Illuminating gender - 1325 and the UN

Jeremy Greenstock
17 October 2005

As one of the sponsors of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000, I am glad openDemocracy is taking the fifth anniversary of its adoption to assess its value, examine how well it has been implemented and discuss its implications for the role women must come to play in the national sphere and in global society.

The UN Security Council is not responsible for social issues. It is strictly responsible only for matters of international peace and security. As the UN’s most effective and most politically active intergovernmental institution, it both has enormous influence and raises hackles in various places. In introducing a wide-ranging text on gender issues, we were taking something of a risk. But the events of the 1990s produced volumes of evidence of the suffering caused to women and families by the breakdown of law and order, especially in the developing world, and pointed to the potential of women in resolving conflict and in turning round social and economic chaos. There were intakes of breath from the more traditional corners of the UN when they saw what we were attempting, but the UK Mission, bolstered by a gender issues expert from the UK’s Department for International Development, gained invaluable support from Security Council colleagues such as Canada and the Netherlands; and the United States and France also came on board to strengthen the work.

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

International experience

In the years leading up to the turn of the millennium – and at least until I left New York in 2003 – Africa dominated the Security Council’s agenda. The awful heritage of what had happened in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo left us with a strong incentive not only to try to end the internal conflicts which ravaged these countries, but also to build a stronger foundation of principle for the proper care of those civilians who so often became caught up in the violence through no fault of their own. As soon as 1325 was on our books, our work in Africa began to take on greater recognition of the part women could play in resolving conflict. In 2000 I went with Clare Short, then UK secretary of state for International Development, to Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, and met the Freetown Market Women’s Association. When we could get a word in amongst the singing and talking, we discussed with them how to bring the spirit of peace back to Sierra Leone. They knew they needed outside help, from the UN in particular, in setting their world to rights again. But it was their spirit and good humour in adversity which lit up the reasons for collaboration. Inter-communal friction in Sierra Leone was minimised.

Simply passing a resolution does not guarantee its effective implementation. Too many good texts coming out of the UN have remained an aspiration rather than becoming a reality. Since 2000, protection of civilians, keeping children out of war, gender issues, combating HIV/AIDS and other human rights and health objectives have been linked into the Security Council mandates for peacekeeping forces. That has been an excellent change for the better. But it is not enough on its own to achieve acceptance of the real spirit of 1325 wherever it is needed. Too many national governments are reluctant to introduce legislation that includes the principles of human rights and gender non-discrimination. International institutions and non-governmental organisations working on gender issues perform wonders, but cannot reach deeply enough into some of the societies most resistant to change to make the necessary difference. That is why a continued debate is needed and why we must all go on pressing for results on the ground. The people in charge must know that they are accountable.

Iraq is an example of how hard it can be. After the March 2003 conflict, the American-led administration put effort and money into building civil society, within which the promotion of women’s rights and the support of women’s groups was a priority item. Well over fifty percent of Iraq’s population are women and most of them are desperate to see a successful transition to a stable and free Iraq, where the people have a say in who governs them. They abhor the endemic nature of schism and violence in their country and want to change it. In the early months of the transition my wife, Anne, and I worked hard in Baghdad to help women’s groups organise, and we witnessed both the hope and the pain that went with this process as they watched the violence take hold further. We had to remember that different communities and groups were developing different approaches and objectives: sometimes, as with the introduction of Sharia law, they were at loggerheads with each other. But the Coalition Provisional Authority managed to insist on a minimum quota of 25 percent of places in the new National Assembly to be reserved for women. Anne and I never met an Iraqi woman who was not grateful to the Coalition for removing Saddam Hussein and creating a new opportunity for Iraq. We met all too many, however, who wondered why we had let the struggle to make a success of the new Iraq become so difficult.

A question of justice and practice

If the adoption of 1325 has made a difference to the handling of gender issues at the macro-political level, things are not so encouraging at the local level. In a world which often seems to be polarising more markedly every year, the reasons for continuing the effort on gender must remain prominent and crystal clear. The first reason is the search for justice, fairness and balance – but that is not enough on its own. The practical value for decent, peaceful societies of the different instincts and aims of women must also be recognised, especially given that they put families and their standard of living first. Women have great potential for successful conflict resolution within their own societies, starting at the micro-level. We must also encourage the practical application and acumen of women, not least in the development of local business: the efforts so far made in this area show that the local leadership of women can work much better in societies where the rule of law or the social structures are threatened. And most important, men have to be brought to see that it is in their interests too.

1325 cannot claim to have started new thinking in all these areas. The very foundation of the UN and the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 remain the inspiration for a continuing global effort on all forms of social equity. But openDemocracy’s debate will draw further attention to the need to continue trying. I hope that everybody who reads this publication will be prepared to play their own part.

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