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1325: deeds not words

About the author
Lesley Abdela is a journalist and campaigner for women’s equality.

I have worked, boots on the ground, as a civilian in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, and have seen the same damaging mistakes made repeatedly by the international community because they ignore the participation and perspective of women in peace initiatives, post-conflict programmes and policies.

openDemocracy’s debate on “women making a difference” is timely. 2005 is the fifth anniversary of two international resolutions which, if implemented, could revolutionise global methods of peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, passed unanimously in October 2000, is the first resolution ever passed by the Security Council that specifically addresses the impact of war on women, and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. Calling on all UN member states to ensure the full participation of women and the integration of a gender perspective in peace and security, policy-making, conflict management and peace-building, 1325 urges UN member states to increase the representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict.

Resolution 1325 also calls on all actors to support local women’s peace initiatives and to expand the role and contribution of women in UN-based field operations, especially among military observers, civilian police and human rights and humanitarian personnel. It spells out actions needed by all actors, including governments and the UN, to ensure the participation of women in peace processes and improve the protection of women in conflict zones. The resolution endorses the inclusion of civil society groups in peace processes and in the implementation of peace agreements.

“Fighting violent conflict – an online conversation.” See OpenDemocracy’s “women making a difference” blog, and join in the discussion on issues surrounding resolution 1325

This November will be the fifth anniversary of another, in some ways more trenchant, resolution piloted through the European Parliament (EP) by Euro MP Maj Britt Theorin and passed by the EP in November 2000. An EP Women’s Committee recommendation accompanying this resolution specifies that women should have at least 40 percent representation on all levels of international posts in reconciliation, peace-keeping, peace enforcement and peace-building entities.

But as I write, the British suffragette slogan, ‘deeds not words’, keeps running through my head. Both resolutions lack sanctions against non-compliance: their implementation relies on advocacy, persuasion and goodwill. And resolutions alone are insufficient – it is the implementation that counts.

The challenge for everyone committed to democracy and human rights is how to trigger determined commitment from politicians to implement 1325 and its European sister resolution. In the aftermath of dictatorship and conflict, everyone talks of human rights and democracy – yet women find themselves having to fight for any voice at all. It seems that the situation of millions of women around the world still fails to arouse passions in “mainstream” politics.

From resolve to action?

How does the scorecard look for the implementation of either the spirit or letter of these two great resolutions, five years later? Even now, very few women are included in peace negotiations or in politics in general in countries affected by conflict and war. Despite a plethora of conferences, advocacy from NGOs and good words from politicians, world leaders, diplomats and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, not enough has happened.

Women continue to be excluded from negotiations, treaty-making, interim and transition-appointed governments, post-conflict reconstruction planning and policy-making. On the whole, men continue to appoint men to power, and largely it is men who set the post-conflict agenda.

Thus a curious phenomenon emerges in post-conflict situations. Among arguments against changing one’s culture, I have never heard a mullah or minister object to international democracy-building organisations giving them mobile phones, computers, four wheel-drive vehicles or internet connections. But when the subject of women’s human rights within a democracy is raised, those at the top of the international community, reinforced by men from the conflict countries, develop ‘we mustn’t upset the local culture’ syndrome. Both groups excuse the exclusion of women from political power with weak arguments about “cultural sensitivities” and “custom and tradition”.

Maybe the bonhomie generated by 1325 and the EP resolution would have worked its way into the complex selection processes among parliamentarians, civil servants and intergovernmental organisations responsible for personnel in peace-making and peace-building had it not been for an unexpected development – the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on New York. When the twin towers fell, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair saw the “War on Terror” as men’s work. Almost overnight their approach swept away any inclusion of women as peace-makers, mediators and peace-builders. And parallel to this, fundamentalist Islamist terrorists have targeted women with intimidation and violent attacks in the cock-pits where “the war on terror” has mainly been fought out. Taliban-style violent oppression of women is now spreading like a virus.

