Open Doors but Unable to Enter:
Working on a role for everyone within the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda
At the close of a particularly difficult year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which reaffirmed the crucial role women play in the field of peace and security. Significant strides have been made over the past two decades to increase women’s participation and incorporate their perspectives into peacebuilding and post-conflict processes, from international diplomacy to community-based engagement. Resolution 1325 was a call to action to many different actors, including, among others:
- members of peace negotiations to adopt a gender perspective
- parties to armed conflict to respect the rights and protections of women and girls
- UN Member States to increase representation of women at all decision-making levels
- everyone to increase support for gender-sensitive training efforts
In 2005, the Security Council reiterated its calls to action by urging its Member States to implement Resolution 1325 through national action plans and strategies. As of October 2020, 88 countries and territories have national action plans for the implementation of Resolution 1325. Somalia’s plan is one of the most recent, with its launch in late November 2020. Great progress has been made turning the ideals of Resolution 1325 into policy, but there is more work to be done.
Our team at Conflict Dynamics International (CDI) has joined the call to action, directly contributing to the significant progress made in advancing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda through peace and humanitarian program activities around the world. We support women striving for peace within their communities in Somalia, demonstrating on the frontlines for democracy in Sudan, and influencing peaceful movements through strong networks active in political protests and transitions across the globe.
The valuable contributions women make to peace and security is widely recognized and opportunities have opened for women through legislation, policies, and mechanisms, but creating space is not enough without proper tools and support. Top-down legislation and opportunities are an important step forward, but we see the limits of these laws and policies when they are not prioritized or implemented, when they are contradicted by other policies or societal norms, or when they are not modified to meet existing challenges and barriers.
Women from around the world have shared their experiences with us on some specific advantages and obstacles they have faced during their work on peace and security. Reflections on our experiences in Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan, show what Resolution 1325 looks like in reality when it comes off the paper and into the field.
Unrealistic Financial Requirements
Despite a minimum 30% quota set aside for women members of parliament in Somalia, there are financial obstacles that prevent many women from running for election to these positions. Running for parliament requires a registration fee of US$ 10,000 for the members of Parliament in the Lower House and US$ 20,000 for the members of the Upper House of Parliament. This financial burden can be insurmountable to some, especially when only 22.6% of women ages 15 to 64 in Somalia are currently working. To offset this disadvantage, informal women’s networks must be strengthened long before a candidate decides to run so that she may be supported sustainably throughout the entire process, from fundraising to networking to campaigning to representing her constituents.
Threats of Violence while Working for Peace
Despite having access to positions of power, women often face opposition and threats of violence merely for their participation in political affairs. A participant in our 2019 Experience Sharing Workshop in Banadir, Somalia shared,
“I was held at gunpoint by masked men who asked me to stop engaging in peace work. As a result, I had to give up on DPC [community peacebuilding] work for some time. At the end I decided to continue my work, I still get threats. Despite all the threats and risks to our families, we are committed to bring peace and stability to the country”.
Whether it is direct threats, general insecurity, or an increase in gender-based violence, Somali women peacebuilders continue to overcome treacherous adversities in search of peace and stability — adversities often more dangerous for women. Support to women peacebuilders will look different in various contexts and all actors engaging in the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda must listen closely to women peacebuilders’ unique security needs, working together to ensure they are able to continue their work safely.
Equal Opportunities without Equitable Support
It was a common theme throughout our workshops in South Sudan that although women leaders had opportunities available to them in new roles of government, they were unable to participate equally. These women often felt they lacked the technical skills (such as public speaking, composing and presenting submissions to formal processes and bodies, coalition building, and negotiation) to tackle complex policy questions and that their male counterparts viewed them as not competent to do so. Traditionally, women had not been expected to assume an active role in political life which minimized their exposure to governance issues and processes. This is further compounded by gender discrepancies in literacy rates and average years of schooling attended. Support to women peacebuilders must be tailored to build their capacities, increase their comfort and knowledge of complex technical political processes, strengthen their networks, and build their self-confidence in their incredible abilities.
On the Frontlines of the Fight, Excluded from the Table
During the late-2018/early-2019 revolution, women (especially young women) spearheaded persistent, non-violent civil disobedience, with estimates of women comprising two-thirds of protestors. However, while a quota allocates 40% of seats for women’s participation in the future Transitional Legislative Council, women’s representation has been minimal in the transitional negotiations, in the newly formed government bodies, and in the peace process. Women have been underrepresented throughout the path to the Transitional Legislative Council, only two women participated in the August 2019 negotiations between the Forces of Freedom and Change and the Military Council, while the FCC Central Council only had three women members out of 26. Even now, women are still underrepresented, comprising only two of the 11 members of Sudan’s Sovereign Council and only four of Sudan’s 21 ministers. While the ongoing Sudanese peace process is celebrated for its inclusivity and innovation, women, peace, and security experts such as Huda Shafig, point out that the Juba Peace Agreement reinforces the historical exclusion of women and youth and subject these groups to advocate for these ground-breaking changes from the sidelines of the official negotiations. Women have been crucial in bringing change to Sudan and they deserve full and real participation in the processes which work to realize this change. In order to implement a successful, peaceful, and inclusive transition to democracy, women must play a larger role throughout every stage of the democratic transition. They must inform and design what the new government will look like and not merely be incorporated into the final picture.
CELEBRATE PROGRESS BUT STRIVE FOR BETTER
The Women, Peace, and Security Agenda has come a long way since the passage of Resolution 1325 on 31 October 2000 and there is a great deal to celebrate. Huge strides have been made in the representation of women in politics, peace processes, and foreign policy around the world, creating a more diverse and inclusive environment. However, there is still much work to be done by the international community, civil society, individual governments, and the general public.
Women have fought hard for their right to participate in the peace and security field, but we must ensure they have the support they need to succeed. This support may take shape in many different ways: capacity building in areas of negotiation and mediation techniques, guidance on process design and pathways for participation, trauma healing in local peacebuilding, sharing of personal experiences through art and storytelling, building coalitions of women’s networks, strengthening the capacity of younger women to realize their vision and overcome misconceptions about their age. These are just a few experiences that we have witnessed.
We invite you to join the conversation and share your thoughts on the past 20 years of Women, Peace, and Security and the many more years to come.
If the past twenty years have represented the need to create opportunities for women in the peace and security field, the next twenty must be dedicated to ensuring women have the ability to take advantage of these opportunities and participate in a genuine and meaningful way.