Mapping women, peace and security in the UN Security Council: 2018

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The overall aim of the policy brief is to assess the implementation of the women, peace, and security (WPS) policy framework in the work of the Security Council (SC). The analysis and recommendations build on our well-established policy guidance project, the Monthly Action Points (MAP) on Women, Peace and Security, as well as broader advocacy throughout 2018.

A year before the 20th anniversary of the adoption of United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), progress on women’s rights has wavered both outside and within the UN. Despite a strong normative framework, repeated commitments by the UN system and Member States, and the wealth of evidence on the importance of ensuring gender equality and women’s participation in peace and security efforts, implementation of the agenda continues to be uneven and selective, and normative progress a challenge.

Our analysis of the Security Council’s performance over 2018 shows that its approach to WPS remains superficial, ad-hoc and inconsistent; subject to the individual efforts of Security Council members rather than being systematically integrated into Council action; and reflects a lack of willingness to tackle the harder and more complex issues under the WPS agenda. Its approach is defined by a lack of accountability for failure to fully implement all provisions of the ten resolutions that constitute the WPS agenda.

Conflicts around the world disproportionately impact the health, safety, and the rights of women, yet women continue to be excluded from decision-making processes that determine their future. Although the Security Council paid increased attention to women’s participation in peace processes in 2018, women still faced challenges at every level, and at every stage, of peace and reconciliation processes and dialogues currently taking place. As has been widely noted, the Yemen peace talks held in Sweden last December included one woman out of the government’s 12 delegates, while the Houthi delegation included none. The resulting Stockholm Agreement, which does not contain any specific provisions on gender or women, fails to adequately address the deeply gendered impact of the conflict on Yemeni women and girls. Although there were attempts to include Yemeni women in other ways, such as the role of various advisory groups at different stages of the process, exclusion from the formal process led to a lack of meaningful participation and limited influence over the outcome. Similarly, peace talks between the United States and the Taliban sidelined not only the Afghan government, but also Afghan women, whose rights are at particular risk. There are many other examples of women’s exclusion from peace processes or where women’s rights have been viewed as dispensable or secondary to getting warring parties to the table.

Given the overwhelming evidence that gender equality is critical for conflict prevention, such exclusion actively undermines peace. This means that there needs to be more focused attention on the gendered challenges and barriers to participation, rather than mere rhetorical acknowledgment of the importance of women’s participation. It also reflects the need for more attention to the full scope of women’s rights. Our analysis shows that while attention to the important issue of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) continues to receive dedicated and annually increasing attention by the Security Council - in 2018, 90% of the references to women’s rights in reports of peace operations were focused on SGBV, accounting for 45% of all references to WPS - women’s rights more broadly have failed to receive an equal amount of attention. Recognition of the interrelated and mutually reinforcing nature of all pillars of the agenda - for instance, that protection of women from genderbased violence is inseparable from their meaningful participation, bodily autonomy and rights, and that ensuring accountability for violations of fundamental human rights is necessary in order to prevent relapse into conflict - remains critical for the advancement of the agenda as a whole.

The pushback against women’s participation is not restricted to exclusion from formal negotiations over peace agreements. The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders reported worsening violence against women human rights defenders in March 2019, and highlighted how “the rise in misogynistic, sexist and homophobic speech by political leaders in recent years has normalized violence against women human rights defenders.” Meanwhile, new research published by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) tracking active repression of women engaged in various ways in the public sphere, including in political processes and protests, shows that women have been facing “unprecedented levels” of violence, especially in the past 18 months. These global trends highlight how women routinely face retaliation for engaging in politics, for peacefully protesting, and for advocating for human rights, including their own. As long as ordinary women and LGBTIQ+ persons, human rights defenders (HRDs), women activists, and women politicians are the targets of violence and harassment, they cannot freely participate in public life. The failure of the Security Council to adequately address the issue of women HRDs in outcome documents is one of the clearest gaps in its implementation of the WPS agenda.

Normative progress on WPS has been arrested by growing geopolitical divides within the UN Security Council and broader attacks on multilateralism, as well as attempts from various quarters to undermine international human rights and humanitarian law. These attempts are taking place against the backdrop of the spread of populism, violent extremism, and growing economic inequality, all of which are deeply gendered phenomena. In the last year, there have been increasing and direct attacks on women’s rights as well as on core principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, including as they apply to sexual and reproductive rights, and sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). These attempts have been made by a variety of actors around the world as well as within the very UN bodies tasked with protecting human rights and ensuring peace and security, such as the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Security Council’s continuing omission of the ways in which LGBTIQ+ persons are affected by conflict was starkly represented by the fact that there was only one reference to LGBTIQ+ persons in any Council document in 2018, and it was in a report of the Secretary-General. Similarly, only one reference was made to sexual and reproductive rights, also in the context of a report of the Secretary-General. Overall no outcome document adopted by the Security Council included any reference to these two crucial issues. However, one of the most concerning developments in the past 18 months was the context in which we saw the adoption of the ninth WPS resolution.
Resolution 2467 (2019), passed under the German presidency of the Security Council in April 2019, proved to be an indicator of the worrying landscape for women’s rights, which was also reflected in the difficult negotiations preceding the adoption. The threat of the veto by the United States led to the removal of explicit references to sexual and reproductive health in the context of a “survivor-centered approach” to conflict-related sexual violence, excluding one of the critical elements that survivors most need. Two permanent members of the Security Council,
China, and Russia, after attempting to expunge human rights language and references to civil society, abstained for the first time on a WPS resolution. Divides within and outside the Council meant that language not only on sexual and reproductive health and rights but on other issues - such as HRDs, the International Criminal Court, and arms embargoes - also suffered. Although modest gains were made in several areas, the political cost of adopting Resolution 2467 (2019) was the shattering of consensus on the WPS agenda a year before the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 1325 (2000). Although the recently adopted Resolution 2493 (2019) raised concerns that it set a less than ambitious tone for the 19th anniversary of the WPS agenda, it affirmed Security Council consensus and cross-regional support around the existing normative framework.

The developments over the past year reinforce the need for the WPS agenda to be firmly grounded in gender equality and human rights, for both leadership and accountability by the UN system, and for Member States to recognize women’s rights as essential for prevention of conflict and to take bold, principled action to protect and advance the normative framework of the WPS agenda. It is critical to recognize the interrelated, inseparable, and mutually reinforcing nature of all elements of the WPS agenda and the importance of full, not selective, implementation. A lack of accountability for failure to implement WPS both within the UN as well as outside it indicates that there is little to stop women’s rights from being eroded, demoted or traded away in matters of peace and security. There must be greater institutional accountability and responsibility of senior UN officials for WPS to ensure that the UN consistently upholds these standards. Now, more than ever, it is also critical that Member States speak out when the rights of women and girls are under attack.

Defending the fundamental tenets of the agenda, including the full scope of women’s human rights, and pushing for full implementation, while important, must not compromise advancing the agenda. Advances, however, require addressing identified gaps and ensuring a measurable impact on the ground. The most credible benchmark of meaningful advancement is a positive change in the lives of conflict-affected communities.