UNSCR 1325 AT 20: achievements and remaining challenges in Implementing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda

31 October 2020

To marks the 20th anniversary of the unanimous adoption by the United Nations Security Council of Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), the NATO Parliamentary Assembly caught up with Attila Mesterhazy, Ulla Schmidt and Clare Hutchinson who share their perspectives on the progress made and remaining challenges for the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

I.    2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the unanimous adoption by the UN Security Council of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). In your view, what have been the challenges in implementing the WPS agenda, and what needs to change in the next 10 years?

Attila Mesterhazy:
We have faced many challenges in the past 20 years in implementing all four pillars of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). Women too often remain excluded from negotiating tables and decision-making processes in the realm of peace and security. Similarly, conflict-related violence continues to affect women despite our commitment to prevent such violence and protect them from it. Finally, gender perspectives often continue to be ignored in the development and implementation of post-conflict relief and recovery measures. 

There are many reasons behind these shortcomings. One challenge that I would like to highlight is the need to reach out to and engage men as partners in the implementation of the WPS agenda. Society as a whole benefits from its advancement, not only women. It is crucial that men engage in this effort. For such a change in mindset to occur, however, additional awareness raising, and public communication efforts are needed.

A second challenge lies in our inability to translate commitments into concrete actions at the national level. For instance, some NATO Allies have not yet adopted a National Action Plan on the implementation of UNSCR 1325 in line with guidance from the UN Security Council. Policymakers sometimes see the implementation of the WPS agenda as a low-ranking priority. However, commitments are not sufficient if they are not followed by tangible results. In the upcoming years, governments will need to be particularly attentive to allocating adequate funding to support the implementation of the WPS agenda.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an additional hurdle on the path to gender equality. This crisis is having a disproportionate impact on women. In dealing with this new threat to our health and security, we must continue to uphold the principles at the heart of the WPS agenda: equal participation, prevention, protection, and the mainstreaming of gender perspectives. We cannot use this crisis as an excuse to postpone or abandon the goals we have set for ourselves as part of the WPS agenda. Instead, we should see the latter as one of the bedrock principles of our response to the pandemic. 

Ulla Schmidt:
First of all, the adoption of this resolution 20 years ago has been a major catalyst for the advancement of gender equality and the promotion of women's rights in the area of peace and security. Although additional international commitments and considerable achievements have been made since then, many challenges remain that we urgently need to address.

The most evident issue has been the wide gap between the ambitions set out in the Resolution and the results achieved thus far. Unfortunately, women remain largely under-represented in the peace and security sphere. For instance, in 2019, women only accounted for about 12% of the armed forces of NATO member states. In addition, stereotypes about women remain strong in this field. Women continue to be perceived as passive agents in conflicts, rather than drivers of change. In fact, recent studies show that female participation in peace agreements makes them 64% less likely to fail and 35% more likely to last more than 15 years. As a result of women’s under-representation, a vast majority of peace agreements adopted in the past three decades have failed to address their concerns and therefore to reflect the interests of society as a whole.

I argue that NATO must continue to streamline gender equality into all its policies, programs, and projects, and encourage greater representation of women both in the organisation and in national forces, including in leadership positions. Equal participation and access to leadership positions for women and men should likewise be a priority for parliaments. Furthermore, the implementation of Resolution 1325 remains significantly under-funded. We need to call on member states to provide financial contributions that meet the level of their commitments and permit the advancement of the WPS agenda, both in the NATO context and outside of it. I encourage all to take a look at my concise but comprehensive report reflecting on progress achieved and remaining challenges 20 years after the adoption of Resolution 1325.

Clare Hutchinson:
Often the understanding of WPS has been limited. There is sometimes difficulty recognising that this, as an intangible concept, has tangible outputs. This has led to challenges in implementation - and therefore moving the agenda from conceptualisation to actualisation. 

Accountability has been a challenge. Time-bound goals are needed, backed by monitoring, accountability provisions and enforcement mechanisms. We must move beyond words, to establish and implement an ambitious but achievable agenda for action.  The success of our efforts will not be measured by well written action plans or words of commitment. It will be measured by the degree to which we implement our plans; the way we empower women to play their rightful and vital role in peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction and governance; the way we  prevent traffickers from turning women and girls into commodities; and the way we build on the recommendations of women’s civil society.

Collective action and Partnerships are critical to advance the awareness and the acceptance of gender equality, especially partnerships with men. Men must be engaged on this issue. But also, our efforts must be coordinated with other international organisations and civil society. A more resilient global and regional architecture is required to collectively work on gender and WPS if we are to see progress.

