This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security – the first to recognize the important role of women in peacebuilding. How did the resolution come into being and how significant was its adoption in 2000?

Well it has quite an amazing history that goes back to other UN resolutions, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, which were passed in the 1960s and came into force in the 1970s. These were some of the biggest covenants on human and civil rights at the time but it was only later that people realised, that those who passed them, did not assume that they applied to women.

There was an attempt, subsequently, to pass the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – commonly called the CEDAW Convention – which was widely adopted in 1979, when 187 out of 194 UN members signed, although the United States was not one of them, and in fact, the US has still not ratified the treaty. But the understanding that women’s rights were not necessarily assumed in human and civil rights action was beginning to gain recognition.

Then, in 1995, Hillary Clinton spoke in Beijing and really put it forward that women’s rights were human rights and also civil rights and we all have to address them as such. So, ‘95 really brought together all the different social groups – women’s groups, human’s rights groups, civil rights groups, and more, who pushed for the women, peace and security agenda to be passed in 2000 at the United Nations.

The resolution on women, peace and security was a significant moment because it recognized gender equality issues were national security issues – not just social justice issues – and was soon followed by a number of other resolutions which make up the women, peace and security agenda today.

Conflict has a disproportionate effect on women and girls, with global security threats, such as climate change, reported to impact women more than men. In light of this, growing numbers of women are now serving on the frontlines of conflicts, in comparison to 1957-1989, when only 20 women served as UN peacekeepers. In your view, what have been the successes of the women, peace and security agenda so far?

I think some of the successes specific to peacekeeping have been, as you mentioned, that women are increasingly part of peacekeeping forces being deployed to conflict and post-conflict situations.

Importantly, the nature of war is changing – we are no longer primarily engaged in interstate work in some places – it’s mostly intrastate work where there are often ethnic or religious overtones.

In this landscape, women are often caught up in the battle lines. They often become the heads of their households when the men are gone or injured or killed. There have also been instances of rape being used as a weapon of war and other forms of sexual violence being committed in conflict and post-conflict situations even by peacekeepers.

So, having more women as peacekeepers is important because, number one, when women see women peacekeepers, they are much less likely to fear them, and therefore, feel less threatened speaking to them. Number two, women are a less threatening presence so civil society begins to build again. Number three, women peacekeepers give women in the local area a role model of strength showing them that they can play an active role in their own security. Finally, I would say that women peacekeepers are all impressively trained to guard those under their protection.

What other successes have there been more broadly outside of peacekeeping? Well, I think one that is often cited is that there’s a 20 per cent increase in the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years and a 35 per cent increase in the probability of that peace agreement lasting 15 years if women are at the negotiating table. The reason being that women bring things to the table – for example focussing on the root causes of conflict – that men neglect either because they’re not aware of them or it’s not considered an issue of importance to them.

We have a pretty abysmal history of peace agreements holding so including more women in peace negotiations, given these increases in the probability of agreements holding, seems to me the only logical thing to do.

You mentioned the inclusion of women in peace processes increases the likelihood of agreements succeeding, however, women continue to be underrepresented, comprising under 10 per cent of peace negotiators and under 4 per cent of signatories to peace agreements. Do you think there are any shortcomings with focusing on increasing the presence of women over the positions they hold and how their positions are used to further gender equality?

I think there are a couple of aspects to this. Importantly, women have been extremely effective in leadership positions, for example, in Liberia. But it is true having women at the table does not necessarily further gender equality in the long-term and I think this was the case in Northern Ireland where the women who were at the table did not include provisions for women. But, I think, we’ve learned since then.

The most important case to cite right now, in my view, is that of women in Afghanistan. They came out of their homes, they went to school, they identified themselves as proponents of gender equality, yet now, with the US-Taliban deal, there were almost no women at the table and not a single provision in the peace agreement that deals with women. So what’s going to happen to all of these women?

Since 2000, the number of agreements referring to women has grown to 28 per cent – more than double the number between 1990-2000. However, some critics have pointed to the gap between theory and practice since many peace agreements still omit a gender perspective on peacekeeping operations. What, in your opinion, have been the failings of realising the women, peace and security agenda so far?

You know, it’s not just critics who point this out, it’s advocates as well, that there is a big gap between rhetoric and implementation. I think the reason for this, in most cases, is political will. It’s the idea that gender equality is an optional luxury – we’ll get to it when we can – and that we have more important issues to work out. Well the agency of 50 per cent of the population should not be seen as an optional luxury.

