Women activist for peace – WILPF Centennial

“We women, in International Congress assembled, protest against the madness and the horror of war, involving as it does a reckless sacrifice of human life and the destruction of so much that humanity has laboured through centuries to build up.” That is how the declaration of the first conference of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915 in The Hague.

The painful part is that their statement is still so relevant. But the resolutions are also inspiringly relevant and up to date. What to think of:  “This  International  Congress  of  Women  declares  it  to  be  essential,  both  nationally  and    internationally  to  put   into  practice  the  principle  that  women  should  share  all  civil    and  political  rights  and  responsibilities  on  the  same  terms  as  men.”  Over the last 15 years the UN Security Council has reaffirmed so many times that women have to be involved in peace negotiations but with less than 4% women at the negotiation tables they remain sidelined, see also the facts and figures on women and peace and security

Our foremothers saw private profits as an important hindrance to disarmament: “The  International  Congress  of  Women,  advocating  universal  disarmament  and   realizing  that  it  can  only  be  secured  by  international  agreement,  urges,  as  a  step  to   this  end,  that  all  countries  should,  by  such  an  international  agreement,  take  over  the   manufacture  of  arms  and  munitions  of  war  and  should  control  all  international   traffic  in  the  same.    It  sees  in  the  private  profits  accruing  from  the  great  armament   factories  a  powerful  hindrance  to  the  abolition  of  war.”

While (further) nationalization of arms production does not seem a viable nor sufficient solution to achieve progress in disarmament these days, it is clear that the political economy of the production of arms continues leads to ever growing volume of deadly weapons being traded. And the developed countries of the North (including Russia) are the top producers (and exporters) as evidenced in the data from SIPRI 

Tomorrow, one hundred years after Aletta Jacobs and her sisters met in The Hague, a new conference, the WILPF Centennial Conference will start. I am truly excited (and honored) to be part of it.

Going back a hundred years …..

This is the trunk of a tree that is over 200 years old. It can be found in a forest near Louvain, Belgium. I ran into it during a hike last week. It is not only massive and majestic but somehow I find it peaceful.

Enjoying the early spring sun, I realised that the tree must have sprouted around the time of the battle of  Waterloo (1815) and survived two world wars.  Indeed, it had a quite respectable age already a hundred years ago, in 1915 when in The Hague  a massive group of women met to strategise for peace and women’s rights.

The International Congress of Women, later Women’s International league of Peace and Freedom,  convened more than 1,200 delegates from 12 countries. These included Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Poland, Belgium and the United States, countries at different sides of a war that was at that very same time soaking Belgian soil with the blood of teenage soldiers in the second battle of Ypres that claimed over 100.000 casualties in a few weeks.

This year, in the same week, 100 years later WILPF, the organisationfounded at that conference will meet again in The Hague.  While violent conflict (continues) to hold the world in its grip the members of WILPF will meet at a Centennial Congress.  After the Congress, at the Women’s Power to Stop War Conference, 27-29 April in The Hague, nearly thousand men and women will engage, exchange and talk about peace and freedom.  A brief on the conference website sets the tone: “The WILPF 2015 Conference is therefore all about truly establishing the principles of sustainable peacebuilding and exploring the root causes of conflict, as our foremothers did in 1915. This means approaching peacebuilding from a holistic perspective, taking human rights, disarmament, social and economic justice and the environment into account, while challenging the dominant militaristic narrative of ‘more guns = more security’, which only reinforces militarism, patriarchy, exclusion and inequality as the root causes of conflict.”

I am very excited – and honoured – to be part of the WILPF delegation to the congress and I look forward to participate in the conference.  We will of course celebrate the work and progress made over time. Our fore-mothers fought hard and successfully to secure democratic rights for women. But WILPF leaders already 100 years ago understood that peace needs more than voting and democracy: it needs justice, something that even in exemplary democracies we struggle for today.

In advocating for justice WILPF has always been very much about the power of facts and information. Two current WILPF programmes illustrate this very well: check out PeaceWomen on the role of women in conflict and peace, and  Reaching Critical Will on disarmament.  If you are more in general interested in what WILPF has been doing, consult the WILPF Anniversary Atlas

Going back a hundred years. So much effort, for such a long time. Indeed it needs a lot of inspiration to balance the frustration. Pessimism or even cynicism seems inescapable: consider the bombing currently going on in the Middle East this very day, did we really make much progress beyond Ypres?

