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Gender and Social Inclusion

Keeping the Peace: A Call for Women’s Participation in International Security

WPS_blog_11.30.12_photoElizabeth Cafferty, senior advocacy officer (center) accompanied Raz Rasool, an activist in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Hanaa Edward, of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, to meetings with members of the UN Security Council ahead of the renewal of the UN’s mandate in Iraq.

On Monday, October 29th, the very day that Hurricane Sandy tore through New York, the United Nations was scheduled to hold its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security. As strong as the storm was, it was not able to derail this important agenda. On Wednesday, October 31st, as soon as it was able to reopen and assemble enough representatives of the Security Council in the wake of the storm, the UN quietly, but formally, adopted a new Presidential Statement on Women, Peace and Security. And today, one month later (November 30th), UN Member States are gathering for the rescheduled open debate.

While called an “open debate,” the day itself is actually an opportunity for any Member State of the UN, and UN entities, to formally deliver statements on this area of work before assembled members of the Security Council. The Secretary General also speaks about his annual report on women, peace and security. It is fitting that the Secretary General attends this event, as the issues raised desperately need discussion—and action—at the highest levels of the UN. Daily, we are bombarded by media reports of just how dire the need is. In countries caught up in conflict, women and girls are especially at risk. They are harassed and attacked—in their homes, while trying to attend school, while attempting to earn an income or when trying to seek medical attention. Women bold enough to attempt to take part in any governmental or peacebuilding processes are more likely to be sidelined and silenced than men.

That such a state of affairs continues to exist 12 years after the passage of the UN’s Women, Peace and Security resolution (Resolution 1325) should be unacceptable to Member States and the UN system. The Security Council passed Resolution 1325 in October 2000, to tackle head on the different impact that armed conflict has on women and girls and to ensure that women are included in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and post-conflict political processes.  Twelve years later we have seen inconsistent progress in terms of its implementation.

This year’s theme, the role of women’s civil society organizations in contributing to the prevention and resolution of armed conflict, is unique as it highlights the central role that women (rather than governments or the UN) can play, and on occasion have played, in preventing and ending war. We commend the government of Guatemala, which held the Presidency of the Council in October, for choosing this theme and highlighting how women can be active participants in achieving peace and security goals.

Bineta Diop, a native of Senegal, will be the sole representative from civil society at the open debate. She will speak on behalf of the Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) Working Group on Women Peace and Security—of which the Women’s Refugee Commission was a founding member. She also speaks on behalf of the organization she founded and directs, Femmes Africa Solidarité, which works with women and women’s groups on the ground to make Resolution 1325 a reality.

Organizations like ours will carefully note what the UN Member States—and UN agencies—have to say about the importance of women themselves being equal partners in this work. And we will continue to call upon Member States to describe how they will translate their words into action. In its annual shadow report, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security lamented the inconsistency that marked the Security Council’s approach to women, peace and security. The report notes that of 82 country reports submitted to the Security Council, only 63 percent addressed these issues—though presumably women and girls are present in 100 percent of those countries. Similarly, when examining the 15 Presidential Statements the Council issued in the 12 months under review, it noted that women, peace and security was addressed only three times. Again, it’s safe to assume that women and girls live in each of the regions covered by those Presidential Statements. In one positive development, when renewing its mission in Libya, the Council did address women, peace and security.

Many Member States, and presumably all the UN agencies that speak, will reference the importance of harnessing women’s ability—and right—to be an integral part of conflict prevention and resolution processes. Whether these are merely words, or genuinely held beliefs will be determined by the actions that follow in the next 12 months—across the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Colombia and countless other countries.

Gender and Social Inclusion