Make 1325 Real for Women’s Peace and Security

Christine AhnOctober 31 marked the tenth anniversary of the momentous UN resolution on women, peace and security—UNSCR 1325. This set a new international standard that requires all parties—the UN, states, and armed militias—to ensure that women participate fully in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. If this really worked, it would transform our militarized world.

Unfortunately, these goals have not been met yet. Women are not equally engaged in brokering peace or designing post-conflict reconstruction plans, and as the recent rapes of thousands of Congolese demonstrated, women and girls are not protected. Implementation has been mired in age-old patriarchal attitudes, compounded by women’s lack of access to formal education and political leadership. Authors of the recent MIT report, What the Women Say: Participation and UNSCR 1325 cite “[b]ureaucratic inertia, leadership vacuums, empty rhetoric and fundamental misunderstanding about this agenda” among the many reasons why UNSCR 1325 is missing its mark.

On the resolution’s anniversary, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among those who urged UN member states and NGOs to accelerate women’s inclusion in peace talks. “The only way to…reduce the number of conflicts around the world, to eliminate rape as a weapon of war, to combat the culture of impunity for sexual violence, to build sustainable peace,” she affirmed, “is to draw on the full contributions of both women and men in every aspect of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building.”

The Birth of 1325

During the 1990s, the world witnessed the systematic use of gender-based violence against women and girls as a weapon of war. The number of rape victims was astounding: half a million women in Rwanda; up to 50,000 women, mostly Muslims, in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; and some 64,000 women in Sierra Leone. Hundreds of thousands of women’s bodies were brutalized and entire communities traumatized.

At the same time, women-led initiatives were making important contributions toward resolving conflicts and the rebuilding of impacted communities in the aftermath of war. Women from Cambodia, Guatemala, and Northern Ireland were among those emerging as crucial voices for peace as they mobilized across national, ethnic and religious divides and used their networks to mitigate violence.

In 2000, representatives from several key organizations — the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (Women’s Division), Women’s Action for New Directions, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Women’s Refugee Commission—came together to found the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, which now includes 14 member organizations.

They drew on decades of collaborative work for women’s rights, such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. During the Beijing + 5 review process five years later, these women’s NGOs, with the help of several individuals serving at the UN and on the Security Council, developed the resolution set to advance the role of women in peace and security. By October 2000, UNSCR 1325 was adopted unanimously.

Using 1325

Since then, women’s organizations in war-torn areas as far apart as Afghanistan, West Africa, Chechnya, and Nepal have used this framework to document gender-based violence in war, initiate dialogue across lines of ethnicity and culture, urge former combatants to give up their weapons, and claim seats at official peace talks. Researchers Kavitha Suthanthiraraj and Cristina Ayo report: “Undeterred by rebel groups, authoritarian regimes, cultural restrictions or resource limitations, and often at great personal risk, women continue the work of promoting peace and security in their communities.”

At the UN level, the Security Council passed Resolutions 1820 (in 2008) and 1888 and 1889 (in 2009) to ensure women’s protection from sexual violence in conflict zones and gender sensitivity in post-conflict processes. In 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appointed Margot Wallström, a former minister in the Swedish government, as Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict—another step in making 1325 work.

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has gradually recruited more women as civilian police and peacekeepers, partly in response to many reports of sexual exploitation by male peacekeeping forces. India sent the first all-female peacekeeping force to Liberia, and Bangladesh recently sent an all-female unit to Haiti. South Africa’s 2,100-person peacekeeping force is 17 percent female. According to the UNFPA, “Women who have survived assaults may be more likely to report incidents to women officers.” Yet an emphasis on increasing women’s role in policing isn’t sufficient—we need real solutions to conflicts over power and resources.

Roadblocks to Progress

UNSCR 1325 has been key to normalizing the importance of women’s leadership in the peacebuilding process, but only 20 countries have developed National Action Plans; 14 of these are in Western Europe. Others are Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Philippines, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. The Security Council has not instituted a mechanism of accountability, nor have countries undertaken major public education campaigns about the resolution.

