United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on „Women, peace and security“ – How to make this agenda workable?

In the following impulse-article Iulia Kharashvili gives an overview of recommendations made in the Global Study on the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. She looks at the recommendations from the perspective of women peacebuilders in Georgia taking into account the special challenges that women face in protracted displacement situations.

The first UN Security Council Resolution (SCR) officially recognising that women and girls need special attention and protection during armed conflict was resolution 1325 on “Women, peace and security” adopted in October 2000, after many years of permanent strong advocacy by civil society. During the subsequent years, civil society organisations (CSOs) continuously called on governments to create a framework to implement the resolution’s main messages known as “four Ps”: prevention, protection, post-conflict recovery and participation of conflict-affected women and girls. However, progress was slow and until 2013 six further resolutions were adopted by the UN SC to support the implementation of resolution 1325 and call on states as well as the UN for action.

Sister resolution 2122 invited “the Secretary General (…) to commission a Global Study on the implementation of resolution 1325.” The Global Study was expected to analyse achievements, gaps and challenges in situations where conflict or pre-conflict situations influence the lives of women and girls. The implementation of the study titled “Preventing Conflicts, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace” was supported by UN Women, the UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The lead author, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, was assisted by a team of researchers and an expert group, consisting of 15 prominent women’s rights activists. The team conducted regional consultations worldwide to bring in the voices of the most marginalised women and girls in addition to views and opinions of decision-makers. Conclusions and recommendations following from this consultation process were enriched by additional surveys to from the base of the Global Study.

This process led to ten major recommendations, formulated to address the main gaps and challenges of the implementation of UN SCR 1325. They cover a wide range of issues, including the importance of prevention, of substantial funding for women’s initiatives, and of transformative justice encompassing the punishment of perpetrators as well as reparations and healing for victims. The study furthermore recalls that resolution 1325 is a human rights document, and that women peacebuilders should be seen as human rights defenders. It calls on the UN SG to improve the gender architecture of the UN to ensure that the UN plays a central role in creating a peaceful and secure world capitalising on existing resources for women, peace and security. The main conclusion is that stable peace is not possible without women’s full participation, and that the localisation of approaches and inclusive strategies are key for sustaining peace.

A new resolution 2242 was adopted in October 2015 and builds upon the findings of the Global Study, although the UN language makes the Global Study’s strong recommendations and demands more vague. However, with resolution 2242 the UN SC ”decides to integrate women, peace and security concerns across all country specific situations on the Security Council’s agenda, and expresses its intention to invite civil society, including women’s organisations, to brief the Council in country specific considerations.”

In the following, some of the recommendations of the Global Study will be discussed from the perspective of women peacebuilders in Georgia and with regard to the special challenges that women face in protracted displacement situations.

No to militarisation, yes to prevention

The first recommendation of the Global Study stresses the importance of preventive actions as opposed to military responses to conflict. Prevention needs short-term measures in acute conflicts as well as long-term strategies and measures. Early warning systems and increased awareness of women and girls, but also of men and boys about possible threats can increase the security and safety of the population in case of conflict.

In Georgia, women’s NGOs advocated since the 2008 war for the necessity of an emergency plan with clear indications of responsible agencies and people, existing shelters, food stocks, ways of evacuation and special measures for the prevention of sexual violence during the outbreak of violence. Information about all these issues is crucial in order to save lives during conflict and should be available for the population at risk.

The Georgian National Action Plan (NAP) of 2011 on the implementation of the UN SCRs included some of these provisions, and some measures such as the inclusion of civic defense in school curricula were implemented. Still, much more should be done to protect women and girls living in areas adjacent to conflict lines.

Georgia was more successful in reforms in the defense sphere: The Ministry of Defense approved a Gender Equality Strategy; physical standards for militaries were adapted to give more space for women’s employment; gender advisers were elected in each of the military brigades and can for instance give advice and prevent mistreatment. However, in the long run prevention means that the main roots of conflict – inequality, poverty – need to be eradicated.

However, long-term prevention requires several prerequisites in addition to the measures described above: women’s involvement in peacebuilding efforts both at community level and at the negotiation table, confidence building measures and an improvement of the socio-economic climate as well as the provision of space for women’s participation. The last aspect will be elaborated upon in the following.