But count on WILPF women to be tenacious. In 1915 the conference venue – The Netherlands – was neutral in the war, but you can imagine how the powers of 1915 felt about American women and British women meeting German women. Actually the boat with the American delegation – see picture – was held up a few days by the Royal Navy in the Channel.  Doing nothing is not an option while small successes can be a big source inspiration.Tenacity combines well with inspiration. After the congress and conference I hope to share some of the stories and inspiration!


Serious deal screening to find an evergreen with a locked-in mission – venture philanthropists on exits.

When doing research for the GrantCraft guide on Moving On – Ending Programmes and Funding Relationships we found that venture philanthropists are often very deliberate about exits and that they have a wealth of practical experience in this field. Venture philanthropy claims to “match the soul of philanthropy with the spirit of investing” and in the for profit world, venture capital comes-in-to-go-out. Maybe that background makes it more obvious to plan for about exits and ending financial relationships between the funder and the social venture…..

Over the past year, EVPA – the European Venture Philanthropy Association – has been working on a practical guide for exits.  It was very exciting to participate in the EVPA Workshop last week, discussing a draft of that guide and to be invited to contribute and provide comments. EVPA proposes a five step process that takes place simultaneously with the core venture philanthropy process that starts with developing an investment strategy, followed by deal screening, the due diligence process and deal structuring, followed by the Investment management and ending with the exit.

To prepare for an exit, EVPA recommends that during the first step – when you have actually not yet identified who you will possibly partner with (or invest in as they say) – you reflect on some key considerations that will influence your exit. While screening deals, doing due diligence and as part of the deal structuring you actually develop the exit plan. During the investment as part of the process of investment management you monitor and determine exit readiness. The final step of investment coincides with step 4 in the exit process. Post-investment follow-up is formally not part of the investment process.

exit process

In some of the steps all responsibility and decision-making power rests with the funder, for example when it comes to establishing the key exit considerations, or the exit readiness, which ultimately is the decision of the funder. But for example the exit plan has to be developed and “ owned”  jointly and it has to establish who is responsible for what during and after the exit.  The actual cases that were presented and reflected upon at the workshop showed that the five steps make sense. But the experience participants shared also underlines that realities are quite a bit messier than models and SmartArt.

The multiple funding instruments of venture philanthropists (grants, loans, equity and everything in between) provide enormous opportunities to tailor the funding to the needs of the social venture/project. But they can also make exits complicated. When you give a grant and stipulate in the beginning that it will be a one-off grant disbursed over a certain period, the “ ending’  is a sort of built-in. Similar with loans. Making another grants, extending a loan’s grace periods etc. are obviously always an option but when you take an equity share in a venture, you can only exit when you find a buyer – or you can give your share away, i.e. convert it into a grant but that may not square with your investment strategy….. So thinking ahead makes sense!

During the exchange at the EVPA workshop it emerged that, as with ordinary philanthropists, the rationality of talking about exits upfront seems to conflict with the positive feelings involved in starting a relationship. Pre-nuptial arrangements work in business and even in a family context, but in philanthropy they are often felt to be awkward. Yet, we saw from the examples discussed in the workshop that every exit did benefit (or in some cases could have benefited) from some sort of a planning up front!

And there is more. Every good exit plan needs a plan B, the group at the EVPA workshop also rapidly concluded. Such a Plan B (and C to Z for that matter) again benefits from the rich toolbox of the venture philanthropists. The authors of the draft EVPA guide on exits had identified quite a number of possible exit scenarios using a variety of funding instruments and non-financial contributions,  but the group came-up with many more. All drawing on their concrete experiences.

For those of us without the MBA, the venture philanthropy lingo may be a bit of a complicated read and the exit process and the examples in venture philanthropy are very focussed on exits from one-to-one relationship, not from a field of work or a country.  Also, until now, the ultimate beneficiaries are somewhat missing from the entire process, and personally I find it sometimes hard to connect with the whole venture philanthropy narrative…….. yet, if you want to be a responsible funder, do not let any of this dissuade you and learn.  If you follow this blog, I will let you know when the final document is out, which should be in November this year! Or check for yourself at the site of EVPA

NATO on Women, Peace and Security

Next year the UNSCR 1325 will celebrate its 15th birthday. Some ten years back I worked at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and prepared together with colleagues at the Ministry of Defense a first brief on how the Dutch government was trying to implement a resolution approved by  the UN Security Council on issues of women, peace and security.  That seems like really long ago.  Let’s flash forward: last week – it did not make the headlines – at the NATO-summit in Wales NATO leaders reviewed progress and  discussed and approved a new policy and an action plan to implement UNSCR1325.  So where do they stand?

