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Not quite there: 15 years of women, peace, and security

The 15th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 has prompted considerable analysis on the achievements of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. To date, 52 countries have adopted a National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of Resolution 1325 and, within the United Nations, the number of women in senior leadership positions has increased. Despite this progress, the implementation of the WPS agenda has experienced setbacks; for instance, the Global Study on Resolution 1325 (Global Study) reveals inconsistent implementation of the WPS resolutions that have caused the agenda to fall short of its aims. Furthermore, the Global Study argues that militarization has perpetuated a cycle of violence that increases women’s insecurity and detracted from the importance of conflict prevention as a means of mitigating new security threats.

Beyond the Numbers

Since the landmark resolution was adopted in 2000, the focus of the WPS agenda has shifted from protecting women (women as victims) to enabling women’s participation (women as actors). Broadly speaking, Resolution 1325 and its seven follow-up resolutions were designed to increase women’s participation and representation in the prevention, management, and resolution of armed conflict at all levels, provide special protection for women from sexual violence during armed conflict, and meaningfully involve women in peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery.

Incorporating women into existing military structures rightly addresses military gender imbalances. However, as a number of women’s rights organizations have pointed out, the ‘add women and stir’ approach is insufficient in and of itself. For example, rather than evaluating and correcting the structural inequalities and gender constructions ingrained in existing security processes and institutions, some countries have simply incorporated women into them. Efforts to increase women’s participation should not overshadow other key components of the WPS agenda, namely conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

The Negative Impacts of Militarization

Resolution 1325’s adoption was due, in large part, to advocacy efforts by civil society groups that were opposed to increasing levels of militarization and wanted to shift security investments from armaments to human rights and development. Today, there is little evidence that such a shift has taken place and global military expenditure, which has increased by 59% in real terms over the last 15 years, suggests that militarization has actually increased.

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are critical to conflict prevention and increased international peace and security.

However, increased militarization has not contributed to better outcomes with respect to the WPS agenda. The Global Study argues that the rapid proliferation of armed conflict and frequent use of force to resolve disputes is partly a function of increased militarization and has contributed to increased insecurity. Militarized security approaches prioritize the use or threat of force over non-military mechanisms and, while military interventions can forestall armed conflict in the short-term, they fail to address the underlying sources of insecurity. A majority of the the security threats that women face on a day-to-day basis, such as economic insecurity, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality, are the result of structural inequalities best addressed through development interventions. Furthermore, increasing transnational threats, like those posed by terrorism, armed non-state actors, climate change, and illicit trade, challenge the effectiveness of militarized approaches to security.

For example, despite unprecedented military spending to counter Boko Haram over the last four years, in 2014, Nigeria experienced the biggest increase in terror-related deaths (7,512) ever recorded in any country. The on-going conflict with Boko Haram has fueled an influx of troops and weapons to northern Nigeria, resulting in extensive displacement and allegations of serious human rights abuses perpetrated by both Islamic militants and the national security forces.

Women’s Essential Role in Peacebuilding

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are critical to conflict prevention and increased international peace and security. Resolution 2242 reiterates this message and goes further to encourage integration of the WPS agenda with efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

By recognizing women’s role in conflict prevention and violent extremism in particular, Resolution 2242 may also help facilitate wider appreciation for ongoing conflict prevention work and draw attention to the role women can play in implementing early warning systems. In as early as 2011, grassroots women’s organizations had identified the threat posed by escalating violence in northern Nigeria and flagged the need to address increasing radicalization in order to prevent the further proliferation of the conflict. Unfortunately, the threat posed by Boko Haram was not sufficiently recognized by the international community until the high profile kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Borno State in 2014. In several other conflicts, including in Ethiopia, the Palestinian Territories, and Yugoslavia, increasing levels of violence against women also immediately preceded the escalation to armed conflict. These examples suggest that increasing levels of gender-based violence may serve as an early indication of armed conflict.

By contrast, Nigerian women groups received broad recognition and praise for their conflict prevention activities during the 2015 elections. Established by a coalition of women’s organizations and civil society groups, the Women’s Situation Room trained and deployed 300 female observers throughout Nigeria to monitor and report election-related grievances. Working closely with public agencies, these women helped provide rapid responses before the incidents escalated to violence. It expresses the Security Council’s intention to consult civil society on WPS activities and to convene informal expert groups to facilitate a more systematic approach to their implementation.

We’ve come a short way and the world still has a long way to go.

Prioritizing Prevention

Civil society organizations have repeatedly stressed that conflict prevention should be given greater attention. The Global Study affirms this view and divides prevention methods into two categories: operational and structural. Operational strategies, which are short-term and designed to provide timely practical responses, are exemplified by the previously mentioned Women’s Situation Room in Nigeria. In operational prevention strategies, information and communications technology (ICT) can play an important role in reporting threats and informing community of risks. Preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping are other types of operational conflict prevention. Structural approaches are long-term and seek to address the root causes of conflict. Such strategies aim to reduce structural inequalities, the proliferation of weapons and build resilience against threats like climate change.

We’ve come a short way and the world still has a long way to go. Only 20% of official development assistance (ODA) is gender-related and, within that fraction, only 3% is allocated to projects with a principal contribution to gender. When compared to the immense sums that states spend on military budgets, ODA gender outlays reveal the extent to which we undervalue the effectiveness of peacebuilding and gender equality as security tools. This prioritization further reflects the UN’s rhetoric-reality gap and while part of this challenge relates to the ability identify and address militarization, it’s also about realigning our social values.

Featured image credit: ‘Four F-15 Eagle pilots from the 3rd Wing’ by the United States Air Force. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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