Women, Peace and Security
Expected Council Action
In October, the Security Council is scheduled to hold its annual open debate on women, peace and security (WPS), which will be entitled “Strengthening women’s resilience and leadership as a path to peace in regions plagued by armed groups”. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous and two women civil society representatives are the anticipated briefers.
An outcome is not expected.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s annual report on WPS—expected ahead of the open debate—will provide an update on the implementation of the agenda over the past year. The focus of this year’s report is expected to be on women’s rights and, specifically, on “turning the unconditional defence of women’s rights into one of the most visible and identifiable markers” of the UN’s work on peace and security. This was one of the “five goals for the decade” set out in the Secretary-General’s 2020 annual report on WPS. In particular, the 2021 WPS annual report said that this year’s report “must include recommendations for better protection for women human rights defenders [WHRDs] and against all political violence in public life, and lessons learned from recent developments, including in Afghanistan and the evacuation or attempted evacuation of women at risk”.
The Council formally discussed reprisals against WHRDs for the first time in January at the open debate on “Protecting participation: addressing violence targeting women in peace and security processes”, convened by Norway. (This was preceded by the February 2020 Arria-formula meeting on reprisals against WHRDs and women peacebuilders who engage with the Council and its subsidiary bodies.) Then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, NGO Working Group on WPS Executive Director Kaavya Asoka, and Women and Children Legal Research Foundation Executive Director Zarqa Yaftali briefed.
The briefers described patterns of attacks aimed at silencing women leaders and WHRDs across the globe, including women cooperating with the UN. Bachelet stressed that more needs to be done to provide safe spaces for WHRDs to “interact with the Council and its subsidiary bodies, without fear of retribution”.
Asoka said that approximately one-third of the women supported by the NGO Working Group on WPS who have briefed the Council since 2018 faced intimidation or reprisals; in about 67 percent of those cases, state actors were the perpetrators. She described how civil society received grossly insufficient political and material support in responding to cases of reprisals and highlighted ways in which member states and the UN could better work to counter reprisals, such as the UN having sufficient capacity to do so and establishing clear protocols on how it should respond to individual cases.
Yaftali, who focused on the situation of women in Afghanistan, said that in her October 2020 briefing to the Council, she had demanded that the international community protect “hard-won gains” in women’s participation, but “[t]he world did not listen”.
Since September 2021, Council members have explicitly focused a meeting on Somalia (September 2021) and one on Yemen (January) on WPS. Moreover, members discussed the situation of women and girls regularly in meetings on Afghanistan, and two of the many recent meetings on Ukraine (in April and June) focused on aspects of the WPS agenda. In addition to the annual open debate on WPS in October 2021, the annual meeting on conflict-related sexual violence in April and the open debate on protecting participation in January, the Council held two open debates under the WPS agenda item: on public-private partnerships in March and on the role of regional organisations in contexts of violent takeovers in June. The November 2021 annual briefing with the heads of police components of UN peace operations also had a WPS focus. Some months saw a high number of women civil society representatives briefing the Council, with Ireland setting a new record of 16 women civil society briefers during its September 2021 presidency, followed by Albania in June (13) and Norway in January (11). Often after overcoming opposition, members strengthened WPS language in several Council products, including on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in March and on the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (Yemen) in July.
The high number of meetings with a focus on WPS issues and of women civil society briefers is in no small part attributable to the WPS Security Council presidencies initiative. Ireland, Kenya and Mexico started the initiative as a Presidency Trio for WPS in September, October and November 2021, respectively. At various times between December 2021 and September, Albania, Brazil, France, Gabon, Niger, Norway, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the UK signed up to a 1 December 2021 statement of shared commitments on WPS, which built on the presidency trio initiative. This statement was also endorsed by Ireland, Kenya and Mexico. Security Council Report’s upcoming research report Golden Threads and Persisting Challenges: The Security Council Women, Peace and Security Presidencies Initiative will analyse this initiative, highlighting best practices, challenges and ways forward.
Since October 2021, the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on WPS has met seven times. In recent months, the IEG held meetings on Sudan (23 May), “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” (24 June), and the Central African Republic (26 August). The 24 June meeting marked the first time the IEG discussed the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The IEG is expected to meet on Iraq in October and to hold its third meeting with women’s protection advisers from several UN missions in November.
From 28 to 30 June, IEG members Brazil, India, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, the UAE, and the UK undertook a visiting mission to Lebanon. While field visits focused on WPS were envisaged in the 2016 IEG guidelines, this was the first such visit by members of the IEG. Among other objectives listed in the summary report on the visiting mission, the visit aimed at familiarising members “with the tangible implications on the ground of language on [WPS] in mandates”.
Key Issues and Options
The principal issue for the Security Council remains the full implementation of its WPS resolutions. Within the Council, this could include enhancing cross-presidency planning on WPS to promote robust and continuous Council engagement on WPS across the Council’s work. Members could use the information from IEG meetings to address specific points during Council meetings and negotiations and to develop ways of following up more systematically on the implementation of the recommendations put forward by UN Women contained in the IEG co-chair’s letters. At the end of the year, the current IEG co-chairs, Ireland and Mexico, will conclude their term on the Council. Ireland and Mexico might be interested in sharing best practices from their term with the incoming IEG co-chairs.
Members might be interested in convening a closed Arria-formula meeting with Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor, the representatives of relevant UN entities, and NGO coalitions to discuss ways to reinforce the prevention and response to reprisals against human rights defenders, including WHRDs. The organisers may want to include a focus on the interaction between long-term and short-term strategies to prevent reprisals and circulate a summary of the proceedings after the meeting.
Members may continue to invite diverse women civil society representatives to brief the Council. The 1 December 2021 statement of shared WPS commitments contains a commitment to follow up on recommendations and priority issues raised by civil society briefers. Members participating in the initiative may want to develop ways to monitor the impact of their commitment to follow up on the concerns expressed by civil society briefers.
The prevalent perception among Council members supportive of the WPS agenda—and several civil society actors—is that the fundamental dynamics on WPS remain largely unchanged and have likely been complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These actors emphasise the importance of implementing the existing normative framework on WPS rather than pursuing further Council outcomes, in order to avoid language that is redundant or less robust than the existing content of WPS resolutions. Accordingly, it seems that while the possibility of an outcome ahead of the WPS open debates in October, June and October 2021 was informally considered by Gabon, Albania and Kenya, respectively, in each case the decision was taken not to go forward. Against these complicated dynamics, the WPS presidencies initiative conferred heightened visibility to the agenda at the Council and allowed an exceptional number of women civil society representatives to brief the Council during some of the participating presidencies.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WOMEN, PEACE AND SECURITY
|Security Council Resolutions|
|31 October 2000S/RES/1325||This was the first Security Council resolution on women, peace and security. Reaffirming women’s key role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, this text calls for the adoption of a gender perspective in peace agreements and for the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence.|
|27 September 2021S/2021/827||This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on women, peace and security.|