Women, peace, security agenda approaches 20th year with shaky progress

A UNAMID police advisor holds a baby and interacts with his mother during a routine patrol in Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons in North Darfur. Photo by: Albert González Farran / UNAMID / CC BY-NC-ND

UNITED NATIONS — Nearly two decades after the U.N. Security Council approved a landmark resolution on women’s engagement in peace and security, much of the progress in women’s representation remains relatively stagnant or has backtracked, according to experts in the field.

While the percentage of women police in U.N. peacekeeping missions has risen from about 9% in 2010 to nearly 13% in 2018, the percentage of women military personnel has increased from just 2.7% to 4.2% during this same timeframe. The most recent figures from August 2019 show women making up 4.9% of military peacekeepers.

The number of women peacekeepers have been relatively stagnant for several years, according to Paivi Kaarina Kannisto, chief of women peace and security section at UN Women.

“A pitifully small 0.2 % of bilateral aid to fragile and conflict-affected situations goes to women’s organizations.”

— António Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General

“There does not seem to be so many women in higher level positions in national security, and women also say that there seems to be always a man who is more entitled to be nominated for a peacekeeping position than a woman,” Kannisto said. “Above all, women are willing to be peacekeepers, but they are not able to crack through the ranks to be in that position.”

Resolution 1325 aims to increase the needs and voices of women across all peace and security efforts, from boosting women’s participation in peacemaking processes to taking special measures to protect women and girls from sexual violence in conflict. Women’s participation in peace processes has been found to improve the quality and longevity of peace agreements, among other benefits.

The U.N. Security Council marked the anniversary of the resolution on Wednesday with an annual open debate. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the council, saying that change is not “coming fast enough or far enough.”

“Nearly two decades since Resolution 1325 was adopted, women still face exclusion from so many peace and political processes. Peace agreements are still adopted without provisions considering the needs and priorities of women and girls,” Guterres said. “A pitifully small 0.2 % of bilateral aid to fragile and conflict-affected situations goes to women’s organizations.”

There were also record levels of political violence targeting women last year, Guterres said in his speech.

Meanwhile, fewer than 20% of all Security Council resolutions in 2018 contained references to the fundamental rights for civil society, women’s groups, and women human rights defenders, Guterres noted in an October report on women, peace and security. The report also shows that 28% of U.N. analyses of humanitarian situations highlighted a crisis’ specific potential effect on women and girls.

The Security Council passed a new resolution on Wednesday calling for the full implementation of 1325, showing the “urgency and need” for making good on the agenda, according to Grant Shubin, the deputy legal director of the Global Justice Center. But the new resolution has its own gaps, including the fact that it does not have any sexual and reproductive health and rights language, Shubin said.

The United States mission was influential in this omission, Shubin explained. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft said in a statement on Wednesday that the resolution references other U.N. texts that mention abortion, which the U.S. does not support.

About 50% of the priority items identified in a UN Women 2015 report on 1325 progress have yet to be implemented, Shubin explained.  

“Ten of the items have made no progress or negative progress and I think 30 have seen limited progress. The resolution is borne out of the sense that something needs to be done,” Shubin told Devex.

There are some areas of progress, according to Guterres. In Syria, for example, about 30% of the new constitutional committee members are women. There are also more women participating in peace processes, according to Kannisto — but not necessarily as negotiators, or with direct decision making roles, she said.

National action plans to implement 1325 have been adopted by 41% of U.N. member states. That figure is low partly because there “is no structure for implementation” of 1325, Kannisto said.

The new resolution aims to close this gap.

“I am not holding my breath for the impact of this resolution. I think it is important to try to rally international action and consensus on the importance of implementing the agenda,” Shubin said. “However, the difficulty of the negotiation of this resolution with particular issues that were contentious and the outright omission of central issues including SRHR indicates how truly far off we are from implementation.”

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.