The Women, Peace and Security Agenda at 20 Years

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(Disponible en français : Les 20 ans du Programme sur les femmes, la paix et la sécurité)

On 31 October 2000, following decades of lobbying by civil society organizations, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security (WPS) was unanimously adopted. It is the first UNSCR resolution to focus on empowering women as active agents in peace and security. The 20th anniversary of this landmark resolution provides an opportunity to reflect on the WPS agenda.

In recognizing that women are disproportionately affected by conflict and war, the resolution emphasizes that they are not solely victims in need of protection. They also have an important role to play in advancing peace processes.

UNSCR 1325 incorporates a gender perspective throughout peace negotiations, humanitarian activities, peace operations and post-conflict peacebuilding, and identifies the need for women to have decision-making roles. In so doing, it helps to address the pervasive barriers to women’s meaningful involvement in peace and security matters, and sets the stage for more inclusive policies and practices.

This HillNote summarizes the UNSC’s WPS resolutions, identifies global progress and barriers in implementing the WPS agenda, and notes Canada’s domestic and international WPS-related activities.

The Focus of the Resolutions

UNSCR 1325 is based on four pillars:

  • the participation of women in peace processes, and in peace and security institutions;
  • the protection of women and girls in situations of armed conflict;
  • the prevention of violence against women and girls; and
  • the need to ensure that post-conflict relief and recovery efforts apply a gender lens.

Nine additional WPS resolutions have been adopted since 2000. These resolutions, which – like UNSCR 1325 – are binding on UN member states, have strengthened the WPS agenda by implementing additional measures, targets, reporting mechanisms and reviews.

Several WPS resolutions focus on sexual violence. For example, UNSCR 1820 indicates that rape and sexual violence can be war crimes, UNSCR 1888 calls for the rapid deployment of women protection advisors to conflicts with high rates of sexual violence, and UNSCRs 1889, 2106 and 2122 reference sexual and reproductive health and rights as contributors to international security.

As noted in a November 2019 article published by the Security Council Report, during negotiations for the two WPS resolutions adopted in 2019, controversy among UNSC members resulted in resolutions that do not include references to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Collectively, the 10 WPS resolutions have helped to frame women’s advocacy concerning issues of peace and security in international affairs.

The United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and SecurityTimeline of when the United Nations’ Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security were adopted between 2000 and 2019

Global Progress and Remaining Barriers

In the 20 years since UNSCR 1325’s adoption, some progress has been made in implementing the WPS agenda.

For example, in 2004, the UN Secretary-General requested that member states develop national or regional action plans for implementing the WPS agenda. As of August 2020, 45% had national action plans and approximately one-third of those plans had a funding allocation designed to ensure implementation.

However, barriers to implementation continue to exist. The 2015 Global Study on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 – commissioned pursuant to UNSCR 2122 and the 2019 report of the UN Secretary-General found a gap between commitments and the financial support and political will to achieve them.

A 2015 report published by the International Peace Institute found that, when women participate in processes for peace agreements, the resulting agreements are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.

However, research conducted jointly by UN Women and the Council on Foreign Relations indicates that women continue to be underrepresented in peace processes. Worldwide, in major peace processes occurring between 1992 and 2018, women accounted for 3% of mediators, 4% of signatories and 13% of negotiators.

Although the proportion of women participating in police and military contingents of UN peace operations increased from 4.2% in October 2015 to 6.5% in June 2020, this proportion is below the 8.4% target for 2020 established in UNSCR 2242.

A 2016 analysis published in International Affairs noted that, on its own, a proportion does not provide information about where female peacekeepers are sent, what roles they take on, or how an increase in their participation affects operations.

Conflict-related sexual violence, which remains a persistent issue, is frequently under-reported. In his most recent report about conflict-related sexual violence, the United Nations Secretary-General stated:

Despite the adoption of numerous commitments to address conflict related sexual violence, broader political, economic and security factors inhibit enforcement, preventing linear progress from commitments to compliance.

Canada’s Women, Peace and Security–related Activities

The Government of Canada characterizes implementation of the WPS agenda as a “foreign policy priority.” In 2017, Canada released its second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which focuses on increasing women’s participation in peace and security efforts, empowering women and girls, and upholding human rights in fragile and conflict‑affected states.

As well, Canada’s international development policy – Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) – and its defence policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy (SSE) – incorporate aspects of the WPS agenda.

For example, the FIAP’s sixth action area focuses on the impact of women’s participation in peacebuilding and post‑conflict reconstruction, and SSE references the goal of integrating gender-based analysis plus into policy, training and operations.

In June 2019, Canada appointed Jacqueline O’Neill as its first ambassador for Women, Peace and Security. Her role is to advise federal ministers on the WPS agenda, assist in implementing Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and represent the country concerning national and international initiatives relating to the WPS agenda.

