Fifteen years ago, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on women, peace and security, a landmark international law that demands women’s participation in decision-making on international peace and security.
Though seldom recognized, the fundamental roots of this resolution, known as 1325, came from women’s actual experiences in armed conflict and their struggles for peace, championed by women’s organizations and civil society groups around the world.
As governments, donors and the UN come together this month to renew their commitments to the resolution’s mandate and address constraints and obstacles that keep it from fully being carried out, it is critical that these parties continue to engage civil society organizations as equal partners. After all, we are the ones who are implementing the resolution on the ground.
In this light, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, in partnership with Cordaid, the International Civil Society Action Network and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, all civil society organizations working hard on this mandate, conducted a survey earlier this year among other civil society organizations to solicit their views on the implementation of 1325.
Findings from the survey fed directly into the recently published global study commissioned by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to highlight “good practice examples, gaps and challenges, as well as emerging trends and priorities for action on UNSCR 1325 implementation.”
What stands out in the survey, featuring 317 responses from a wide range of organizations in 71 countries, is that women’s participation at all levels of decision-making in official peace and conflict negotiations and processes is still far from sufficient. As a result, a majority of respondents identified this as a top priority in the future agenda.
The ability to hold governments and armed groups accountable for grave human-rights violations against women was viewed as a significant achievement of 1325, though many groups qualified this gain.
Despite their leadership in the implementation of the resolution, overall respondents rated 1325 as only “moderately effective” because many of those surveyed think that the transformative potential of the resolution has not been fulfilled across the world. As one civil society group specifically noted, “The resolution is yet to witness groundbreaking achievement for strengthening the status of women in Nepal.”
Among positive reflections on the effectiveness of 1325, respondents said that it has mobilized women around the world and lent credibility and structure to their work. As one group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo said, “It has given us a platform to globalize all issues related to women.”
Many respondents believe that the numerous women, peace and security resolutions stemming from 1325 have changed the dominant perception of women as victims to being agents of change and peace-builders.
Nonetheless, widespread concern was messaged in the survey that shifting paradigms on the women, peace and security agenda at the global level have not affected girls and women at the local level enough. In turn, respondents affirmed the need to tailor implementation of the 1325-related resolutions to the local realities of women and girls to ensure that such programming reaches remote areas.
Respondents also made key observations and recommendations regarding the resolution’s main pillars: women’s rights to participation and representation; conflict prevention and women’s protection; justice and accountability; and peace-building and recovery.
Participants in the survey want to see a reprioritization of conflict prevention, disarmament and demilitarization at the core of the 1325 agenda. They urge governments to move beyond a narrow focus of preventing sexual and gender-based violence, for instance, and instead use 1325 to address the causes of conflict, including gender norms — patriarchal cultures, for example — that drive conflict and insecurity.
Respondents reported an increase in women’s engagement in peace-building and recovery. Many also affirmed the importance of embedding “local” solutions into a comprehensive and innovative approach to peace, security and development. As a group in Burundi noted, “Gender must be at the heart of socioeconomic development and peace consolidation.”
Attesting to the lack of sufficient funding for their work, respondents urged donors to invest in programming and establish funding mechanisms that ensure rapid, direct access to resources, particularly for local women’s groups.
The survey also identified such emerging issues as the impact of violent extremism and terrorism on women and girls; the intersection among climate change and natural disasters and violent conflict; the correlation between peace and security and health pandemics; and the effect of mass media and information and communications technologies on the lives of women and girls.
To address these cross-cutting challenges, the survey again showed the importance of conflict prevention and redefining security based on the experiences of women on the ground.
Fifteen years after the adoption of 1325, survey results have made it clear that despite all the challenges, civil society remains highly committed to achieving the transformative potential of this landmark resolution. Moreover, their practical experiences demonstrate that the best solutions remain in the hands of civil society and that the most profound barrier remains political will.
As the Security Council meets this week and activities are held worldwide to commemorate this anniversary, those who carry out the mandate of 1325 must return to its roots by fully engaging civil society and local communities directly affected by violent conflicts. Only then can the promise of 1325 truly become a reality.
This is an opinion essay.
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Danielle Goldberg is a consultant with the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and lead author and overall project coordinator of the CSO Survey on Women, Peace and Security. She is also a gender equality consultant for the United Nations, a board member of Atlas Corps as well as the Friends of the Association of War Affected Women.
Previously, she was program coordinator for the program on peace-building and rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Goldberg was recognized in 2012 as a Top 99 Under 33 Foreign Policy Leader by Diplomatic Courier and Young Professions in Foreign Policy. She has a B.A. in international studies and an M.A. in international peace and conflict resolution from American University.
Mavic Cabrera-Balleza is the international coordinator for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders. She leads the group’s programs on Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820, which legally mandate women’s roles in peace and security in conflicts. She previously worked as 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.