A look at some of the achievements and challenges of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325
United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 made headlines when she was born on 31 October 2000. She shined a light on the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls and recognised their absence from peace talks as a security concern.
Her birth was greeted with excitement and clamour. Imagine the scene in the Security Council that day: the cheering would have been deafening, there may even have been some tears of joy in the public area, as those who had worked tirelessly to bring her to life since the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing – members of UNIFEM (the forerunner to UN Women), non-governmental organisations and civil society actors – celebrated that they had finally got their Resolution.
I meet the 19-year-old 1325 over coffee at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. She is touring Europe before heading home to the UN Headquarters in New York for the Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security in October – she has been headlining on the Security Council stage every year since she was a toddler. 1325 asks me not to describe what she is wearing noting that “male Resolutions rarely have their appearance or age commented on”.
For those not familiar with UNSCR 1325, here is a quick summary.
She asks all parties involved in conflict to:
- Increase the PARTICIPATION of women in decision-making and negotiations and peace talks as well as representation in senior appointments. For NATO this means, for example, promoting greater participation of women in the armed forces and requesting that Allies include more women on operational deployments.
- Try to PREVENT conflict from taking place and PROTECT women and girls from conflict-related sexual violence.
- Include a GENDER PERSPECTIVE in planning, policies and operations. For NATO, this means understanding different factors affecting local populations, considering how women and girls experience conflict and crisis, and then taking this into account when developing doctrine, plans and operations.
- As military operations come to an end, consider how women and girls are affected during the RELIEF AND RECOVERY phase. This calls for measures to address, for example, the needs of women and girls during demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programmes.
How do you feel when people say you are a product of liberal Western ideals?
1325: Well, that doesn’t make much sense to me. If I had to pin down my lineage I’d say it was Namibia and Bangladesh who brought me into this world. I also can’t forget the rest of the family – the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) along with Argentina, Canada, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mali, the Netherlands, Tunisia and Ukraine. I don’t see that as a typical Western lineage. I am far more universal.
It was civil society who inspired me: women and girls exhausted by the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda and Sierra Leone and absent from the negotiating table.
And what universal ideals do I embody? The answers are as varied as the girls and women you ask. Ask Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan what she wants and she might ask that girls have the same educational opportunities as boys and not be targeted for exercising their human rights. Ask Nadia Murad from Iraq, who could demand that women and girls are no longer the target of sexual violence during war and conflict. Ask the Liberian Leymah Gbowee, who could ask for women to be at the negotiation table.
Do you enjoy a good relationship with the Permanent Five?
1325: Of course! They are every Resolution’s family. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, so it’s refreshing to know the Security Council provides a platform for me and my siblings [as at September 2019, UNSCR 1325 has been followed by eight other Resolutions on cross-cutting themes related to Women, Peace and Security].
What’s it like being the eldest of nine?
1325: On the whole, I’m happy to be the eldest in such a large family. However my sibling Women, Peace and Security Resolutions were born out of frustration. Sadly, I wasn’t as effective as the international community wanted me to be.
You see, I wasn’t perfect – perhaps no Resolution is. I overlooked the fact that men and boys can be victims of sexual violence, while ignoring the fact that women could commit violations too. I also wasn’t specific enough in describing the vital role that men and boys can play in contributing to an equal society and human rights for all.
So I’m really proud of Resolutions such as 2106  and 2242 . They highlight the role that men and boys can play in combatting all forms of violence against women and in promoting their participation in the prevention and resolution of armed conflict, peacebuilding, and helping build stability and security once conflicts are over.
My youngest sibling, Resolution 2467 , rightly raises the fact that attacks on men and boys are common – sexual violence is used in detention centres and has been a way of dominating people throughout history. Such incidents are not often reported and I could have done more to inform people of this overlooked aspect of conflict. I’m confident that 2467 will address this.
What are the main reasons for people and organisations failing to implement you?
1325: Good question! Something I ask myself every day. There are different reasons, I think.
For some, it’s just because they’re not aware of what I’m trying to achieve.
For others, it’s a lack of knowing what to do. [Political and military planners could check out this infographic for ideas on how to integrate UNSCR 1325.]
Some senior staff think that they are already implementing me – many confusing me with the Law of Armed Conflict. And a few just don’t see the connection between my aims and objectives and their approach to security dilemmas. Others don’t see me as legally binding.
