On 31 October 2000, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, women's concerns in relation to peace and security were formally discussed and acknowledged within the Security Council. While previous resolutions contained broad calls for the protection of civilians, Resolution 1325 was distinct in that it recognised ‘the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women’ and stressed ‘the need for full participation of women as active agents in peace and security’.

The Resolution was a landmark – whereas previously gender equality had been recognised as a development issue, the adoption of Resolution 1325 now firmly placed it within the realm of peace and security. No longer would women be descried as helpless victims but, instead, recognised as active agents for peace and security.

The integration of women’s voices into peace and security is now a given. What is now understood as standard normative practice in addressing armed conflict and its aftermath was, in the late 1990s, seen as a revolutionary approach to the conceptualisation of peace and security.

Since the adoption of the Resolution, gender advisers and gender expertise have been made an integral element of all international organisational structures. In NATO and other international organisations, gender advisers are routinely deployed to activities, missions and operations. Gender analysis has become a baseline for planning, introducing the requirement for sex-disaggregated data to allow for inclusive responses, and gender mainstreaming is systematically integrated into all doctrine, policy and functions.

But ultimately, in essence, the Resolution is about making the invisible, visible: it is about opening spaces and dislodging obstacles to women’s participation in the decisions around conflict and peace. The Resolution was ground breaking because it changed the shape and narrative of conflict to reflect the broader thinking, a more nuanced approach to peace and security.

It is largely accepted that conflict has a differential impact on women and men. Conflict is gendered and therefore within the action and reaction to conflict, gender norms and values are reinforced. Research has long highlighted the effect that protracted conflict has on women and girls. Women play many roles in conflict settings and therefore experience and view war and its aftermath from many perspectives. Recognising women’s experience in war could ultimately reformat the dialogue around peace. This underlying narrative on women, peace and security (WPS) has been the cornerstone of its success.

Protection and participation

The foundation of the WPS agenda builds on two separate but equal concepts: protection from sexual violence and increasing participation of women in all areas (political, social, military and economic). Integrated and interconnected, these concepts provide the baseline for gender equality.

Since the adoption of Resolution 1325, a number of changes have taken place, including the widening of the WPS mandate to include the broader scope of peace and security as it pertains to women, including the adoption of seven additional resolutions on WPS.

Where Resolution 1325 was wider and sweeping, the additional resolutions are narrowed and targeted, allowing for further refinement and focus on specific issues that needed the attention of the Security Council and international community. These include combating sexual violence in conflict; shoring up monitoring and evaluation through the development of global indicators; addressing the rise in extremism; and the introduction of gendered early warning indicators to identify risks and threats. The result is a package of resolutions on WPS intended to structure the overlooked and undervalued elements of the WPS agenda in a comprehensive and holistic way.

The adoption of the resolutions has been anchored to previous commitments promoting, advancing and upholding women’s rights and gender equality in conflict and post-conflict situations. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action laid the foundation for women’s rights and advancement. Resolution 1325 did not stand alone but was a piece in a labyrinth of frameworks collectively addressing women rights. It was, however, unique in that it was the first international recognition of the importance of women in a peace and security discourse.

We know that sustainable peace cannot be achieved without women’s security and equality. We know that the treatment of women in any society is a barometer, which indicates where we can predict other forms of oppression. We know that the countries where women are empowered are vastly more secure. And yet, 18 years since its adoption, and despite its groundbreaking nature, the question is – do the principles of Resolution 1325 still matter today?

NATO’s contribution

The Alliance has long held the WPS principles as an innate element of NATO’s core tasks. Since the adoption of the first NATO policy on WPS, the Alliance has anchored its gender and security framework aligned to the wider approach to peace and security, while remaining faithful to its core tasks.

Policy and guidance

NATO has introduced an architecture of policy and guidance on WPS, most recently the update of the NATO/Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) Policy on WPS. Endorsed by NATO Allies and their partners, the Policy highlights the overarching principles for NATO’s work on WPS:

  • Integration – making sure that gender equality is considered an integral part of NATO policies guided by effective gender mainstreaming;

  • Inclusiveness – promoting an increased representation of women across NATO and in national forces;

  • Integrity – enhancing accountability for the WPS agenda in accordance with international frameworks.

The Policy and subsequent Action Plan pave the way for a more targeted approach to gender equality within the Alliance. The focus on integrating gender into all NATO policies and doctrine is at the core of the work undertaken by the Office of the Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security. This is supported by the dedication to increasing numbers of women in NATO operations and missions through supporting nations to address the paucity of women in national forces.

The Alliance has also developed guidance for NATO’s Strategic Commands through the issuance of a directive on conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. This guidance translates the normative framework of WPS into a practical tool for addressing and combating sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict environments.

The development of guidance for headquarters and commands is complemented by training and capacity building to enhance knowledge on the importance and implementation of WPS. Most recently the development of a mentoring and coaching programme for staff at NATO Headquarters has started to expand the recognition of the linkages between security and defence and WPS.

Strengthening women’s voices

Today’s global threats are complex and multifaceted, and complicate the security landscape in unprecedented ways. The link between security and economic stability has been well proven. Women’s economic fragility is reinforced by political instability. NATO, therefore, is attempting to actively promote and enhance engagement with women in civil society to strengthen the voices of those most affected by conflict.

The Alliance has sought to institutionalise sustained dialogue with representatives of civil society who work on conflict prevention and resolution, security and women’s empowerment, from grassroots activism to national and international policy.