As an international community we must anchor the vision of security to the inclusion of women in all our activities.  It is women who serve as the mediators of disputes at the community levels; hold families together in times of conflict; identify and manage resources when there are few and in many cases defend and protect often at such great risk. 
The adoption of the resolution represented a significant political shift for NATO, addressing women’s experiences and roles in conflict and peacemaking as a matter of international peace and security. To genuinely advance gender equality, we understand we must be vigilant in promoting the integration of gender perspectives into all our functions and enabling the participation of women and enhancing their protection.

II.    How can we further raise awareness amongst both men and women about the benefits of advancing the WPS agenda?

Attila Mesterhazy:
Societal changes often find their source in the younger generations. That is why education plays a crucial role in raising awareness about the benefits of advancing the WPS agenda. Schools and universities must highlight the central message outlined in UNSCR 1325 and subsequent WPS-related resolutions: peace and security efforts are more successful and durable when women and men work together as equal partners.

I also believe that the media must do more to communicate the benefits of advancing the WPS agenda to the public. Women’s voices in particular, must be heard on peace and security issues. Similarly, the internet and social media constitute powerful tools to reach out to a wider audience on this topic. 

Coordination between international organisations and structures offers an opportunity to various actors, who would otherwise convey their own message separately, to speak as one and cast their communication net wider. Showcasing together the positive changes that the implementation of the WPS agenda brings to our societies helps us raise awareness of its importance. Interparliamentary fora, including our NATO Parliamentary Assembly, play a decisive role in such efforts. They constitute unique platforms where lawmakers can receive first-hand information from key officials such as the NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for WPS, share and discuss ideas, best practices and lessons learnt about the most efficient ways to implement the WPS agenda, and communicate its benefits to the public. 

Ulla Schmidt:
The position of NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security was introduced in 2012. Currently, my dear colleague Clare Hutchinson guides, supports, and facilitates the WPS agenda across NATO’s work. 

At the level of member states, National Action Plans are crucial mechanisms to support the advancement of the WPS agenda. They guide nations in the implementation of Resolution 1325. It is therefore important that each of our countries fully implements them, and I urge those Allies that have not yet adopted a National Action Plan to do so urgently.

Those initiatives being a promising start, we need to continue and ensure that gender perspectives are consistently integrated into every phase of training and education as well as into the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all NATO policies and programs. Moreover, we must ensure that the WPS agenda becomes a fundamental part of any report and remains on the agenda of all NATO discussions. 

III.    What should the role of parliamentarians be in promoting and implementing the WPS agenda?

Attila Mesterhazy:
Parliamentarians have a central role to play in promoting and implementing the WPS agenda. Firstly, they contribute to the advancement of this agenda by supporting the adoption of WPS-related legislation and gender mainstreamed budgets. Secondly, they are uniquely positioned to hold their governments accountable for fulfilling the commitments that they have made as part of the WPS agenda. Thirdly, lawmakers have a direct connection to their constituents and can therefore communicate the benefits of implementing the WPS agenda to a broad audience at the local level. Finally, through their participation in interparliamentary fora such as the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, they exchange best practices on the promotion and implementation of the WPS agenda and encourage its generalisation. 

Ulla Schmidt:
International organisations, such as the United Nations and NATO, have made substantial efforts to implement the WPS agenda at their level. However, they need to do more. Similarly, member states and parliamentarians have a critical role to play in translating existing policies and mechanisms into further concrete actions. We all know that nations are primarily responsible for ensuring the implementation of Resolution 1325. Therefore, parliamentarians must continue to gather and debate in a democratic manner. By presenting relevant reports during international meetings and integrating the topic into any exchanges and discussions, parliamentarians can ensure that governments and international organisations take steps towards achieving this goal. Of course, we also need to also look at ourselves and promote more women in parliaments!

Clare Hutchinson:
law reforms to promote women’s peace and security, MPs may want to request parliamentary staff to undertake a law reform assessment to identify which laws need to be amended and whether any new laws are needed to implement the WPS agenda.

Promote the development and implementation of National ACTION Plans on WPS, in each nation (25 NATO allies have NAPS. Where a WPS National Action Plan has been developed, parliamentarians can play a key role in overseeing government implementation. While committees dealing with foreign affairs may have a clear mandate to deal with WPS, many other committees do not. Ensuring women’s peace and security is a cross-cutting issue and is included in military, police force, human rights, education, defence, etc.

Parliamentary reviews should also include hearing by the public finance committee to determine whether and how they have budgeted resources to address priority WPS. MPs can play a role in budget oversight, by engaging with their own constituents to find out whether the services promised by the government were actually delivered. 

Parliamentarians should proactively reach out to women and men, to find out what issues are most impacting women’s peace and security.