Between 2000 and 2008, according to UNIFEM, fewer than eight percent of negotiators on official peace delegations were women. South Africa was a bright spot — 50 percent of all negotiators were women and had a committee that ensured the integration of gender perspectives.

An over-emphasis on numbers, however, can miss the point. Women and men who participate in peace delegations must represent women’s security needs. With virtually no representation of women in peacemaking processes, there’s no one to argue for the urgency of resolving conflicts peacefully. Thus, it’s no wonder that 40 percent of peace processes fail within the first 10 years.

Women Need 1325 Now

Quite simply, war and conflict affect women and men differently. Women are responsible for caring for children and elders, and finding food, shelter, and medical help for their families in times of war. In countries such as Colombia where four million people, or one in 10 persons, have been internally displaced, women bear the brunt of rebuilding their civil society. In countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, gender based violence has led to the rapes and traumatization of nearly half a million women and girls.

When men come to the negotiating table, they focus on political power, access to economic resources, and military or police support. Most women and girls are not willing soldiers or commanders, and when conflicts end are less affected by the military loyalties. Since they usually aren’t part of the formal power structures, they aren’t beholden to external pressure from governments and corporations that want a hasty return to “business as usual.”

In the aftermath of armed conflict, women focus on supporting their families, stabilizing their communities, and reducing the possibility of further violence. This includes healing from physical and emotional wounds, and re-establishing trust. It means using skills, time, money, care, persistence, and imagination to create new homes and livelihoods, as well as to provide healthcare and schooling. It means holding incoming governments accountable for commitments made in peace agreements, supporting candidates for office who will facilitate healing and rebuilding from war, and pushing for national budgets that support sustainable development.

Stepping Forward

At the UN, Clinton announced that the United States would contribute $44 million toward activities that empower women, including $17 million for strengthening women’s rights in Afghanistan and $14 million for NGOs working to make clean water available in conflict zones. She also promised that the United States would develop a domestic National Action Plan to begin implementation of UNSCR 1325. Should this commitment becomes a reality, it could be a small opening towards changing the direction of the militarized U.S. foreign policy.

But getting more nations, including the United States, to commit to National Action Plans certainly won’t happen without broad grassroots support and persistent organizing by women’s groups here and abroad. Not only must the UN and national governments work hard to involve greater numbers of women in peacebuilding, protection, and reconstruction processes; but they also must ensure that the voices and perspectives of women, who have long worked for peace, help lead the way.

Around the globe, there are numerous grassroots groups with extensive experience in confronting militarism and offering pragmatic solutions. Two weeks ago in Kivu, the World March of Women mobilized a march of tens of thousands of women from the Congo and other nations against sexualized violence in war. The Asociación Caminos de Esperanza Madres de la Candelaria in Colombia, also known as “Las Madres,” has organized mothers of the disappeared to pressure the government to negotiate with armed militias for the release of kidnapped civilians and to compensate families of the disappeared. The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq works to advance women’s rights amid a highly volatile context of violence waged by both Iraqi extremists and the U.S. military.

In India, the Manipur Gun Survivors Network demands an end to small arms trade along the Burmese border and empowers Manipuri women survivors of armed violence to lead household disarmament campaigns to demand the surrender of weapons. Women in Black Belgrade engages women across ethnic, religious, and national lines to get to the root cause of the conflict—often at high costs to their safety. And women in the International Women’s Network for Genuine Security support each other’s struggles against the expansion of U.S. military bases, particularly in Okinawa and Guam.

Greater women’s leadership in setting peacemaking and peacebuilding agendas based on women’s experiences of war and violence and everyday security needs — rather than militarized security—is vitally important. Making such work real will lead to a more just and secure world for us all.

Please sign onto a Global Fund for Women petition urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to use her influence to renew focus on UNSCR 1325.


Christine Ahn is the senior research and policy analyst at the Global Fund for Women and a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. FPIF contributor Gwyn Kirk is a founder member of Women for Genuine Security.