Yesterday, 9 September Mari Skåre, who was seconded for two years to NATO as Special Representative of the NATO Secretary General  for Women Peace and Security looked back on her time in office at an informal event, organised by WIIS (Women in International Security) – Brussels. Institutional change tends to come slowly – and not only when it comes to gender issues – and the first priority is to get the issue on the agenda of those who take the decisions. Skåre noted that while many positives things on gender had happened within NATO over the years, the Wales Summit was the first time that the issue of women, peace and security was discussed at ministerial level among the members of the alliance. Another achievement is continuity: Skåre’s successor – Dutch diplomat Mariett Schuurman – is now officially on the NATO pay-roll so the position of the Special Representative for Women Peace and Security has been fully institutionalised.

Skåre explained that had been able to help promote change because she has found within the institution and within the member-state military and diplomatic apparatus true champions for the cause of women, peace and security.  And connecting the champions is critical to move ahead, she feels.  Skåre also highlighted the support she  had from activists, researchers and diplomats from within the UN, organisations like WIIS and civil society organisations.  She indicated that Involving civil society in developing the policies and plans around women, peace and security in NATO was a novelty, and Skåre hopes that this engagement will continue.

No revolution to report, I am afraid, but certainly progress and hope. Skåre’s advice to her successor was to focus on further institutionalising the implementation of the policies and plans and to prioritise the development on guidelines to reduce and prevent sexual and gender-based violence.  For a collection tweets on Mari Skåre’s presentation yesterday, check @WIISBrussels.

Skåre emphasized that the NATO/EACP Policy for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women Peace and Security  is publicly available, which means CSO’s can monitor what is happening.  From the actual Action Plan I could only find a cached version. All progress since 2012 is summarized in the also publicly available Progress Report on the NATO/EACP Policy and Action Plan on Women Peace and Security .

A more in-depth – and critical – analysis of the state of play in the field in Afghanistan and Kosovo can be found in the Review of Practical Implications of UNSCR 1325 for the Conduct of NATO-led Operations and Missions, conducted by the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), published in 2013.

If you are interested in security issues do also check out the Security Jam – Brainstorming Global Security Issues which is an online debate taking place 14-16 October this year and which has an interesting line-up of ‘VIP-jammers’ that already includes three women.

If you want to know more about UNSCR1325 and the national action plans, check out the dedicated site from WILPF-founded PeaceWomen Programme. By the way, WILPF – Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom will celebrate it 100th birthday next year: indeed you have to be tenacious in this field!

Women at the top: mazes and illusions

The Norwegian law about quota for women in boards has put the focus on female leadership at the top levels.  Will these mandatory quota work or should we dismiss the whole idea of gender equality at the top as a fata morgana? Or maybe we do not really need these drastic measures?Maybe time alone will solve the problem.

Not likely.  I think the Norwegian approach may work but it is not going to be enough.

On 14 January 2011 the Flemish University Council presented its third, five–year report on Equal Opportunity and Diversity 2010 (in dutch only, sorry). Lots of good news about measures that were taken, programs that were launched, learning and change happening etc.   Emphasizing the progress made, Professor Machteld de Metsenaere, who presented the report, said action is still needed because if we do not act,  it may still take ages before gender equality would be attained.

The Belgium Institute for Equality between Women and Men observed in 2008  that of the 15 top academic officials (“rector magnificus”) in Belgium only one (1) was a women (2008:41). In Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium,  no female “rectrix” was ever elected yet.  Extrapolating the historical progress women made through the academic ranks in the past, it is said that it would take at least another century for a woman to be elected top executive of a Flemish University.

So is there is undoubtedly a problem at the top. The figures for the Flemish universities published by the Flemish University Council in this “Equal Opportunity and Diversity 2010” report suggest that women disappear on the way to the top. Comparing numbers of women in the lowest academic positions to the highest ranks (full-professor), the balance shifts from 46,5% women to just over 10% women and 90% of all full-professors being male.  So what is happening?