A Civil Society Advisory Panel on Women, Peace and Security was established in 2016, which is an independent coalition of women’s organisations that represents a global constituency of those most affected by inequality and conflict. This Panel challenges NATO to broaden understanding of security and promote a more inclusive approach to address the challenges to defence and security.

Gender parity

As the volume of WPS resolutions has increased over the past few years, we have also witnessed an exponential growth in the concentration on gender parity – increasing numbers of servicewomen within national forces and in deployments to operations.

For NATO, this has propelled a call for increased attention to the recruitment and retention of women in national forces, as a basis of operational effectiveness. Currently, women make up 12 per cent of personnel deployed in NATO-led operations and missions. NATO aims to implement the WPS agenda by dismantling barriers standing in the way of the full participation of women in the Alliance and national forces. But more importantly, the Alliance seeks to enhance accountability of the WPS mandate by ensuring the adoption of the highest standards of professional and personal conduct –within both NATO civilian and military staff.

We now see many more servicewomen within national forces. © Spanish Armed Forces / Armada

We now see many more servicewomen within national forces. © Spanish Armed Forces / Armada

As we look towards full implementation of the WPS agenda, however, we should be cautious about resting the efficacy of the agenda on parity alone. It is often assumed that gender parity will serve as a surrogate for gender equality and therefore respond in total to the WPS requirements. The fondness for relying on balancing numbers is in part due to the fact that gender parity is so much easier to measure and therefore so much easier to understand. Results on gender parity can be seen directly. Gender parity is actionable and achievable. Gender mainstreaming is the difficult cousin. It is for this reason that, within the framework of WPS, gender parity initiatives often gain more support.

However, for NATO, the success of WPS depends on the foundation of sustainable action, as outlined in the revised NATO/EAPC Policy on WPS. That action is embedded in the dual focus of increasing numbers of women and gender-mainstreaming practices. Only if gender perspectives are seamlessly woven through all NATO core tasks and functions will we achieve the ultimate goal of gender equality.

Mainstreaming gender into protection and participation activities is the genesis of the WPS mandate. The integration of gender into all elements of strategic and operational functions not only responds to the demands of the collective resolutions, but also provides a foundation on which the principles of WPS come alive.

Still relevant and resonant

Resolution 1325 was born out of conflict. Its relevance remains, and its message is essential in the context of ongoing conflicts around the globe. In many ways, it has more resonance than ever, as conflicts continue to tear communities apart and women’s lives and bodies are constantly at risk.

It is the direct danger to women and the impact that conflict has on women and girls, their lives and their futures, that makes the WPS agenda so pertinent and increasingly important. It is for this reason that it needs to be understood and implemented as many parts of a wider puzzle. Conflict has many faces and peace has many masks. Just as women and men have many roles to play in conflict and securing peace.

Yet, while the need for gender perspectives may be self-evident to gender and WPS experts, persistent obstacles stand in the way of full implementation. Quite often, international stakeholders fail to recognise the differential impact of armed conflict on women and, therefore, women’s critical contribution to the peace and security discourse continues to be neglected. WPS activities are not routinely understood as critical in the realm of global security.

Traditional concepts of militarised presence do not always represent security to women. The assumption that a militarised presence is necessary is a limited view that makes significant presumptions about women’s needs. To recognise what is security, it is necessary to identify what is risk. Women’s exclusion from defining risk, and thus security, will lead inevitably to women’s marginalisation in defining peace. For women, peace is as not merely the absence of war but equality in participation – socially, economically and politically.

While Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions do not couch security in such terms, it is essential that all protection elements be more holistic and participatory. Security must be situated in direct correlation to the threats faced by both men and women in different security contexts. If there is agreement that war impacts men and women differently, the establishment of security must equally embrace gender considerations.

Eighteen years have passed since the adoption of Resolution 1325 and, while progress has been slow and results sometime hard to see, there is change. The change is embedded in the recognised institutional framework for WPS that is anchored to a monitoring and evaluation system of global progress indicators.

“NATO has an opportunity to be a leading protector of women’s rights, drawing on the strengths and capabilities of its nations, and working with its more than forty partner countries.” -- Clare Hutchinson, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security addresses the United Nations Security Council, 16 April 2018. © NATO

“NATO has an opportunity to be a leading protector of women’s rights, drawing on the strengths and capabilities of its nations, and working with its more than forty partner countries.” -- Clare Hutchinson, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security addresses the United Nations Security Council, 16 April 2018. © NATO

The most recent WPS report from the United Nations highlighted progress in the deployment of gender advisers to all peacekeeping and conflict areas; the increase in peace agreements that include women as signatories; the advancement of women at leadership level; the increase in training and capacity building on gender awareness; elevated attention on protecting women and girls from sexual violence and developing legal frameworks to hold accountable perpetrators of violence; and the systematic recognition that empowerment of women is a fundamental right and a necessity for global economic growth.

Ultimately this, the WPS agenda, is about change, about transformation – and, as with any transformation, it is a difficult, hard won and unappreciated but so very essential to development of society and stabilisation of communities.

The relevance of Resolution 1325 lies in its political potency. It is a political and operational tool that has changed the conceptualisation of security and reframed the issue of women’s rights within this space. It is a tool that needs stronger commitment and interest to achieve its full potential.

Despite the robust progress that has been made, there is still so much more to do. Eighteen years on, seven additional resolutions and thousands of women’s voices will agree that Resolution 1325 is still very much needed. It paved the ground from which the message of WPS could soar. The collective resolutions presaged a revolution. As we forge a path towards the 20th anniversary, NATO will continue to build and strengthen its interpretation of WPS and, in doing so, contribute to creating a lasting foundation for security for all.