Unlucky for some? Year 13 of the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ Agenda

2013 brought activity related to the United Nation’s ‘Women, Peace and Security’ (WPS) agenda at an intensity not seen since 2009, when two resolutions (UNSCR 1888 and UNSCR 1889) were adopted ‘back to back’ by the UN Security Council. There were two new resolutions adopted in 2013 (UNSCR 2106 and UNSCR 2122), creating a suite of seven universally binding resolutions addressing gender dimensions of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction.

The WPS agenda provides a framework for, among other things: improving the protection of human rights in conflict and post-conflict settings (the violation of such rights is frequently, if not always, gendered); the prevention of gendered and sexualized violence; and enhancing the participation of women in peace and security governance. All United Nations entities, including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Peacebuilding Commission, are bound by the framework. By virtue of the legal status of UN Security Council resolutions, all Member States are similarly mandated to implement the provisions contained within the WPS resolutions, and many member states have developed ‘National Action Plans’ to govern the process of implementation.

Resolutions 2016 and 2122 both deal with questions of implementation, though in quite different ways. The differences in language and framing of the two resolutions is fascinating. UNSCR 2016 opens with a page and half of preamble and notes early that the Council is concerned with the slow ‘implementation’ of an earlier resolution, UNSCR 1960, which relates primarily to conflict-related sexualized violence (CRSV). Although UNSCR 2106 mentions the importance of broader gender equality and empowerment initiatives, these are associated with the prevention of CRSV.

The first operative paragraph of UNSCR 2106 states directly that CRSV can ‘exacerbate and prolong situations of armed conflict’ and is therefore a threat to international peace and security. As with earlier WPS resolutions, the significance of having the UN Security Council recognize gendered violence as a matter of ‘“security” and, thus, of high politics’ should not be underestimated.

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2122 (2013) at the October WPS Open Debate in 2013 (UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe). Retrieved from www.un.org, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2122 (2013) at the October WPS Open Debate in 2013 (UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe). Retrieved from http://www.un.org, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

There was concern at the time of its adoption, however, that UNSCR 2106 represented a narrowing of the WPS agenda such that its primary focus is reduced to sexualized violence in conflict. In June, civil society organisations noted the risk that initiatives related to women’s participation in peace and security governance were being overshadowed by the violence prevention agenda.  The adoption of UNSCR 2122 in October, then, was welcome, not least because it tackles ‘persisting barriers to full implementation of resolution 1325 (2000)’ head on, through a direct focus on ‘women’s empowerment, participation and human rights’.

UNSCR 2122 differs from UNSCR2106 in a number of interesting ways. First, resolution 2122 makes reference to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA, 1995) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979), while resolution 2106 does not. These two historic documents were foundational to the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda at the United Nations, and their mention in the most recent resolution is noteworthy. Both the BPfA and CEDAW were brought about through dedicated civil society organising; each in turn brought about different understandings of what political participation could mean in different contexts, and forged important links between women’s participation and lasting social change. Foregrounding this connection situates the resolution in a broader context of feminist activism, while UNSCR 2106 is introduced with reference to other UN SC resolutions and the G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Second, resolution 2122 does not focus solely on violence prevention, but rather expresses the Council’s ‘deep concern’ about ‘persistent implementation deficits’ across the whole of the WPS agenda and commits the Council to focusing ‘more attention on women’s leadership and participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding’ in the first operative paragraph. While there is still mention of ‘women’s exacerbated vulnerability’ in the resolution, the focus is very much on women as agents of positive change.

A third key difference is the pursuit of better, more comprehensive information. UNSCR 2122 contains many references to ‘briefings’, ‘reports’, ‘consultations’, and ultimately ‘Invites the Secretary-General … to commission a global study on the implementation of resolution 1325’. By contrast, UNSCR 2106 discusses ‘monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements’ (MARA) related to CRSV but does not acknowledge the dearth of information related to other aspects of the WPS agenda.

Finally, the two resolutions differ in their vision of peace and security. UNSCR 2106 is about the prevention of violence and the punishment of perpetrators. UNSCR 2122 depicts a different image of security, where ‘economic empowerment of women greatly contributes to the stabilization of societies emerging from armed conflict’ and sustainable peace relies not only on violence prevention but also on the ‘promotion of gender equality … in conflict and post-conflict situations’.

2013 was a busy year in the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ sphere, for activists, advocates, policymakers and Member States. With the passage of UNSCR 2106 in June, those of us engaged in monitoring activity in this space may have felt conflicted: pleased that the Council had passed a new WPS resolution for the first time in three years; yet concerned about its close relation to the previous 2010 resolution (UNSCR 1960), which also addressed CRSV in relatively narrow terms. But it turned out that 2013 was nothing to fear – the opposite in fact – as the second of the two resolutions presents great opportunities for engagement and enhancement of the WPS agenda. The platform on which to ground WPS advocacy and engagement has never been stronger: 2013 was a year of positive energy, not of bad luck. Let’s hope that we can maintain that momentum into the future.

Laura J. Shepherd, UNSW Australia