Of Foxes and Chicken Coops* – Reflections on the “Failure of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda”

Of Foxes and Chicken Coops*

Reflections on the “Failure of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda”

By Betty A. Reardon 

The facts of Damilola Banjo’s June 15, 2022 PassBlue report (posted below) were hardly surprising. UN member states have failed to fulfill their UNSCR 1325 obligations, with the virtual shelving of much-heralded plans of action. It is clear that the failure lies not in the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS), nor in the Security Council resolution which gave rise to it, but rather among the member states that have stonewalled rather than implemented National Action Plans (NAPs), failing across the board to appoint women to peace negotiations. “Where are the women?” a speaker at this Security Council asked. As I will observe below, the women are on the ground, working in direct actions to fulfill the agenda.

My own intention in collaborating with other members of the CSOs, whose education and persuasion of a sufficient number of ambassadors on the Security Council led to the adoption of the resolution, was to obtain the UN’s recognition of women’s essential role in any peace process and an acknowledgement that peace is essential to the realization of women’s full equality, and that lasting peace will not be achieved so long as women are not legally, politically, socially and culturally equal to men. The significance of the relationship between women’s equality and peace is observed in Secretary General’s observation that patriarchy is a significant obstacle to the WPS Agenda.

1325 has not failed. It has produced results. It has become the normative framework for what women have and continue to do to achieve peace and security in their own communities, countries and regions. It is the governments that have failed, but I never really expected the norm to guide actual state policy. Quite the opposite, I expected that at best the norm would be ignored, and, at worst, intentionally impeded, as has been the case with current backlash against women’s equality, even in “liberal democracies.” Outright rejection and repression of multiple forms of gender equality have occurred in a growing number of states in the grips of religious fundamentalisms, fueling authoritarianism, a significant factor not noted in the Passblue piece. It is not the agenda that has failed, but rather the states who have given it nothing but lip service, to the point of endangering the security of women. (See Cornelia Weiss, “Failing the Promise: Abandoning the Women of Afghanistan” forthcoming in Armed Forces and Society.)

Reflecting on the extreme challenge that women’s full participation in security matters presents to the managers of the existing interstate security system, the inner sanctum of global patriarchy, the best I expected was benign neglect. Such seemed a reasonable situation, permitting women to get on with it, as they were doing and have continued to do so, using the resolution as a recognized norm to inspire other women to do what was possible to reduce violence and promote equality and justice in their own local and regional contexts, those in which peace and security or the lack thereof are actual human experiences, not abstract state policies.

Women are carrying out the agenda at every level of the global order except the intergovernmental. Even there, there are multiple examples that indicate that on the few occasions when states or political parties included women in actual peace negotiations, the outcomes were more satisfying to all and therefore more lasting. Women’s effectiveness as peacemakers has been well documented by the films of Abigail Disney, such as “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” in which women force negotiators to stay at the table, the first of a series of films, “Women, War and Peace.” The work of feminist scholar, Anne Marie Goetz documents developments on the agenda within the UN itself. Women from Helen Caldicott, Cora Weiss (see post on the 50th Anniversary of the June 12th March) Setsuko Thurlow, Beatrice Finn and Ray Acheson (even now reporting on the nuclear ban treaty) were prominent among the leaders of the movement to abolish nuclear weapons. As women brought 1325 into being, women’s energies and commitments were prominent in achieving the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

As to actual change on the ground, the “glocalization” and youth work of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders focusing on the actual implementation of 1325 facilitates peace action among women the world over (GNWP’s initiatives have been featured on this site). For years women have been significant participants in the India-Pakistan Peace Forum. Collaborations of Greek and Turkish women, of Okinawa Women Act against Military Violence with women from other nations occupied by US military bases, Women Cross the DMZ, and more recently the American Women’s Peace and Education Delegation to Afghanistan have demanded accountability, and have opened and nourished channels of communication, even in on-going conflicts. Federico Mayor, former Director General of UNESCO has called for Russian and Ukrainian women to negotiate a cease fire and peace in that war that has so destructively impacted the entire world system, containing within it the threat of nuclear devastation. The foregoing is far from an exhaustive list of women’s active and effective involvement in the implementation of the WPS, the on-going global struggle for peace and human security and the ultimate abolition of war that was the envisioned goal of some of the CSO representatives who initiated 1325.

