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Implementing Resolution 1325: the role of National Action Plans

Much has been gained by the women who secured SCR 1325. Seven resolutions on, these resolutions and their intent now sit firmly within global policy on peace and security.

I had an interesting conversation recently with a diplomat whom I have worked with on and off over the past few years.  He expressed the following view: that there was no other international policy area like the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda in terms of the attention and traction it holds in the UN Security Council. He went on to imply that the Security Council had almost been held to ransom by aggressive women and antagonistic women’s organizations whose demands, he felt, were far from the ideals they espoused.  He inferred that this particular policy agenda had been one of the most difficult he had had to deal with in his career as a result. 

United Nations flag. Photo:

There are multiple responses one could give of course. Many of us who have worked as advocates, activists and advisers on gender issues could share multiple stories of similar attitudes towards the advancement of gender equality related policy.  What a man in a position such as this does not “get” is that it is only because of the active engagement and advocacy undertaken by women globally, that the structural bias around which our lives are strangled becomes in any way recognized by the global institutions. 

Much has been gained by the women who fifteen years ago, secured the adoption of Resolution 1325 by the UN Security Council.  While much critique has and can be made of how far the suite of now seven women peace and security  resolutions ( Resolution 1325 (2000), Resolution 1820 (2008), Resolution 1888 (2009), Resolution 18889 (2009), Resolution 1960 (2010), Resolution 2106 (2013), Resolution 2122 (2013) numbers ) have taken women’s equality, in the simplest of terms, it may be said that these resolutions and their intent now sit firm within global policy on peace and security. 

In many respects however they remain as they are -  “resolutions.”  Commitments, ideals and ideas on paper.  Laws and policies, like these resolutions, only become living documents when their intentions and commitments are plucked from their pages and translated into concrete and catalytic form. The resolutions are not enough, their onward implementation is what is critical.  

UN Security Council. Photo: Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.

This of course was recognized early on by women’s activists, particularly when it was evident in the years following Resolution 1325 that states, who hold primary responsibility for implementation, were doing little.  Most probably because of attitudes such as those of my diplomat friend, the traction he referred to is barely reaching beyond rhetoric to substantive impact. Glaring gaps remain in transforming the arena of peace and security in ways commensurate with what his and other governments have committed to through the WPS agenda.  The “difficulty” he has experienced has likely been the fact that with this agenda, activists have not been willing to let the resolutions sit on the proverbial electronic shelf. In the absence of monitoring mechanisms, civil society has prompted the creation of accountability measures. Since 2004, states have been encouraged by the UN Secretary-General to adopt National Action Plans (NAPs) to draw the resolutions into national jurisdiction policy.

As of this week, when the High-Level Review of Resolution 1325 takes place today, 56 countries have adopted National Action Plans. Of these, 25 are by European countries, 17 by African countries, 11 by Asia-Pacific countries, and 3 by countries in the Americas. Of the 193 members of the UN, 29% have taken steps to develop this kind of national-level response. Around the tenth anniversary of Resolution 1325 in 2010, there was a flurry of NAP development with 11 NAPs adopted that year. Proliferation of NAP adoption has somewhat slowed down, on average 5 per year since.  What might this signal?  Fatigue with the idea?  Perhaps.  Have the states that might be disposed to adopting these kinds of measures done so and momentum has reached a plateau?  That remains to be seen.  It also remains to be seen whether there will be a similar flurry of adoption of NAPs around the High Level Review this week – how many states will announce the adoption of NAPs?  Several are in production, such as by Jordan, South Africa,  and Timor-Leste.

It is telling that half of the NAPs adopted to date are by European countries.  Of these, countries such as Denmark are on the third iteration of their action plan, the UK and Ireland on their second. It is no coincidence that these are resource-rich countries, with the means to develop the NAP and follow through (to varying degrees) on commitments made.  As I have noted elsewhere, and despite critiques from activists and academics alike, these have and continue to be outwardly focused NAPs, primarily employed within those states’ foreign policy.  While these states fail to fully apply the Resolutions universally (i.e including domestic focus), there also remains a challenge in the deficit of funding on gender equality by the same donor governments to countries experiencing conflict. Research by the Gender Network of the OECD/DAC  OECD Development Assistance Committee found that for 2012-2013, while levels of funding on gender equality were overall increasing, just 6% of all aid to fragile states had gender equality as a primary objective, while only 29% had gender as a secondary objective (levels of funding on gender equality varies for recipient countries). In total, 21 of 29 DAC members have adopted NAPs.

