This year we mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325, a groundbreaking text that reaffirmed the fundamental role of women in conflict prevention and resolution, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction. As we take stock of progress made, or setbacks, in the women, peace and security agenda in the last two decades, we also face the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to undo many key achievements. As Secretary-General António Guterres recently pointed out, the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.
In Politically Speaking, we have previously looked at the efforts of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) and the Office of the Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL) to promote the systematic and meaningful participation of women in Central Asia and in Lebanon. Today, we hear from Kemealo Telou, Gender Adviser at the UN Regional Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) on the WPS milestones of the past 20 years in that region and what to expect in the next 10 years.
After 20 years, what does the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda entail in West Africa and the Sahel?
Kemealo Telou: When we talk about Women, Peace and Security (WPS), we commonly refer to three pillars: prevention, participation and protection.
Most of the action we’ve undertaken on the ground in West Africa and the Sahel in terms of prevention was geared towards preventing gender-based violence for which we have gender-sensitive prevention and responsive mechanisms in place. We also involve all stakeholders, including civil society organizations and other partners, in outreach, sensitization, trainings, advocacy and capacity building activities, but also in the global campaign against gender-based violence in November/December every year.
Now, turning to the issue of participation, the Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) recommends that women be meaningfully and influentially involved in decision-making processes, conflict management, peace negotiation and peace operations. In terms of involving women in decision-making, many countries in West Africa and the Sahel have adopted parity or quota laws, for example Cabo Verde, Guinea and Senegal have adopted a parity law, and quota laws have been adopted in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Sierra Leone. And Togo has a parity principle in its electoral code. However, challenges remain with the implementation and operationalization of these parity and quota laws.
In 2018, UNOWAS and UN Women undertook a comparative study, which showed that women’s political participation in the region remains very low. Women are playing a mobilization role and are supporting electoral processes, but they are not playing a key role at leadership levels in political parties. It’s a big challenge, because political parties in the region are not based on the principle of gender parity. They are therefore in low numbers in elected and appointed posts.
Regarding conflict management, peace negotiations and peace operations, we have trained many women in mediation skills in West Africa and the Sahel. In 2011, UNOWAS collaborated with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), UN Women and other partners to train a group of women in mediation. This was then repeated at national, local and community level in each of the West African countries, including, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo. Now, the key challenge is the involvement of these women in peace processes in the region. We need real political will from heads of states and governments but also from the international community to take action to enhance the involvement of women in peace processes within the region.
The third pillar of the WPS agenda is protection. As already stated above, many countries have adopted laws to protect women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence and other forms of violence against women. Here, also, the challenge remains the implementation. There is a great need to think about how to foster the implementation of these laws in each of the countries of West Africa and the Sahel. A huge gap also exists regarding the provision of services such as shelters for survivors of violence.
What does a gender adviser do in your office? What are some of the key achievements and activities at UNOWAS to support the implementation of resolution 1325?
A gender adviser is, in most cases, based in the Office of the Chief of the mission and advises the leadership on ways to mainstream and integrate gender in the mission’s mandate implementation and to support and guide the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000), all subsequent resolutions on women peace and security and also DPPA’s policy on gender/women, peace and security. Gender advisers develop tools and guidance for the whole mission, build the capacity of staff on gender issues and support them in their effort to implement gender perspectives in their daily work. As a gender adviser, I also collaborate with UN entities and other stakeholders, to work together on gender issues to build better coordination and take advantage of synergies. A gender adviser is also someone who works with everybody because gender is a cross-cutting issue. We are key people within the mission, supporting all our colleagues to ensure that they are incorporating gender perspectives in their work.
UNOWAS organizes annual Open Days to provide a platform for women and youth leaders to exchange views with senior regional leaders and UN officials on their experiences, concerns and priorities. Moreover, the event contributes to national and regional conflict prevention and resolution efforts and informs and influences policies and programmes related to the implementation of resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions. These open days provide the opportunity for UN leadership and heads of states, as well as the President of the ECOWAS Commission, the Secretary-General of the Mano River Union (MRU) and the Permanent Secretary of the G5 Sahel to engage in dialogue with different actors to make the point for the implementation of resolution 1325, but also to formulate priority needs and recommendations.