Actually it is not harder for women to get promoted to the top once you are at the sub-top, as compared to getting a promotion at lower levels. It is not that women move-up and then suddenly hit a glass ceiling.  Alice Eagly and Linda Carli argue that as a women it is harder to get promoted, full stop. In their interesting book “Through the Labyrinth – the truth about how women become leaders” (Boston, 2007),  Eagly and Carli show that the numbers sometimes create the illusion that the problem is at the top. In reality they suggest there is a systematic bias is consistent from the bottom to the top.

The Flemish figures on the situation at universities – and by the way,  it is not only at universities, of the top-15 Belgium NGO’s in development coöperation in 2008,  also only one (1) was headed by a women (2008:50) – any way, data on academia show that while at the entry level for academic professionals the ratio men to women is about one on one, at the next level there are 3 men for every 2 women and at top two levels there are 5 and 8 men for each single women, respectively.  This would suggest that it gets harder at each level and that the top positions – to become a full-professor –  are the hardest to get?

Eagly and Carli argue that a professional career is like a labyrinth and that women basically face a much more complicated maze than men do. It is not that as a women your career is easy at the beginning and gets more and more complicated when you move ahead, once you have advanced towards the centre of the labyrinth. The model of the glass ceiling is wrong according to Eagly and Carli. They argue that women face a more complicated career maze compared to men, right from the start.  If the maze that women have to negotiate creates more chances to make a wrong turn early on, they will get more easily lost or lose valuable time, while men may be faced with a more straight forward route or have some easily visible do-not-enter-signs that prevent them from getting inadvertently  off-track.

Gender biased career maze

In their book Eagly and Carli use an example with numbers to show that as far as discrimination is concerned there may be a constant bias ( 2007: 73).  In other words, they show that discrimination may be equally severe at all levels,  bottom and top, while at the same time that process creates the impression or illusion that the main problem of discrimination is at the highest level.  Numbers can play tricks on you (and one can trick with numbers…;).  Applying the format of their examples on the figures on the situation at the Flemish universities one could deduce that in the academic world of Flanders there is systematic discrimination with one out of each 10 men reaching a higher level, while only one out of 17 women do.

Universities – 2010
Systematic discrimination example
at all levels 1 out of each 10 men is promoted, and 1 women  out of 17
level m/f  – ratio m/f – ratio Men Women
lowest 3,3 to 3 3:3 10.000 10.000
| 4,9 to 3 5:3 1.000 588
| 7,8 to 3 9:3 100 34,6
| 15,4 to 3 15:3 10 2,0
highest 25,3 to 3 25:3 1 0,12

At the highest level women are only one out of eight full-professors at Flemish Universities, but already in the first round of promotions there is an equally strong bias, and that bias may still exist very much today, anno 2010.  Although 5:3 does not look bad, better than 8:1,  we may not have not solved the problems at the lower, entry levels yet.

Norwegian-type quota laws will help shake things up and provide inspiring role models.  And we can be pretty sure even in hundreds of years the problem will not solve itself.  We will have to address the imbalances at all levels and support women in their efforts to manage the obstacles in the complicated labyrinth they face throughout their career.

Granny driven change …………..

At a workshop in Brussels last week I heard Alan Fowler and friends about what they call civic driven change, change for the benefit of the community that spontaneously  emerges from groups of citizens that solve their problems, change that is not driven by governments or donors.  A good description can be found in this brief leaflet on civic driven change published by Fowler and Biekart.  It is a concept under construction they warned, the thinking evolves as they say.

Somebody at the Brussels meeting noted that the concept of CDC  – the way that Fowler and Biekart describe it –  has an eighties-ring to it. Could be,  but I do not think there is any misplaced nostalgia to it.  The concept of civic driven change actually takes the idea of people helping themselves to the next level, as the example of Kwanda showed.

Having exhausted to complete boredom the aid-does-not-work-argument, some people think that politicians in European countries may find in the sheer force of this “un-aided” change a new reason to promote cuts in budgets for international coöperation.  No true.  Civic driven change should inspire aid, not replace it.

And for some more inspiration, this great video:


hearts and minds….

