This year was expected to be an opportunity to assess the past twenty years of progress on the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda. Instead, it has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dominated the international community’s attention and put recent gains for WPS at risk. One of the areas most at risk is the participation of women in peacebuilding efforts and peace processes, which is already a part of the WPS agenda where progress has been limited. Five key factors could help the UN and its member states keep the focus on women peacebuilders during the pandemic:
State leadership on WPS in multilateral fora: In the face of the pandemic, it is critical for UN member states to defend recent gains made in implementing the WPS agenda in multilateral fora. Stronger, more cohesive leadership is especially needed in the UN Security Council, which has had a slow, uncoordinated response to the pandemic. The Security Council should also increase the number of briefings by women peacebuilders.
Women’s participation in formal peace processes: The pandemic has made it even more difficult for many women peacebuilders to participate in formal peace processes in places like Afghanistan and Yemen. However, the normalization of virtual convenings could be an opportunity to bring more women to the table, provided they are brought in from the beginning and given access to the required technology.
Protection and security of women peacebuilders: The pandemic has exacerbated the threats faced by women peacebuilders in many places. The UN and member states have a role to play in providing these peacebuilders both physical protection and international legitimacy and recognition.
Financing for women peacebuilders: Funding was already one of the biggest challenges confronting women peacebuilders, and the pandemic has made funding all the harder to come by. Women peacebuilders play an essential role in the pandemic response and recovery—something donors should recognize when deciding how to allocate funding.
Ensuring data-driven responses: Collecting sex-disaggregated data is essential to ensure that the COVID-19 response reflects an understanding of how the pandemic affects women. At the same time, the pandemic has made data collection more difficult. This calls for a coordinated, risksensitive approach to data collection, especially when it comes to sexual and gender-based violence.