In awarding this year's Nobel Peace Prize to the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the Norwegian Nobel committee praised him for his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The … committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace". The announcement of this paramount recognition of the work of peace activists around the world falls during a month of ongoing celebrations for another important symbol for peace, the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams took a moment out of her work with the Nobel Women’s Initiative to share her reflections on SCR 1325 with Lyric Thompson.
Heading into the anniversary, narratives from the UN Secretary General on down paint a gloomy picture in which failures appear more numerous than successes. From the emerging reports of the international community’s failure to protect in Eastern Congo to the failure to ensure women’s substantive participation in Sudan’s peace talks, questions arise as to the utility of 1325: is it just impracticable?
Not so for Jody Williams - for her, the efficacy of 1325 is conditional on its utilization by civil society to push for real results. “It’s a tool, and the utility of a tool depends on how it is perceived and how activists employ it. Just because the United Nations passes a resolution does not in itself mean anything. In and of itself, it’s just words on a piece of paper."
"You have to have civil society involved pressing government to see that these policy tools are used. Governments are not enthusiastically enforcing these policies if civil society isn't pushing. People have a ton of things they are working on and they will focus on whatever is bothering them at the moment.”
This is a lesson learned from Williams’s own experience advocating for international action to ban and clear landmines in the 1990s. The success of that campaign was wholly dependent on the concerted and coordinated efforts of civil society activists nationally, regionally and globally working together to identify key leverage points where they could effectively push for change. “The real value is in invoking 1325… that’s how the landmine treaty was beautiful. The reason it worked was because activists used it. So we have this resolution. Great; so what? Tell me how we can get people fired up on the ground.”
This kind of coordination and energy under the 1325 umbrella is largely lacking at present, which for Williams means there will continue to be slow or nonexistent progress in moving Resolution 1325 from policy to practice. “We need to take a coordinated look at this and say, ‘What is the leverage point? Where do we push?’ Since 1981, that has been my experience: that people need to understand policy as it relates to their own role. In ten years that hasn't happened for 1325. We need to be educated about 1325 and how it can be used practically on the ground.”
Which isn’t to say the resolution hasn’t been used on the ground—it has, and even with some success. Williams points to Uganda as one example, where women have used workshops and radio messages to build awareness on the 1325 framework’s three Ps of prevention, protection and participation. They have held trainings on effective advocacy techniques for civil society to hold government accountable to those principles, and a few women were even able to participate as observers in the 2007 peace talks between the Government and the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Research by UNIFEM points to Uganda, as well as Sudan, DRC and Liberia as evidence that while women’s participation in peace processes is more the exception than the rule, it is nonetheless more likely that issues of importance to them will be represented in the resulting peace accords.
These examples may have set the bar for local efforts in a few countries, but Williams wants civil society groups worldwide to be more coordinated in documenting the lessons learned and telling the success stories in order to inspire the scaling of theretofore localized efforts. “We need short videos explaining what happened in Uganda and South Sudan, round tables that go through the practical application of the policy mechanisms. We need one panel at all peace and security conferences explaining how this has actually worked as a tool for change and outlining ways to make it relevant. You have to keep at it.”
Williams also finds hope in the work of groups like the Hague-based Women's Initiatives for Gender Justice, which is attempting to weave that larger, global effort: “They use 1325 as a practical tool in conflict zones to help educate women on how to sit down together and formulate their own peace agenda. They work to help women empower themselves to become involved in the peace process. Without 1325 it would be harder to make that happen.”
So 1325 may not be completely impracticable after all, but still a work very much in progress. “The key accomplishment of 1325 is that it exists,” maintains Williams, “And there is are UN Security Council Resolutions 1820, an 1888 and so on. The primary obstacle remaining is implementation. We need to get away from this sense that this is ‘a woman's issue’—which makes me really irritated… everything in the world is a women's issue as far as I can see. It is hard work to change the thinking on this, and even harder to change the male-dominated thinking of our institutions. It is going to take decades of pushing. You have to recognize that and not think you are going to change it overnight.”