The equality of women: are there priorities?
In our Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, we used the UN Culture of Peace Initiative as our platform. I presented questions relating to the equality of women, one of the eight essential elements in the UN Culture of Peace Initiative. Like other presenters, I was charged to pose the audience a ‘tough choice’ between two options both being unequivocally desirable. So how might they vote?
Firstly, a question on political correctness. UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, based in Paris was formed in London 75 years ago. Its constitution is held by our own Foreign Office.
Its original preamble stated
That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences
of peace must be constructed
In the year 2000, at the time of the launch of the UN Culture of Peace, Federico Mayor, its Director-General advocated this amendment:
That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men and women that
the defences of peace must be constructed.
asserting that only men start wars and that women should be seen as central to the construction of the defences of peace. The impact of UN Security Council resolution 1325 Women, Peace and Security agreed the same year rang out loud. UK statistics show that when women are charged with murder, there is usually a man involved also.
In September 2018, visitors to UNESCO were surprised to see yet another iteration of the original preamble, filling the entire wall of the foyer.
That since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and
women that the defences of peace must be constructed.
Sometimes, even within the UN family, political correctness can override scientific and historical evidence. So how do we reach our first proposal?
From 1945 to 2000, the chronology of UN conventions relating to women focused on their protection.
1969, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), questioned whether women and children should be afforded special protection during conflicts.
1974, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict
1975, the first demands for greater women’s participation in security were formally presented at the World Conference of the International Women's Year,
1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women demanded that more women be placed at the highest levels of decision-making in peace and security.
2000 United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000): This was the landmark point of women’s rights in maintaining peace and security. This turned everything upside down.
The challenge now was perceived as not the protection of women but the involvement of women in the solution. So, what happened? Well, the UN’s Member States did nothing!
So, in 2005, Kofi Annan called them out and demanded they develop action plans. UNA hosted the public announcement of the first British Action Plan that same year. It was a start, and, over the next 15 years, seven further Security Council resolutions addressed critical issues on women, peace and security.
So how have we progressed? In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel but today it is 6% and 10% in police units in UN Peacekeeping missions. However, the responsibility for deployment of women in the police and the military lies with Member States so still there were laggards but radical, even controversial proposals have now been agreed. The 2028 target for women serving in military contingents will be 15%, and 25% for military observers and staff officers. The 2028 target for women serving in formed police units is 20%, and 30% for individual police officers. There is considerable push-back by Member States to these ambitious targets, but the UN is determined to push its case. The involvement of women in advancing progress in peacekeeping, peacebuilding and post conflict resolution is an accepted given. But there is more work to be done. To be effective, women need to be treated differently and there had remained disconnect between what women in the field needed and what they were being offered. It has not been a level playing field and there were no rules. That was until August 2020 when the UN Security Council agreed Resolution 2538 agreed, which offers clear direction on how to increase the deployment of uniformed women in peacekeeping. It demands the establishment of national databases and support for mixed engagement teams, with women included at all times. Also, the improvement of best practices for recruitment, retention, training and deployment of women in national militaries and police. And better accommodation, sanitation, health care and protective equipment, considering their specific needs as well as demands concerning security and privacy. Let us recognise that women are a force for peace!
So, my first proposal was that troop-contributing states ensure they are ready to support initiatives which introduce gender specific facilities and aids to ensure that women peacekeepers can be most effective in their roles.
Then, this theme must be mirrored in the communities where those involved in post-conflict reconciliation and UN peacekeeping are deployed. For instance, Sierra Leone’s post-war gender reforms have illustrated how some national and local actors, those who personally benefit through traditional patriarchal structures, are likely to treat such legal and policy changes as a threat to their authority and welfare. They too must be counselled.
Let us remember that Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality) and Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) refer to this aspect of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Also, evidence from post-conflict African states supports the claim, once thought as extravagant, that ‘There is no sustainable peace without the full and equal participation of women’. The work in Somalia of the UK-based NGO Conciliation Resources points to success here despite that country’s parliament resisting One Man One Vote, not fearing women, rather the possible demise of the clan system.
It was Sudan’s military that overthrew the country’s long-time president, but it was a cadre of brave women who were the driving force in the protest movement. In Angola, local and provincial elections are called zebra elections with each party having to alternate male female candidates in their party lists.
However, many such initiatives have ground to a halt. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to international NGOs withdrawing experienced conciliators and trainers from the field. In this vacuum, women are of course the losers.
In many of these countries, legislation has brought about this revolution and we need to encourage more. There are more women leaders now in African states than in European ones but still their support base is insecure.
So, my second proposal was that women in communities in post-conflict and fragile states must be included in all conflict resolution and civic management training programmes as they have shown they are ‘forces for peace’.
The audience preferred to support the second proposal – but hated taking the decision.