Boots on the ground

Just before these two resolutions were passed, I went to Kosovo, after the end of the Nato bombing, as deputy director for democratisation with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). With one exception, all senior posts in the OSCE mission as well as the UN mission in Kosovo (Unmik) were held by men. Ignoring the majority gender, OSCE men regularly discussed what percentage of Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians and other ethnic groups should be represented on judicial, political and public bodies. No-one mentioned women. No thought of similar percentage representation of women occurred to these senior male diplomats. When I pointed this out, I was told that women in leadership posts would be "alien to local culture and tradition" and, in any case, "no women in Kosovo are interested in participation in politics or public life".

Kosovar women's NGOs were especially angry at being entirely ignored. The leader of Motrat Qiriazi, an umbrella of four rural women's networks, told me, "the international community has marginalised us women in a way we never have been before. We have never felt so pushed aside as we feel now." Dr. Bernard Kouchner, special representative of the UN Secretary General in Kosovo, had appointed not a single female to the seventeen-member Kosovar transitional governing council, even though the UN global platform for action states that at least one-third of decision-making positions in politics and public life should be filled by women.

In Sierra Leone, soon after the rebels were driven out of Freetown, the city’s gender-aware British Council Director, Rajiv Bendre, asked me to make a “needs-assessment” visit on women’s role in governance and politics. He had decided to make ‘Gender and Governance’ a priority. His efforts helped found the Sierra Leone 50/50 group and enabled a cascade of training and events which doubled the number of women elected to the Sierra Leone Parliament. But parallel to this effort, I found another British Government department installing and funding 150 Paramount Chiefs, of whom only three were women. I can hear still the voice of one Sierra Leonean woman remarking: “We have heard Britain is reforming the House of Lords, so why are you installing a 98% male House of Lords here?”

Gender spectacles needed

When appointing interim and transitional governments immediately after conflict, a fig-leaf of two or three appointed women has become the norm. In Iraq, for example, Paul Bremer, as US administrator, was midwife to an interim government consisting of twenty two men and three women. Paul Bremer said the Iraqi Governing Council represented a complete cross-section of the community. Yet an estimated 55% of Iraq’s 24 million people are female. A council truly representative of Iraqi diversity would have included fourteen women and eleven men.

Military personnel also need proper training on mainstreaming gender into peace operations. It was not just night sights that the military needed in Iraq, but gender spectacles. Watching TV shortly after the bombing of Iraq in 2003, I saw a British military officer appoint a cleric to help quell riots in Basra. I wondered then what a difference it might have made if he had deliberately and professionally sought female as well as male leaders, such as well-respected teachers and doctors, to run the city and calm the situation. Short-term stabilisation measures can lead to long-term de-stabilisation. We have seen the damaging downstream consequences of handing power to male religious leaders.

From September 2003 to February 2004, I worked with women’s associations and human rights groups in Hilla, Kerbala, Diwanyia and Al Kut, as civil society consultant with the RTI Iraq Local Governance Programme. Two senior males in south central Iraq saw inclusion of Iraqi women as the key to democracy and stability and were heavily committed to women’s participation in governance and elections. My brief from them involved mainstreaming gender into civic education dialogues and assisting Iraqi women to mobilize to take part in democracy and elections.

In workshops in Hilla, Diwanyia, Kerbala and Al Kut, and in conferences in Babylon, Baghdad and Basra, I listened to around 2000 women from across Iraq. They said loud and clear that they wanted equal representation of women and men at all levels of governance and on any council drawing up the constitution. They also wanted women’s human rights and equal opportunities enshrined in the constitution. These Iraqi women ran a campaign for a 40%/40% gender balance, with a petition and peaceful demonstrations. The Coalition Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council accepted a minimum 25% quota. 31% women were elected to the Iraq Assembly.

Such experiences show that gender-aware individuals can make a difference, but that overall reformation will only happen when gender mainstreaming processes are embedded into all procedures and institutions. This could be enforced by including gender mainstreaming as an item in organisations’ programme evaluations and individual job appraisals – good marks for good behaviour in mainstreaming gender, bad marks on your programme evaluation and career appraisal if you neglect it.

