UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR1235) from 2000 promised to bring about a paradigm shift in thinking about women’s position and role in the world. Has it delivered?
It was and still remains a cornerstone and reference point for policy development and academic debates about women’s role in peace and security issues. Moreover, it provided an underpinning for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in particular SDG 5, which sets out gender equality and empowerment of all women as critical global goals.
At the forefront of the resolution was the recognition that women had a specific role and place in peace and security and that this necessitated a strategic response.
The 1990’s had brought into clear view the fact that women and girls were disproportionately affected by conflicts in distinct and profound ways and that existing norms, procedures and approaches to conflict were failing to take account of this.
With the absence of a systematic framework to ensure a gender perspective, it was also the case that women were vastly underrepresented in key decision-making positions relating to security.
Of the many notable features of UNSCR1325, what stands out in retrospect are its holistic and normative ambitions, pertaining to bring about something more than a simple change of lens. Crucially, UNSCR1325 posited that gender be at the core of thinking and planning; it posed that women had a vital role to play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and crises, peace negotiations, peacekeeping, humanitarian responses and also post-conflict reconstruction efforts.
The resolution also provided a focal point for states and other actors to take measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, rape and other kinds of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict.
The Continued Salience of UNSCR 1325
Measuring the success of such an ambitious agenda is no easy task as it implies transformation and remains a work in progress.
Having said this, from the vantage point of 2019, all evidence suggests that countries and societies are more peaceful and enjoy higher degrees of well-being and prosperity when women have full and equal rights and opportunities.
This claim is backed by a recent report on gender equality and stability produced by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and PRIO, which confirmed a strong linkage between overall societal well-being and the empowerment of women in a country’s political and economic life.
Such findings buttress all existing evidence that the full involvement of women is an essential ingredient to sustainable development and conflict resolution. The same research also confirmed that states and societies suffer from a fundamental lack of stability when women face restrictions in their personal security and are excluded from political life.
This all surely confirms the importance and continued relevance of UNSCR1325 and that more gender equality serves up resilience via peace and prosperity.
But, With Limited Effectiveness
If we take instances of sexual violence in conflict zones as the most important indicator of success, it appears that UNSCR1235 has had limited effects.
From the vantage point of 2019 it is evident that women remain vulnerable to sexual violence in warzones and also in post-conflict settlement contexts.
Moreover, UN reporting frequently confirms that sexual violence has gained a more “systematic” character in the form of official “ordered acts” often in ways quite different from “opportunistic and retaliatory” attacks and rapes in previous conflicts.
Analysts have compared conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and found that occurrences of sexual violence are actually higher in the former, despite the implementation of a host of UN initiatives.
Evidence also shows that numbers of women that have been displaced as a result of war and conflict are not abating. Moreover, displaced women and girls are often subject to sexual violence after being displaced or in the process of them being forcibly displaced.
Commentators suggest that the effectiveness of UNSCR1325 is diminished due to its rather superficial approach to gender.
More specifically, that the resolution does not attempt to confront the actual systemic issues and background factors that make women and girls the most susceptible to becoming victims of conflicts.
Accordingly, analysts have long pointed out that women are more likely than men to become victims because poverty, lack of access to education and in many cases prevailing cultural norms disempower women.
The effectiveness of UNSCR1235 is also challenged by its apparent “add women and stir” approach. The point being made here is that the involvement of women is not fulsome or ambitious enough.
Critics suggest that even in a post-UNSCR1235 scenario women are not taking part in determining the parameters and building the foundations of debates. Instead the situation persists whereby women are simply coopted into existing structures and obliged to accept dominant discourses.
The ”add women and stir” approach also seems evident in UNSCR1325’s assumption that an increase in the numbers of women involved in conflict resolution efforts will be an instant panacea against the ill-treatment of women and girls.
Critics argue that such an approach actually serves to reinforce traditional notions of women as victims and/or as being conflict-adverse – in line with traditional gender stereotypes and is therefore unhelpful.
This is palpably the case, since UNSCR1325 does indeed tend not to grasp that gender issues are more than just being about women. A more rounded and arguably more effective resolution would have a grasp of gender as also being about problematic issues assigned to men and masculinity in relation to conflict and war.
Crucially, by taking a limited view on gender, UNSCR1325 does not create pathways for fundamentally reconceiving the role of women (and men) in peace and security.
Aside from the points made above, limitations to effectiveness also derive from enforcement issues. As a resolution, UNSCR1325 lacks teeth, a capacity for exacting punitive measures and essentially only offers up guidelines. As such, it leaves the structures and systems of war unchallenged and largely intact.
Interestingly, as of November 2018, just over 40% of UN Member States have created National Action Plans for UNSCR 1325. Whilst progress should always be applauded, it also needs to be asked why have the remaining 60% of UN states not yet achieved this?
Moreover, even when a National Action Plan has been created many remain largely skeletal as no additional finance is provided for actual implementation. The value and impact of National Action Plans for 1325 is also cast in doubt in some cases due to the fact that some national governments do not have in place methods and procedures with which to evaluate and review their plans in terms of effectiveness and impact.
In lieu of a conclusion, all evidence shows that the empowerment of women is crucial for the well-being and prosperity of a society. Women’s unencumbered involvement in political and economic life enables human systems to thrive and to become resilient.
The women, peace and security project is an essential element in this terrain. Whilst UNSCR1325 remains fundamental, the short discussion posted above demonstrates that there are numerous structural and conceptual weaknesses, as that will continue to limit its effectiveness and impact.