Elayne Clift


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Be it resolved: Women have a role to play in peace and security

Elayne Clift calls UN Resolution 1325 "an amazing opportunity to move away from militarism," and more:

In 2000, the United Nations took a long overdue step: It "remember[ed] the ladies" in peace and security issues when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. By doing so the Council affirmed, for the first time, that integrating a gender perspective and ensuring women's participation are necessary at all stages of armed conflict as well as in pre and post conflict situations. Nothing underscores this need more than the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, a point well-made at this month's 48th annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (timed to coincide with International Women's Day and Women's History Month).

Subsequent to passage of the resolution, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan moved that the UN study and report on women, peace and security at this year's meeting. An independent expert assessment was commissioned by UNIFEM, adding to a growing body of analysis on the matter. Since then, women's organizations around the world have been working and collaborating on a set of concrete actions that the UN, governments, non-governmental organizations, academics and others can and should be taking to address implementation of R. 1325. These recommendations are laid out in Women, War, Peace: The Independent Experts' Assessment (UNIFEM/UNFPA, 2002), and they address such wide-ranging issues as violence against women, war and women's health, organizing for peace and justice, and conflict prevention.

As Carol Cohn noted recently in The Women's Review of Books, "Resolution 1325 breaks new ground because it not only recognizes that women have been active in peace-building and conflict prevention; it also recognizes women's right to participate - as decisionmakers at all levels - in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peace-building processes. . . . The resolution recognizes that women are disproportionately victimized in wars and calls upon all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to respect women's rights." (January 2004)

Understandably, the resolution has an active constituency. Women from nations all over the globe are mobilizing to put pressure on the Security Council with a view to implementation. They are advocating for several specific steps to be taken, including having women participate in Security Council missions or serve as UN special envoys, having more women engaged in field operations, increasing gender-sensitive training, mainstreaming gender perspectives, especially in peacekeeping, and having the Security Council consult regularly with women's groups.

With women comprising more than half the world's population, it should go without saying that women take part in peace negotiations in war-torn countries. Such negotiations are the first step toward building a post-conflict society; women need to be part of the process of shaping their own futures, as any Afghan or Iraqi woman knows. But this is not only a political perspective, it is a practical one. Women are the caretakers; they keep life going during and after war. They know what it takes to make society function, and they have proven themselves to be remarkably adept and innovative during hard times. Typically, they want to have contact with other women from all sides, and together, they envision alternatives and viable ways to solve problems and to heal rifts.

In a 2002 statement to the Security Council on women, peace and security, Kofi Annan acknowledged that "existing inequalities between women and men, and patterns of discrimination against women and girls, tend to be exacerbated in armed conflict." Citing the preponderance of women and children as the world's refugees and internally displaced persons, and the problems unique to females during armed conflict, he noted that "if women suffer the impact of conflict disproportionately, they are also the key to the solution of conflict. Women's groups and networks at grassroots level have provided many examples of the imaginative strategies and flexible approaches required for effective conflict prevention."

He was right about women's skill with imaginative strategies. In Melanesia, for example, women have established women's community media to share information in the hopes of making R. 1325 a reality at the local level. Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo pressured their governments to honor their signatures to the resolution and lobbied hard for its implementation. In Kosova women translated R.1325 into multiple local languages and removed the UN jargon from the document in order to make it more accessible. With help from Italian women, they secured funding to sponsor several TV programs explaining the resolution. Iraqi women, who successfully negotiated for 25 percent representation in their new government, have begun educating lawyers and others on its obligations.

Why are so many women mobilized around this resolution? Because it's an amazing opportunity to move away from militarism, to affirm women's rights, to make the world safer, to transform the way we live. If such transcendence is possible, it will take the full participation of women, and a genuine appreciation for a gender perspective on human society.

There is always the chance that Resolution 1325 will not move beyond the rhetorical commitment for which the UN is noted. Approved but not implemented, it could languish as one of numerous documents that make its authors feel good while women go on being treated as wartime booty.

But somehow that doesn't seem likely. There are just too many good women who care and who are active in seeing it through, country by country. And non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are mobilizing to pressure the UN and to educate their constituencies. For example, Amnesty International has just launched a global campaign to stop violence against women.

As Carol Cohn noted, "What makes 1325 unique is that it is both the product of and the armature for a massive mobilization of women's political energies." There's no way of stopping that kind of energy; just ask anyone who was in Beijing in 1995 for the 4th World Conference on Women. When it comes to women's peace and security, we are a tireless force. In fact, you might say we are a veritable army.