In all cases, however, it’s a question of power. There are only so many seats at the table where power is doled out and nobody wants to give up theirs to let somebody else sit down. So, I think, there is active resistance to implementing gender equality in the peace and security arena because it would mean sharing power.

There are also some other reasons. The first is something we call the ‘blind fish’ – people who are simply unaware of gender equality issues – the second, which is interestingly by adamant supporters of the women in peace and security agenda, and that’s they are not given the budget and the authority to carry out the agenda as it should be.


A female Italian soldier from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) talks with a Lebanese woman in Tibnine, South Lebanon. Photo: Getty Images.

A female Italian soldier from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) talks with a Lebanese woman in Tibnine, South Lebanon. Photo: Getty Images.

The concept of a feminist foreign policy, which places gender equality and women’s rights at the centre of its foreign policy goals, has been gaining momentum globally. Sweden became the first country in the world to adopt a feminist foreign policy in 2015, and since then, 82 countries have adopted national action plans to raise the role of women in peace processes. How effective have these measures been to furthering women in peace and security?

That, I think, is one of the issues that women in peace and security advocates, such as myself, are currently looking at because the word ‘feminist’, for better or for worse, is a trigger in many countries.

In many countries, it’s a negative trigger, which is kind of ironic because, if you ask people, ‘Do you believe in gender equality?’, a lot of people will say, ‘Yes absolutely.’ But if you ask people, ‘Are you a feminist?’, a lot of people will say, ‘No not me.’

So, the question is, do we aim for a broad goal like a feminist foreign policy which would look at defining peace as, not just the absence of war, but a lot more then than that, such as creating the conditions needed for gender equality and aiming for peace and stability among other broader goals.

Or do we aim to work on a more incremental basis by trying to get more women into peacekeeping, trying to get more women into leadership positions, trying to move gender equality up the agenda as the more effective path forward?

I think the answer to the question is that it depends. If you’re Sweden, Canada or Mexico, a feminist foreign policy might be acceptable. But, if you’re the United States, it’s nowhere near acceptable. Even getting the US Defence Department to take the incremental steps of the women, peace and security agenda has been challenging.

Why do you think that is the case in the United States?

I think a lot of it has to do with power as I mentioned earlier. It has to do with an assumption that women aren’t assertive and don’t see security under the same lens as men, which is true, but which is why they are needed in this space.

I think it also, again, goes back to the point that some see it as an optional luxury rather than an absolute necessity and everybody is too busy – or simply unwilling – to change the status quo.

You mentioned the cases of Liberia and Northern Ireland, but another example that struck me was Rwanda, where women make up 62 per cent of the national legislature, far more proportionally than any other country, following provisions included in its constitution in the aftermath of the genocide of 1994.

Though equal representation between men and women is still far off for most of the world, what does the case of Rwanda and other post-conflict countries demonstrate about how to go about including more women in peacebuilding?

Well, I think the number one way to get more women into political leadership roles, where the women, peace and security agenda could then be implemented, is quotas.

Many countries use quotas to increase more women in political participation, which Rwanda certainly does, although there are different types. There are quotas that say each political party must have X number of women as candidates and then there are quotas that say the overall number of women in the parliament must reach a certain level.

So there are different varieties of quotas but they are all used as, kind of, affirmative action methods to at least temporarily bring the numbers up to where women’s voices are inclusive not token.

Research has shown that until you have at least 33 per cent of a minority in an overall group – so if it’s all men then 33 per cent of this group as women – then you won’t see any change because having one or two will likely be drowned out. But, at about 33 per cent, they’re able to have political power which then means their views and their agendas are seriously considered. So, in Rwanda, that has certainly been the case and that’s been one of the big lessons learned.

As I mentioned earlier, in Northern Ireland, the lesson learned was that it’s not enough to just have women in on peace agreements. There need to be implementation assurances written into the peace agreement that says it must be taken forward. So, in this vein, women have been learning over the years how to make a difference in male-dominated spaces.

50 years ago, humans landed on the moon, becoming one of the most significant moments in human history. The stories of women, from Margaret Hamilton, to Katherine Johnson, to JoAnn Morgan, who all helped men take their first steps on the moon at the height of the space race, have since come into the spotlight. How will the inclusion of women need to be considered more in space security as it becomes increasingly important in international relations?

