In a year of anniversaries at the United Nations, one stands out of special interest to women in peacekeeping and humanitarian work in conflict zones and other arenas of crisis where civilian rights are trampled on and families and societies severely disrupted. On October 31, 2000, the Security Council passed a breakthrough resolution 1325 on “Women and Peace and Security” (S/RES/1325 (2000)), taking on the challenge of filling the gap between a military mandate in peacekeeping and a broader view of UN missions that would factor in the roles, rights and protection of women. The keywords were “gender mainstreaming.”
In May 2000, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations had organized a seminar in Windhoek, Namibia, hosted by the Namibian Government, on “Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations” which had a significant impact on the adoption of that landmark resolution.
Nina Lahoud, the author of a new, comprehensive account of the three-day Windhoek Seminar published in the Journal of International Peacekeeping, was there playing an instrumental part, along with several other pioneering women in peacekeeping, including two of the first women ever appointed as SRSGs of missions — Margaret Anstee and Elisabeth Rehn — who played inspiring lead roles from the start. Lahoud’s account is enriched by insights into the personalities and interactions of the Seminar’s participants and speakers (including the Namibian hosts), a large number of them women with extensive field experience, as well as the evolving Seminar dynamics.
Over her career, Lahoud was part of six UN peacekeeping operations — chronologically, in Lebanon, Namibia, Cambodia, Croatia, Kosovo and East Timor — and also served for more than a decade as an official in the UN Office of Legal Affairs before transferring to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in 1997 for more than two decades, with her last position as Principal Officer to the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping in 2015-2016.
Introducing her first-person account, Lahoud writes with some dismay of the slow pace and checkered progress that has been achieved since Windhoek:
“[T]he promises of the Windhoek Declaration, Namibia Plan of Action, and resolution 1325 have still not been fulfilled twenty years later, even though the hopes of conflict-affected women had been re-ignited in 2015 with Security Council resolution 2242’s sweeping calls for action and a stark ‘Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325’ presenting robust recommendations for action to fill the many gaps.” She appeals for serious action to now be taken in writing: “As the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325 approaches, a rallying cry of hope is directed to all those who believe in the need for women to be fully involved as equal partners in all peace and security processes that this struggle can still be accelerated to achieve the results envisaged if top UN leadership spearheads a bold time-bound initiative to steer the course forward. But will this rallying cry be embraced?” In describing this time-bound initiative, she explains:
“At this juncture, I still maintain hope that the shamefully sluggish record of 1325-related implementation action, including on the 2015 Global Study’s broad-ranging recommendations, can be reversed and, further, that the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325 can be catapulted as a trigger for serious progress and much-needed change throughout this decade. Translated into ‘operational plain-speak’, I believe that, in order for this trigger to be activated and work, we need, at a minimum, the following:
(a) strong and principled leadership of the UN Secretary-General to spearhead and assume accountability for an initiative to accelerate implementation of the outstanding recommendations of the Global Study and of the ten Security Council resolutions on ‘Women, peace and security’, and the appointment of a respected Imminent Expert (reporting directly to him) to help direct and oversee the process, which would involve liaison with relevant UN entities, Member States and other actors;
(b) the issuance by the Secretary-General of a targeted, time-bound and sufficiently-resourced plan for implementation of these outstanding recommendations and accompanying arrangements for an independent and transparent accountability mechanism for progress tracking, monitoring and reporting (accessible to the public), both of which would be formulated under the lead of the Imminent Expert in consultation with a high-level expert advisory group of diverse representation as well as with relevant UN entities, Member States and other actors; and
(c) clear arrangements for strengthened coordination and prioritization of efforts to be undertaken respectively by all of the relevant actors (at national, regional and international levels), which would be set out within the framework of the implementation plan.
“With bold UN leadership steering such a time-bound initiative with ‘accountability safeguards’, as well as unrelenting pressure by all those who believe in the need for gender equality and for women to be fully involved as equal partners in all aspects of peace and security processes, we can — and must — drastically accelerate this struggle to achieve the much-awaited results envisaged by those enthusiastic Seminar drafters of the Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Plan of Action and by those 15 Security Council members who unanimously voted to adopt resolution 1325 twenty years ago. The women in the many conflict-affected areas across the globe whose hopes and aspirations were raised by those milestone developments should not be let down any longer; they deserve so much better. By proceeding within the above parameters, and with enough commitment, focused engagement and action, and persistence by all of us — from grassroots activists to the highest echelons of power, from youth to wise elders across the global north and the global south, from marginalized communities to the privileged elites — we can collectively ensure that the following impassioned appeal made by Jamaica’s Permanent Representative in her statement at the Security Council open debate on 24 October 2000 will finally be heeded:
‘The time has come for us to move from rhetoric to action. The women of the world expect no less from the Security Council.'”
