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Women, Peace, and Security Policy Frameworks: Real Achievements or Superficial Promises?


[caption id="attachment_8541" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Female Somali National Army Soldiers stand at attention. Photo by Tobin Jones, UN Photo, Creative Commons via Flickr.[/caption]

Efforts to resolve these conflicts and address their root causes will not succeed unless we empower all those who have suffered from them — including and especially women. And only if women play a full and equal part can we build the foundations for enduring peace, development, good governance, human rights and justice.

-  Former UN Secretary General Kofi A. Annan

The above statement is an indication that there has been increased recognition and attention to women's roles in peacebuilding and security. This is also evidenced by the various policy instruments, legislation, and debates on women, peace, and security that have been instituted at national and international levels. The policy that is most centered on this cause is the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, passed in 2000, which calls for the recognition of the gendered impact of wars on women and girls, and the need for states and all other stakeholders to respect the participation of women in conflict prevention and other decision making processes, promote their rights in post recovery processes, and prevent of violence against women and girls after the guns go silent.

Since the adoption of this resolution, efforts to ensure its effective implementation have steadily increased. To date, 43 countries, 12 of which are in Africa, have developed National Action Plans that are geared to ensure the effective participation of women in post-conflict recovery, in the prevention of sexual violence, and in responding to the practical (basic needs) and strategic (addressing the issues of power relations and subordination of women at all levels) needs of women survivors. Several countries have responded to some of these international agendas and put in place national protocols and legal frameworks, psychosocial support, and socioeconomic reintegration for the affected individuals and communities.  It is fulfilling to see a continent such as Africa, where many conflicts have taken place, taking initiative to ensure implementation of the resolution. For example, Liberia was the first country in Africa to develop a comprehensive National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action, with the goal of reducing sexual violence and responding with appropriate services to survivors.

Similarly, the UN Security Council established a broad spectrum of standards on women, peace, and security, to address issues ranging from increasing female participation in all levels of decision making, highlighting women's rights, and protecting women from all forms of violence during and after conflict.

According to the 2013 Secretary General Report on Women, Peace and Security,[1]there has been measurable progress in this area in the form of heightened policy and an operational focus on the monitoring, prevention, and prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women, as well as increased provision of technical resources such as expertise, training, and national and regional action plans, among others.

Equally important are the ongoing global consultations on the post-2015 agenda. Goal 16 includes the elimination of all forms of violence and exploitation against women, and calls for responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making by women, with an emphasis on women's empowerment as a prerequisite for sustainable development and peaceful communities.

Despite all of the above, women's voices and perspectives on peace and security continue to be sidelined. The situation for women in countries affected by armed conflicts shows insufficient improvement, because most peace and security frameworks are formulated based on male experience as the norm, marginalizing all the practical and strategic concerns of women. This narrow interpretation of the women, peace, and security agenda has led to the application of several gender reform initiatives such as gender training, the establishment of gender units in security sector, and the recruitment of women  in the security sector, but have failed to deal with the root causes of gender inequalities, and in several instances have actually reinforced them. For example, the 29-week long Liberia National Police training package included only four hours of training related to gender issues. This narrow gender training of security forces cannot yield substantial and transformative knowledge to a deeply entrenched subordination of women in systems and structures, as it only provides a box to check for gender equality.[2]

Furthermore, research by Isis-WICCE[3]  on the situation of female refugees from the DRC provides more examples of the minimal attention paid to gender issues in conflict situations. For example, according to the findings, women testified receiving limited assistance from the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), in terms of responding to their gender concerns such as rape.

Furthermore, as in any attempt to challenge power structures and systems, addressing the concerns of women in conflict situations remains quite elusive. As research and history have demonstrated, there is a lot of resistance to attempting to challenge power centers dominated by patriarchal beliefs.  Such circumstances make it difficult to reform policies put in place for post-conflict reconstruction. Hence the limited opportunities to integrate gender responsiveness into a peace and security agenda at present. Thus inequalities continue to drive the process of Peacebuilding.

Even in Nepal, where the government set up Local Peace Committees (LPCs) in different districts in response to the implementation of UNSCR1325, which requires that 33% of its membership is women, research by Isis-WICCE[4] found out that only 50% of LPC had achieved the required 33%. Moreover, the findings indicated that the selected women were nominated by the same patriarchal system and structure, which intentionally left out capable women who could challenge the status quo. Instead, the LPCs, in order to continue asserting their masculinity in decision making, played the politics of embracing women drawn from marginalized populations, such as indigenous women, who because of their marginalized status tend to have a lesser capacity to challenge the dominant structure.

While UNSCR 1325 can help promote dialogue towards structural changes, it was never designed to transform gendered relations and systems. Therefore, there is a need to review it according to the voices of those who live it, especially women.  The global decision by the UN Secretary General to review the resolution and highlight good practices, implementation gaps and challenges, and priorities for action has been welcomed by all women's rights activists, and it is our hope that the Secretary General and all member states this time around will incorporate the voices of those who are not usually consulted – the women.


[2] Gender and Security Sector Reform: Examples from the Ground DCAF,2006

[3] Forced  to Flee: Voices of Congolese Women Refugees in Uganda, Isis-WICCE research report, 2014

[4] Women's Participation in Transitional Justice: Rhetoric and Reality: A Qualitative Study On Relationship Between Women's Leadership In Local Peace Committees and Women's Political Career, 2014


About the Author

Ruth Ochieng, Isis-WICCE

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations.    Read more