Right now, space security is at a very critical point. We have moved from a situation where there was both co-operation and competition during the space race to a situation of great power competition in space where the United States, China and Russia are, for the first time, overtly weaponizing space. When I say overtly, much of space technology is dual-use, meaning it could be used as a weapon or it could be used as something for non-military purposes.

In the past, the United States and other countries have been very careful, kind of, not to cross the Rubicon into the overt weaponization of space but that’s now ending which I think puts us in a very precarious situation.

What seems to be missing from considerations of space security at the moment is the most threatening issue – space debris – which can only be dealt with on a multinational basis meaning it inherently requires co-operation.

So, what I think more women in space security positions would bring, would be that inclusion and the insistence on inclusion as a pillar of space diplomacy.

If there was just a fraction of the money, and manpower, spent on space diplomacy as there is on planning for space warfare, I think we’d all be a lot better off.


NASA engineer for Apollo 11, JoAnn Morgan, watches the blast off of Apollo 11 in the Launch Control Center of the Kennedy Space Center on 16 July 1969. She was, at the time, NASA's only female engineer. Photo: NASA via Getty Images.

NASA engineer for Apollo 11, JoAnn Morgan, watches the blast off of Apollo 11 in the Launch Control Center of the Kennedy Space Center on 16 July 1969. She was, at the time, NASA's only female engineer. Photo: NASA via Getty Images.

How far do current discussions about women in peace and security factor in space security?

Not at all.

Do you see the role of women in space security progressing in the future in spite of this and also despite what some have described as a broader backlash against women around the world whether in the political or in the security space?

I think there have been events over the past five or so years that have made women around the world, if anything, more acutely insistent on their participation than ever before.

We saw the marches in 2017, in the United States and worldwide, in response to what women felt was a rise in authoritarian and misogynistic governments and we have seen the rollbacks in gender equality rights in areas like reproduction too but I don’t think they’re going to take it lying down. The backlash, if anything, is going to spur women to be more, not less, active in all spaces.

Some have argued for the need of a men, peace and security agenda, to compliment the work on women, with proponents arguing that men are needed to realise gender equality worldwide. How far are men needed as allies to realise the women, peace and security agenda?

Well, I think, though the women, peace and security agenda has women in the title, it argues for gendered perspectives, that policies affect men and women differently. So, I think it is very important that it not be seen as dealing only with women’s issues – it deals with gendered perspectives.

In that regard, it is very much needed to have a broadening of all of those involved. I mentioned earlier it was all women’s groups that got the women, peace and security agenda passed and now we need to include men. In fact, I would point out, NATO is a great example of an organization that has recognized the importance of looking at how policies affect men and women, girls and boys.

So bringing more men in to support gendered perspectives is absolutely essential and looking at gendered perspectives in things like leadership roles is critical as well as gendered perspectives in everything from space policy to nuclear policy to human security issues too.

In your view, what are the greatest challenges to the uptake of gendered perspectives across the board and what, if anything, needs to change in order to realise the goals set out by the UNSC 20 years ago?

On a macro level, we need accountability. We have lots of policies, laws, national action plans and strategies of all kinds but we need accountability.

In the United States, in particular, I very much hope that accountability comes from Congress. In 2017, Congress passed the Women, Peace and Security Act on a bipartisan basis but I think it’s now up to Congress to hold organizations responsible for its implementation.

On an organizational level, we need to get, as you said, more men involved. But, interestingly, not all women agree, so we need to have more talks among women too, be they liberal, conservative, working, non-working, mothers, not mothers etc. We may have different views but where we’re trying to go is the same and we need to work together better.

I think among the advocates of women, peace and security, there are still issues that are up for debate like do we go for big feminist foreign policies or do we go for incremental change? In addition, are there lynchpin issues such as reproductive rights, women’s healthcare, gender equality or budget?

You know, in the United States, I wrote in an article that although the US Defence Department gave $4 million for women, peace and security in 2018, which they were patting themselves on the back for, the Military Times pointed out that they are spending $84 million a year on Viagra.

But this is not just in the United States. 140 countries stood up at the UN to advocate for women, peace and security in 2000 but only 25 per cent of those have national action plans and any budget connected to those plans. Everyone everywhere needs to put their money where their mouths are if we are to realise the goals set out by the UNSC 20 years ago.