Parallel universe syndrome

Women’s absence in setting the formal agenda is often due to “Parallel Universe Syndrome”, as I call it. Women representatives promoting peace initiatives are mostly in the informal sector – in NGOs, civil society and advocacy groups. They are clamouring to be included on equal terms and in nearer equal numbers in peace discussions and setting a peace-building agenda. Meanwhile, those with access to formal political and economic power are mostly men. The men-at-the-tables representing conflict areas are mainly warlords, mafia, men who want to grab money and power, and religious leaders with their own power agenda. They cynically negotiate the post-conflict agenda, using reassuring “international speak” to representatives of the international community who are also primarily male – diplomats, senior personnel in international organisations, high-ranking military officers, government ministers.

Time after time, women watch the lightning-quick bonding by the international male and the indigenous male, to the exclusion of women on both sides.

In formal peace talks, men rise to the surface to set the agenda once again. Representatives from women’s organisations in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea built a network to search for ways out of the armed conflicts in the conflict-plagued bulge of Africa. This network played a decisive role in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table. In Sri Lanka, women’s NGOs have worked on community peace initiatives: ditto the middle east and throughout Africa, the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America.

But they are not included at the top tables. The UK alone has half a dozen or more superstars whose ideas could utterly transform the global approach to conflict – and they know what they are talking about: Britain has fought five wars since Tony Blair entered Downing Street. Even in international organisations, gender perspectives and gender balance have not progressed much either. Disgracefully, five years since resolution 1325 was adopted, out of fifty special representatives of the secretary-general or special envoys on peace support operations, only three are women. At the UN staffing D-1 level and above, out of ninety staff, nine are women.

Last year, I attended three conferences on women’s participation in peace processes. The participant lists were a roll call for the world’s conflict hot spots – Liberia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Israel/ Palestine, Sri Lanka, Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Columbia, Angola, Uganda, Burundi, Timor, Nepal, Nigeria, The Great Lakes, Aceh. The issue of security was high on their agenda. Historically, “security” has meant keeping states safe from enemies. Women activists have redefined its meaning to refer to human security.

The need to protect women is often invisible to international organisations. One speaker gave the example of a World Food Aid programme in Columbia which neglected to include security to protect women growing food. And these parallel universes are also divided by the different vocabularies used in the formal (mainly male) sector and by women in civil society. Ancil Adrian-Paul of International Alert points out that Nepalese women working with military and police on human rights are in fact working on security sector reform (SSR), though they don’t describe their work that way.

Several participants observed that media portrayal of women as victims of war obscures their potential role as peace leaders. Illustrating that dictum about sowing seeds of future conflict, one woman argued, “in current peace processes the peace is not for the people, it is for the power groups. This is the wrong focus.” As well as being unanimous that they want to be included on equal terms with men in peace-building, the women from conflict countries called for at least 40% women to be appointed to decision-making roles in international peace operations, and for all men and women to have several days’ high quality gender-awareness training before they are deployed.

Making a difference

The inclusion of women from the informal sector in formal peace talks can change the paradigm of how peace agreements are made. The negotiating team which drew up the 1996 South African constitution was 50% female. This remarkable gender balance was fundamental to an outcome acceptable to twenty six different political parties, according to former South African High Commissioner to London, Cheryl Carolus.

How does a group made up of half the world, the sex most deeply and desperately impacted upon by ‘modern’ conflict, but lacking heavyweight political or economic power, break into power structures designed over centuries to suit another power group? Women are up against an obstacle best illustrated by American comedian Groucho Marx, who once said: “Ma’am I’d give up my seat to you, if it wasn’t for the fact I’m sitting in it myself!”




Readers, you can help!

