Written by Swarna Rajagopalan.
It has been 17 years since the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. The resolution stresses the importance of including women and their concerns at every stage of the peace process and places primary responsibility for this with Member-States who are to adopt National Action Plans for its implementation.
The National Action Plan (NAP) indicates a minimal official endorsement of the values of the 1325 agenda. In 17 years, only 69 out of 193 Member-States have adopted a National Action Plan. Asia, the world’s largest continent, has almost 50 countries but barely a dozen have adopted NAPs.
The Women’s Regional Network has conducted field studies in conflict-affected and militarised areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India that ask women about security, militarisation, corruption and displacement. Women’s responses focus on their safety and the safety of their families; on the consequences of physical threats to their accessing life-chances; on the breakdown of community and trust;
Despite assiduous UN mobilisation of support around the Women, Peace and Security resolutions (as 1325 and its successors are now collectively known), civil society has been lukewarm. When you consider that 1325 is the result of about half a century of incremental but steady movement towards a certain gender-sensitive view of war and peace, and that this movement has largely been propelled by civil society advocacy, this is surprising. Indeed, there is little new about 1325, which is a pithy distillation of CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action, read together with the path-breaking positions of the Tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda on sexual violence in conflict.
Asia is home to a large variety of conflict situations; more numerous if you view conflict as a subset of ‘crisis’ or ‘emergency.’ Still, 1325’s pillars–participation, protection, prevention and relief & recovery–are not the stuff of grassroots feminist public outreach or advocacy. Why?
UNSCR 1325 and its successor resolutions are focused on conflict. Only as late as 2013, did CEDAW General Recommendation 30 expand that definition to include other ‘situations of concern,’ including “internal disturbances, protracted and low-intensity civil strife, political strife, ethnic and communal violence, states of emergency and suppression of mass uprisings, war against terrorism and organized crime.” 1325 promotion is still confined largely to the traditional conflict context. This gives rise to two challenges. First, many governments, in Asia and elsewhere, hold that there are no conflicts underway within their borders and therefore, 1325 is irrelevant. It is an uphill task to say to government that there is in fact, conflict and that they must apply these principles to that situation. Second, in the large countries of Asia, many parts of the country are quite distant from the experience of conflict or even the concerns outlined by CEDAW GR 30. In that case, civil society’s task is two-fold: to sensitise the public (including decision makers from those areas) to the gendered realities of living with conflict and to work with policy-makers on gender-sensitive policy, possibly the implementation of 1325, in those areas.
Another challenge is that until 2015, the primary responsibility for implementing the pillars was left to government. In 2015, the High Level Review on the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda did urge stronger working ties with women’s organisations–both for UN agencies and governments. Till this happens, women’s organisations have to lobby government for implementation, and structural obstacles abound. The potential to lobby the government on peace and security issues can be limited even in the democratic polities of Asia. For feminist peace organisations which are typically engaged with 1325 work, such access is particularly hard because they are not expected to be interested in security issues. Moreover, relatively few women in this sector could mean few networking opportunities.
Additionally, feminist peace and security priorities now differ. While 1325 is a product of transnational feminist advocacy, it does not entirely capture contemporary activist concerns. The Women’s Regional Network has conducted field studies in conflict-affected and militarised areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India that ask women about security, militarisation, corruption and displacement. Women’s responses focus on their safety and the safety of their families; on the consequences of physical threats to their accessing life-chances; on the breakdown of community and trust; and the everyday navigation of corruption that increases with insecurity.
At the other end of the world, at a recent meeting of peace activists from the Americas, land, militarisation and violence against women were the three areas of concern that were identified. Across the diverse continent of Asia, the growing importance of development disputes relating to land and resources; the ubiquitous challenges of forced displacement, internal and external; the consequences to society, especially women and gender minorities of growing conservative and even extremist policing; and shrinking democratic space are critical feminist security issues. Their impact is experienced in the public sphere (through attacks on women human rights defenders, for instance) and in the private sphere (through increased levels of violence and decreased mobility). UN Security Council 1325 and its sister resolutions do in fact hold relevance for all of these–relevance that was underscored by the 2015 review–but the 1325 discourse still lingers within the confines of traditional state-centred conflict contexts.
We have also seen, where NAPs have been promoted and adopted with the help of UN agencies, such as in Afghanistan and Nepal, their values have scarcely taken root. Afghanistan’s public sphere is unsafe for women’s participation and Nepal’s parliamentarians have complained about not being taken seriously. So, beyond promoting state action on the four pillars, there is also the challenge of changing misogynistic political cultures so that women can in fact participate in meaningful and effective ways.
Where, then, do we go next with this hard-won advocacy tool? This is a question that the UN must ask, especially where insecurity takes different forms that do not engage UN Peacekeepers or Field Offices. It is also a question for feminist peace activists to contemplate, even as they customise their work to fit 1325 promotional grant templates. For the WPS agenda to become no more than another UN ritual would be tragic.
Swarna Rajagopalan works as a writer, political analyst, consultant and social entrepreneur in Chennai, India. She is the founding trustee of The Prajnya Trust. She tweets at @swarraj. Image credit: CC by United Nations/Flickr.