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.

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