Last week PSO – an organization I used to work with – celebrated its 25 year anniversary. A feat to be celebrated, indeed.  Two keynote speakers contributed to the celebrations.  Ilco van der Linde, founder of “dance4life” and  “masterpeace” who argued that people only come together and move when you speak from your heart, development cooperation has been too cerebral too long, and when people did not respond to the messages from the sector it is because we fail to connect with their hearts.  Rajesh Tandon of PRIA responded arguing that we should make sure our heart feeds into what we think to feed into action and criss-cross and backwards……

heads, hearts and action

I like that approach. I guess Ilco is right that a lot of conflict can be resolved and mediated when people put their heart to it, which makes his campaign “masterpeace” a brilliant initiative. But when NATO, Putin and Wen Jiabao discuss tension in Sudan their heads and their (economic and political) interests rule, not their hearts. So maybe we do need a mix of these two to feed into our action. And by the way, our actions also need to feed into our heads and hearts, which is simply another way of saying that we should learn from what we do

Happy anniversary PSO

note: the “heads” you see are 11 out of the 19 female Heads of State in 2010.

Indicators of Political Leadership: 1325 contd.

The Socialists+Democrats in the European Parliament organized an event 14-15 April on women in the peace process. On the panel of 14 April,  Kristalina Georgieva, the Commissioner for Humanitarian Assistance spoke as well as Kyung-wha Kang, UN Deputy Human Rights commissioner and  Veronique Arnault, Director of Multilateral Relations and Human Rights in DG RELEX.  They talked about assessments currently undertaken, indicators of progress – which all agreed was there, but but not enough – and the need for leadership and coherent approaches.

After them Denis Mukwege from Congo DRC and  Chekeba Hachimi from Afghanistan spoke. They stressed they felt there was a disconcerting gap between their realities and the  interventions they had just heard.   All the talk about indicators, assessments, leadership seems surreal while rape continues to be used as a “weapon of mass destruction” in Congo, as Mukwege convincingly illustrated. It destroys women, families and entire communities.  According to Mukwege, the EU had not shown a strong enough political will to seriously influence the main actors to end conflict and impunity in Congo. Worse, under the “peace” agreement mass-rapist were recruited into the army, as he could confirm.  Chekeba Hachimi concluded in a similar way that the EU was about to release funds and endorses a reconciliation process in Afghanistan in which women will have no voice whatsoever.  She claimed that the international presence in Afghanistan over the last 9 years has had no significant positive influence on the situation of women in Afghanistan. Women continue to enjoy a legal status of semi-servitude, and mass illiteracy among women and girls and the total lack of voice of women means change will be slow.  A law limiting women’s rights has been recently approved and nobody has even commented.  Hachemi was very concerned that the “reconciliation” between Kharzai c.s. and the Taliban would further worsen the situation of women in her country,  particularly she expected that opportunities for girls to get an education and learn about their rights as women would be further limited.

Marcus Schulz leader of the S+D group dropped by half-way the panel. He made a strong statement that the Parliament – given the changes under the Lisbon Treaty – would have a much stronger influence and could make sure that Human Rights (and women’s rights) issues are included in future treaties between the EU and others.  He stressed the importance to include practical measures and mechanisms to verify compliance and sanctions for lack of such compliance.   On the subject of women and conflict, Schulz seemed to be pleasantly surprised that resolution 1325 was translated in 100+ languages, suggesting it has a large constituency.

It is a pity Schulz did not hear the contributions of Mukwege and Hachimi.  It seems that aside of future treaties,  the EP and the member states of the European Union have more urgent things to do!  They could use the translation of 1325 into Pashtun. Besides Pashtun the website maintained by the International League of Women for Peace and Freedom on Resolution 1325,  also includes French, English, three ethnic languages spoken in DRC as well as Kinyarwanda.   The words are there, in any imaginable language. Time for those in charge to act.

The EC and Non-State Actors: outsourcing, CBO envelopes or investing in local capacities

The European Commission operates a program that supports initiatives of  Non-State-Actor and Local Authorities. The program has three goals  related to a) development actions in partner countries implemented by NSA’s and LA’s,  b) awareness  and education for development in EU member states and acceding countries, and c) activities that foster coöperation between CSO networks and local authorities in EU and acceding countries among themselves and with Community Institutions.

Halfway its implementation, external experts have reviewed the program. In a report of 70+ pages,  they assess progress and make recommendations focusing on the set-up and management of the program.  The review addresses no less than 11 horizontal issues an 10 issues related to specific goals of the program.  The commission has published an issues paper for the consultation. If you wish to read and comment follow this link to the EC site.

