This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. It was the first to recognize the important role of women in peacebuilding. How significant was its adoption in 2000?
It has 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 realized, 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. 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 put forward that women’s rights were human rights and also civil rights and we all have to address them as such. So, ‘95 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 between 1957 and 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 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 number of women, over the positions they hold, as well as 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?