In November 2014, Australia will again hold the Presidency of the UN Security Council, as we near the end of our term of office as an elected, non-permanent, member. Australia has held a non-permanent seat on the Council since January 2013, the term of which expires in December 2014. Recently, the Australian government hosted a consultation between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and representatives from civil society to discuss priorities for the remaining months. The group was far larger than that which attended previous consultations, which suggests an increase in the level of general engagement among civil society actors, and the profile of government delegates was commensurately higher: the session opened with an address from Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon. Julie Bishop, and closed with a discussion about Australia’s legacy from the time on the SC led by Gary Quinlan, Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Australia has engaged substantially and substantively with the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ (WPS) agenda during its term of office. There were two new resolutions adopted by the Council in 2013 (UNSCR 2106 and UNSCR 2122), but there were also a number of ‘Women, Peace and Security’ events throughout the year that Australia played a key part in. In May 2013, for example, Australia and Guatemala organised an Arria formula meeting to discuss gender and peacekeeping operations. The emphasis in the meeting was on the practical experiences of gender experts in UN peacekeeping missions and the management of gender training at HQ level, with input from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous. And in September, the mission co-ordinated a side event in collaboration with Conciliation Resources, a London-based NGO, which focused on women’s leadership in peacebuilding. These are just two of a dozen such events that Australia has been involved in, either centrally or in a partnership role. The Australian government now has the opportunity to consolidate and extend its support for the WPS agenda, during the November Presidency and beyond.
First, the government could dovetail a focus on policing with strong work on WPS to date through showcasing the importance of female police officers and/or ‘best practice’ gender training as part of security sector reform (SSR), both of which have notionally informed Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan. Such a focus creates the possibility of events on 1) gender training of police forces drawing on the work of parts of the Australian Federal Police in this space and 2) on the relationship between women’s participation in peace and security governance and effective policing. Sierra Leone has faced challenges in this regard, while Afghanistan also has a really positive story to tell.
Second, in the realm of peacebuilding, Australia can leverage its commitment to the UN Peacebuilding Commission (UN PBC), evident in its continued and regular financial support of the Peacebuilding Fund, to develop more meaningful relationship between UN PBC and UN SC. There is also a need to create more (and more meaningful) opportunities for civil society engagement with peace and security governance at UN HQ and in country. One way to do this is to make funds available through UN Women to bring together research centres, civil society organisations and universities to enhance information-sharing and inform the 2015 High-Level Review of the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
Third, and finally, in relation to peace and security governance more broadly, Australia could show support for the creation of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Women’s Participation in Peace and Security Governance (SRSG-WPPSG). One of the key issues raised by civil society groups in 2013 related to the perceived narrowing of the WPS agenda to focus almost solely on conflict-related sexualised violence and the protection of women and girls. Australia has the opportunity in 2014 to champion an holistic approach to the WPS agenda, a vision of ‘Women, Peace and Security’ that shows the ability to make the connection between women’s meaningful participation in governance and their ability to live free from violence and discrimination.
The Australian government has built up a stock of political capital as a supporter of the WPS agenda. These last few months represent an opportunity to consolidate the good efforts thus far, and to create something significant as a legacy for the term of office on the UN SC: an opportunity to show that Australia really did ‘make a difference’ not only for the small and medium-sized countries of the world, as its campaign slogan said, but for everyone.