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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UN Resolutions will loose all credibility unless they are enforceable.
I’d like to see more coordination between the UN, IMF and the World Bank with the aim of closing down the loop-holes which allow “off-shore” money transactions which permit despots and criminals to move masses of money into “legitimate” capital centres, which not only destabilizes the countries of the capitals origin, but also the capitals destinations. This would move the ambulance from the bottom of the cliff and possibly result in less ambulances being necessary.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

Thank you for this piece. Women across the world need more protection from the constant abuse and humiliation done by armed militants and zealous religious movements, and from the networks of human trafficking. The UN should become more involved in these matters and show some teeth. It almost seems like the UN mostly cares and acts upon security issues, without understanding, that the constant mistreatment and tactics of rape, economical and educational disparity, and the lack of involvement of women within the UN and peace negotiations, are as much of a security threat to the world as anything else. After all, women are emblematic of peace, prosperity and balance in the world.

Posted by Y. Fernandez | Report as abusive

Violence to women is violence to children. I am sure a U.S. representative has endorsed and signed this document while we give military aid to Pakistan to create millions more refugees in their military struggle with the Taliban. What good is such a document when the signatories engage in the very acts it condemns?

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

MJPC blames the Congolese Government for the Deteriorating Situation in East Congo(DRC)

“There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in lawless eastern Congo for six months”

Following the deteriorating situation in east Congo, the MJPC called today for the Congolese Government to urgently pay the salaries to thousands of soldiers who have not been paid for over six months in eastern Congo, take swift action to enforce the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) warrant against Bosco Ntaganda and to hold accountable perpetrators of sexual violence against women for their acts.

“Failing to hold accountable individuals who commit war crimes and crimes against humunity continues to be the leading cause of widespread and systematic sexual violence acts against girls and women in the easten Congo” said Makuba Sekombo, Community Affairs Director of the Mobilization for Justice and Peace in the DR Congo (MJPC).

Mr. Sekombo again criticized the government of Congo for not only the continuing failure to protect women and young girls from sexual violence, but also for “encouraging conditions that create opportunities for sexual violence to occur”. “There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in the lawless eastern Congo for six months” said Sekombo. The MJPC has also renewed its call for the Congolese government to take urgent needed action to end human rights abuses in east Congo, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure reparation for the victims of sexual violence.

The MJPC has been urging the Congolese government to compensate the victims of sexual violence in order to also help combat impunity in eastern part of Congo where sexual violence against women and children has been widely used as weapon of war for more than decade. The MJPC online petition calling for help to put pressure on Congolese Government to compensate victims of sexual siolence in Eastern DRC can be signed at http://www.gopetition.com.au/online/2618 0.html

About MJPC

MJPC works to add a voice in advocating for justice and peace in the DRC particulary in the east of DRC where thousands innocent civilian including children and women continue to suffer massive human rights violations while armed groups responsible for these crimes go unpunished

For more information about the MJPC and its activities, visit http://www.mjpcongo.org. or call Makuba Sekombo @ 1-408-8063-644 or e-mail: info@mjpcongo.org. The online petition calling on the Congolese Government to put urgently in place a comprehensive program of compensation for the victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo can be signed at http://www.gopetition.com.au/online/2618 0.html

Posted by rizik | Report as abusive