Last month, the UN Security Council held its annual Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security – the first to be presided over by a Head of State, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain – and unanimously adopted Resolution 2242, the now eighth resolution making up the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. Marking the 15th anniversary of the adoption of landmark Resolution 1325 (2000) and described by UN-Women as “an extraordinary new tool,” Resolution 2242 builds on previous resolutions in part by providing a clear roadmap for implementing 1325 and the broader WPS framework. It does so by, inter alia, emphasising the need for increasing financing of women’s organisations, even “inviting aid providers to track the gender focus of aid contributions” (Operative Paragraph 3). The resolution also urges key UN actors, notably the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), to “redouble their efforts to integrate women’s needs and a gender perspective” (OP 4). And, in addition to giving particular attention to women’s participation, including in peace talks (OP 1), 2242 also addresses access to justice for women in conflict (OP 14) and includes strong and substantive language on the need to respond to sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN Peacekeepers as well as non-UN forces (OP 9 & 10).
UN Headquarters, New York. Photo: flickr
Still, there are three areas within Resolution 2242 and the broader WPS agenda worthy of continued careful and critical attention of WPS advocates and implementers in the coming years; these include: the non-binary reality of gender; the potential for both harmony and conflicts between WPS and efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE); and intergenerational gaps within WPS and between this agenda and concurrent peace movements.
The first tension - and the one most central to our research elsewhere - is that the WPS agenda, while boosting women’s agency, tends to default to a binary view of gender (men as combatants and perpetrators of violence vs. women as peacemakers and victims of violence), generally overlooking, for instance, the (sexual) victimisation of men and boys in armed conflict. In its preamble, Resolution 2242 references the importance of “engagement by men and boys as partners in promoting women’s participation in the prevention and resolution of armed conflict, peacebuilding and post-conflict situations.” While the involvement of men and boys is an essential component of efforts to promote gender equality, their engagement should not be limited to the role of strategic allies at the exclusion of their experiences of victimisation in conflict, including sexual violence.
Beyond the dichotomy of male perpetrators and female peacemakers, individuals whose gender does not conform to the conventional and heteronormative male-female binary, who are also vulnerable to forms of gender-based violence, remain absent from the resolution.
Despite the limited view of gender and sexuality in Resolution 2242, this year, in his annual report on conflict-related sexual violence, the UN Secretary General included four references to the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons (LGBTI) - or those believed to be - in armed conflicts, including in Colombia, Iraq, and the Syrian Arab Republic. This was the first time any such references were made in these reports since their inception in 2012. The following month, during the Security Council’s annual debate on conflict-related sexual violence, three speakers made reference to LGBTI individuals, including Special Representative to the Secretary-General Zainab Bangura and representatives from the United States and Argentina. And, on 24th August 2015, the Security Council held an informal Arria-Formula meeting on the issue, focusing in particular on ISIL’s targeting of LGBTI individuals and marking the first time the most powerful body of the United Nations addressed these questions.
WPS has taken incredible strides toward improving the visibility and engagement of women in conflict and post-conflict settings and there is certainly more work to be done in this regard, but efforts in the future must take into account the ways in which improving gender equality and women’s agency can eradicate all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination against people of all gender and sexual identities. There remains a strong need for greater understanding of the dynamics around and experiences of those outside of the strict gender binary, forms of victimisation that are currently marginalised, silenced or ignored within the dominant view of violent male perpetrators and peaceful female victims, such as sexual violence against men and the targeting of LGBTI persons in conflict settings. With a deeper and more complete understanding of gender and gendered experiences, including as these relate to sexual identities, in war, we might start to see more consistent and systematic responses to the diverse needs of conflict-affected populations.
A second area worthy of close attention involves the merging of women, peace and security (WPS) and the focus on countering violent extremism (CVE). Resolution 2242 explicitly links the WPS agenda to countering terrorism and violent extremism, in many ways aligning the agenda with a set of issues that has garnered the attention of the Council’s Member States of late. As described by Ms. Yanar Mohammad during the Council’s Open Debate, improving women’s participation in efforts to counter extremism and build peace is not just a normative concern about equality; including women’s insights offers a strategic advantage to those looking to build lasting peace and prevent conflict and violent extremism.
Ms. Mohammad observed that: “With support for ISIS and other violent extremist groups being voiced by individuals from the Philippines to Yemen and from Europe to West Africa, extremism is not an Iraqi or Syrian problem: lessons from [the] region must be applied globally.” The link between WPS and efforts to counter violent extremism is a new one, one that is compatible with the core goal of preventing armed conflict and violence. We should reserve caution, however, in light of the potential to align WPS with militarised solutions to terrorism and extremism, approaches that often endanger the very civilians they claim to protect and run counter to the core principles of WPS. As Sophie Giscard d’Estaing noted earlier this month, although some extremist groups “attack women’s security and freedoms”, talk of engaging women in CVE “sounds dangerously as if women will be ‘weaponized’ in this fight”. Weaponizing women - or any person - stands in stark contrast to the spirit of WPS.
The third area of concern relates to potential collaboration between different generations within WPS and between WPS and related efforts such as children in armed conflict and youth employability and participation in the political process. Namely, how can WPS - and peace and security processes more generally - include the voices of the world’s youth? At a side event on Young Women, Peace and Security, organised by Germany, Cordaid, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, the UN Peacebuilding Support Office, the UN Population Fund, UN Development Programme, and the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, attendees addressed the question of how to integrate young women--and youth of all genders--into peace and security processes. The concern, voiced by young peace advocates during the session, is that WPS focuses on women (perhaps to the exclusion of young women) and efforts to assist the world’s youth tend to focus on young men. There is a gap, then, into which young women fall.
The 2015 Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security and the resulting Amman Youth Declaration suggest that this movement is quickly gaining traction. We contend that advocates for the youth in peace and security movement and those working within WPS must contemplate the tensions and points of harmony of the two agendas, lest efforts towards one detract from the other. Both are promising: each offers in its own way to unsettle the status quo that has all too often left both youth and women on the side-lines of decision-making and peacebuilding.
The discussion on WPS and its attendant challenges and dilemmas will continue beyond the Security Council debate. Indeed, the latter half of October was punctuated by events commemorating Resolution 1325 and looking ahead to the next 15 years. One particularly inclusive event was the Peace Forum honouring Resolution 1325 during the three days before the 15th anniversary of the date of its adoption. The Peace Forum brought together civil society organisations and advocates from around the globe to celebrate their achievements, consider the work remaining, and determine how best to keep civil society actively involved in the WPS agenda. With cautious optimism for the next 15 years ahead, the gap between civil society and policy-makers might continue to be bridged.
True collaboration across sectors and generations offers the best chance for a deeper, more complete understanding of gendered experiences of war, how to integrate CVE and WPS without compromising the latter’s core principles, and how to ensure that WPS is truly inclusive and adequately resourced. These are not the only issues worthy of careful consideration relative to 2242 and the broader evolution of the women, peace and security agenda. However, if this new addition to the framework is to provide a veritable roadmap to advance its implementation, these are key areas that warrant particular consideration if WPS is to recognise those whose voices have been silenced and work steadily toward the end goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world.