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The High-Level Review on Women, Peace and Security: A tale of two viewpoints

21 October 2015 - Hannah Wright

Comparing the recently released Global Study on the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and the adoption of UNSCR 2242, the eighth resolution on women, peace and security, Hannah Wright reflects on the longstanding disparities in how the agenda is understood.

Last week, two significant events took place in New York to mark the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. First, a Global Study was launched, detailing the achievements and challenges of the past 15 years of efforts to implement 1325, and making recommendations for the future of this agenda. Second, an Open Debate in the UN Security Council was accompanied by the adoption of UNSCR 2242, the eighth resolution on women, peace and security. Taken together, the Global Study and UNSCR 2242 reflect longstanding disparities in how different constituencies understand women, peace and security and what it aims to achieve. These different approaches are particularly noticeable when it comes to how the agenda speaks to the issues of militarism, men and masculinities, and countering violent extremism.

The Global Study rightly notes that women peace activists who lobbied for 1325 “were seeking a fundamental shift” in how international security is pursued; a “rollback of the escalating levels of militarization making homes, communities and nations less rather than more secure”. Yet since the passage of 1325, many Member States, UN agencies and civil society actors have tended to prioritise adding women and their concerns into existing militarised systems for maintaining peace and security, whilst deprioritising efforts to challenge the very nature of those systems. This is evident in the fact that many of the states championing women, peace and security on the global stage also continue to pursue militarised foreign policies. The UK, for example, has recently been working hard to push for faster implementation of 1325 internationally, whilst providing political and military support for the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing of Yemen, fuelling a rapidly growing humanitarian crisis in that country.

In preparation for the Global Study, Saferworld and others highlighted this trend and called for the agenda to prioritise preventing violent conflict by address its underlying structural causes. The Global Study – authored independently by Radhika Coomaraswamy, in consultation with UN agencies, Member States and civil society – makes a call for greater use of non-violent approaches to conflict prevention as its very first recommendation, and states that “a militarized view of conflict prevention sells resolution 1325 short of its transformative vision”. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, UNSCR 2242 does not reflect this bold message, making only passing reference to the need to “invest more in conflict prevention”. The provisions of the resolution – which include, among other things, higher targets for numbers of female peacekeepers, better inclusion of gender-based violence in sanctions regimes, and more gender advisers within the UN system – may well bring some positive outcomes for women and girls living with conflict and violence. But they present technical fixes, filling gaps in the previous resolutions, rather than an attempt to rethink how we approach international security and turn back the tide of militarisation.

The Global Study also notes that, “Militarism and cultures of militarized masculinities create and sustain political decision-making where resorting to the use of force becomes a normalized mode for dispute resolution”. Questions around men and masculinities have often been neglected in policy and practice around 1325: activists have competing perspectives on the the politics of focusing attention and resources on men and boys as part of an agenda that seeks to put an end to male dominance in the field of peace and security. Saferworld advocates for the transformation of militarised masculinities as part of efforts to prevent conflict, and strongly welcomes the Global Study’s recommendation to support the training of men, women, girls and boys which “reinforces and supports non-violent, non-militarized expressions of masculinity”. As with the other recommendations on conflict prevention and demilitarisation, however, recommendations on masculinities were not reflected in 2242 beyond a brief mention of “engagement by men and boys as partners” - a much weaker message.

Perhaps the issue where the fault lines have appeared most strikingly in recent months has been the role of women in countering violent extremism, which features prominently in UNSCR 2242. The Global Study calls for the promotion of women’s rights to be detached from counter-terrorism and military planning processes, noting that counter-terror strategies, and their instrumentalisation of the women’s rights agenda, can be directly harmful to women and girls in fragile contexts. For example, restrictions on financial transfers to areas subject to counter-terror measures prevent women’s organisations from receiving funding, while attempts to justify military interventions based on concerns about women’s rights risk provoking a violent backlash against women‘s rights activists. Saferworld’s research underlines that counter-terror strategies also frequently serve to deepen conflicts and undermine efforts to build peace. While women can and do play important roles in preventing radicalisation in their communities, simplistic notions that empowering women is the key to ending violent extremism risk placing a huge burden of responsibility on individual women without addressing the many other injustices and failures of governance which so often drive conflict and radicalisation.

Despite the Global Study’s words of warning, UNSCR 2242 calls for greater integration of the women, peace and security and counter-terror agendas. The broad language of the resolution is, like most such documents, open to varying interpretations. More positively, it does call for research on “the impacts of counter-terrorism strategies on women’s human rights and women’s organizations”. The news that counter-terrorism is officially on the women, peace and security agenda (and vice versa) will be welcomed by some women peace activists as evidence that women’s roles are being taken seriously, but will no doubt garner concerned reactions from others, including many in countries that are the focus of counter-terror efforts.

So where do these two quite different new documents leave us? The differences they highlight in how women, peace and security is understood are not new: they are as old, if not older, than 1325 itself. For those pushing for a more radical, transformative agenda, it is clear that the UN Security Council and most Member States are yet to be won over. After fifteen years of advocacy, new thinking and new strategies will be needed to bring them around. But the Global Study, with its strong focus on conflict prevention through non-violent means, could provide a useful tool with which to begin changing minds. Ban Ki-Moon has described it as “a call to action that all should heed”: let’s get to work to make sure that they do.

Hannah Wright is Gender, peace and security Adviser for Saferworld.

Find out more about Saferworld's work on Gender, peace and security.

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As with the other recommendations on conflict prevention and demilitarisation, however, recommendations on masculinities were not reflected in 2242 beyond a brief mention of “engagement by men and boys as partners” - a much weaker message.

Hannah Wright