What’s your response to the critics who don’t see you as legally binding?
1325: That’s a tough question. Some lawyers may argue that I’m not legally binding because I wasn’t adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – which is all about action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. Some academics argue that my language isn’t strong enough to be legally binding on UN Member States – for example, there are no formal “demands” in me.
But, as far as I’m concerned, if you adopted me then you should be implementing what I stand for. Article 25 of the UN Charter says that all members of the UN should “agree to carry out and accept the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.” So I argue that any Resolution adopted by the Security Council is legally binding.
Also, I am underpinned by various bodies of legally binding law. This has been pointed out by supportive academics like Professor Christine Chinkin, who is head of the London School of Economics’ Centre on Women, Peace and Security. International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights law, which protect women and girls during and after conflict, make implementing me and especially the three Ps (Participation, Prevention and Protection) a “must do” not a “might do”.
How could UN Member States become more accountable for implementing you?
1325: Ha! I can tell you that, in practice, this is not straight forward. Even if I could overwhelmingly prove I was legally binding, the complex nature of international relations means that it is almost impossible to enforce me. Where there’s a will, there’s not always a way.
National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security (we call them NAPs for short) were introduced in 2005 to give examples of how to implement me and to help tackle the lack of accountability surrounding me. I applaud Denmark as the first Member State to have a NAP and Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom for being so close behind. NAPs have been a positive step in showing how I can be implemented. Sadly, NAPs are not easy to monitor – but I think in time they will make Member States more accountable.
I am grateful that NATO member states and many of their partner countries are actively supporting the implementation of myself and my siblings, having agreed a formal policy and action plan.
How do you help make operations more effective?
1325: I always feel that nations who implement me are not only doing the right thing but the smart thing. What I mean is that, for example, by having mixed military or police patrols you will more likely hear the stories and suggestions of women and girls.
Women and girls (as well as men and boys, of course!) know better than anyone where they are most vulnerable and how to prevent and respond to security risks that they face. Listening to them will help troops and police better respond to their needs.
Implementing the three Ps and taking gender into account in all areas of planning – both on the civilian and the military side, from the strategic level down to the operational – will result a better understanding of the local population and what is going on in the area.
What are you most proud of?
1325: I’m proud that I was the first step in getting international recognition for the fact that women have an important role to play in matters of security and that sexual violence is not a by-product of war but a critical security concern.
I am happy to see that women have been included in a number of peace processes – a recent study has shown that women’s participation in peace negotiations helps make the peace better and longer-lasting. I have encouraged actors to reach out to women leaders in conflict zones and have stressed the need to protect them from conflict-related sexual violence.
I was really pleased when NATO responded to my call to action! The Allies and their partner countries launched work on implementing me and my sibling Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in 2007. And successive NATO Secretary General Special Representatives for WPS have brought high-level attention to taking forward my work on both the civilian and the military side.
I’m delighted that gender perspectives are being incorporated within the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of Allied operations and missions, and that gender advisers serve at NATO’s strategic and subordinate commands as well as in NATO-led operations and missions. Military gender advisers have also been appointed in many NATO member states but I would always welcome more. I think it is healthy that women join the infantry and armoured corps in many NATO militaries – I hope this trend continues.
I am also at the root of a number of efforts aimed at combating conflict-related sexual violence and at trying to make sure that people don’t get away with these crimes. For example, the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, and the then British Foreign Secretary William Hague launched a dedicated initiative in 2012, and NATO and its partners adopted military guidelines in 2015.
I’ve encouraged governments to conduct meetings with civil society. And I’m pleased that NATO has set up a Civil Society Advisory Panel, which provides recommendations on taking gender into account in all NATO’s core tasks and liaises with women’s organisations in national settings.
I also hope that I have played a part in increasing the participation of women in the defence and security sector, including at NATO – but as this has traditionally been perceived as a male domain there’s still a long, long way to go.
In fact this is true of many aspects of my work – so I really don’t want to blow my own trumpet too hard! Despite improvements, the challenges in my implementation mean that the promise of the WPS agenda has yet to be delivered. Much more has to be done to turn words into action. I really hope I won’t have to wait until I’m an old woman to see my dreams come true.
1325, it has been a pleasure interviewing you, thank you for your time, and best wishes for your birthday!
1325: Thank you to NATO for wanting to celebrate my 19th birthday with me!