Policy, Promise, and Pitfalls: Women, Peace, and Security in 2020

Event Video:

On April 18th IPI held an evening event, co-sponsored by Monash University and Griffith University, to discuss the intersection of policy and promise towards achieving the transformational potential of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda with an eye on the 20th anniversary next year of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the first dedicated to WPS.

Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations, said the event was very timely, coming just days before the Council was to hold an open debate on a key WPS issue, sexual violence in conflict. But, he added, “I’m sad to say that I also find it timely because the trend is very negative,” noting that “some of the major powers were holding back, even questioning if women raped by ISIS have a right to an abortion–can you imagine?”

He declared that the WPS agenda was “not merely about the right of women to sit around the table and make decisions on their own future, it is more importantly about making peace more sustainable.”

He noted that Sweden was the first to adopt a “feminist foreign policy” and was a “loud but lonely voice” asking about women inclusion when the country began its two-year term on the Security Council in 2017. By the following year, however, he said, “If I were to forget to mention that question, all of a sudden I could count on nine or ten other delegations to bring it up from some surprising corners of the world like Kuwait, Poland, France, the UK, many of the African countries, Peru, Uruguay, Bolivia.” This means, he said, “I think that part of our legacy is that this agenda will not move away from the Council just because we left.”

Jacqui True, Professor of Politics & International Relations and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Monash University, spoke about the research reflected in the newly published 898-page The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace, and Security which she co-edited. “The role of researchers in this agenda is not just to generate evidence and data but to analyze with a feminist methodology,” she said. “What this methodology does is ask who is shaping this agenda, who can contest it, who can speak, what are the issues we discuss, what are the voices that are privileged, who is included, who is excluded. These are feminist questions, and these are questions that we need to keep asking.”

She said, “What was interesting about the handbook and learning from one another is that we can’t do it alone, we come to new insights and knowledge by sharing and learning from one another.” Among the insights that she said could not have been reached without this collaboration was recognition that “change doesn’t only happen at the Security Council. When things get tough there, there are a lot of other venues that are important for advancing this agenda.”

As an example, she pointed to how grassroots activists assessing security patrols in South Sudan were guided by women’s knowledge of when they needed security to collect firewood and food, and there was consequently collaboration between the local people and those tasked with protecting global and peace security. She said they were also able to expose the “false dichotomy” between protection and participation and to see those two activities instead as mutually supportive.

The key finding, she said, was that no one size fits all. “Ultimately,” she said, “the agenda itself is only going to be effective and credible, powerful to the extent that we let more and more women have a voice in the agenda. We can only do that by having our own internal critical voices.”

Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), addressed women’s participation in peace and security. “We see this idea that including women in the military will help extend better protections to women in the conflict and is also an act of achieving better gender parity.” She said that women were rising in the ranks of the military industrial complex and non-proliferation agencies and noted that four of the five biggest weapons manufacturers in the US had CEOs who were women.

At the same time, she counseled that breaking into leadership roles alone didn’t always transform the institutions. “What seems to be happening is that it’s women accustomed to and accommodating of the systems of thought and structures that exist as opposed to women and others that might actually challenge notions of security that these systems predicate their behavior on.”

She said this illustrated the limits of the “add women and stir” approach. “That’s why in feminist organizing, WILPF and other organizations try not to just bring this idea of gender equality in terms of women achieving parity with men in these structures, but also feminist approaches that seek to disrupt the thinking that happens within these structures to maybe operate in different places than these structures,” she said.

Nahla Valji, Senior Gender Adviser, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General, said one way of appreciating the broad policy gains of women involvement was to focus on what happens when women are not there. “We know the absence of women in every room and forum impact every aspect of our lives,” she said. “Our world is shaped by one set of perspectives. We have economics in which we give a zero value balance to everything that happens inside the home. The entire care, production, reproduction of our society is given a zero balance. If it happens outside the home, if we can outsource it to schools and clinics and external sources we add a value to it. But if it happens inside the home, because it’s considered ‘women’s work’, it has zero value.”

She said that 118 member states, citing the global study, had agreed with the finding that peace processes are more likely to be sustainable in the long run when women are involved in them. “But,” she added, “none of these states are ensuring that the peace processes they support are involving women. We are not following through.”

IPI Senior Fellow Sarah Taylor moderated the discussion.