Women, Peace and Security
Expected Council Action
On 25 October, the Security Council is scheduled to hold its annual open debate on women, peace and security (WPS), which will be titled: “Women’s participation in international peace and security: from theory to practice”. UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous and a high-level representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross are the anticipated briefers. A civil society representative is also expected to brief. One of the signature events of Brazil’s presidency, the open debate will be chaired by Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mauro Vieira. It appears that Brazil intends to focus the open debate on the origins of the WPS agenda and on the role of civil society in its inception.
No outcome is 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 achieving a radical shift in women’s meaningful participation in peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. (This is one of the “five goals for the decade” set out in the Secretary-General’s 2020 WPS annual report.)
At the 7 March Security Council open debate on “Women, Peace and Security: Towards the 25th Anniversary of Resolution 1325”, Bahous noted that although “we have witnessed some historic firsts for gender equality” since the adoption of resolution 1325 in 2000, “we should also remember that we have significantly changed neither the composition of the people who sit at peace negotiation tables nor the impunity enjoyed by those who commit atrocities against women and girls”. In recent months, women civil society representatives have highlighted these and other challenges in their briefings on various situations on the Council’s agenda, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Libya, and Iraq.
Council members retained WPS-related language in several resolutions and were at times able to strengthen it, such as in resolution 2677 of 15 March, which renewed the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan, and resolution 2674, which in January extended the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. In April, the Council adopted resolution 2681 condemning the Taliban’s decision to ban Afghan women from working for the UN in Afghanistan, while resolution 2679—which in March requested an independent assessment to provide recommendations for an integrated approach in the international community to address the challenges facing Afghanistan—mandated for consultations with, among other actors, Afghan women and civil society, and identified the rights of women and girls as one of the challenges that the assessment’s recommendations should focus on. More generally, in recent years members have paid increasing attention to the gendered effects of conflict on children.
At the same time, at a recent event on innovations in implementing the WPS agenda, UN Women Deputy Executive Director a.i. Sarah Hendriks noted that, if current trends continue, the percentage of Council resolutions adopted this year containing WPS provisions will drop to about 50 percent, the lowest in the past seven years. Neither of the two press statements that directly addressed developments since fighting erupted in April between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces includes language on WPS, nor did a presidential statement on Israeli settlements adopted in February. In a likely reference to the fact that the listing criteria for the Security Council’s 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee have not been updated since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, Bahous recently recommended updating the criteria in the context of a dedicated session of the Committee on the role it can play in responding to violations of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
Reprisals against individuals and groups cooperating with the UN, including women civil society representatives briefing the Council, remain a source of concern. Last year’s annual WPS report said that nine women civil society representatives who briefed the Council from January 2021 to May 2022 reported having faced reprisals. This year’s report is expected to provide an update on this issue, which is also highlighted in a recent Secretary-General’s report on “Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights”. This report covers the case of Aminata Dicko, who faced intimidation and reprisals after briefing at the 27 January Council meeting on Mali—including a criminal complaint against her that featured as evidence the video of her Council statement. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 7 February.)
Council members Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the UK have given continuity to the WPS presidencies initiative started in late 2021 by Ireland, Kenya, and Mexico. In July, the US, too, signed on to the 1 December 2021 Statement of Shared Commitments on WPS. (For background, see our Golden Threads and Persisting Challenges research report.) Engagement on the commitments was uneven, however.
Malta, the UAE, and Albania gave a WPS focus to three mandated country-specific meetings during their presidencies, respectively on Somalia in February, the Central African Republic in June, and Afghanistan in September. In July, the UK hosted the annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) as one of the signature events of its presidency. Council members who have signed on to the shared commitments also held several WPS-focused press stakeouts, including, for the first time under this initiative, two in which women civil society representatives delivered remarks immediately after the members participating in the initiative.
While the period from September 2021 to September 2022 saw a high number of women civil society representatives briefing the Council during some of the participating presidencies—with Ireland setting a record of 16 such briefers in September 2021—none of the participating presidencies invited ten or more women civil society briefers during the period from October 2022 to August 2023. One of the commitments is to draw attention to, and follow up on, “the recommendations and priority issues raised by civil society briefers in Council meetings”, but it appears that participants in the initiative have yet to develop systematic processes to do this. Nonetheless, in the first such effort, Switzerland sent a letter to the Security Council listing the briefings delivered by women civil society representatives during its May presidency to draw attention to their statements.
