"The single best predictor of a state’s level of peacefulness is not wealth, democracy, or identity; it is how well its women are treated." - Valerie Hudson
On Friday, the United Nations observed the 14th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, which acknowledges the disproportionate impact of violence and armed conflict on women. During armed conflict, women and girls are continually threatened by rape, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, trafficking, sexual humiliation, domestic violence, and mutilation. Adolescent girls are specifically targeted for abduction and forced recruitment into armed groups where they are targets for sexual exploitation and abuse. The resolution calls upon member states to address the gender-specific threats that many women and girls face in emergency and humanitarian situations (such as refugee camps). Importantly, it highlights the central role that women must play in peace negotiations, peace-building, and peacekeeping operations.
But to what extent has 1325 been adequately implemented? 14 years since the resolution was adopted, women and girls have experienced unprecedented levels of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in conflict zones, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, CAR, Kenya, Iraq, and Syria. When it comes to the processes of peace negotiations and post-war reconstruction, women have been consistently excluded. According to research on women’s participation in peace processes from the UNIFEM (now UN Women), fewer than eight percent of the budget for post-conflict reconstruction addresses gender-specific needs, and fewer than three percent of signatories to peace agreements are women. Subsequently, one-third of all countries that sign peace agreements return to violence within five years. In Bosnia & Herzegovina for example, there has not been any further engagement with women’s NGOs on addressing the issues of women’s participation in decision-making, women as victims of war and human trafficking, or raising the capacities of state services for the implementation of 1325.
Though women have made crucial contributions to peace over the last 14 years, their agency has been routinely ignored. The reluctance of peace processes to include women in negotiations contrasts with the realities of armed conflict, of which women remain at the forefront of grassroots initiatives to address violence. During Liberia’s Second Civil War, activist Leymah Gbowee mobilized a coalition of Christian and Muslim women, organizing the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. Through her leadership, thousands of women staged nonviolent protests demanding reconciliation and the resuscitation of high-level peace talks. These actions pushed Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor into exile, and smoothed the path for the election of Africa’s first female head of state.
After 14 years, adequate implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 has been slow. There has been some progress, but governments continue to face the challenge of translating their commitments into concrete action, and sustaining progress in areas where violence and related humanitarian catastrophes have led to unimaginable human suffering. We simply cannot afford another 14 years of peace negotiations that are exclusive to men. Women are leading humanitarians actors and champions of peace; to realize the vision of 1325, they must be treated as such.
Executive Director & US Youth Ambassador on Sexual Violence in Conflict