In 2009, with the guidance from UNDPPA, UNOWAS facilitated the establishment of the working group on women, youth, peace and security in West Africa and the Sahel. This network was established to do follow up and create synergies and better coordination with actors working on the implementation of 1325 (2000) and the subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security. UNOWAS also supported regional organizations in the establishment or dynamization of women’s regional networks, namely the Network on Peace and Security for Women in the ECOWAS Region (NOPSWECO), the West African Network of Young Women Leaders (ROAJELF, Reseau West Africain des Jeunes Filles Leaders), the Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MARWOPNET), the G5 Sahel Women’s Platform and the Senegal-Guinea-Bissau -The Gambia Women’s Forum. These women’s networks, including the Women in Peacebuilding Program (WIPNET)/ West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and regional mechanisms are represented at national, local and community level. They developed information, tools and knowledge sharing and collaborative ways for enhancing coordination and creating synergies among actors and avoiding duplications.
What has changed for women on the ground in the past 20 years?
During the past 20 years, a lot of sensitization and awareness raising activities were implemented within the region, allowing people to know exactly what resolution 1325 (2000) and related resolutions are about, but also giving guidance on how people can play a role in their implementation.
Most of the counties have adopted policies and laws for protection of women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence and against impunity of perpetrators of violence. They have also adopted affirmative actions including parity and quotas laws, which I mentioned above, to enhance women’s participation in political and peace processes in the region.
Moreover, West Africa and the Sahel was the first region that adopted a regional action plan for the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) in 2010, when we celebrated the resolution’s 10th anniversary. And now we are preparing the third regional action plan. National action plans were adopted in 14 out of 16 countries of the region. Some countries like Nigeria are approaching their third generation National Action plan and have domesticated these plans to subnational levels to have State and Local Government Action Plans. Only Cabo Verde and Mauritania are yet to adopt a national action plan, but the process is ongoing and we are hoping that in October, when we celebrate the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325 (2000), we will be able to say that West Africa and the Sahel have a 100 per cent implementation rate regarding the development of national action plans on resolution 1325 (2000). So, when it comes to policy development, the region has made key achievements. Again, the key challenge is implementation.
A lot of countries in the region have also established gender task forces and gender desks within their ministries, including in the armed forces. So, those gender task forces and desks help to foster gender mainstreaming within these ministries and women’s involvement within those nations.
What efforts, apart from what you’ve already mentioned, are you and UNOWAS undertaking to include women at different levels in political processes in the region?
When Mohammed Ibn Chambas, head of UNOWAS and UN Special Representative (SRSG) for West Africa and the Sahel undertakes good offices missions in the region and meets with political actors in different countries, we advise him on key women, peace and security issues and the level of implementation of resolution 1325 (2000), allowing him to address those issues during his meetings. Sometimes it works, but as I have mentioned, the implementation is nonetheless low. With regard to the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325 (2000), we really need to strategize on how to ensure the full implementation of resolution 1325 (2000). Some innovative initiatives could include recognizing champion Head of States and Governments in the area of WPS. Additionally, a West African WPS publication could be published with anecdotal stories of Sheroes of peace and security in communities.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity going forward? What do you think we will celebrate as an achievement of 1325 (2000) 10 years from now?
This year, we can celebrate that people now are very aware about resolution 1325. We have raised the awareness of its existence, the need to implement its provisions, but also to involve women in peace processes throughout the region. We can also be proud of the way we brought people together to be innovative, to work together towards the implementation of resolution 1325. Synergies and coordination have developed strongly within the region on WPS issues. Now, as we come together, we need to really rethink our strategy to promote implementation, but also begin thinking about what we need to do to encourage that in our region.
One cannot ignore the COVID-19 pandemic and the new and emerging risks. Going forward it is important to consider the impact of pandemics, environmental security and other emerging issues.
So, in 10 years from now, I hope that people will celebrate the impact of laws implemented by Governments within the region. We will celebrate the fact that all West Africa and the Sahel countries have national budgets allocated and dedicated to national action plans on resolution 1325. We will also celebrate ECOWAS, MRU, and the G5 Sahel for their reforms towards real implementation of the regional action plan and its monitoring and evaluation plan. We will celebrate gender parity 50-50 in all decision-making bodies in the West Africa and the Sahel region. Additionally, we will celebrate women mediators equally engaged with men in peace processes in West Africa and the Sahel. And finally, we will then celebrate all relevant actors who have worked to make these achievements become reality.