Since January, the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on WPS has met six times, with recent meetings focusing on Colombia, Haiti and Syria. The IEG is expected to hold its fourth meeting with women’s protection advisers from several UN missions in November.
In July, Secretary-General António Guterres released A New Agenda for Peace. Among other issues, this document speaks of the “growing backlash against women’s rights, including on sexual and reproductive health” and argues for dismantling “the patriarchy and oppressive power structures which stand in the way of progress on gender equality or women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in political and public life”. Analysts have noted, however, that the recommendations offered by the Secretary-General on this issue do not match the depth of the challenges described in the report. Similarly, Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, has argued that although A New Agenda for Peace includes “bold recommendations on several disarmament issues” and provides “a solid analysis of the geopolitical competition and military spending”, it fails to adequately link “patriarchy to militarism; nor does it address at all the relationship between militarism and the climate and ecological crises”.
Peacebuilding Commission Developments
The recently published second assessment of the Gender Strategy Action Plan, which the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) adopted in February 2021, found that 92 percent of the PBC’s advice, briefings and submissions to the General Assembly, Security Council and the Economic and Social Council during 2022 included gender-responsive recommendations, while the rate of participation of women peacebuilders at the PBC last year—that is, the number of women briefers as a percentage of the number of PBC meetings—was 87.5 percent.
The assessment noted shortcomings, however, including the fact that only 19 of the PBC’s 65 outcome documents contained references to information provided by women peacebuilders. It also flagged that despite “consistent references to women” in PBC outcome documents, messaging was often generic, for example, referring to “the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in peacebuilding”, but without analysis or specific recommendations. The assessment recommended, among other things, improving follow-up to the PBC’s engagement with women peacebuilders and strengthening the integration of gender analysis based on sex-disaggregated data.
Key Issues and Options
The pivotal issue for the Security Council remains the full implementation of the WPS agenda and its impact on the ground.
A key issue for Council members supportive of the agenda is to preserve and strengthen WPS language in upcoming mandate renewals and follow up on the implementation of these decisions. These members could also strengthen coordination ahead of key Council negotiations and meetings and use the information from IEG meetings to address specific issues. Asking UN briefers to provide substantive updates to the Council on issues relevant to the WPS agenda is a further option.
In line with resolution 2242 on WPS and the 1 December 2021 Statement of Shared Commitments on WPS, members should continue to invite diverse women civil society representatives to brief the Council regularly and follow up on their information and recommendations. It is essential that members and the UN take all possible measures to keep briefers safe, in consultation with the briefer, including carrying out risk assessments, developing protection plans, and responding to any reprisals.
Members could also convene 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 women human rights defenders (WHRDs). In a recent report, Lawlor recommended that UN missions in conflict, post-conflict or crisis-affected situations be mandated to monitor and report on violations targeting WHRDs.
Members interested in maintaining the momentum of the shared commitments initiative as a tool to advance the implementation of the WPS agenda may consider strategies to strengthen the clear and substantive implementation of the commitments across participating members. While the purview of the agenda is wider than the shared commitments initiative, these pledges also require signatories to uphold, and advocate for, the full implementation of “the provisions of all previous Council resolutions” pertaining to the WPS agenda and to “ensur[e] that Security Council products integrate strong WPS language”.
While notable implementation gaps persist, Council members are generally supportive of the WPS agenda. Nevertheless, Council dynamics on WPS remain difficult and have been further complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. During the recent negotiations on the mandate renewal for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, none of the proposals for new WPS-related language was accommodated, apparently in order to avoid making transactional concessions to China and Russia on contentious aspects of the resolution.
Furthermore, Russia has objected to briefings by Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten in sanctions committee meetings and opposed her participation at the annual open debate on CRSV in July. (Patten was last invited to brief one of the Security Council’s sanctions committees in December 2021—the committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 on Yemen.)
The UK is the penholder on WPS, and the US is the penholder on CRSV. The UAE and Switzerland are the co-chairs of the IEG on WPS.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WPS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|13 October 2015S/RES/2242||The resolution expressed the Council’s intention to convene an Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security and to invite women civil society briefers to country-specific and thematic meetings of the Security Council. It also called for greater integration of the agendas on WPS and counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism.|
|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.|