Accountable for what? Accountable to whom? The Australian government and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda

Australia's UNSC candidature brochure

Australia’s UNSC candidature brochure

The Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective (WPSAC) was formed in November 2012 to consolidate and extend academic feminist efforts around the UN’s ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda for the duration of Australia’s two year term on the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council is comprised of 5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent members, each of which holds a two-year term of office. One of WPSAC’s key objectives is to hold the Australian government accountable for commitments made by government officials during the international campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council, as the government leveraged these commitments as part of its successful bid, which includes a two-month presidency of the Council.

According to the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council has primary responsibility for, among other things, the maintenance of international peace and security. In 2000, with the passing of UNSCR 1325, the Security Council acknowledged the importance of seeing peace and security through gendered lenses, recognizing that gender matters in conflict management, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peace negotiations, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. Member states of the United Nations, under the legal framework of the UN as an institution,  are now bound by international law to uphold the provisions of UNSCR 1325 and the subsequent resolutions that form the Council’s ‘Women, Peace and Security’ (WPS) agenda.

During its campaign for a seat on the Security Council, the Australian government made specific use of the WPS agenda to enhance its bid for non-permanent membership. In the brochure produced by the Australian government in support of its bid for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, the government acknowledges that ‘Women are powerful agents of change for peace and security’ and draws attention to the ways in which Australia has supported the development of the Women, Peace and Security agenda over the years, for example in co-sponsoring Resolutions 1820 and 1888. The WPS agenda was therefore central enough to the campaign for it to appear as a double-page spread in the candidature brochure.

On 8 March 2012, the Australian Government released the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2012-2018. In its foreword, the Hon Julie Collins MP (Minister for the Status of Women) explicitly states that, pursuant to UNSCR 1325:

Governments have a responsibility to make sure women and girls’ human rights are protected, and that women are empowered to participate in formal peace and security processes. The Australian Government takes this responsibility very seriously.

In June 2012, a press release from Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office reinforced Australia’s dedication ‘to addressing the impact of conflict on women and to supporting women’s contribution to promoting sustainable development’ and referred to the Government’s ‘continued commitment’ to the National Action Plan (NAP). In Julia Gillard’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 26 September 2012, she unequivocally stated that Australia will ‘help increase gender equality’. She committed to the provision of $320 million ‘to support women’s political participation, to expand women’s leadership, [and] to spread economic and social opportunities in the Pacific’.

This funding stream was referenced in another speech to the General Assembly in October 2012, during which the First Secretary of the Australian Mission to the United Nations emphasized that ‘Australia is a strong supporter of the Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325 and related resolutions’. In Fiji in November 2012, Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women, Penny Williams, further stated that ‘Australia takes very seriously its responsibility to contribute to women’s empowerment globally and to be a strong and persistent voice on behalf of the world’s women and girls’ and she indicated that Australia’s seat on the UN Security Council will provide Australia with the opportunity to ‘pursue [its] “gender agenda” and this will include work on Women Peace and Security’.

Australian Ambassador to NATO and the European Union, Duncan Lewis, spoke in Stockholm on 18 December 2012 to reinforce Australia’s commitment to the WPS agenda. He indicated that Australia is ‘proud to be fully engaged with UNSCR 1325’ and stated that Australia’s ‘upcoming memberships in the UN Security Council and the UN Women Executive Board, both from 2013 onward, are opportunities for Australia to further strengthen [its] commitment to women’s empowerment, both domestically and internationally’.

Just last week, Ms Gillard released her International Women’s Day 2013 message, in which she stated that ‘[t]he women who gather today in celebration belong to a global sisterhood of influence with the opportunity and obligation to act’. We agree, but if Australia is to be part of this global sisterhood then it needs to uphold the promises it has made regarding the implementation of the National Action Plan and the support for WPS initiatives at the Security Council during its term of office.

On the back of the public statements made by government officials and the leveraging of the WPS agenda in the bid for non-permanent membership, the Australian government owes a commitment to the voting public and the international community. We encourage the government to account for the specific ways in which it will implement and operationalize the NAP and for how it will push to advance the WPS agenda at the United Nations Security Council. There are endless opportunities for such advancement, and we encourage the government to maximize these opportunities, not only because it has committed to do so in a range of public speeches but also because a peace agenda without gender awareness is a partial and short-sighted peace agenda indeed.

Caitlin Hamilton and Laura J. Shepherd

University of New South Wales

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