The expert report is not really very readable report to be honest.  A summary would hardly do it justice because of its rich detail. The consultants observe several positive features of the program and claim the program funds  a “nucleus of high quality projects.  They also find that the program is “particularly well placed to promote innovation and decentralized development approaches” although it not become exactly clear why. They judge that stakeholder involvement  needs to increase and that monitoring and follow-up need improvement.  They point to the lack of human and financial resources as  a critical weakness. To address human resources constraints, the consultants recommend the outsourcing certain tasks to cut the workload of EC-staff, particularly at Delegations.

The EC NSA – LA program is very much about capacity building, in particularly capacities  “ to facilitate .. [NSA and LA]… involvement in the policy-making process and to enhance capacity to deliver basic services”.  Mind you, nor at the organizational, nor at the institutional level these are the same capacities, nor are they necessarily compatible.  Government may allow, even enable NSA’s to deliver services (whether under institutional arrangements of competition or patronage),  but rarely they covet strong NSA’s to actually influence their policies.

In classifying the “status of NSA’s and LA’s” and the degree of capacity building required,  the experts actually include – among others – the variable “understanding of EC rules and procedures”.  Very honest.  Indeed, the standard approach used by the program – grants are awarded  based on a public call for projects – has a distinct bias towards applicants that a well-versed in EC procedures.  There is also a bias towards low-risk operations because EC financial procedures require the award recipient to unilaterally absorb almost all (financial) risks of any venture. The observation of the expert review that the program does not reach grassroots level CBO’s will not surprise anyone who has ever submitted a proposal for an EC call.

But does this mean that we should actually invest in the CBO capacities to understand EC procedures? And , should the EC actually aim to directly reach those organizations?

Earlier in 2009, the EC’s own  Court of Auditors wrote its own  – very readable – report  on the Commission’s Management of NSA involvement in EC Development Cooperation. To read it, follow this link. The Court of Auditors actually observes that the outcome of calls for proposals tended to favor the best resourced organization (paragraph  80) and notes that “as regards capacity development, teams have concentrated on training in project management and not on enhancing NSA’s skills in policy analysis, advocacy work watchdog functions …..promoting networking etc. thus underemphasizing the policy dialogue role” (paragraph 83 – my emphasis).

Both reports also address the issue of time frames.  While the expert review recommends to fund capacity development projects beyond 3 years, the Court of Auditors observes project durations ranging from 6 months to 2 years.  Serious capacity development takes time, both sources emphasize.

Very encouraging , the Court recommends that “alternatives to the current procedures should be explored both to allow a more strategic approach (…) and to better reach grassroots organizations (such as the use of cascading grants)”. In their response the Commission acknowledges this need.

Maybe we should not pretend the EC should directly reach grassroots CBO’s.  And I certainly do not think we should lighten the workload of delegations by outsourcing lock stock and barrel  the EC’s complicated call procedures.  First we erred creating parallel government structures, are we now going to create parallel NSA structures?  Why invest in local NSA capacities to be good recipients of EC grants?  Should not EC grants actually protect and foster local capacities that really matter.

If you want to invest in development initiatives of Non State Actors, it would be better to invest in the capacities of local funds (and programs) that have shown they are able to actually reach out to grassroots organizations.  When they need our help, help them to get better at it. We could support them  with 5 year program funding, and help them not only to become effective channels,  but also challenge them to be accountable to their beneficiaries – promote some downward accountability. And maybe in middle-income countries,  we can even support them to promote local philanthropy.

Southern CSO’s should not be groomed to be just another channel to deliver northern aid when there is an opportunity to really invest in vibrant (southern) civil society.

SCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security 10 years old this year

This year it will be ten years ago that the Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Will it be a happy birthday?  Two think tanks in Brussels – Security Defense Agenda and Friend of Europe – organized a brief conference today, 27 January to reflect on what has been achieved and what needs to be done in terms of realizing the challenges embodied in 1325.

Yes, when working on peace and conflict we do pay more attention to gender and women’s issues but women are far from being systematically included in peace negotiation processes  or in developing post-conflict plans and reconstruction strategies.  Yes, there are more women involved in peacekeeping missions – including as gender advisors – but they tend to occupy rather low positions in the military hierarchies.  And, yes, there has been a lot of attention for gender based violence but it seems that rape and violence against women continues to be a war tactic that goes unpunished. Elisabeth Rehn reported some slow progress is being made to get gender based violence on the agenda of peace mediators but also heard no women were present at recent meetings on the conflicts in South Sudan.

