Women in Peace Negotiation: Resolution 1325 and the Trouble of Politics

By Katherine Maloney, Dominican Volunteer

This year marks the sixteenth anniversary of the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which formally recognized the changing nature of warfare and the continued exclusion of women from the peace process. On October 25, the Security Council held an open debate, and the energy in the room was, as Ambassador Power said, “palpable.” Women from myriad backgrounds, experiences, and countries, as well as male allies, were packed in to the chamber to hear the progress that has been made in implementing the resolution, as well as hear plans for its further implementation.

The most poignant comments of the morning were from Ambassador Rycroft of the United Kingdom, who said that the matter of including women in peace talks was not simply a “token conversation” or a topic to be discussed once a year, but rather is an ongoing topic that must be discussed, negotiated, and implemented on a daily basis at the UN. Ms. Rita Lopidia, the founder and executive director of the South Sudanese non-profit, Eve: Organization for Women Development, provided a narrative of the plight South Sudanese women are facing in the face of the turmoil present in the new country, reinforcing the concept that while the resolution has been a step in the right direction, more must be done. She stated that women in South Sudan are “living in hell,” having to decide daily who is least likely to be raped while fetching water, or who is able-bodied enough to withstand the ongoing violence against women.

Currently, women compose a small percentage of government officials worldwide. While the number of parliament seats held by women doubled between 1995 and 2016, representation worldwide is still only at 22%. There are only fifty-three women ambassadors to the United Nations. In the United States, merely 20% of 535 members Congress are women. There are just ten female heads of state worldwide. A woman’s perspective is not evident in the vast majority of political decisions.

Resolution 1325 recognizes the ways in which war affects women differently than it affects men, and also calls for the female perspective in peace negotiations. The resolution includes four pillars: participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery. The pillar of participation refers to governments encouraging and creating space for women to be part of peace agreements. Protection refers to the right for women to be kept safe from gender-based violence. Prevention refers to the necessity of the state to intervene before sexual or gender-based violence takes place, and recovery and relief refer to dealing with crisis with different gender perspectives in mind. Together, these four pillars are meant to include women in every step of a conflict – preventing conflict, protecting in the event of conflict, providing relief after a conflict, and working with women to craft a suitable outcome from the conflict.

Data cited by several of the ambassadors on the Security Council point to the success of peace agreements brokered with women as key decision makers – a peace agreement is 35% more likely to last fifteen years if women help with the process. However, of the 504 peace agreements proposed between 2000 and 2016, only 27% included specific references to women.

What continues to hamper the process of including women in peace agreements (as well as countless other issues) is political will. During the open debate, both Ukraine and Russia made remarks. The remarks from the Ukrainian ambassador were largely about Russian aggression in Crimea and Donbass, and the struggles that women face because of the ongoing unrest. She cited the high numbers of widows, displaced women and children, and prisoners whose lives have been completely changed due to Russian military action, but there was scant mention of the role that women have been playing in peace processes, or what Ukraine is doing to include women at higher levels. When the Russian Ambassador spoke, all of the Ukrainian comments were discredited and unpacked, with little commentary on the inclusion of women in Russian peace processes. While this tension is understandable between the two countries, who have long held hostilities towards one another, this open debate was not the place to air grievances; in fact, by simply discrediting each other, the two countries did nothing to further the discussion on women in the peace process, and everything to distract from the agenda item for the day. That being said, this type of interaction is not uncommon, as different member states are constantly seeking to undermine and discredit each other – obstructionism which should in itself be considered oppressive to women, children, those living in poverty, etc. – and which continues to stagnate the already slow process of implementing policies that will serve to uplift the most vulnerable among us while pleasing nearly 200 member states.

A separate element that seems to hinder the work of the United Nations is lack of dissemination of information at the national level. While I find it difficult to speak for the resolution implementation in other countries around the world, I can say with confidence that most Americans would have no idea that the United States has been actively seeking to implement Resolution 1325 – much less an idea of what Resolution 1325 means. As recently as June 2016, the US has renewed and revised its commitment to this resolution. While the full text of the United States commitment to Resolution 1325 can be found here, the main commitments are as follows:

  • National Integration and Institutionalization: Through interagency coordination, policy development, enhanced professional training and education, and evaluation, the United States Government will institutionalize a gender-responsive approach to its diplomatic, development, and defense-related work in conflict-affected environments.
  • Participation in Peace Processes and Decision-making: The United States Government will improve the prospects for inclusive, just, and sustainable peace by promoting and strengthening women’s rights and effective leadership and substantive participation in peace processes, conflict prevention, peacebuilding, transitional processes, and decision-making institutions in conflict-affected environments.
  • Protection from Violence: The United States Government will strengthen its efforts to prevent and protect women and children from—harm, exploitation, discrimination, and abuse, including gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, and to hold perpetrators accountable in conflict-affected environments.
  • Conflict Prevention: The United States Government will promote women’s roles in preventing conflict, mass atrocities, and violent extremism, including by improving conflict early-warning and response systems through the integration of gender perspectives, and invest in women and girls’ health, education, and economic opportunity to create conditions for stable societies and lasting peace.
  • Access to Relief and Recovery: The United States Government will respond to the distinct needs of women and girls in both natural and conflict-affected disasters and crises, including by providing safe, equitable access to humanitarian assistance.

The document continues to list specific and comprehensive strategies and outcomes that the United States intends to see from implementing the above goals. Strategic partnerships, such as the Equal Futures Partnership, are concrete steps that the United States government has taken to implement these goals, there is still much that needs to be done to take this strategy from high-level political actors and give concrete steps that concerned citizens can take.

Including women in the peace process is a necessity in the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 5 calls for with gender equality, and Goal 16 calls for peaceful and inclusive societies. If women are continually excluded from peace agreements and continue to suffer the gender violence that is a byproduct of conflict, then there is no hope of fulfilling the SDGs.

In summation, Resolution 1325 is a step in the right direction, but it is just a step. Civil society organizations such as Peace Women must continue to put pressure on member states to fully implement the resolution and include women in every step of solving conflicts and creating peace. Member States must try their best to leave politics aside and focus on the common good when it comes to peace agreements. Since the start of humankind, women have been left out of peace agreements, and conflict has persisted – is it not time that we realize that we might be leaving out a crucial piece of the peace puzzle?