Securing women’s space for participation

One of the conclusions from the consultations with women was that the changed nature of conflict has led to a change of women’s place and role in conflict. This in turn requires a change in responses to conflict. Women are facing many dilemmas in a conflict setting: they are seen by society as the main peace actors at the grassroots level, but they have no funding, skills and tools to act effectively because their efforts are not recognised by the more formal actors involved. It is crucial to teach women leadership skills, but that must happen in combination with the creation of space to exercise these skills and implement peace and economic initiatives: The initiatives of women should be respected and their place in and contributions to society recognised. Women are strong leaders, they have the strength to influence local and national decision-makers and contribute to real improvement of lives. A woman will not run away from her community, she will not migrate to another country or go to fight. She will stay and participate in the development of society, if she is provided with the space and opportunity to do so.

Funding women peacebuilders and respecting their autonomy is one important way to counter extremism, and the need to do so cannot be underscored enough. However, solely military responses to extremism will not succeed and may force women into difficult or ambivalent positions. Since there is a correlation between women’s rights and a lack of extremism in any given society, women must be mobilised. Significantly more funding and resources should be given to these women peacebuilders who have a deep understanding of local realities and will be able to fight for their rights and their communities.

The chances for women to use their leadership skills are not only about money, but still money is an important factor. Usually, most funds come during conflict or during the first years after the conflict. After this period, there are no or only scarce resources available. It is often expected that women will work as volunteers, and many women are in fact involved in voluntary work. However, women in post-conflict situations are often the sole breadwinners of their families – they need paid jobs. Furthermore, the consultations with women for the Global Study showed that women have knowledge, experience and skills to work for the rehabilitation of their communities and, generally, society at a professional level. They may also need training and capacity building, but this should not be used as a reason for their exclusion. They simply need the same treatment and capacity building as men.

The special situation in Georgia and the South Caucasus: Women in protracted displacement

Georgia and the South Caucasus in general represent cases of protracted displacement. The main emphasis of international assistance and attention is on emergencies and early recovery – conflict-affected populations receive humanitarian assistance but then are often left to deal with their problems, traumatisation and unrealised ideas about post-conflict development and reconciliation on their own.

UN SCR 1325 on “Women, peace and security” is often primarily seen as an instrument in emergency situations. However, the situation for women in protracted displacement does not differ much from their situation in conflict. A wide range of challenges confront women when they are displaced internally or are living in a post-conflict zone. Human security – physical, psychological, and material – is very fragile and dependent on external conditions. The participation of women in decision-making is minimal. In Georgia, not a single IDP woman is in parliament or in a high executive position, and only one IDP woman was elected to a local government. In society, the status as internally displaced person (IDP) is often seen as a “label”, accompanied by stigma, which prevents women from effective participation. Uncured psychological trauma and unhealed wounds of war contribute to an increase of tension and violence, of which women are the main victims. Due to all the challenges faced by IDP women, they have become the strongest advocates for peace and positive change.

Many useful policies have been agreed during the last years in Georgia, including the NAP which declares support for women affected by the conflicts and for their participation in decision-making and peacebuilding. NGOs support women from grassroots communities to participate in cross-border activities and to find a common ground with women from other parts of the divided society. However, the participation of women in post-conflict rehabilitation, as stipulated in resolution 1325 and Georgia’s NAP on its implementation, has still not been secured. Women, especially IDP women, are not included in local councils and have no access to decision-making about the most crucial issues influencing their lives. There is a long way to go to achieve equal opportunities for IDPs with the rest of society and to make their starting conditions comparable. Similar problems are experienced by women living in the breakaways territories (Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region) and in adjacent regions affected by the conflicts. The unstable situation leads to an increased level of violence, including domestic violence. Many women are forced to seek employment or better lives outside Georgia which creates negative effects on families and communities, and increases the risk of their engagement in trafficking, illegal migration and other illegal actions.

Addressing the situation of women in protracted displacement can positively influence the resilience of conflict-affected communities, and reduce illegal migration of women as well as the risk of their involvement in illegal actions, including extremism. Special funds should be dedicated for these purposes by both, the Georgian government and international organisations. Support of grassroots initiatives for peacebuilding and economic security as well as support of peace initiatives of women divided by conflict lines, their involvement in peace dialogue and respect for their views and activities will be an important contribution to the prevention of new escalations of violence and outbreaks of conflict in the South Caucasus.

Iulia Kharashvili is the chairperson of the Georgian IDP women association "Consent” and a member of the High Level Advisory Group for the Global Study.

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Iulia Kharashvili

Links & Literature

Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace. Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325.