How the Windhoek Seminar unfolded and what it recommended in its outcome documents
“In reflecting on the significance of the Seminar organized by the Lessons Learned Unit of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and hosted by the Namibian Government in Windhoek on 29–31 May 2000,” Lahoud wrote, “I feel that it is important to acknowledge two rather remarkable aspects at the outset”:
“. . . First, the Seminar was able to produce, over only three days of presentations and discussions, two ground-breaking documents: the visionary ‘Windhoek Declaration’ and the operational ‘Namibia Plan of Action on Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations’ [UN Document A/55/138-S/2000/693]. [S]econd, this consequential outcome was a critical step in fueling the momentum that led — five months later — to the UN Security Council unanimously adopting landmark resolution 1325 under Namibia’s presidency.”
Lahoud emphasizes that it is important to view what happened at the 2000 Windhoek Seminar “within an even broader historical context in order to appreciate its weighty significance”, explaining that:
“Windhoek was a symbolically powerful and compelling venue for the Seminar because it marked the 10th anniversary of the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) that had ushered in Namibia’s independence from apartheid South Africa, and, in addition, UNTAG represented a major evolutionary step for peacekeeping as the first deployed of the new generation of UN multi-component missions that further developed in the 1990s.
“Boosting its distinction further, UNTAG was also considered a milestone for women as it was the first UN peacekeeping operation with a large substantive civilian component which offered significantly increased opportunities for women to participate, and was headed by a committed (male) SRSG whose deliberate efforts to recruit skilled women resulted in them filling some 40% of all substantive posts (including in important mid-level and senior positions).”
Looking back at what important decisions and recommendations emerged in Windhoek after only a few concentrated days of exhaustive but strategically focused discussions among experts — apparently free of the geopolitical wrangling that has stymied the Council in recent years — the UN must not forget history. The Security Council vote was only the finale of a process that facilitated the adoption of the breakthrough resolution. The Namibia Seminar was a milestone in that process. Lahoud describes the scope of the Seminar’s impact, including the two powerful outcome documents produced:
“In examining the impact of the Windhoek Declaration and the Namibia Platform for Action on the adoption, five months later, of UN Security Council resolution 1325, it is crucial to initially take account that the Plan of Action presented a clear and concrete blueprint in listing 38 required actions under nine headings reflecting the areas that had emerged as particularly important for strengthening gender mainstreaming and gender balance in multidimensional peace support operations,” Lahoud wrote in her widely praised article.
“Those headings included: (1) Negotiations in Furtherance of a Ceasefire and/or Peace Agreements, (2) Mandate, (3) Leadership, (4) Planning, Structure and Resources of Missions, (5) Recruitment, (6) Training, (7) Procedures, (8) Monitoring, Evaluation and Accountability, and (9) Public Awareness. Equally important, the Seminar participants ensured that the Windhoek Declaration presented a compelling visionary framework to substantiate the need for implementation of the Plan of Action.”
“In this regard,” Lahoud highlighted, “the Declaration explained that, in a world riven by war, women and men ‘yearn for peace and are everywhere striving to resolve conflict and bring about peace, reconciliation and stability’ in their communities and countries and through the UN and regional organizations.
“Yet, in noting that UN peace operations had evolved from peacekeeping ‘in its traditional sense’ towards multidimensional peace support operations, the Declaration emphatically stated that ‘women have been denied their full role in these efforts, both nationally and internationally, nor has the gender dimension in peace processes been adequately addressed.’ Fueled by the pressing needs of women who had long been excluded from such participation in peace processes, from peace-making and peacekeeping to post-conflict reconstruction, the Declaration set out the following aims:
In order to ensure the effectiveness of peace support operations, the principles of gender equity and equality must permeate the entire mission, at all levels, thus ensuring the participation of women and men as equal partners and beneficiaries in all aspects of the peace process, from peacekeeping, reconciliation and peace-building, towards a situation of political stability in which women and men play an equal part in the political, economic and social development of their country.”
Lahoud underscores that “In explaining that the Seminar in Windhoek had considered these matters and looked at practical ways in which the UN system and Member States could bring the above-mentioned aims ‘closer to realization’, the Declaration concluded with a strong appeal to the Secretary-General to ensure that appropriate follow-up measures would be taken to implement the Namibia Plan of Action.
“[T]hat appeal had an enormous impact on the Security Council, as reflected by both the text of resolution 1325 and the many supportive statements made by Member States during the first Security Council open debate on ‘Women and Peace and Security’.”
The full article by Nina Lahoud can be found at: JOUP 024 (2020) Lahoud.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.