Women, Peace and Security: Annual Open Debate
Tomorrow morning (29 October), Security Council members will hold the annual open debate on women, peace and security via videoconference. The title of this year’s debate is “Women and Peace and Security: Twentieth Anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) – Focusing on Better Implementation”, according to a concept note (S/2020/1014) shared by Russia, this month’s Council president. The concept note states that “an outcome document of the open debate is expected”. Council members are currently negotiating a draft resolution on women, peace and security, initiated by Russia.
Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to give the opening statement. The following speakers are scheduled to brief: the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Danai Gurira; Nataliia Emelianova, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Adviser in the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA); and Zarqa Yaftali, head of the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation in Afghanistan.
This year’s annual report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security (S/2020/946) reiterates the linkages between elements of the agenda and international peace and security and focuses, among other things, on the current and predicted setbacks with regard to the agenda, partly due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Briefers and member states are expected to refer to the report during tomorrow’s discussion.
Arguing that “Women, peace and security” is fundamentally “a crisis prevention agenda”, the Secretary-General re-emphasises the “strong correlation between gender inequality and conflict risk”. He states that “gender inequality is a driver of instability and conflict” and argues that it therefore has to be treated and addressed as a root cause of conflict. Economic inequality falls under that category as well, according to the report. Regarding the related matter of post-conflict reconstruction, the Secretary-General stresses that it is “dominated by men and overwhelmingly benefits men”, whereas the international community tends to limit its engagement for women to small-scale support such as micro-credits and microenterprises. The pandemic and related lockdown measures have also exposed the fundamental value to the economy of unpaid domestic work and care, whose burden is disproportionally borne by women, according to the Secretary-General.
Addressing women’s political leadership, the Secretary-General provides data showing that women lead only seven percent of all countries. In the context of the ongoing pandemic, the report remarks on the way women as heads of state or government have shown evidence-based and inclusive approaches toward combatting COVID-19, proving to be successful managers of this crisis. On the legislative level, women continue to be “vastly outnumbered by men” as well. In national parliaments, men hold almost 75 percent of seats, with women holding 24.9 percent of seats. That number stands at 18.9 percent in countries that are in conflict or post-conflict situations. In 2000, when the Council adopted resolution 1325 on 31 October, women held 13.1 percent of positions in parliaments.
The report also takes a close look at the participation of women in peace processes, stating that “women’s participation is non-negotiable”. It gives a few examples of conflict situations on the Council’s agenda—namely Iraq, Syria and Yemen—where women were able to advise and consult on different kinds of advisory boards in 2019. The Secretary-General makes clear, however, that those spaces “are not a substitute for women’s direct participation”. He further calls upon men “to step up and do their part to break the cycle of exclusion”. Data from peace processes between 1992 and 2019 show that on average, women represent six percent of mediators, six percent of signatories, and 13 percent of negotiators. Turning to UN-supported peace processes, the Secretary-General recognizes the need for “a radical shift” that would result in guaranteed equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of those processes.
An issue that has received increasing attention from member states and the UN system is the killing of female activists. In the years 2015 to 2018, the UN was able to verify the killing of 102 women trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders in 26 countries affected by conflict. The Secretary-General makes clear that this number is likely an undercount. In Colombia, women human rights defenders and women leaders received 480 threats in 2019, “including misogynistic insults and threats of sexual violence”. Out of those women, 12 were killed, constituting a doubling of the number of women activists killed in 2018. Only days after pandemic-related lockdowns were put in place in Colombia, multiple activists were killed as security measures for their protection were ended and repurposed for the enforcement of the lockdown. In response to the danger posed to women activists in countries on the Council’s agenda, the Secretary-General states that he has requested peace operations to provide analytical data on the situation in their regular reporting to the Council, stressing that he is expecting “more than general references“.
The Secretary-General criticises states for increasing annual global military spending to its highest level in a decade ($1.9 trillion), while even “the most affluent countries” have shown systemic failures in their response to the pandemic, including shortages in basic protective equipment for medical and personal use and a lack of essential health services, which disproportionally affects women and girls. The measures implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have affected access to sexual and reproductive health services. The Secretary-General refers in this context to resolution 2122 of 18 October 2013, where the Council noted “the need for access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including regarding pregnancies resulting from rape, without discrimination”.
A positive development laid out in the Secretary-General’s report relates to the UN’s Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) which has already surpassed its $40 million funding target set for the end of 2020. The WPHF was therefore able to quadruple its support for grassroots civil society organizations.
The number of National Action Plans (NAPs) on the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda continues to grow. Forty-four percent of UN members have now adopted NAPs, representing 70 percent and 45 percent of EU and AU member states, respectively. Only 24 percent of all NAPs were adopted with a budget, however.
Giving recommendations specifically to the Council on the issue of political transitions, the Secretary-General suggests that it “could more consistently issue specific instructions and mandates to integrate gender into security sector reform and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes”. He lauds member states for raising the importance of gender expertise being available in peace operations, both with language in Council mandates as well as in budget negotiations in the General Assembly. The number of gender advisers in special political missions stood at 27 at the end of 2019, the highest number ever. The Secretary-General points to UN transitions from peacekeeping operations to special political missions in Haiti and Sudan as examples of progress—as gender equality considerations were systematically incorporated into the planning and mandating processes of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) and the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).
Explicit references to women, peace and security have increased significantly since the Council’s adoption of its first resolution on the agenda twenty years ago. According to the Secretary-General, while 15 percent of Council resolutions contained such references between 2000 and 2005, that number had risen to 70 percent between 2017 and 2019. Notwithstanding this progress, he acknowledges the difficult Council dynamics around the adoptions of resolutions 2467 of 23 April 2019 and 2493 of 29 October 2019.
The Secretary-General welcomes an increase in reporting requirements on women, peace and security issues in a number of country-specific files, but, referring to the “2020 Civil Society Roadmap on Women, Peace and Security” of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, concludes that existing reporting continues to lack strong analysis.
The Secretary-General also remarks that the number of briefers from civil society speaking at the Council was at a record high in 2019. So far in 2020, however, the number has dropped significantly. The Secretary-General further points out that recommendations made by such briefers were rarely followed -up on.
For the UN itself, the Secretary-General provides data demonstrating that there continues to be gender parity within the senior leadership in the Secretariat, and that progress continues towards such parity in the senior leadership of peace operations: women now hold 41 percent of such positions, compared to 21 percent in 2017. However, he emphasises that prioritising gender parity is not a substitute for systematically integrating gender perspectives into the work of all UN entities.
Another issue addressed in the report is that most terrorist and extremist groups, irrespective of their ideology, share an institutionalised misogyny and systematically subjugate women. The Secretary-General argues that this “strategic manipulation of gender norms and stereotypes” is an integral part of their overall narratives and recruitment tactics.
Also emphasised by the Secretary-General is that “intimate partner violence perpetrated against women and girls is more prevalent than non-partner sexual violence, even during times of conflict and humanitarian crises”. Connecting the issue to the current pandemic, he stresses that “there is an alarming rise of intimate partner violence in quarantines, in both frequency and severity”.
The report also acknowledges that women face intersecting discrimination based not only on their gender but additionally on their ability, economic status, ethnicity, gender identity, race and sexual orientation.