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Women as peacemakers and peacekeepers: Having women at the table means a more lasting peace

Women Peacekeeping Unmil

A new report from UN Women concludes that peace is more easily achieved and more durable when women are included in the peacemaking process, and calls for “the full involvement of women in all efforts for maintaining peace and security.”

The report is a comprehensive study of the impact of landmark Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security (WPS), which was passed by the Security Council (SC) in October 2000. SC Resolution 1325 laid out women’s rights during conflict based on the four pillars of prevention, protection, participation, and peace-building. Its provisions include calls for more women in decision-making roles in conflict resolution; more women in peacekeeping roles; incorporating “a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations,” and peace agreements taking into account the needs of women and girls and local women’s peace initiatives.

UN Women, the agency within the United Nations that advocates for gender equality in UN policies and programs, looked at everything from policy frameworks to community policing; post-conflict justice; and the roles of governments, the UN system, civil society, and the media. The report’s authors have made clear that their goal is to change the militaristic, over-securitized structure of the UN’s peace architecture. “Women, peace, and security,” the report states, “is about preventing war, not about making war safer for women.”

In 1999 women activists met at the conference of the Hague Appeal for Peace, a peace education NGO. Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, then with International Alert, proposed an SC resolution on women, peace, and security. The idea behind the proposal was that giving women a chance to develop peacemaking and leadership skills would help their communities and nations build peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous societies. “SC had never uttered the word ‘woman,’” remembers Cora Weiss of the International Peace Bureau. “We gathered authentic women’s voices from around the world into that draft.”

Women activists, with support of SC members Bangladesh, Jamaica (which had a woman ambassador), Namibia, UN Fund for Women head Noeleen Heyzer, and the UN’s gender advisor Angela King, promoted the proposal within the SC. On October 31, 2000, under the Namibian presidency, SC 1325 was unanimously adopted, making it legally binding and enforceable. “It was a huge victory for civil society,” says Weiss.

The new report analyzes hundreds of data points from 181 peace agreements that have been reached since 2000. Women’s participation in peace talks increased by 35 percent the chance that a peace agreement would last 15 years. Before passage of 1325, 11 percent of peace agreements included references to women and gender; since passage, 27 percent of agreements contain such references.

The report details positive effects of including women. The Philippines negotiation with the Moro Front benefitted from the country’s long tradition of female leadership in politics; the presence of women negotiators led to 8 out of 16 articles in the constitution referring to gender. In the ongoing Colombian peace process, a gender subcommission includes women victims/survivors from each side. The Colombian delegation is led by a female foreign minister.

Often UN Women has gotten women to the peace table. “The initial invitees to the Mali talks had 80 men. UN Women had to scramble to get four [women] in,” says Pablo Castillo-Diaz, UN Women policy specialist on WPS. In Afghanistan, when women were included in donor pledging conferences, funding pledges on gender equality increased.

The UN has seen an expansion of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations; its budget has increased from $5.6 billion in 2006-2007 to close to $9 billion. But women are just beginning to make inroads; only 3 percent of peacekeepers sent by member states are women.

To understand why, I spoke to Col. Naseer Shahzad, military advisor for Pakistan—a leading troop contributor. “Pakistan’s current annual contribution of peacekeepers is 7,510; of this 23 are women, all medical support staff,” he said. The main reason for the low numbers is the selection criteria. “To qualify for peacekeeping, an officer must have at least ten years of service,” says Shahzad. “With 25 to 50 lady cadets passing out every six months, it will take some time for women to be selected.” UN Women does run a two-week accelerated training for female military officers, enabling some countries deploy them earlier.

A more structural change with increased opportunities for women is in the UN Police in post-conflict stabilization missions. Maruti Joshi, now additional superintendent of police in Rajasthan, India, became Jaipur’s first peacekeeper in South Sudan in 2011. “It was a skeletal set-up with few women,” she recalls, “but we formalized our meeting at ablutions into a recognized gender network.” The UN International Network of Female Police Peacekeepers also established an annual award in 2011. Establishing this formal network, and recognizing its work, encourages member states to include women in their units.

Seema Dhundia, now deputy inspector general of the Delhi police, was deployed to Liberia in the first all-female police unit in 2007. “Our presence made a significant difference; after seeing us performing duties, Liberian girls started joining the police academy,” says Dhundia, also citing the huge motivational impact of a woman president in Liberia.

The WPS agenda embodied in 1325 also requires shifting the parameters to what is considered “peace.” Women’s peace-building in Burundi and Kenya achieved success by a two-step approach—conflict resolution at the community level and then channeling the results through high-level women mediators into final official agreements.

This parameter shift faces palpable resistance even within the UN system. A day after the UNSC unanimously passed Res. 2242 to improve implementation of WPS, at a launch event for a book on the UNSC by renowned UN University experts, it was noted that WPS was the one thematic issue missing from the book. When questioned, panelists made dismissive remarks about WPS being “the flavor of the week.”

This gap within the UN’s normative framework and in its implementation persists because “key decision makers in peace and security don’t fully get it, don’t fully believe in it, or are not willing to expend political capital on it,” says Castillo-Diaz. Political will is, however, rising at the SC. At an event for the Campaign for Electing a Woman Secretary-General, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, UK permanent representative to the UN, made clear the UK lead role on WPS, including funding, along with Spain, a newly set-up implementation fund for 1325.

Between the hopes of women, the words of the powerful, and results on the ground lies the key challenge of 1325. The peace that women want is a transformative peace, including communities, justice, and socio-economic services to victims. Says Radhika Coomaraswamy, lead author of the UN Women report, “We want a demilitarized peace through a civilian process.”  




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