María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, Vice-President of the Spanish Governement and member of the panel noted that to date only 20 countries actually developed some sort of plan of action to carry out resolution 1325.  She explained that the Spanish Presidency will promote further exchange of experience,  action planning for implementation and evaluation of what was achieved in terms of implementing 1325.

It is certainly good news that Spain as EU President has taken up this issue of Women, Peace and Security. If only because the European Union has quite some work ahead.   Among the European Union Special Envoys for conflict countries there are currently no women.  And none of the 27 member countries has a female Ministers of Foreign Affairs.  That makes Catherine Ashton a perfect example of what Rosabeth Moss Kanter called a token of diversity[1].  Do not blame her if nothing happens. To actually change things, we will need a broad alliance of men and women who are in a position of power.

Anders Foch Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO member of the panel at today’s meeting could be a member of that alliance. He stated he does not think quota to make sure more women join the military are feasible nor desirable. On the other hand he said he was ready to work with NATO members on what they call capability targets for implementing 1325.  Among NATO members the lowest participation ratio of women in the armed forces is 3%, at the other end, 18% is the highest .

Linda Johansson, Captain in the Swedish Army, has been gender advisor in Mazar El Sharif,  Afghanistan.  In her contribution to the conference she perfectly illustrated – once again – that diversity can really make operations more effective. According to standing procedures, security patrols have to engage in conversations with women. Johansson could not find any records of such conversations when she started work in Mazar. She was told that in Mazar the soldiers on patrol actually never met women.  Mapping the patrols on the city map it became rapidly clear why. They only patrolled the main roads. In Mazar, women tend not to be around those main roads.  When they shifted their patrols and included minor streets things immediately changed. Conversations with women generated for example information about an upcoming mass wedding that could be expected to generate important logistical and security issues.  Being male-biased, regular channels of intelligence had not captured that information. This confirms that diverse groups perform better: diversity does trump ability?

Another representative of the Swedish Armed Forces present at the conference stressed the importance of examples set by the leadership, for example by participating in training and coaching on gender matters. I did not get his name, but what he said was interesting, if only for the wording: “Someone has to be tough enough to acknowledge these soft issues are in reality tough issues”

But there is more to peace and security than the military. Madeline Allbright, also a member of today’s panel,  stressed the important role of NGO’s and civil society organizations. And indeed NGO’s monitor for example what governments and international institutions are doing like ISIS- Europe.   Also at community level all over the world women organize themselves and work on security and conflict.  No other Security Council resolution is quoted more often by civil society organizations.   The fact that when you google  “1325” you end up on the website of WILPF – Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom underlines this involvement of civil society. The WILPF network translated 1325 into hundred languages from Karen via Tajik to Wolof and Lingali, which helped making it into a tool that women use all over the world.

Myria Vassiliadou of the European Women’s Lobby emphasized at today’s meeting that the non-military elements in 1325 deserve more attention (and funding).  The Women’s Lobby recently issued a position paper with a series of recommendations to governments and international organizations but it also emphasizes that it is important to invest in women’s organizations and NGO’s and civil society organizations support them as critical actors in ensuring women’s active involvement in securing sustainable peace.

In his contribution to the conference, Moez Doraid, Deputy Director of UNIFEM explained that UNIFEM is working to develop a set of 20 indicators – out of the hundreds of indicators that are currently being used – to monitor the implementation of the resolution 1325.

To me that sounds like a solid initiative that could turn out to be critical. After  so many years of talking and (action) planning, UNIFEM’s initiative could provide us with an important means to really hold governments and international organizations accountable, giving Security Council Resolution 1325 renewed strength.  This issue of indicators and accountability may be too complicated for the Spanish EU presidency to get results on before the summer, but it is certainly something that the Belgium EU Presidency later this year could focus on. Wouldn’t it  be a lovely birthday present for “1325”: the EU adopting  a simple set of indicators on the mainstreaming of women in issues of peace and security, against which it can set targets and wants to be held accountable?

[1] Kanter, Rosabeth M. Men and Women of the Corporation. New York, 1977.