Another realm of women’s peace action seldom considered in UN-related assessments of the WPS agenda is that of scholar-activists who produced a theoretical literature, action research, and peace building actions on the ground. One country’s experience of such is to be found in Asha Hans and Swarna Rajagopolan, Openings for Peace: UNSCR 1325 and Security in India (Sage, New Delhi. 2016). In the absence of an Indian National Plan of action, these Indian scholar-activists paid attention to the details of plans of Nepal and other Asian countries. But the absence of a plan did not deter them from action as reported in the Hans-Rajagopolan volume. It was to a conference of such activists some years ago that I proposed that civil society organizations design and promulgate Peoples’ Plans of Action (PPAs). Plans are useful to articulate goals, develop implementation strategies and coordinate and sequence actions among those working toward a common goal. Were they seriously attended to they could be such for NAPs. However, since that is not the case, I continue to believe that more intentional and systematic multiparty civil society collaboration on WPS could be effective in the implementation of all the provisions of UNSCR 1325.  PPAs could bring the Women Peace and Security Agenda closer to the nourishment of the civil society roots of the resolution.

Women are not dependent on states to achieve actual and effective results in advancing peace and security. What they need is what the late Ruth Ginsberg argued before the US Supreme Court, that (the male political power structure) “take [their] feet off our necks.”  Were states truly interested in achieving sustainable peace, they would both lift their feet and take steps such as establishing national commissions of women to oversee the implementation of adequately funded NAPs, and providing at least a small part of what they expend on the arsenals they see as insurance against challenges to their power. A portion of weapons funding could be transferred to catalyze women’s actual and potential peace-building power. That small shift in military spending, a bargain at any price, might indicate that even the fox is capable of good faith.*

BAR, 6/22/22

* Full disclosure: When asked some years back to comment on the potential effectiveness of National Plans of Action, I opined that it seemed to me to be setting the fox to guard the chicken coop. As a peace educator, I like to believe that the fox could learn to do just that.

The Women, Peace and Security Agenda Is Not Yielding Results, Diplomats Say

(Reposted from: PassBlue, June 15, 2022)

Despite 100 countries enacting national plans to carry out the global women, peace and security agenda, women remain largely absent from conflict mediation and other peacemaking endeavors across the world. The agenda, cemented in a Security Council resolution approved in 2000, is supposed to ensure the equal participation of women in peace talks and other related steps. But the agenda has fallen far short of achieving that goal since it was authorized by UN member countries more than two decades ago.

Sima Bahous, the executive director of UN Women, emphasized the lack of participation by women in peace negotiations and mediation during a Security Council open debate on the role of regional organizations in carrying out the so-called WPS agenda, held on June 15. Bahous said that 12 regional groups have also adopted “action plans” on the agenda, up from five in 2015. Yet that does not add up to success.

The Council meeting was chaired by Albania’s foreign affairs minister, Olta Xhacka. Besides speeches delivered in the morning by the 15 Council members, Bahous and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, women representatives from the League of Arab States, the African Union, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe spoke, each bringing their region’s individual response to the problem, with some noting small gains.

“With all these institutional progress, almost every time there are political negotiations, peace talks, we still have to ask, ‘Where are the women?’” Bahous said. As rotating president of the Council for June, Albania is raising the focus as Ukrainian women are reportedly being preyed on by human traffickers amid Russia’s invasion and Russian troops are being accused of raping Ukrainian women.

Ethnic Albanians understand the trauma of sexual violence in war all too well. In a year of conflict in Kosovo in the late 1990s, thousands of women were raped in Serbia’s battle to hold on to the territory. Kosovo is now recognized as a sovereign country by 97 UN member states.

Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was agreed on in 2000, a year after the war ended in Kosovo, and one of its core purposes is to recognize how violence affects women and girls specifically. With that resolution, UN member states committed to including women in all peace-building processes.

