Creating a transnational people’s plan for UNSCR 1325

sun shining through peace symbols

Peace. Photograph by David Yu. Reproduced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

At the recent International Studies Association’s Annual Conference in April 2013, a group of scholars and activists held a roundtable to discuss the possibility of creating a transnational people’s plan for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security  (WPS) Resolutions.   Currently, there is much cynicism about the ways in which UNSCR 1325 is being implemented, which is in sharp contrast to the hope and enthusiasm that marked the adaption of the resolution.

Invoking the spirit of  civil society critical engagement which pushed forward UNSCR 1325 in the first place, we reflected upon the need to organise a transnational people’s plan to make recommendations for the implementation of the WPS resolutions. In this blog we summarise the discussion and invite responses from WPS advocates.

What are the current problems with the implementation of the WPS resolutions?

A popular way to implement the WPS resolutions has been the writing of National Action Plans (NAPs) – indeed, UNSCR 1889 encourages states to develop NAPs. But, as one panellist, Betty Reardon, pointed out, NAPs are ‘like foxes constructing a chicken coop’.

The key implementers of the WPS resolutions have been state institutions who have retained a militarized vision of gender security. NAPs address policies about the integration of women into the state security sector; or about post-conflict development and reconstruction; or turning to a narrow protection agenda which stresses prevention of violence against women in armed conflict, or focussing on foreign policy.

But limiting the possibilities of NAPs to these issues, as Kozue Akibayashi said, avoids the original intention of UNSCR 1325, which was ‘about changing or transforming the very framework or concept of our ways of thinking about what security is’. Furthermore, many of the original intentions of civil society organisations have been lost: for instance, the “prevention” agenda has been interpreted as the prevention of violence against women in armed conflict, rather than to prevent such violence via the prevention of armed conflict as a result of female participation. Foxes (states) are constructing the chicken coops (NAPs), restraining the transformative potential of UNSCR 1325 and other WPS resolutions.

NAPs have geographical limitations too. Ronni Alexander discussed how the United States NAP also covers the US unincorporated organised territories like Guam  but the US NAP does not consider the specific needs of Guam. Furthermore, the agreements that allow private facilities to be used by USA militaries as overseas bases would also be beyond the scope of NAPs.

Similarly, the UK NAP highlights development concerns in Afghanistan but has been criticised for the failure to consider the specific needs of Northern Ireland.

The last point relates to an issue raised by Catia Cecilia Confortini, who is part of the executive board of the  United States WILPF.  They held civil society consultations throughout the US  in the development of the US NAP, and found that many organisations asked for a focus on a domestic application of UNSCR 1325, in order to address the complexities of women’s experiences and insecurities. The US WILPF urged for a NAP which included domestic concerns like economic and environmental insecurity, the impact of small arms in militarised communities, violence against women around US military bases, a reduction in military spending and an investment in peace: and the only one taken up by the US NAP was violence in the military. Catia voiced a disappointment in the failure of the US NAP to address gender security problems in the United States. 

Activists around the world are already taking steps to critique NAPs. I talked about how in Serbia, Belgrade Women in Black have campaigned for an adaptation of UNSCR 1325  markedly different to that of the state NAP. However, many civil society organisations around the world – including Belgrade Women in Black – feel that the lack of female participation in the development of a NAP has enabled member states to consign much of the implementation reflected in their action plans to defence sectors, avoiding opportunities for reconceptualising security.

Many of these critiques were raised in a seminar of women South Asian countries held in India during 2012. This inspired this panel at ISA 2013 and the notion of a transnational people’s plan that would build upon efforts already being made by civil society groups. But – what might a transnational people’s plan look like? How would a people’s plan address the problems raised by NAPs?

Considerations for developing a transnational people’s plan for the implementation of the WPS resolutions.

  • Gender: Ronni Alexander urged for a deeper consideration of gender in relation to the WPS resolutions, and suggested that including LGBT and transgender concerns could be one way of achieving this. Do we need to queer the 1325 conversation?
  • Visibility: Ronni also asked how transnational action plans could include those made invisible by current NAPs, including military bases that try to evade national and international regulatory frameworks. But, every time somebody becomes visible, then someone else becomes invisible. How do we avoid that?
  • Localisation: As Laura Shepherd pointed out in the discussion, localisation should not only be in Serbia or Liberia or a place where peacelessness is a real issue, but also in (apparently) peaceful contexts like Australia where forces are sent out to engage in state-building activities. How can we develop a plan which is meaningful to all? Should we move away from transnational and think in terms of transborder or transversal? Does changing how we think about security offer a different way of localising UNSCR 1325?
  • Partners: In the discussion, Anita Schjolset reminded us not to essentialise the military as actors, as this risks us overlooking them as potential partners who play an important role in many areas. Where can bridges be built to achieve the critical aims of the WPS resolutions?
  • Aims: Should a transnational people’s plan be a template for NAPs or a resource and set of strategies for how civil society could critically engage with the WPS resolutions?
  • Finally, Betty Reardon reminded us of a film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell  where Christian and Muslim women in Liberia transcend their differences to achieve their desired goal of participation in the peace negotiations and to ensure democratic election of a female head of state. She urged us to think of ways of transcending differences in order to move closer to our desired goals.

We are very keen to continue the conversations with WPS advocates globally. Please make use of the comments section below to let us know of your thoughts and goals, and to tell us about your experiences of NAPs and local critical engagement with UNSCR 1325.

This post was written by Laura McLeod, University of Manchester, UK (laura.mcleod@manchester.ac.uk; @drlauramcleod). Other panellists on the roundtable included Prof. Betty Reardon (International Institute on Peace Education), Dr. Catia Cecilia Confortini (Wellesley College, USA), Ronni Alexander (Kobe University, Japan) and Kozue Akibayashi (Ritsumeikan University, Japan).

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