Women, Peace and Security: One Year of Shared Commitments
Just over a year ago, Ireland, Kenya and Mexico formed a “Presidency Trio for Women, Peace and Security” (WPS), pledging to make WPS “a top priority” of their respective presidencies in September, October and November 2021. During the press conference on the Council’s programme of work for September 2021, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland) described the initiative as “a golden thread” that would run through the Irish, Kenyan and Mexican presidencies.
Between December 2021 and September 2022, eight more countries—Albania, Brazil, France, Gabon, Niger, Norway, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the UK—signed on to a 1 December 2021 Statement of Shared Commitments on WPS, which built on the presidency trio initiative and committed these members, too, to making WPS a “top priority” during their presidencies. These shared commitments—including ensuring a strong representation of diverse women civil society briefers in Council meetings and requesting the inclusion of a gender analysis in UN briefings to the Council—were also endorsed by Ireland, Kenya and Mexico. One year on from the launch of the WPS presidencies initiative is a good time to reflect on its successes, challenges, and possible future options.
Security Council Report’s upcoming research report Golden Threads and Persisting Challenges: The Security Council Women, Peace and Security Presidencies Initiative analyses this elected member-led initiative, situating it against the backdrop of difficult Council dynamics on WPS. Focusing on the period from September 2021 to September 2022, our report will consider aspects such as Council meetings, products, and women civil society briefers, including measures supporting their safe participation. Creative, cross-regional, and informal, the WPS presidencies initiative brought heightened visibility to the agenda at the Council, moving the focus away from understanding progress on the agenda through new WPS Council products in favour of creating momentum around implementation.
The WPS presidencies initiative is the first time that a range of specific commitments on WPS has been undertaken across multiple Council presidencies. This initiative translated into a high number of women civil society representatives briefing the Council. Between September 2021 and September 2022, participating members hosted 78 women civil society briefers, which includes Ireland setting a record of 16 women civil society briefers during its September 2021 presidency. (Albania, with 13 in June, and Norway, with 11 in January, also added significantly to this number.) By comparison, the Council invited 41 women civil society briefers for the whole of 2019, a number which dropped to 28 during the COVID pandemic in 2020.
The WPS presidencies initiative included commitments regarding formal meetings, and with five meetings on WPS since January, 2022 has seen the highest number of Council meetings on WPS since the inception of the agenda in 2000. Among these was the first formal Council meeting on reprisals against women peacebuilders, human rights defenders and civil society representatives, which was held at ministerial level in January. Between September 2021 and September 2022, members strengthened WPS language in several Council products and highlighted WPS issues through dedicated press stakeouts. Some members took the initiative of communicating with UN briefers beforehand, emphasising the importance of including a gender analysis in their briefings.
Convening more meetings with a focus on WPS-related issues and adding more women civil society briefers, while conferring heightened visibility, does not automatically translate into better implementation of the WPS agenda, as civil society groups monitoring this issue are particularly aware. The initiative was created “to advance the implementation of the WPS agenda and to help close the persistent gap between rhetoric and reality that has hampered the realisation of its full potential”.
During some months, however, the golden thread of WPS was barely discernible among other priorities and the Council’s regular reporting and mandate cycles. Indeed, even though most of the commitments stem directly from actions that all UN member states are already supposed to carry out in accordance with Security Council resolutions, implementation of the shared commitments has been uneven among participating members.
Members taking part in the WPS presidencies initiative committed to “[d]rawing attention to, and following up on, the recommendations and priority issues raised by civil society briefers”. While members have echoed some of the civil society briefers’ concerns and recommendations during Council meetings and in some Council outcomes, it appears that most of the members that have signed on to the Statement of Shared Commitments have yet to develop systematic processes to follow up on briefers’ recommendations and concerns. Our report also suggests that only some members participating in the WPS presidencies initiative adopted a systematic approach to requesting a gender analysis from UN briefers. Members participating in the initiative committed to including “substantive gender perspectives” in signature events that were not directly focused on WPS, and have worked towards following up through including language on women and gender in the concept notes for several of their non-WPS-focused signature events. But the extent to which gender perspectives were integrated varied considerably, at times taking the form of cursory references to, for instance, “women” or “gender”.
Several of the members behind the initial momentum of the initiative will leave the Council in December, including trio members Ireland, Kenya, and Mexico, as well as Norway. While it is unclear how the WPS presidency initiative will evolve in 2023, incoming members Ecuador, Malta and Switzerland have already endorsed the Statement of Shared Commitments.
The report provides some recommendations for current and future participating members to take this initiative forward.
Council members could enhance cross-presidency planning to promote robust and continuous engagement on WPS across the Council’s work. This could include strategically planning activities such as Council meetings and stakeouts to maximise their impact, focusing on situations that have not received adequate Council attention, capitalising on the expertise and recommendations shared during the WPS Informal Experts Group (IEG) meetings, and coordinating positions on key WPS objectives in, for instance, negotiations on UN peace operations’ mandate renewals.
Members should continue to invite diverse women civil society representatives to brief the Council regularly—and then also follow up on their information and recommendations. Members may also wish to develop ways to monitor the impact of their commitment to follow up on civil society briefers’ recommendations.
It is essential that Council members and the UN take all possible measures to keep briefers safe, in consultation with the briefer, including carrying out risk assessment, developing protection plans and responding to any reprisals. Members should condemn all attacks against civil society briefers and ensure that the UN has sufficient capacity to work on reprisals.
Planning well in advance of the start of a Council presidency may help members in fulfilling their commitment to “[e]nsuring [a] strong representation of diverse women civil society briefers” and in evaluating risks and developing appropriate risk-mitigation strategies; this would include working with civil society organisations and the UN system, as well as coordinating with like-minded Council members.
All members may want to consider asking UN briefers to provide substantive updates to the Council on issues relevant to the WPS agenda. This can be done bilaterally, but also during open meetings, particularly where the presentation of gender elements is insufficient or absent altogether.
Members should also continue to highlight clear and specific messages at their WPS press stakeouts.
Maintaining the momentum and implementation of the shared commitments will be crucial for the legacy of this initiative. Always, the main objective should remain the holistic and substantive implementation of the agenda and its impact on the ground.
 Letter dated 3 February 2022 from the Permanent Representatives of Ireland, Kenya and Mexico to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2022/91).
 For more information on Council dynamics on WPS, see Security Council Report’s In Hindsight titled “Women, Peace and Security—Golden Threads and Persisting Challenges” in our December 2021 Monthly Forecast and our brief on Women, Peace and Security in our October 2022 Monthly Forecast.
 Data from NGO Working Group on WPS “Mapping Women, Peace and Security in the UN Security Council: 2019”.
 NGO Working Group on WPS, “2022 Open Letter to Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in advance of the annual Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security” 3 October 2022.