Increasingly conflict-affected countries are adopting NAPs. These NAPs in many ways are more exemplary of the intention of Resolution 1325 in that they encapsulate both domestic and foreign policy related initiatives. Such countries are however faced with critical resource gaps and many rely on external funding for the development and implementation of their NAPs.  In many, external assistance has prompted and supported NAP development.  Countries such as Liberia, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Macedonia, have received support from UN Women for example. Countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, which continue to experience intense armed violence, are among the most recent to adopt WPS action plans.

Quality, rather than quantity, is of course what is most critical to consider. What have we learned since the first NAP was adopted in 2004 by Denmark?

Onward implementation: Much like the resolutions, NAPs themselves require onward implementation. They remain vulnerable to the same attitudes described earlier. Leadership and cross-sectoral coordination and commitment are required for NAPs themselves to create catalytic change. Civil society once again plays a role in keeping up momentum in implementation.  In Korea for example, a “1325 network” has provided its comments on the NAP and onward implementation. The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders for example are working to advance connections in NAP implementation from national to sub-national levels in contexts such as Liberia, Nepal, Philippines, and Sierra Leone.

Budgets:  Without specific and attributed funding, nothing can be achieved, regardless of how well designed a NAP might be.  Budgeting raises the question of whether stand-alone NAPs are the best way to advance implementation, or whether specific actions on women peace and security (WPS) through wider policy initiatives would be better, as they then access wider sectoral funding.  Either ways, ear-marked funding is necessary.

Existing commitments:  Many countries have existing plans on related issues – such as on violence against women, or on advancing the economic status of women.  WPS NAPs should work with and across these, ensuring congruence, avoiding competition and maximizing funding opportunities to enable impactful holistic approaches to advancing women’s rights in context. CEDAW is critical in this regard. With guidance now available for how to implement both sets of instruments in congruent ways, this is a positive way forward, lending human rights law and legal obligations on discrimination to the implementation of the WPS agenda.

Learning from evaluations and reviews:  Whether new and revised plans learn from the lessons learned that are now available for existing NAPs will be critical. For example, Ireland conducted a final evaluation of its first plan and Australia, a progress review.

NAPs are essential  tools, often the only bridge between global to national level implementation. As I have also noted elsewhere, NAPs may not however be the ultimate remedy.  Even where NAPs are in place, there are failures in implementation of Resolution 1325 across government.  Womankind UK have for example highlighted where there UK government has failed to connect its commitments under its NAP to its actions on security – failing to include requirements for women’s involvement in peacebuilding in its communiqué on the London Conference on Somalia in 2013 for example.

NAPS are just one way to further implementation. There are multiple modalities available. What is important is that the “how to” of implementation is done in ways appropriate to national context, commitments, capacity and resources.  Ambitious plans do not necessarily translate into effective change. Results oriented actions that are backed by political will, funding and a commitment to changes that tackle structural inequalities and exclusions in durable and impactful ways are what is required.

Unfortunately for my diplomat friend, he still has work to do. Adopting a resolution is not the end of the story, something that actors critical to advancing international policy just like him have had to realize. The hard work begins with ensuring that the commitments adopted become actions made. And critically, that these actions produce results that transform the staid and inept system of international security into one that not only overcomes its exclusion of gender analytical approaches, but re-focuses on prevention and peace.  

Read our series of in-depth articles on UN SCR 1325 - fifteen years on


About the author

Aisling Swaine is an Associate Professor of Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University.  She is also Visiting Fellow at the Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster. She teaches and researches on issues of women, peace and security, violence against women, transitional justice.

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