You can help get the UN and EP resolutions implemented. We need to move debate from “why include gender?” to how to make certain that women become equal partners in conflict reconstruction and peace-building. You can lobby your politicians, diplomats, military leaders and anyone else you think can bring about the changes needed. Project Parity, an NGO I co-direct, campaigns for the implementation of the EP Resolution and its accompanying recommendations and can suggest ways of doing this to maximum effect.

With the support of several organisations, Project Parity is trying to find out the following information:

  1. The number of women and of men holding senior posts on EU conflict and post-conflict missions globally, and deployed in EU member state peace initiatives, peace missions and post-conflict missions compared to 5 years ago.
  2. The number of women compared to men from EU states currently holding any of the senior posts in European Commission or other EU entities involved in security issues, conflict prevention, mediation or post conflict reconstruction globally compared to 5 years ago.
  3. Women’s NGOs have often been involved in peace initiatives at community level – what steps has the EU taken to include women’s NGOs in peace initiatives rather than mainly talking to high ranking politicians, diplomats and male combatants?
  4. Project Parity would also appreciate the names and e-mail addresses of Parliamentarians and Members of the European Parliament who are committed to the UNSCR 1325 and /or the EP resolution on gender and conflict. Please email: tim.symonds@shevolution.com



What actions are needed?

  1. An agreed international format that all decision-making and peace negotiations should comprise at least 40% men and 40% women and a maximum 60% of either sex, and that these personnel should be trained on how to mainstream gender. The international community is at ease with ethnic and geographic balance so why not also have a gender balance?
  2. Every man and woman – civilian and military – deployed in peace operations should have to show they have had at least three days’ training in how to look at planning, programmes and policies from a gender perspective. Gender mainstreaming means looking at every process and policy, every decision and activity and examining how it meets the needs of each section of the community, male and female.
  3. The processes of recruitment, selection and appointment of personnel for peace operations need an overhaul to ensure outreach to women as well as men, and to look at the criteria.
  4. Ensure that women as well as men are consulted and listened to right from the pre-planning stage of post-conflict operations, and every step of the way.
  5. Include women’s NGOs – international and from the conflict zones – in planning, preparation and simulation exercises ahead of deployment for peace operations. They often already have good networks with women’s initiatives in countries of conflict.
  6. Organisations should call for gender to be part of contract compliance. A good example is the US Agency for International Development (Usaid). Usaid have a system by which any contractor applying for funds has to show how they will integrate gender perspectives throughout their programme. Gender is included in the monitoring and evaluation of the programme.
  7. Develop procedures which ensure women are fully included, without discrimination, as decision-makers, holding leadership positions, beneficiaries of services and resources, and as personnel at all levels – including the most senior posts.
  8. The UN and other organisations should stop insisting on a university degree as a qualification for applying for senior posts. Many women worldwide are well qualified for posts (they often bring more real life experience) but have not been to university. Recognising that they were missing out on talent, the British Civil Service modernised their recruitment and promotion policies a few years ago – their ads now call for ‘university degree or demonstrable appropriate experience.’
  9. Train a pool of women in leadership and negotiation skills.
  10. Inclusion of gender mainstreaming should be part of evaluations and job appraisals. For too long, gender considerations have been viewed as an optional bolt-on luxury extra: ‘if we have extra time or extra resources we’ll fit it in.’

Gender perspectives need to be incorporated into: planning phase ahead of deployment; the phase immediately after conflict; emergency and security; civil unrest; restoration of essential services; groundwork for long term stability; reconstruction, recovery and moving forward; appointment of national and municipal interim and transitional governments; work with local population and international community; physical rehabilitation; restoring local machinery of government; developing local capabilities; conflict prevention; mediation; civil military cooperation; peace-keeping; disarmament, demobilisation reintegration (DDR); support for institutions and the rule of law; support for DPRE returns; support for the democratisation process; support for elections; support for the reconstruction of the economy and infrastructure; synchronisation of the civil military effort; governance; design and security of refugee and DP camps; media; social and economic well-being; justice and reconciliation.


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