Canada also works with other countries on WPS-related initiatives. For example, in 2017, Canada launched the multilateral Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations. The initiative is named after Elsie Muriel Gregory MacGill, an aeronautical engineer who – among other accomplishments – headed the domestic production of a Canadian-made fighter jet during the Second World War and advocated for the rights of women and children.

Among other activities designed to increase women’s participation in peace operations, the Elsie Initiative provides training, establishes a global fund to support countries’ efforts to achieve this goal, and conducts relevant research.

As well, Canada chairs the 58-member Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, an informal network that comprises representatives from the UN’s five regional groups. Its work includes urging member states to increase the number of women protection advisors to peacekeeping missions.

Finally, Clare Hutchinson – a Canadian woman – is currently serving as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security. Her mandate includes ensuring action on the WPS agenda within NATO.

Additional Resources

Torunn L. Tryggestad, “Trick or Treat? The UN and Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security,” Global Governance, Volume 15, 2009, pp. 539–557.

Government of Canada, Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2017-2022 – Global Affairs Canada – Progress report for fiscal year 2018-2019.

Paul Kirkby and Laura J. Shepherd, “The futures past of the Women, Peace and Security agenda,” International Affairs, Volume 92, Issue 2, 2016, pp. 373–392.

Author: Marie Dumont, Library of Parliament

The United Nations Security Council’s Women, Peace and Security Resolutions: Selected Salient Elements

UNSCR 1325, 2000

Recognizes that women’s contributions to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding have been undervalued and underutilized

Calls for gender perspectives to be incorporated throughout the UN’s policy architecture, as well as in conflict and post-conflict processes

Urges increased participation and representation of women at all levels of decision making

UNSCR 1820, 2008

Recognizes rape and sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of war and as a grave crime, and demands that all parties to armed conflict cease acts of sexual violence

Calls for more women to be deployed to peacekeeping operations, as well as for troops to be trained to prevent and respond to sexual violence

UNSCR 1888, 2009

Reiterates that sexual violence in armed conflict, as well as violence against women and children, continue to occur despite calls for them to cease

Establishes women protection advisors within peacekeeping missions, with these advisors rapidly deployed in situations of sexual violence

Calls for the deployment of a team of experts to assist national authorities with their efforts to strengthen the rule of law in cases where sexual violence occurs

UNSCR 1889, 2009

Establishes the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Recognizes the importance of women’s economic rights in the context of peace and security

Requests that country reports provided to the United Nations Security Council include information about the needs of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations, and that data be collected on these needs

Calls for the development of measurement indicators to monitor implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent WPS resolutions

UNSCR 1960, 2010

Notes that sexual violence during conflict remains widespread and reiterates the call for it to end

Establishes a “naming and shaming” mechanism that monitors conflicts worldwide

Requires the Secretary-General’s annual reports, and referrals to United Nations Sanctions Committees and to the International Criminal Court, to contain a list of parties suspected of having engaged in conflict-related sexual violence

UNSCR 2106, 2013

Recognizes the need to implement current obligations designed to address sexual violence in conflict situations

Encourages further deployments of women protection advisors and their proper training

Calls for the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for sexual violence

UNSCR 2122, 2013

Commissions a global study on the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 for its 15-year anniversary

Recognizes the need to address the root causes of armed conflict and the security risks faced by women in conflict situations

Stresses the importance of conventional arms control to reduce violence against women, and of the adoption and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty for this purpose

UNSCR 2242, 2015

Addresses implementation gaps in relation to the Women, Peace and Security agenda by calling on the United Nations to take two actions: enhance its gender architecture, and prioritize women’s rights and access to justice in conflict situations

Integrates gender as a cross-cutting issue with the United Nations’ countering violent extremism and counterterrorism strategies

Calls on United Nations member states to double the number of women in military and police peacekeeping roles by 2020

Encourages United Nations member states to increase funding for the Women, Peace and Security agenda in their conflict and post-conflict aid

UNSCR 2467, 2019

Advocates for the adoption of measures that aim to reduce sexual violence in conflict situations, and calls for a survivor-centred approach for victims of sexual violence

Recognizes that structural gender inequality and discrimination are root causes of sexual violence, and notes that United Nations member states have a national responsibility to address these root causes

UNSCR 2493, 2019

Emphasizes the need to move from commitments to accomplishments as the 20th anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action take place in 2020

Encourages regional organizations to convene meetings to review progress on the Women, Peace and Security agenda and to identify steps to improve its implementation

Urges United Nations member states to increase their funding allocated to the Women, Peace and Security agenda through aid provided for conflict and post-conflict situations

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