We need to recognize and accept that the challenges to women and girls have changed, the challenges of emerging security threats have changed, and WPS has changed.

The third challenge to the WPS agenda today is stasis. The strength of UNSCR 1325 has always stemmed from its political potency and its flexibility. It is a political and operational tool that has changed the very concept of security, and it is agile enough to allow for adaptation. But if the conversation around WPS doesn't evolve with the environment and consider gendered aspects of pandemics, cyber security, disinformation, and climate change, it will lose the potency that has propelled it thus far.

NATO's future goals in WPS must sustainably integrate gender into all these areas and others that may not previously have been considered. The measure of success of all these efforts will de­pend on the level of integration, and the recognition that this work is imperative. The integration of gender is not an anni­versary treat, it's a full time commitment. And this will require collective energy.

NATO decision-makers discussing Women, Peace and Security

On 14 October, the North Atlantic Council met in a dedicated session related to the anniversary of UNSCR 1325 to review progress that the Alliance has made in implementing the Women, Peace and Security agenda and discuss potential areas of focus for the future, including further integrating gender into NATO's work on resilience and countering terrorism. On 22-23 October, NATO Defence Ministers met (virtually, due to COVID-19) to discuss a range of issues. As part of these discussions, for the first time in a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, they also discussed Women, Peace and Security – what the Alliance has done to put the agenda into practice, and what more needs to be done.

A more resilient global and regional architecture is needed to drive this agenda forward. Partnerships are critical to advance the awareness and the acceptance of gender equality. We can­not afford the consequences of letting WPS fade from relevance. We need a holistic approach. We need women and men, military and civilian, individual states, international organisations, civil society actors and more to take this critical work forward. And, we need to ensure that our understanding of the WPS agenda evolves as the security environment changes.

The challenges however are not unmanageable and should not distract from the level of implementation that is required. But we have to be vigilant in overcoming silos, segmentation, and stasis.

We also have to make sure that as time marches on we do not forget that UNSCR 1325 remains the blueprint for our collec­tive work on WPS. Our work to implement the WPS agenda is not done, and the guidance the existing Resolutions provide is as applicable to new challenges as it is to those we know well. We cannot afford to stand still, but we do not need to reinvent the wheel to keep rolling. We do not need another resolution – we need to get on with the work before us.

Despite the robust progress that has been made, there is still so much more to do. The integration of the Women, Peace and Security agenda continues to have the power to transform. We must persist in our determination to implement this agenda - and in doing so create lasting change.

  1. CEDAW(1979);
  2. Beijing Platform for Action (1995);
  3. UNSCRs 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009) 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013), 2242 (2015), 2467 (2019), 2493 (2019).