As we count down to International Women’s Day (8 March 2018), we will be examining how the United Nations and its Department of Political Affairs (DPA) work to include women’s participation and a gender perspective in its peace and security work. We begin with a look at how the UN has made “Women, Peace and Security” a major part of its agenda.
Fully including the perspectives and experience of women makes for more durable and effective peace processes and agreements. Given its conflict prevention and mediation mandate, DPA has been at the forefront of efforts to increase the participation of women in peacemaking and conflict prevention efforts. Formally, the issue first made it onto the UN’s peace and security agenda in 2000, with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). Nearly 20 years later, however, and despite many global and regional commitments and initiatives, the number of women and gender experts involved in formal peacemaking processes remains low.
In its special political missions, DPA has specialized staff – called Gender Advisers or Gender Focal Points – who advise Special Envoys and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on how to promote women’s political participation, make peace processes and prevention efforts more inclusive, and include a gender perspective in their political and conflict analysis. Missions provide support to women’s groups or women’s leaders platforms and organize networking meetings. In countries where the UN is supporting a peace process, Gender Advisers organize consultations with civil society and women’s groups and provide advice on ways to include women in the process, for example through the application of quotas or the establishment of a women’s advisory board. The Department also promotes women’s political participation in elections, including through advising on temporary special measures, such as quotas, in its electoral support.
In 2016, DPA established a Gender, Peace and Security Unit (GPS), which oversees the Department’s implementation of the WPS agenda. The GPS Unit has the responsibility to develop policies, build the capacity of women involved in peacebuilding and support DPA’s mission and headquarters staff in implementing Security Council resolutions on WPS and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). The Department’s approach to implementing the WPS agenda is gender mainstreaming in all of its work, which means that this work is not only the responsibility of gender advisers, but the responsibility of every single DPA staff member, from the team assistants to the Under-Secretary General.
The first voices that called for the inclusion of a gender perspective in the work of the United Nations date back to the very beginning of the Organization. One of these pioneers, was the Brazilian delegate Bertha Lutz, who successfully advocated for the inclusion of a provision on gender equality in the UN Charter in 1945, as an acknowledgment of the need to focus on women’s human rights as part of the UN’s responsibilities.
Whereas social issues relating to gender slowly gained traction in the following years, it was only in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, when the international community addressed women’s experiences in conflict for the first time. This was partly put on the agenda due to the systematic use of sexual and gender based violence during the conflicts in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, as well as the women, who had key roles in peace movements in Northern Ireland and in Israel/Palestine. In the year 2000, at the fifth anniversary of the Beijing Conference, the Security Council adopted resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. For the first time, women’s human rights and gender equality were linked to the UN’s Peace and Security agenda. And for the first time, the Security Council recognized the specific impact conflict has on women and acknowledged their role in preventing and resolving conflict. Notably, it was a diverse and geographically-representative coalition of Member States such as Bangladesh, Namibia, Canada and Jamaica that presented the resolution.
The resolution was the start of the women, peace and security agenda, which encompasses four pillars: 1) the role of women in conflict prevention, 2) their participation in peacebuilding, 3) the protection of their rights during and after conflict, and 4) their specific needs during recovery. Subsequent resolutions, 1889 (presented by Vietnam in 2009), 2122 (presented by Azerbaijan in 2013) and 2242 (presented by Spain in 2015), further stressed the need to ensure women’s full, equal and effective participation and addressed issues such as the contribution of civil society to peacemaking or the influence of women in the rise of terrorism and violent extremism.
Based on the premise that peace processes that systematically include women, and civil society more broadly, are more likely to generate broad national ownership and support and therefore more like to lead to more sustainable peace, DPA developed Guidance on Gender and Inclusive Mediation Strategies (2017). Inclusive mediation requires an integration of diverse societal perspectives – those of conflicting parties and other stakeholders – and designing such processes can include diverse mechanisms for participation. An inclusive mediation process does not necessarily mean that all stakeholders can participate directly in the formal negotiations, but also through consultations or in an advisory role.
In addition to these resolutions on women’s political inclusion, in 2008, a first resolution (1820) on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) was adopted also under the women, peace and security agenda. This resolution recognizes sexual violence can be a threat to international peace and security, when it is used as a tactic of war, mainly (but not exclusively) directed against women. Rape and sexual violence, which used to be seen as inevitable side effects of armed conflict, are now treated as possible crimes against humanity. The Security Council acknowledged that this called for a firm response by the international community. The following resolutions 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010) and 2106 (2013) call upon Member States to ensure accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence and urged mediators to make sure that the negotiated ceasefires and peace agreements contain provisions prohibiting the use of sexual violence.
In 2012, DPA developed Guidance that focuses on how to address conflict-related sexual violence in ceasefire and peace agreements (2012). This Guidance provides practical tools for mediators to include provisions in ceasefires prohibiting sexual violence; deploy adequate expertise in monitoring and reporting mechanisms on sexual violence; and address conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) in post-conflict justice and reparations. Recommendations are made to include provisions for assistance, health care and counseling services for survivors of CRSV. In contexts where CRSV is a widespread problem, Women Protection Advisers are deployed to guide the mission in preventing and responding to CRSV.
Including gender and women in the UN’s peace and security agenda
The term gender refers to the historically and culturally developed characteristics, roles and norms attributed to men and women in society according to their sex. In conflict, men and women are impacted differently, and a differential approach to the way peacemaking is carried out is needed, responding to men and women’s different security and peacebuilding needs. Men have long been considered the only relevant actors in armed conflict and its resolution. However, women are also greatly affected and involved in conflict, be it as relatives, caretakers, politicians, peace activists or combatants. Including women in peace processes adds a broader range of perspectives and increases inclusivity and diversity. This enhances the ability of peacemakers to address a broader range of stakeholders and their concerns, which can contribute to more sustainable peace. For these reasons, and to answer to its responsibilities stemming from the human rights agenda, the United Nations is strongly committed to include women in its peace and security work.
Title picture: The UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) hosted an Open Day on Security Council resolution 1325, the landmark resolution dealing with women, peace and security. 12 September 2012. UN Photo/Martine Perret