How women leaders can save the world
Image Credit: ©Gulf News

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). Adopted on October 31, 2000, the resolution cemented the international community’s commitment to consider women as key partners in peacemaking.

Since then, 11 other resolutions were adopted and initiatives devoted to mainstreaming the WPS agenda mushroomed around the world. Extensive research steered the conversation and proved that women’s inclusion in peace processes, and gender equality in general, are effective in making conflict-prone societies more peaceful and inclusive.

Twenty-two years on, several findings — and a good dose of realist pragmatism — point to a mixed picture.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Let’s start with the good news: As of 2022, a total of 104 countries now have National Action Plans (NAPs) that commit them to WPS and to enhancing women’s representation and rights within their societies.

Other important milestones: there was a woman negotiator or delegate participating in all UN-led and co-sponsored peace processes in 2021 and in 2020, almost half (42 per cent) of all bilateral aid to fragile and war-prone states went to projects that support gender equality.

Yet for every positive step forward, we’re taking two steps back. Many countries still refuse to include women in peace negotiations. In 2022, no woman participated in the Nairobi consultations on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Congo and only one woman represented Chad during peace talks in Doha.

Only eight out of 25 peace agreements referenced women and girls in 2021. That same year, funding aimed at tackling and preventing gender-based violence decreased by 72 per cent, leaving millions of women unsafe.

Women remain under-represented in multilateral military and peace-keeping operations, and the killing of female human rights activists and journalists continues apace. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 29 women human rights defenders were killed in 2021 alone — a figure believed to be inaccurate as many cases are unreported.

Worryingly, places where women’s political participation can be the most effective are the same ones where their representation is the lowest. In war-affected states today, women constitute 21 per cent of all parliament members, hold 22 per cent of positions in local councils, and comprise 18 per cent of cabinet ministers. These figures are lower than in other countries where conflicts are absent.

What can be done

The picture may be bleak but solutions exist. Let’s begin with the obvious: one cannot become what one cannot see. If women do not see other women at the negotiation table, in the military, in peacekeeping roles, or in government, they will dismiss the field as a viable career option.

To remedy that, the most efficient solution is quotas. Women’s representation is higher in countries that have adopted gender quotas, proving that as soon as they’re in place, women compete for office and win. For instance, the number of women in parliament tripled across Africa between 1990 and 2010 mainly because of quotas. We must not give in to the adage that politics is a boys’ club and quotas can help.

Given the UN’s instrumental role in shaping and advancing the WPS agenda globally, it — along with other international agencies — must continue to push governments to increase women’s representation in peacemaking.

More than ever before, most resolutions and decisions taken at the UNSC make references to WPS. Every UNSC member since September 2021 has officially committed to prioritising WPS-related matters during their tenure as UNSC presidents and beyond. This push must continue.

Lastly, we must make the WPS agenda more accessible to the wider public. Recent Arab-based Initiatives such as the #Diplowomen Podcast, the UAE-based Gender Balance Center of Excellence and the Fatima Bint Mubarak Initiative on WPS, the EU-born #SHEcurity Index project and other regional and global platforms play an important and engaging role. So can the media.

We must not stop here: we must invest more in WPS research and training and make the WPS agenda a part of every decision-maker and diplomat’s mission. We came a long way since the year 2000. Let this be our new mission for the coming twenty-two years.

Dr Sara J. Chehab, Senior Research Fellow at the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy