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Putting Women, Peace and Security Matters Into Local Hands


A Filipino girl in a Pinoy parade.
Gains in advancing women, peace and security issues have been made in the Philippines at national and local levels. Here, a participant in a Manila parade. JOE PENNEY

Despite the unprecedented developments in international law addressing women, peace and security issues, progress has been remarkably slow and unpredictable in changing the perception of women as victims of armed conflict into peace-builders and decision-makers. The transformational nature of the ground-breaking Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security, paved the way for many supporting policies, tools and other resolutions while reinforcing the demand for women’s participation in peace processes, preventing gender-based violence in conflicts and promoting a gender lens in peacekeeping operations.

Thirteen years after the resolution was adopted, inertia — grounded mainly in little political will and insufficient funds — remains one of the most challenging obstacles in carrying out the mandates. As work on finding concrete ways to overcome these barriers should continue, it is time to rethink the strategy of how the resolutions are being carried out.

The localization program of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders engages authorities, traditional leaders and women at the local level directly in implementing 1325 mandates and the relevant national action plans of countries, where they exist. It is a people-based, bottom-up approach that enables communities to analyze their government functions and policies to assess how well the principles of 1325 are being put to work. Where national efforts may be lagging or nonexistent, these grass-roots methods are making a difference.

We recently published a report on our localization program, which began in 2011 and is operating in Burundi, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Philippines, Sierra Leone and Uganda. The program has two parts: workshops where women activists and experts on governance help lead discussions mainly on gender concepts and the root causes of conflict; and guidelines to assist local authorities in mainstreaming provisions of Resolution 1325 (and its close complement, 1820) and the national action plans in community efforts.

The localization program has done well in its short time span, enough to be highlighted in the UN secretary-general’s 2012 report on women, peace and security as a good practice to help incorporate these commitments in relevant policy and planning processes in the countries where we operate. We found that localizing 1325 and the related tools have enhanced the lives of women and girls in these conflict-affected communities, though some more than others.

In Colombia, for example, which does not seem eager to adopt a national action plan to carry out Resolution 1325, the localization program was held in various communities this year and last year in the Arauca, Cauca, Bolívar, Chocó and Santander departments, or states. One highly tangible outcome has been the creation of an action plan for the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community in the village of Popayán in Cauca. The plan is meant to respond to further violence that may occur against these individuals by armed groups. Lesbians have been targets of particularly hateful crimes, including militias cutting off the women’s breasts and raping them when the armed groups discovered the women’s sexual orientation.

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With more awareness of women’s rights in the region, the communities can move forward to adopt ways to carry out Resolution 1325 and pressure the federal government to pass a national action plan, too.

In Nepal, which has a national action plan, the localization program has experienced impressive results: information on 1325 and 1820 has been integrated into school curriculum and police and army training. Information on the resolutions has also been published in English and Nepali, while training manuals on the resolutions are also available in Braille.

Additionally, radio jingles advocating women’s participation in governance and video spots, calling for 33 percent participation of women in the country’s Constituent Assembly (legislature), have been broadcast as part of the localization strategy. These awareness-raising and advocacy efforts were shared with participants in our workshops and also reached more than three million people countrywide.

The Philippines has gained tremendously from the program’s eight workshops in 2011 and 2012. Women, peace and security matters and the national action plan have been systematically integrated in local development plans, covering all aspects of government at that level, including agriculture, health and sanitation and education matters.

Equally important, a shift in the perception of gender roles and greater participation by women in governance and peace programs as well as economic and development projects have been put into motion. Progress in Kalinga Province, for example, has led to four women being included in a formerly all-male, century-old peace and conflict-mediation council, run by tribal elders.

In Sierra Leone, commitments by local government officials, paramount chiefs, district administrators and civil-society leaders on carrying out the UN resolutions were made during the workshops. Paramount chiefs returned to their villages and expounded on the resolutions and the country’s national action plan. They have also helped promote zero tolerance toward sexual and gender-based violence and popularized the resolutions in religious sermons, encouraging colleagues in the Christian and Muslim faiths to do the same.

As one paramount chief said after he attended a workshop, “I take care to address conflicts involving women diligently, and to ensure that people understand that I aim to uphold women’s rights.”

Uganda, which also has a national action plan, has the furthest to go among the countries where our workshops are held. The results of one workshop, held in the Dokolo district in 2012, has increased awareness in the security sector on gender-based violence and how to respond to it. In addition, greater budgeting for gender issues and services for victims has occurred. An overall decline in rates of such violence has happened as well, while a change in the perceptions of women’s roles, the importance of their economic empowerment and the value of their participation in conflict resolution have all been tangible evidence of the workshops.

The localization program has provided a great catalytic effect in the regions where it operates. It’s time for all governments in post-conflict countries, from the national to the local level, from civil society to the UN community, to make sure such activities not only continue but also grow.

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This is an opinion essay.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza is the international coordinator for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders. She leads the group’s programs that carry out Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820, which ensure women’s role in peace and security in conflict situations. Most recently, Cabrera-Balleza, a Filipino, was in Sierra Leone, working on such a project. Her previous job was coordinator of the International Women’s Tribune Center’s human rights, peace-building and human security program. She has a master’s degree in communication research with a focus on women’s studies.

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