Gender, power, peace and security

The UN Security Council holds the open debate on women, peace and security in New York on 20 October 2022. Meanwhile peacebuilders and feminists gathered for Women, Peace and Security Week. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Every year peacebuilders and feminists gather in New York for a week of meetings, talks and events as part of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Week. This week is timed to coincide with the UN Security Council’s open debate, which is an opportunity for member states to hear from civil society and set out their own WPS priorities and actions.

It has been 22 years since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the landmark resolution on the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and peacebuilding, yet an unacceptable implementation gap persists.

Women peacebuilders have shown us they have the power to create inclusive social change when barriers are removed, especially patriarchal norms. The international system needs to be doing much more to remove those barriers.

Inclusion and intersectionality

While the importance of both intersectionality and inclusion of intersectional identities is recognised by some key players and civil society organisations, this is not true of the UN Security Council as a whole. In the open debate only 10 countries mentioned LGBTIQ+ rights and only Finland and Malta recognised the needs of women living with disabilities.

It is a disservice to women to approach them as a homogenous group. Everyone’s story and experiences need to count in the WPS agenda. It must be inclusive of varied identity markers including sexual orientation, disability, race, class, age, socio-economic status and geographical location among other characteristics that determine a person’s social power. A WPS agenda that does not serve all these diverse identities ends up serving nobody.

Bringing in feminist movements

Several UN member states have adopted feminist foreign policies and 11 have signed up to voluntary WPS Presidency commitments proposed by Ireland, Kenya and Mexico in 2021. This movement should be reflected in the UN WPS agenda, including the open debate.

In fact, the situation for women in conflict has deteriorated since UNSCR 1325, as Ireland pointed out in its statement during the open debate. Women’s participation in peacebuilding has worsened over recent years. For example, women’s representation in UN co-led conflict negotiations was 19% in 2021, down from just 23% in 2020. There have been no new WPS resolutions since 2019. There is wide-spread concern among council members that were a new resolution to be drawn up, attacks on language it would face could ultimately lead to a weakening of the whole WPS agenda.

Ireland pushed for more women from civil society to be at decision-making tables, including in the UN Security Council. Moreover, when brought to the table, women need to be part of the decision-making process. They do not want to be brought to only give testimony, leaving the room before meaningful negotiations begin.

Making finance work for women

Finland highlighted in their intervention that in 2020 only 5% of official development assistance going to conflict-affected countries is dedicated to advancing gender equality. According to the UN Secretary General’s 2022 report on WPS, only 0.3% of bilateral aid to fragile or conflict-affected states reaches women’s rights organisations. Women working on the ground and speaking at WPS Week said loudly and clearly that this funding model needs to change.

It must be flexible to allow for changing circumstances as conflict destabilises environments. It must be long-term as women need to be able to plan for their futures. And it must be specific to conflict contexts, which are complex and best understood by those living through them.

Everyone has a role to play to make the WPS agenda more inclusive so it can fulfil its aims. The above reflections can be integrated into every aspect of the agenda. International Alert will be monitoring the UK’s Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative this month and other work related to women, gender, peace and security throughout the year to see if the lessons on WPS have been learned.