Eight years later, the Council adopted Resolution 1820, addressing the particular problem of using sexual violence as a tool of warfare. Besides these two resolutions, seven others have been adopted to guarantee women’s equal roles in peace-building efforts in their countries or regions. The Albanian mission said in a statement that it was determined to hold sexual abuse offenders accountable to deepen the WPS agenda.

“The use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and terror continues to be a common element in conflicts around the world,” the statement said. “During the last decade of the 20th century our region, the Balkans, has witnessed firsthand sexual violence being used as a weapon of war, as well as the challenges faced by post-conflict societies in dealing with the trauma.”

Albania, a NATO member, also vowed in its focus on women, peace and security in June to strengthen the collective international response to protect the rights of rape survivors by ensuring perpetrators are held to account. That includes using sanctions and ad hoc justice mechanisms — like tribunals — to go after abusers. Actioning the pledge has been tricky if nonexistent in the last two decades.

Unable to prosecute member states directly, the UN has been aiming to enhance the ability of nongovernmental organizations and a range of judicial institutions to collate and prosecute conflict-related sexual violence. As the leader of the UN, Guterres is in charge of this work. Annually, he presents a report to the Council on the UN’s efforts at tackling atrocities committed in wars. Guterres contends that his reports and the work of others in this regard are facing pushback from the world’s power brokers. Speaking at the June 15 debate, he echoed Bahous on the seeming futility of the world’s resolve to equalize representation in conflict mediation.

“Women’s equality is a question of power,” he said. “Today’s political deadlocks and entrenched conflicts are just the latest examples of how enduring power imbalances and patriarchy are continuing to fail us.”

Guterres noted that 124 cases of sexual abuse committed against women and girls in Ukraine have been submitted to the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights. He listed Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Myanmar and Mali as other places where decisions made by men have traumatized and excluded women and girls.

“And we know that for every woman who reports these horrific crimes, there are likely to be many more who remain silent, or unrecorded,” he added. “Women refugees are taking on leadership roles and supporting the response in host countries. Inside Ukraine, women who chose not to evacuate are at the forefront of healthcare and social support. It is important that Ukrainian women participate fully in all mediation efforts.”

In his 2022 report on conflict-related sexual violence, Guterres said that some countries were not strengthening the capacity of national institutions to investigate incidents of sexual violence in insecure areas.

“Military spending outpaced investment in pandemic-related health care in fragile and conflict-affected countries,” Guterres said in his 2021 and 2022 reports.

Two of the fragile countries to which he referred in his reports are located in the arid lands of the Sahel region in Africa. In the last two years, Mali and Burkina Faso have both ejected civilian, democratic governments. (Mali has carried out two military coups twice; in addition, Guinea underwent a coup in 2021.)

Bineta Diop, the special envoy to the African Union on women, peace and security, said at the debate that women in these countries have been doubly hurt by the coups and the worsening violence and upheaval.

“The women in the Sahel say they are doubly affected, not just by the coups but by terrorists’ attacks,” she said.

Yet many speakers at the daylong debate, which also featured dozens of other countries participating, said that women who are directly affected by violence are excluded from resolving the abuse they have endured.

Gry Haugsbakken, state secretary in Norway’s ministry of culture and gender equality, suggested that one way that regional groups could push justice through the WPS agenda would be to “reduce barriers” and protect women human-rights defenders “against reprisals.”

On the other hand, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, began his remarks on a not-so-constructive note, saying the topic of the Council debate “appears rather vague, but to a large extent, it can be projected on the situation in Ukraine.” He delved into rationalizing his country’s attacks in Ukraine, and then said: “Our Western colleagues have no chance to succeed at exploiting the topic of sexual violence in Ukraine, allegedly committed by Russian troops. All you have is fakes and lies, and not a single fact or piece of evidence.”

However “vague” the debate appeared to Nebenzia, Bahous of UN Women repeated the burning question.

“As regional organizations, when you convene negotiations, ensure that you do not have to ask yourself, ‘Where are the women?’” she said.

*Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.


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