In Hindsight: The Women, Peace and Security Agenda at 20
Ahead of this year’s 20th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325, the inaugural resolution on women, peace and security of 31 October 2000, a closer look at the current state of the agenda is warranted: is the agenda regressing, progressing or being maintained? Security Council Report’s upcoming research report Women, Peace and Security: The Agenda at 20 argues that the Council should focus its attention on the implementation as well as the maintenance of the agenda. Several examples of Council decisions, highlighted in our report, illustrate the divisions among Council members and the threat that the agenda faces even when Council members’ intentions are to restate parts of the existing normative framework.
Resolution 1325 recognised that armed conflict has a differential and disproportionate impact on women. It further acknowledged that equal participation by women in the maintenance of international peace and security, an expansion of women’s roles in preventing and resolving conflict, and women’s protection can all contribute to the Council’s fulfilling its mandate of promoting and maintaining international peace and security. The Council’s normative work developed accordingly along four main paths: protection, participation, prevention, and relief and recovery. This includes, for example, the protection of women from conflict-related sexual violence, and the participation of women in peace processes, political processes, the prevention of conflict, and peacebuilding. Recent efforts to develop this framework further—namely with resolutions 2467 and 2493 adopted in 2019—have shown the difficult political environment at the Council as well as the risk of rolling back the agenda.
During the negotiations on resolution 2467 on conflict-related sexual violence, initiated by Germany, three permanent members of the Council—China, Russia and the US—expressed opposition to several aspects of the text, and at various stages of the process, all three threatened to use their veto. The initial text had ambitious goals to progressively develop the agenda, such as the establishment of a formal Security Council subsidiary body on conflict-related sexual violence. This idea, however, did not resonate with a number of Council members. One of the most striking developments during the negotiations was the challenge to previously agreed language on the sexual and reproductive health rights of victims of sexual violence, showing the difficulty of maintaining existing norms and commitments pertaining to the women, peace and security agenda. This led some observers, including civil society advocates, to question the insistence on seeking a resolution at a time when the US administration’s reservations about sexual and reproductive health rights were well known. The resolution was ultimately adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia; for more details, please also see our 2 May 2019 What’s in Blue story).
With resolution 2493, South Africa had intended to focus on the “full implementation” of the women, peace and security agenda. Women’s sexual and reproductive health rights were never explicitly mentioned in any of the drafts. The US apparently argued that its national position on sexual and reproductive health meant that it could not support the implementation of the entirety of the agenda, as that would include Council resolutions that referred to these rights. While the resolution was adopted by consensus and includes the formulation “full implementation” (the US reportedly having argued for “effective implementation” instead), following the adoption the US representative said that the US could not “accept references to sexual and reproductive health”.
Our report also examines developments involving Council sanctions regimes. During the period covered by our report (1 January 2017 to 31 December 2019), five sanctions regimes established listing criteria for individuals and entities for targeted sanctions related to sexual and gender-based violence: the 2127 Central African Republic Sanctions Committee and the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee in 2017; the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee, the 751 Somalia Sanctions Committee, and the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee in 2018. Resolution 2441 of 5 November 2018 on the Libya sanctions regime was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia). The two countries did not agree that a separate criterion for sexual and gender-based violence was necessary. Following the addition of these listing criteria, one individual was listed under the Mali sanctions regime and two individuals were listed under the South Sudan sanctions regime.
The Informal Expert Group (IEG) on women, peace and security, established by resolution 2242 of 13 October 2015, has consolidated a practice of regular meetings on developments related to the women, peace and security agenda in countries on the Council’s agenda. It is chaired by two Council members, currently the Dominican Republic and Germany. UN Women acts as the secretariat of the IEG, organising and preparing its meetings. The IEG provides a space for systematic discussions of country-specific situations between senior UN representatives from the field and Council members’ country experts and women, peace and security experts; usually, there is a follow-up meeting a few months after a country situation is discussed. According to the IEG’s guidelines (S/2016/1106), its goal is to inform the work of the Council and UN activities in the field and to “mainstream the agenda”.
Between February 2016 and June 2019, the IEG held 27 country-specific meetings. They included four meetings each on the Central African Republic and Iraq; three meetings apiece on Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and Yemen; two meetings each on the Lake Chad Basin and Libya; and one meeting each on Mali and the Sahel, Myanmar and South Sudan. This format has not gone unchallenged, however. Attempts to strengthen the role of the co-chairs during the negotiations on resolution 2493 failed because of the resistance of some members. A paragraph in the resolution that initially “welcomed” the work of the IEG had to be reformulated to “noting” its work. Generally, it seems that the majority of Council members, relevant parts of the UN system, and civil society agree that the IEG works well as an informal body and that there is no desire to push for anchoring it within the subsidiary body system of the Council, such as transforming it into a working group.
Resolution 2242 expressed the Council’s “intention to invite civil society, including women’s organizations, to brief the Council in country-specific considerations and relevant thematic areas”. The number of female civil society briefers has steadily increased.
Looking ahead to the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325 in October, the research shows an environment unconducive to a progressive development of the agenda or even for the restating of previously agreed language. While this may change, until it does, the wisest way to mark the anniversary may be by actively pursuing the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda.