The UN Security Council (UNSC) has developed a broad legal and institutional infrastructure on women, peace, and security, addressing sexual violence against women and girls in conflict, promoting gender equality and women’s participation in all conflict cycles, as well as establishing mechanisms to seek accountability for the crime of sexual violence. In spite of that, conflict-related sexual violence continues to be used as a “weapon of war” against women and girls in conflict, physical and sexual attacks are rising, while women are subject to political resistance, misogynist, and all forms of discrimination. Gender equality, domestic and international, is out of reach. Women are underrepresented in decision-making in local and national governments and continue to be ignored, sidelined, or excluded from peace and negotiation processes. In the twentieth anniversary of landmark resolution 1325, women call on international policymakers to turn their words into action and deliver on promises—fully implementing all resolutions on women, peace, and security.

The international legal architecture on gender equality and women’s participation in peace and mediation processes has dramatically evolved in the last decades, yet there is a gap between policy and action—world leaders are failing to deliver on promises! The situation on the ground is dire. Discrimination, threats, and all forms of violence against women—from political resistance to misogynism to physical and sexual attacks—are on rising (S/13998/2019; UN Women, 2019). 18% of women and girls have been physically and/or sexually abused by an intimate partner in the past 12 months. 3 in 4 human trafficking victims are women and girls (UN, 2019).

The conflict-related sexual violence, as the UN Women Executive Director, Mlambo-Ngcuka told the Security Council, continues to be used as a “weapon of war and terror,” while survivors are left without justice or support (S/13998/2019). ICRC speaks for alarming figures on a large scale and in different regions—although no official data exists—as the crime of sexual violence has historically been “silenced” and “hidden.” (2015)

Gender equality is out of reach. Globally, women are underrepresented in decision-making—constituting 24.3% of national parliaments (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2019) and 26% of local assemblies. Women continue to be ignored, sidelined, or excluded from peace and negotiation processes—representing 3% of women mediators, 13% of negotiators, and 4% of signatories in major peace processes between 1992 and 2018 (Council on Foreign Relations, 2019; UN Women/S/13998/2019). Nearly two decades from the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) 1325 Resolution (2000) on women, peace, and security (WPS), the “change” for women and girls, according to Secretary‑General, Guterres, “is coming at a pace too slow.” (SC/13998, 10/2019)

The gender gap is huge—even in democracies such as the United States and France. While in France—at the current pace—it will take 23 years, the US will need 208 years to close its gender gap based on the Global Gender Gap Report’s projections (World Economic Forum, 2019). As the twentieth anniversary of the SC 1325 resolution is approaching, the message of women for world leaders is: Turn words into action and implement your commitments! 35 speakers at the Security Council’s debate on women, peace, and security agenda held in late October—early November urged member states to accelerate progress and fully implement all provisions of resolutions on women, peace, and security, including 1325 one (SC/14012/2019).

Gender Equality and Women’s Inclusion—Legal Terms

The United Nations has developed a broad legal and institutional infrastructure that codifies and condemns sexual violence against women and girls in armed conflict and promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment in all conflict cycles. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) was the first most comprehensive global policy framework and roadmap plan to condemn discrimination and violence against women and girls in conflict, calling on gender perspective and women’s participation in peace and political processes, and recognizing the nexus between peace and gender equality (UN Women, 2019).

In 2000, the UNSC—for the first time in history—recognized the women component as critical to international peace and security. The landmark resolution 1325, which laid the foundation of women, peace, and security framework, condemns sexual violence against women and girls—considering it as a “direct threat to peace and security”; it urges the member states to end impunity and prosecute all individuals involved in sexual violence and other crimes; and calls for the increasing number of women in peacemaking, post-conflict governance, peacebuilding, humanitarian and transitional justice processes (S/1325/2000).

Following the 1325 resolution, the SC adopted at least eight resolutions relating to women, peace, and security, addressing sexual violence against women and girls, and promoting gender equality and women’s inclusion in all conflict stages. Resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), and 2106 (2013) explicitly address sexual violence against women, they establish a Special Representative of the SG on rule of law and sexual violence in conflict and seek accountability for such a crime (Community of Democracies (CoD), 2019).

Resolutions 1889 (2009) and 1960 (2010) create indicators and tracking mechanisms on the implementation of women, peace, and security agenda, whilst 2122 (2013), 2242 (2015), and 2467 (2019) address coordination efforts set up experts’ group on reforms and finances, and reaffirm women factor to peace and security (Id.). All UNSC resolutions require the SG to submit periodic reports on the implementation of women, peace, and security resolutions, and conflict-related sexual violence (Id.).

Needless to say, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) reflect gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sixteen goals, though, only Goal 5—on gender equality and Goal 16—on stable and peaceful societies specifically deal with women issues. As Sabine Freizer, the Chief Leadership and Governance Section at the UN Women, stated at a CoD’s event, “Gender equality has been recognized as an accelerator to reach all SDGs.” (UNGA, 2019)

The situation on the Ground: Women on the Run

In spite of this abundant legal infrastructure that prohibits sexual violence in armed conflict, the situation on the ground is grave. The conflict-related sexual violence, as Guterres observed in his report, continues to be employed as a “weapon of war” in most conflict situations, involving state and non-state actors—and in conjunction with other crimes (S/2017/249). The data on its occurrence, according to the ICRC, are shocking (2015).

Migrant and refugee women—from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America—or Women on the Run, as the UNCHR refers to them, are the most vulnerable populations to sexual attacks. Since 2014, thousands of women from Central America, including El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, have been “beaten, raped, and too often killed along the way” while seeking to escape a “surging tide of violence” in their home countries (2015). The same thing happened to women from the Middle East and Africa en route to Europe during the mass exodus in 2015-2016 (Amnesty International, 2018; International Organization on Migration, 2018).

The Rohingyas women and girls, the media reported, had been systematically and brutally raped, attempting to escape violence in Myanmar—re-erupted in late August 2017 (NBC News, December 13, 2017). Research of Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and Fortify Rights found that more than 170,000 people from Myanmar and Bangladesh—mostly Rohingyas’ Muslims and predominantly women—were victims of human trafficking, murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, and rape—as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against civilians from a transnational human trafficking network during the 2012-2015 (The Daily Star, August 26, 2019). And, more than 6,000 Yazidis women and girls in northern Iraq—captivated by ISIS in 2014—were forced into slavery, and then were subjugated to systematic mass rapes (Yüksel et al., 2018). The list goes on and on…

As of 2018, over 50 parties to the conflict, based on the UN Women’s data, are credibly suspected of having committed or instigated patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women. At least 1 in 5 women refugees in complex humanitarian settings has experienced sexual violence Yet, 49 countries have no laws that specifically protect women from such violence (2019).

Women in Negotiation and Peacemaking: Low Numbers

The correlation between gender equality and peace, and gender equality and development, and poverty and inequality reduction is well-established (UN Women, S/13998/2019). Greater women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution can improve outcomes before, during, and after the conflict, increasing the propensity of signed agreements, and the quality and sustainability of peace (Council on Foreign Relations, 2019). Greater women’s involvement in government means greater “good governance,” and less poverty and inequality (CoD & OECD, 2019).

The theoretical and empirical evidence that supports these arguments is plenty. Gender equality, as a study of Columbia University found, is the number one predictor of peace—suggesting a linkage between gender inequality and politics and security on international and national levels (Valerie et al., 2014). Other publications place a bidirectional relationship between women’s empowerment and economic development: discrimination against women can hamper development whereas empowerment can accelerate development (Dufflo, 2012). Additionally, gender equality and women’s inclusion are considered as key for poverty and inequality reduction (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, 2003).

Women’s involvement in peace and mediation processes increases the propensity, as well as the quality and durability of peace agreements—making 65% less likely to fail, and 35% lasting—at least 15 years (Council on Foreign Relations, 2019). According to a research study investigating 82 peace agreements in 42 armed conflicts between 1989 and 2011, higher participation of women in peace processes is associated with peace sustainability and higher provisions’ inclusion and implementation rates of political reforms (UN Women, 2019). Another one examining 98 peace agreements with participation of women in 55 countries between 2000 and 2016 correlates women’s inclusion with higher references of women’s issues and gender-based violence in peace agreements (UN Women, 2019).

Against this backdrop, women have historically been excluded from peace and negotiations—representing 3% of mediators, 4% of signatories, and 13% of negotiators in major peace processes between 1992 and 2018—and zero female signatories in the majority of peace processes from 1990 to this day (Council on Foreign Relations, 2019). The vast majority, respectively only 353 of 1,789 peace deals involving more than 150 peace processes during the 1990-2018—address gender and women’s issues or less than 20 % (UN Women, 2019). The recent years had shown negative trends—the percentage of peace agreements on gender responsiveness dropped from 49% in 2015 to 27 in 2017 to 7.7% in 2018: only 4 out of 52 agreements provided references on gender issues and women’s participation in peace processes (CoD 2019; UN Women 2019). Implementation of gender provisions has proven even more difficult (UN Women, 2019).

Northern Ireland and Somalia offer good practices for women’s involvement in peace negotiations, Columbia for integrating a gender perspective, whereas in Indonesia—cultural and religious norms were used to exclude women from peace processes (CoD, 2019).

Women in Governance and Peacebuilding: Underrepresented

Women in post-conflict governance help secure lasting peace as they employ more democratic style and are more effective in building coalitions and cooperation, speakers of the UN Women, UNDP, and OECD concluded in an event of CoD on women’s political participation in local governance organized in the margins of the UNGA 71 (2019). Although globally, there is no database, women’s participation in governance and legislative bodies in the post-conflict setting, according to Freizer, is low (CoD 2019; UN Women 2019). Women are underrepresented in decision-making and governance—making 24.3% of national parliamentarians (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2019) and 26% of local assemblies (UNDP, 2019). A bitter fact: Yulia Svitlyncha, Governor in Kharkiv oblast—who spoke at the CoD’s event was up to early November the only women governor in Ukraine—an aspirant country to the EU and NATO’s accession.

Whereas there are improvements in some indicators of Goal 5—on gender equality—the overall numbers, as a UN report alerts, continue to be alarming. Factors from structural to discriminatory laws to social and cultural norms are hampering the overall progress (2019). Somalia made positive changes by protecting women’s rights in the new constitutions, the Philippines developed a national action plan for gender equality, and Sri Lanka and Liberia organized parallel donor conferences (CoD, 2019). Bosnia, Kosovo, El Salvador, Nepal, and Northern Ireland (the latter since 2017) introduced a 30 % quota for women in parliament and local assemblies, whereas Rwanda has exceeded the minimum—currently represented by 61.3 % women in parliament (CoD, 2019).

Kosovo has lagged behind in fulfilling the legal requirements of gender-balanced representation in public institutions. The Constitution guarantees gender equality and the Law on Gender Equality requires a minimum of 50% of women’s representation in institutions. In practice, the participation of women in political decision-making is below the minimum: 40.6% of women were represented in government in 2016, 28% in local government, 5.2% held positions of leadership in government, and 10% of women were represented in municipalities (Kosovar Gender Studies Center, 2017). 38 women out of 120 members composed the National Assembly of the previous legislature, only one woman out of 23 served as a minister in the government, and six women out of 70 as deputy ministers. Currently, all Kosovo municipalities are led by men.

…women in peacebuilding

Women’s participation in peacebuilding, humanitarian planning, and transitional justice processes is essential for long and lasting peace after conflict. While there are some significant changes and women are making “groundbreaking work for justice, peace, and security,” progress, as Mlambo-Ngcuka argues, “is too slow.” “[…] Political will is not strong enough […] Change is not as real as it needs to be.” (S/13998/2019)

In fact, women’s exclusion from peace and political processes, according to a CoD publication, remains the norm (2019). In such a conclusion came a report of Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS). This organization found a discrepancy between the UN commitments to women, peace, and security agenda and the actual implementation, suggesting a regression on gender parity and women’s inclusion in formal peace processes (International Peace Institute (IPI), 2019). Sarah Taylor, the IPI Senior Fellow, calls this a “disturbing discordance,” adding that “women in Sudan are putting their bodies on the line, breaking curfews, braving tear gas yet still excluded from the discussions that determine the future of their communities.” (Id.)

In a recent monitoring report on the SDGs, the UN supports these assumptions, admitting that there have been “insufficient efforts” toward achieving progress in Goal 16—relating to peace, justice, and security. As the report highlights, women are underrepresented in global, regional, and national institutions and governance, as well as in conflict and peacebuilding, and justice, truth, and reconciliation initiatives. “As a result, crimes against women and girls are committed with widespread impunity. Homicide, rape and other forms of violence are on raise.” (2019)

Colombia and Timor-Leste provide good examples of creating gender-sensitive truth and reconciliation processes. The Philippines enforced a 20% quota for female police officers and created women and children protection desks in all police stations across the country. El Salvador remains behind in the reintegration of female combatants (CoD, 2019), while in Kosovo, women’s share in the police is 15% (UN Women, 2017) and in the military only 8.2% (Kosovo 2.0, March 23, 2019).

Again, in Colombia, women are leading the national transitional justice process as well as holding the highest leadership positions in several institutions, including the Presidency of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace—with 55% of the members—and Directorate of the Missing Persons Search Unit and Commission of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-recurrence—with 45% (UN Women, 2019). Kosovo remains behind: only two women out of nine are members of the preparatory team for the establishment of the commission for truth and reconciliation created by the President (The President of Kosovo, 61/2018).

After almost two decades, Kosovo finally established a reparation program for survivors of sexual violence, following the legal recognition of their status and rights as “victims of the war” in 2014. The government commission has received over 1,000 applications so far: 400 women (including 12 men) are now eligible for a lifetime monthly pension—out of 20,000 women—supposedly raped during the war in 1998-1999 (Radio Free Europe, July 5, 2019).

Work cited:

The Community of Democracies. 2019. “Engaging Women in Sustaining Peace: A Guide to Best Practices.” “Women’s Political Participation in Local Governance.” UNGA, October 16, 2019, New York.   

Council on Foreign Relations, “Women’s Participation in Peace Processes,” January 30, 2019. 

Dufflo, Esther. 2012. “Women Empowerment and Economic Development.” Journal of Economic Literature 50(4), 1051–1079. 

ICRC. 2015. “Sexual Violence in Conflict.” International Review of the Red Cross. Geneva, Switzerland.  

International Peace Institute, “Turning Women, Peace and Security Commitments to Implementation,” October 29, 2019; “Making Women’s Rights and Inclusion a Priority in Afghanistan Peacemaking,” October 30, 2019.  

Kosovar Gender Studies Center. 2017. “Women’s Participation in Decision-making in Kosovo.” Prishtina, Kosovo.

Nadie Ahmeti, “Around 400 Women and 12 Men Receive the Status of Victims of Sexual Violence,” Radio Free Europe, July 5, 2019. 

NBC News, “21 Rohingya Women Detail Systemic, Brutal Rapes by Myanmar Armed Forces,” December 13, 2017. 

Porimol Parma, “Human Trafficking: Rohingyas Faced Horrific Crimes,” the Daily Star, March 28, 2019 (Last modified on August 26, 2019).

Saadia Zahidi, “Accelerating Gender Parity in Globalization 4.0,” World Economic Forum, June 18, 2019. 

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. 2003. “Gender Equality—A Key for Poverty and Sustainable Development.” Geneva, Switzerland. 

Leonora Aliu, “The Women Shaping Kosovo’s Future Soldiers,” Kosovo 2.0. March 23, 2019.   

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2019. “Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Gender Snapshot.” New York, NY.  

UNHCR. 2015. “Women on the Run.” Geneva, Switzerland.

UNSC. “Speakers Call for Accelerated Progress in Women, Peace, Security Agenda, as Security Council Concludes Debate.” SC/14012, November 4, 2019. 

UNSC. “Security Council Urges Recommitment to Women, Peace, Security Agenda, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2492 (2019).” SC/13998, October 29, 2019.

UNSC. “Remarks by UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace, and Security in New York.” UNSC, October 29, 2019.

UNSG. Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict Related Sexual Violence. S/2017/249. New York, NY. 

UN Women. Facts and Figures: Peace and Security. 

UN Women. “Bringing Women in Equal Footing with Men in Kosovo Police.” February 24, 2017.

Valerie et al. 2014. Sex and World Peace. Columbia University Press. 

Yüksel et al. 2018. “Genocidal Sexual Assault on Women and the Role of Culture in the Rehabilitation Process: Experiences from Working with Yazidi Women in Turkey.” International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.

One thought on “Women, Peace, and Security Agenda: More Action – Less Words”

  1. It is indeed a very serious issue if women are not fully respected and listened to. How can any one enjoy life’s greatest gifts when the situation is this way? Actually a research paper published in the Journal of Happiness Studies titled “(E)Quality of Life: A Cross-National Analysis of the Effect of Gender Equality on Life Satisfaction” (published the 11th of October 2018) clearly shows that gender equality boosts well being across any society. The only view point I worry about in that article is regarding political participation of women. As I personally was a chairman in a political party a few years back. That party at the time was the most “popular” in my country and I did with other people all I could to get women to participate and had little results. They regrettably where still under-presented giving opportunistic women actors who jumped in just before preelections perhaps an undue advantage and results. We were still all glad to have them show up ! And the balance was off!

    The feeling was that unspoken factors and cultural norms had to be addressed even in a Nordic country famous “the first female president” – being one of the nations with the highest equality values in the world and so on. This has to be seriously looked at and worked on in meritocratic ways.

    Reference – link:
    Audette, Lam et Al.,”(E)Quality of Life: A Cross-National Analysis of the Effect of Gender Equality on Life Satisfaction”, Journal of Happiness Studies, October 11, 2018. Accessed the 3rd of December 2019.

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