UN resolution on women, peace and security: anniversary worth celebrating?

June 19, 2009

Donald Steinberg- Donald Steinberg, Deputy President for Policy of International Crisis Group, is a board member of the Women’s Refugee Commission and served on the UNIFEM executive director’s advisory council. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Preparations are now starting for the 10th anniversary of the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. This groundbreaking resolution was passed unanimously in October 2000 to address abuses against women during armed conflict, including sexual violence and displacement, and to bring women more fully into conflict prevention and peacemaking.

Resolution 1325 was properly hailed as a road map to promote, among other steps, women’s full engagement in peace negotiations, gender balance in post-conflict governments, properly trained peacekeepers and local security forces, protection for displaced women and accountability for sexual violence. It urged the Secretary-General to bring a gender perspective to all peacekeeping operations and other UN programs, and called for greater funding for measures to protect women during armed conflict and rebuild institutions that matter to women.

The key problem with the celebration plans is that there really is not that much to celebrate. The promise of Resolution 1325 is so far largely a dream deferred. Women continue to be raped and trafficked in conflict situations with impunity, both by rebel forces and by government militaries charged with protecting them. Women peace builders still face severe legal and cultural discrimination; coupled with sexual violence and threats against them, this imposes a victimization and danger that makes even the most courageous women think twice before stepping forward.

In recent peace negotiations in Indonesia, Nepal, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, the Philippines and Central African Republic, not a single woman served as a negotiator, mediator, signatory or witness. Men leading peace conferences still exclude women or shunt them off to ante-rooms while “real” negotiations take place, thus producing agreements that are disconnected from ground-truth and less likely to be successful and enjoy popular support.

The absence of women’s participation still silences their voices on issues of internal displacement, trafficking in women and girls, sexual violence, abuses by security forces, maternal health care and girls’ education. Such concerns are typically given short shrift in peace processes and reconstruction efforts, and provided inadequate funding. The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) estimates that less than 6 percent of funds committed in donors conferences after peace accords are targeted in any way towards women.

The UN has failed to lead by example. The UN’s gender architecture on armed conflict is a hodgepodge, with no lead agency and no clear division of responsibilities between UNIFEM, the Special Adviser for Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, the Peacebuilding Commission, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UNDP’s Bureau of Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction (BCPR) and others.

All are filled with dedicated people doing their best – the recent BCPR decision to deploy 10 new senior gender advisers is a welcome example – but they are under-funded, under-supported by senior officials and poorly coordinated. Their work is further complicated by the absence of time-bound goals backed by monitoring, accountability and enforcement mechanisms.

Some believe that these issues will be addressed in the on-going debate over restructuring how the UN deals with gender issues in general. But the ideal solution – a single agency with at least $1 billion in dedicated funding, a so-called “UNICEF for Women” – seems beyond reach. Even piece-meal reforms, including the oddly named “Composite Entity”, are locked up in the same issues that killed the helpful proposals made by then Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006. For women now being raped in eastern Congo, the single-minded focus on an institutional and architectural solution risks becoming more of a distraction than an ally. The answer lies more in specific actions than in big-bang structural changes.

It is not too late to ensure a 10th anniversary of Resolution 1325 that is worth celebrating. As a first step, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro should appoint an advisory panel on 1325 of prominent international figures from developing and developed countries with past engagement on gender and armed conflict and knowledge of the UN system. More than a shop-talk or report-writing exercise, the advisory panel would propose and be empowered to help implement specific reforms and practical steps in the UN system, member states and the broader international community to better protect women in conflict situations and ensure their participation in building peace.

The panel should develop and help implement accountability mechanisms by identifying time-bound goals, proposing measurement criteria, determining responsibility for implementation, and defining rewards and sanctions to ensure compliance by individuals and agencies within the UN system. It would seek to reverse the shameful situation in which women fill only two of the Secretary-General’s 40 posts for country-specific special representatives. Among additional steps could be:

• Charging a single entity with overseeing the 1325 agenda, working in tandem with a permanent Security Council working group;
• Establishing a watchlist of countries and non-state actors of concern to be named and shamed into improving their records;
• Ensuring periodic reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council on the status of 1325 implementation; and
• Enshrining the principle that sanctions will be adopted on governments and non-state actors that fail to meet international standards of protection.

If these items seem a stretch, it is important to remember that each of these measures now applies to the protection of children in armed conflict under UNSC Resolution 1612.

The panel’s success would not be measured by the reports it issues or the publicity it generates. It would come in changing the lives of women on the ground, securing seats for women in peace negotiations and post-conflict governance, preventing armed thugs from abusing women, holding government security forces and warlords alike accountable for sexual violence against women, preventing traffickers from turning women and girls into commodities, building strong civil society networks for women and ending the stigma of victimization that bedevils women leaders.

Now that would be an accomplishment worth celebrating.

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