International Order & Conflict

UN Resolution 1325: Where are the Women?

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By Sarah Bosha: 

“We can no longer afford to minimize or ignore the contributions of women and girls to all stages of conflict resolution, peace-making, peace-building, peacekeeping and reconstruction processes. Sustainable peace will not be achieved without the full and equal participation of women and men.” These were the words of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging the world to consider the importance of ensuring women’s inclusion in decision making.

October 31, 2014 marked the 14th anniversary of the landmark U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Resolution 1325, adopted unanimously, called upon the world to take proactive steps to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict. It further urged the Secretary-General to appoint more women to high-level decision-making positions such as special representatives and envoys. 

10 years after Resolution 1325, out of 14 cases reviewed by the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), women represented less than three percent of peace signatories,  and were absent from chief mediating roles in U.N.-brokered talks. At the 14-year mark, women are still a small minority in decision-making in peace and security. As states have struggled with implementing of Resolution 1325, the U.N. is facing similar challenges in including more women in its decision-making structures and bodies. 

Barriers to the U.N.’s failure to appoint more women to leadership include non-transparency in the U.N. process and a tendency to favor U.N. insiders. Recruiters at the U.N. may be biased toward well-known candidates at the expense of outsiders who possess the requisite skills and capabilities for available positions. According to Women in International Security, women, who are underrepresented in U.N. and diplomatic circles, are at a disadvantage when inner-circle, high-level diplomats compose the primary selection pool.  This is compounded by the fact that the process for senior level leadership positions is highly political and it is sometimes left to member states to suggest candidates. If member states do not put forward female candidates, then the likelihood of a larger pool of prospective women candidates is low, decreasing the chances that a woman will finally be appointed. 

The Secretary-General in his 2013 report stated that, women headed four of 27 U.N. peacekeeping, political and peacebuilding missions, a decline compared to six of 28 in December 2011. Women’s share of senior positions in U.N. programs and entities increased only five percent for the period 2011 to 2012. 

These numbers are discouraging when viewed against the backdrop of the U.N. 7-Point Action Plan, which called for appointing women as chief mediators and special envoys to U.N.-led peace processes. In Africa only eight women serve as either U.N. special representatives or envoys compared to 36 men and two out of 20 in the Middle East are women.  Women comprised only 8 out of 37 high level appointments. Sexism and a gendered bias pervade the manner in which matters of peace and security are viewed and could be another reason why so few women are in high level positions.  One diplomat at the U.N. remarked, “When seeking SRSGs, the U.N. asks: ‘Who is comfortable taking away the guns from the men?“ The framing of the question makes issues of war and peace solely the domain of men, encouraging the assumption that only men could properly deal with them. It overlooks women as active agents in war and peace, who possess unique skills and capabilities that have resulted in the laying down of arms by protagonists in innumerable conflicts such as Liberia and Somalia.

It is also disappointing in light of the U.N. System-Wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN SWAP)  designed to hold the U.N. accountable for gender equality and women empowerment within its internal structures. In a recent report, U.N. Women noted that U.N. SWAP made strides in gender-sensitive performance management, but still required significant financial and staff investment to promote gender equality. The Secretary-General in 2013  remarking on women participation said, “I repeat my standing appeal for more women to serve in our operations. I am a proud advocate of gender equality and I want to usher in the day when our peacekeeping operations benefit from the full participation of women, especially in leadership positions.”

The low representation of women was highlighted by the 2014 High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, which included only three women and 11 men at its creation. The panel was intensely criticised by civil society organisations, leading to an apology from the office of the Secretary-General and the addition of three more women were added to the panel with Ameera Haq as vice-chair. The criticism showed that the U.N. has a responsibility in leading the achievement of the ideals of Resolution 1325. If the U.N., a public body under intense scrutiny fails to include more women in decision-making positions, particularly in the field of peace and security, it cannot expect to hold nation states to a higher standard than it has reached.   

The U.N. appointing women in highly visible decision-making bodies would make a strong statement about its commitment to Resolution 1325 and women equality. One example is the November 2014 High-Level Panel on Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries made up of five women and five men. The U.N. could consider implementing quota systems, as the U.N. General Assembly requested in 1984 when the body wanted to increase the numbers of women within the U.N. Secretariat.    

The well-intentioned rhetoric of the U.N. means very little if it is not accompanied by progress toward equal representation of women within its structures. Greater efforts to improve the recruitment and appointment of women could send a clear message to the world of the critical importance of women’s participation in peace and security.

Photo credit: United Nations Photo via flickr

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