What's In Blue

Posted Tue 24 Oct 2023

Women, Peace and Security: Annual Open Debate

Tomorrow (25 October), the Security Council will hold its annual open debate on women, peace and security (WPS), which this year is titled “Women’s participation in international peace and security: from theory to practice”. One of the signature events of Brazil’s October presidency, the open debate will be chaired by Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mauro Vieira. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will provide opening remarks. UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, and the Director General of the Rio Branco Institute and Representative of Brazil in the negotiations between the government of Colombia and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), Glivânia Maria de Oliveira, are expected to brief. A civil society representative is also expected to brief.

Council members that have signed on to the Shared Commitments on WPS—Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US—are expected to read a joint statement ahead of the meeting on the theme of the open debate. (The Shared Commitments initiative was started in late 2021 by Ireland, Kenya, and Mexico. Participating members pledge to make WPS “a top priority” during their respective presidencies, among other commitments. For background, see our research report titled “Golden Threads and Persisting Challenges: The Security Council Women, Peace and Security Presidencies Initiative.)

Brazil has prepared a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s meeting. It notes that women continue to be excluded from decision-making processes, even though several Security Council resolutions have addressed “the contribution of women to peace through active participation”. The concept note says that the open debate will provide an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of resolution 1325, reflect on implementation efforts, and set goals for the agenda’s 25th anniversary in 2025. It encourages participants to pay particular attention to some of the agenda’s key objectives, such as the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in peace processes, the systematic use of a gender perspective in peace agreements, and the inclusion of gender issues and women’s rights in the Security Council’s deliberations and decisions.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Bahous is likely to highlight key findings and recommendations from the Secretary-General’s annual report on WPS (S/2023/725), dated 28 September. The focus of this year’s report is on “achieving a radical shift and tangible results in women’s meaningful participation in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding”. The report stresses that nearly 25 years after the adoption of resolution 1325, negotiating parties in peace processes “continue to regularly exclude women, and impunity for atrocities against women and girls is still prevalent”. It further notes that women’s organisations struggle to find resources while military spending continues to increase, adding that “[m]isogyny is a common thread in the rise of authoritarianism and in the spread of conflict and violent extremism”. Bahous may also emphasise that while there has been greater attention to threats and violence against women human rights defenders (WHRDs), the violence they face remains on the rise.

Spoljaric is likely to stress the importance of complying with international humanitarian law (IHL) and may note, as she did during her briefing at the 7 March Security Council ministerial-level open debate on WPS, that IHL rules protect “diverse women, men, boys and girls” equally. She may also reiterate her call to states to integrate the IHL prohibition of sexual violence into national law, military doctrine, and training. Oliveira may reflect on her experience as the representative of Brazil as a guarantor country in the negotiations between the government of Colombia and the ELN, as well as on women’s participation in the Colombian peace process more broadly. (Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway, Mexico, and Venezuela are the guarantor countries at the dialogue between Colombia and the ELN).

In line with the theme of tomorrow’s open debate, Council members are expected to call for women’s increased representation in political, economic, and peace processes. Participants may stress the importance of the ten Security Council resolutions adopted under the WPS agenda item and call for their full implementation. Ahead of the open debate, the NGO Working Group on WPS circulated an open letter to UN permanent representatives on behalf of 617 civil society signatories. The letter, which articulates the meaning of the standard of “full, equal, meaningful and safe” participation, says that women’s rights are “under ceaseless attack in contexts marked by intensifying conflict, rising authoritarianism, militarization and backlash”. The letter argues that without decisive action to protect women’s rights and ensure their participation “in all aspects of peace and security”, there is a heightened risk of entrenching patriarchal norms and jeopardising “any chance of sustainable peace”. Tomorrow, some members may highlight initiatives aimed at promoting women’s participation, such as national policies and action plans on WPS as well as international cooperation programmes that they support in this regard.

Tomorrow, it appears that some of the members that have signed on to the WPS Shared Commitments may recall key recommendations put forward by women civil society briefers during recent Security Council meetings. This is consistent with one of the pledges contained in the statement of Shared Commitments, which is to draw attention to, and follow up on, “the recommendations and priority issues raised by civil society briefers in Council meetings”.

Many participants are likely to refer to the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, where, according to the WPS annual report, “widespread and systematic discrimination” has raised allegations of gender persecution and the Taliban have issued “more than 50 edicts to suppress women’s and girls’ rights” between September 2021 and May. Briefers and member states are also expected to refer to other contexts, such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Mali, Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen, as well as the situation in Gaza and Israel, and may call for strengthened protection of women and girls in conflicts and humanitarian crises and condemn all forms of conflict-related sexual violence.

Some participants may stress the importance of preventing and responding to reprisals against WHRDs. At the 10 October launch of her recent report on WHRDs, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, said that being a woman and a human rights defender in a conflict situation represents a “triple layering of risk”, adding that those working on “gender equality, sexual health and reproductive rights, LGBTI rights or gender-based violence” face an additional layer of risk. She stressed that while some states have promoted the participation of WHRDs, this “has not been accompanied by the steps necessary to ensure that they can participate safely, so when they are visible they are not erased”.

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

  • How can UN member states ensure that WPS initiatives translate into concrete change for local female populations, and guarantee the safety of women journalists, parliamentarians, mediators, peacekeepers, and peacebuilders?
  • What role could the Informal Experts Group on WPS play in the Council’s assessment of the situation of women and girls, as well as gender issues on the ground?

An outcome is not expected in connection with tomorrow’s open debate. The prevalent perception, including among members supportive of the WPS agenda and several civil society actors, continues to be that the dynamics on this file remain unconducive to the adoption of WPS outcomes. Instead, these actors stress the importance of implementing the existing WPS normative framework, in order to avoid language that is merely repetitive or is less robust than the content of the ten existing Security Council resolutions on WPS.

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