What's In Blue

Posted Wed 19 Oct 2022

Women, Peace and Security: Annual Open Debate

Tomorrow (20 October), the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on women, peace and security (WPS). UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous, and Special Envoy on WPS of the Chairperson of the AU Commission Bineta Diop are the anticipated briefers. A civil society representative from Afghanistan is also expected to brief.

According to a concept note (S/2022/743) prepared by Gabon in its capacity as Council president this month, the open debate will focus on the theme “Strengthening women’s resilience and leadership as a path to peace in regions plagued by armed groups”. The concept note says that the meeting will provide an opportunity for member states to share “specific examples of how they are supporting women’s resilience in conflict-affected countries and their capacity to contribute to peace and security”. The concept note argues that “[f]or resilience to make a difference, it needs to be supported” for instance, through political and material support for women peacebuilders and women’s networks.

The concept note poses several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s debate, including:

  • What are the best examples of your country’s support for women’s leadership and resilience for the purpose of conflict prevention and recovery over the past year, in particular in contexts with a growing presence of armed groups?
  • What are some ways in which the Security Council and the United Nations–including country teams and peace operations in conflict-affected countries–can better support women’s resilience and leadership and address the proliferation of armed groups and small arms and light weapons that have such a negative impact on the lives of women and girls?

Bahous may highlight key findings and recommendations from the Secretary-General’s annual report on WPS (S/2022/740), dated 5 October. The report says that the world is currently “experiencing a reversal of generational gains in women’s rights while violent conflicts, military expenditures, military coups, displacements and hunger continue to increase”. The focus of this year’s report is on “turning the unconditional defence of women’s rights into one of the most visible markers” of the UN’s peace and security work, and in particular the protection of women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs). The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) defines WHRDs as all women and girls working on any human rights issue and people of all genders who work to promote women’s rights and rights related to gender equality. The report draws on several sources, such as an expert consultation with civil society representatives organised by UN Women, OHCHR and the NGO Working Group on WPS in January 2021 (S/2022/756), which put forward several recommendations, including on fostering an enabling environment for WHRDs and providing rapid and flexible funding for women’s rights organisations.

The Secretary-General’s report says that WHRDs have increasingly been targeted across the globe, while such attacks remain significantly underreported. It notes that attacks against WHRDs are more likely to target “their personal behaviour, their moral conduct or their sex lives”, while defenders of sexual and reproductive health and rights, defenders of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people and women with disabilities face further risks. The report also highlights the risks faced by women civil society representatives who brief the Security Council, noting that nine out of 32 such briefers from January 2021 to May who responded to a UN Women survey reported having faced reprisals.

Tomorrow, members are expected to condemn attacks against WHRDs and call for accountability for such attacks. Bahous may echo some of the recommendations for member states outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, such as expediting the approval of applications for asylum, relocation or protected status due to gender-related prosecution and expressing “consistent, visible and explicit political support for activists and their work” as a key factor in preventing attacks. She may also refer to the measures the Secretary-General has requested UN entities to take to address the report’s findings and to support WHRDs, such as to “ensure dedicated follow-up on individual cases where necessary” and to “take steps to ensure that the risk faced by [WHRDs] is never used as an excuse to exclude them”.

Afghanistan is among the country situations expected to feature in many members’ remarks tomorrow. The Secretary-General’s report identifies Afghanistan as a particularly oppressive context, noting that “the Taliban have appointed a Cabinet comprised exclusively of men, have closed girls’ secondary schools, banned women from showing their faces in public and restricted women’s right to leave their own homes”. Among other issues, the civil society representative from Afghanistan may discuss the situation of women’s rights in the country, including the repression of women protesters, and may put forward recommendations for the international community.

Council members and member states may also refer to other country situations, such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Haiti, Myanmar, Syria and Ukraine. On Myanmar, for instance, the Secretary-General’s report says that “the military has killed hundreds of women protesters, including [WHRDs], university students, rights activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people, journalists and influencers”. Members are likely to call for strengthened protection of women and girls in humanitarian emergencies and conflict settings and condemn all forms of conflict-related sexual violence. In this regard, some may call for the provision of sexual and reproductive health services and psychosocial support for survivors of gender-based violence.

Members often see the annual open debate on WPS as an opportunity to express their support for the agenda and to state their priorities for its implementation. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to call for women’s increased representation in political and peace processes. The Secretary-General’s report observes that although women participated as negotiators or delegates in all peace processes led and co-led by the UN in 2021, representation was four percent less than in 2020 (decreased from 23 to 19 percent). Women’s absence from non-UN-led processes is “also evident”, according to the report. Ahead of the open debate, the NGO Working Group on WPS circulated an open letter to UN permanent representatives, urging member states to, among other things, intensify preventive diplomacy efforts and demand, fund and support politically “women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in all stages of peace processes, and ensure that gender equality and women’s human rights are a central part of peace agreements”.

Some members are likely to stress the importance of women’s economic empowerment and access to resources and may call for supporting development initiatives and women’s entrepreneurship. Members may also call for increasing women’s participation in peacekeeping and some might refer to the Elsie Initiative Fund, a trust fund hosted by UN Women aimed at increasing the participation of uniformed women in UN peace operations.

Member states may also refer to different initiatives for the implementation of the WPS agenda, such as regional and national WPS action plans and the Compact on WPS and Humanitarian Action, a multi-stakeholder initiative which commits signatories to undertake action to achieve change on WPS and humanitarian processes.

Some members might also refer to the WPS Security Council presidencies initiative. Ireland, Kenya and Mexico started the initiative in 2021 as a “Presidency Trio for Women, Peace and Security”. 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.

While a negotiated Council outcome is not expected in connection with tomorrow’s open debate, the concept note says that Gabon will prepare a chair’s summary highlighting “best practices and any new concrete commitments to advancing the [WPS] agenda”. It seems that Gabon informally considered proposing an outcome ahead of the open debate, but eventually decided to not go forward with its initiative. This is likely because of the prevalent perception, including among members supportive of the WPS agenda and several civil society actors, that the difficult dynamics on this file remain largely unchanged and have arguably been complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These actors stress the importance of implementing the existing WPS normative framework rather than pursuing new negotiated outcomes, in order to avoid language that is repetitive or less robust than the content of the existing ten Security Council resolutions on WPS.

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