The world can no longer afford to neglect the abuses to which women and girls are subjected in armed conflict and its aftermath, or to ignore the contributions that women make to the search for peace. It is time they are given the voice in formal peacebuilding and peace-making processes that they deserve. Sustainable peace and security will not be achieved without their full and equal participation. Just as your work can promote gender equality, so can gender equality make your work more likely to succeed. –UNSG Kofi Annan, 28 October 2002 statement to UNSC
At a time when gender equality is at the forefront of conversations about politics, economics, and entertainment, no declaration rings truer than former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s above statement, which he delivered two years after the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda’s launch 16 years ago. Since its creation, the agenda has driven the UN to be increasingly concerned with women’s empowerment as well as inclusive policymaking and implementation.
18 years into this groundbreaking agenda’s enactment, I am kicking off a blog series that will examine the WPS agenda’s aims, impact, successes, and failures to help us see why incorporating gender perspectives is key at global and local levels. Moreover, grasping the agenda’s scope can shed light on ways that different stakeholders can work to advance the agenda and contribute to peace and security for individuals, countries, and the world at large.
What is the WPS agenda?
The WPS agenda consists currently of eight security council resolutions, all addressing different efforts to protect, include, and empower women. The agenda was formally launched with the unanimous passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on October 31, 2000. UNSCR 1325 is important because it serves as the foundation for all subsequent resolutions that make up the WPS agenda and marked the first formal acknowledgment that armed conflict affects women differently from men. It also underscored the importance of considering gender perspectives in all policies, as well as of including women in humanitarian efforts, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and governance. The following is an overview of the eight resolutions that make up the WPS agenda.
Key issues and core provisions
-Women’s representation and participation in governance of peace and security
-Protection of women’s rights and bodies during, and after, conflict
-Protection of women from sexualized violence during conflict
-Established zero tolerance for UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations personnel sexually abusing and/or exploiting women
-Created Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV)
-Expressed need to increase women’s participation in peace and security governance at all levels
-Created global indicators to measure implementation of SCR 1325
-Developed CRSV monitoring
-Integrated Women’s Protection Advisers in missions alongside Gender Advisers
-Challenged impunity and lack of accountability for CRSV
-UN Women identified as key UN entity for advising on matters of WPS governance
-Stressed importance of civil society’s inclusion in Council
-Called for 2015 High-level review of SCR 1325 implementation
-Integrated WPS in all UNSC country situations
-Established Informal Experts Group on WPS
-Linked WPS to countering terrorism and extremism
Interestingly, UN member states are not legally obligated to act on WPS resolutions. Rather, the above resolutions present norms and behaviors that the Security Council encourages member states to adopt in both the short and long term. For example, SCR 2242 encourages member states to create policies that recognize the linkages between violent extremism and women, peace, and security but there is no set negative consequence, such as sanctions, for member-states if they fail to do this. This is not to say the agenda hasn’t had any impact. In fact, its influence is one facet that makes the agenda quite distinct.
What makes the WPS agenda unique?
The agenda is unique for two main reasons. First, it is more widely acknowledged than other Security Council agendas. For instance, SCR 1325 remains the most widely translated resolution ever. This indicates that the agenda’s goals are being circulated and disseminated to a wider audience than any other part of the Security Council’s portfolio. As of June 2018, 74 UN member states (38% of all member states) created National Action Plans, to implement the agenda’s goals and demonstrate that the agenda is effecting regional and domestic policies.
Second, the agenda has not depended on the interests of the permanent members, unlike most policies adopted by the Security Council. Instead, its incorporation resulted from a concerted effort by individuals, nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s), non-permanent Security Council member states, and intergovernmental organizations.
The international political environment where women’s issues were becoming increasingly important enabled civil society to have a tremendous influence on the Security Council. Following the largest UN World Conference on Women in 1995, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security was created to advocate for a Security Council Resolution addressing WPS issues. This goal was ultimately realized in the adoption of SCR 1325, and the WPS agenda has since expanded to include seven additional resolutions described above.
Many of the agenda’s strongest advocates, from its inception to today, have been non-permanent Security Council member states. Bangladesh—the Security Council’s President at the time SCR 1325 was adopted—advocated for the agenda, bringing the issue to the Council’s attention in March 2000. Jamaica, Canada, and Namibia then joined with Bangladesh, advocating for WPS matters as a key UNSC policy concern prior to SCR 1325’s introduction.
What’s next for WPS?
The WPS agenda’s persistence in the Security Council indicates the importance of its goals. It also illustrates the impact of increasingly present global trends advocating for women’s protection and meaningful inclusion at all policymaking levels. So, what does the agenda’s implementation look like on the ground? What does the agenda mean for the US? What are the agenda’s strengths and weaknesses? What will the agenda look like in the future? These questions will shape future blog posts in this series.