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A.K. Chowdhury: Women Are Essential for Sustainable Peace

 NEW YORK (IDN) - The International Women's Day in 2000 was an extraordinary day for me and will remain so for the rest of my life. That day, I had the honour, on behalf of the United Nations Security Council as its President, of issuing a statement that formally brought to global attention the unrecognized, under-utilized and under-valued contribution women have been making to preventing war, to building peace and to engaging individuals and societies live in harmony.

The members of the Security Council recognized that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men and affirmed the equal access and full participation of women in power structures and their full involvement in all efforts for peace and security.

It was unfortunate that the intrinsic role of women in peace and security had remained unrecognized for decades since the creation of the United Nations. For a long time, there has been an impression of women as helpless victims of wars and conflicts. The role of women in fostering peace in their communities and beyond has very often been overlooked. That inexplicable silence of 55 long years was broken, for the first time, on March 8, 2000. Thereby, the seed for the Security Council resolution 1325 was sown.

The formal resolution followed this conceptual and political breakthrough in October of the same year through the Council’s unanimous agreement giving this issue the attention and recognition that it deserves. The core focus of this action is not to make war safe for women but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. That is why women need to be at the peace tables, women need to be involved in the decision-making and in the peace-keeping teams, particularly as civilians to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace.

1325 marked the first time that such a proposition was recognized as an objective of the Council. As such, its meaningful implementation places a unique and all-embracing responsibility on the international community particularly the United Nations.

Amazing that in ten years just four numerals -- 1-3-2-5 -- have generated a global enthusiasm that is unprecedented in many ways. Adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture. Women and many men all over the world have been energized by this resolution. Even the United Nations Security Council which is known for being a closed club showed forward-looking approach by adopting a number of follow up resolutions relating to women and peace and security.

I consider these subsequent resolutions -- 1820, 1888 and 1889 adopted much later in 2008 and 2009 -- as the children of the mother resolution 1325. When you take that into account, the potential of 1325, its implications and its impact in real terms are enormous.


But the reality on the ground after ten years does not bear that out. Most of our expectations remain yet to be realized. Unfortunate aspect of this is that many member states are not fully aware of what is that reality, what is really happening and where are we heading in implementing 1325 in the real sense.

I am often asked how the concept behind 1325 came on to the Security Council agenda for the first time during Bangladesh's Presidency of the Council. My conviction and determination to steer that initiative grew, if I may say so, out of my close and long-standing engagement with the international women's agenda. The dynamics of global war and security strategy as it was evolving in a post cold war world situation and the UN General Assembly's action to adopt a Programme of Action on Culture of Peace, that I also had the privilege of steering, prepared the ground for raising the issue.

When I first brought up the issue of women and peace and security into the Security Council, wide-ranging disinterest -- even indifference -- was expressed by some of my colleagues saying that the President was diluting the Council's mandate by trying to bring in a "soft issue" on its agenda. I believe that the passage of 1325 is an impressive step forward for women's equality agenda in the context of contemporary security politics.

However, the historic and operational value of the resolution as the first international policy mechanism that explicitly recognized the gendered nature of war and peace processes has been undercut by the disappointing record of its implementation. The complicity of the Security Council in international practices that make women insecure, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements, is disappointing. Also, we should keep in mind that the Security Council itself, despite all those follow-up resolutions, is yet to internalize gender considerations into operational behaviour of its actions.

To me and many others, the key element of 1325 is participation whereby women can contribute to decision-making and ultimately help shape societies where violence against women is not the norm.

'1325 IS NOT AN END'

Analysts are of the opinion, and I agree with them, that "1325 is not an end, but the beginning of the processes that will gradually help reduce the gap in inequalities." A major concern emerging from various studies is that the themes most frequently referenced in country-specific resolutions by the Security Council tend to refer to women as victims rather than as active agents in the peacebuilding process, such as in governance, peace negotiations, and post-conflict peacebuilding.

This weakness should serve as a lobbying point by women's organizations -- civil society in general -- to maintain pressure on the Security Council to fully implement its stated commitments. It should be realized by the Council that women are not just a vulnerable group, they are empowering as well.

My own experience has shown that the participation of women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding assures that their experiences, priorities, and solutions contribute to stability, inclusive governance and sustainable peace. Such encouraging developments are to be seen in the work of -- to name a few -- the Mano River Women's Peace Network, a regional body in West Africa, FemLINK Pacific, another regional set up based in Fiji, in the courageous efforts of the Afghan Women's Network for women's and girl's education and in the organizations like the Institute for Inclusive Security based in Washington DC.


These bright examples do not, however, reflect, as I commented earlier, the overall unsatisfactory picture in the implementation of 1325. The role of the UN Secretariat, the Secretary-General in particular, remains much to be desired to say the least. Undoubtedly there is a clear need for his genuinely active and dedicated engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325.

As a start, even after ten years, the leadership of the Secretary-General should be manifested at least in four areas.

First, Secretary-General should give top priority to energizing and supporting the UN member-states to prepare their respective National Action Plan (NAP) for 1325 at the country level. Of 192, only 23 have prepared such NAPs so far -- a meager one-third of which are by developing countries. He should personally write to heads of state and government suggesting a timeframe to have their Plans ready and send a directive to the UN Resident Coordinators, his representatives in those countries, to follow that up.

Second area that deserves special attention is the need for the awareness, sensitivity and training of the senior officials within the United Nations system as a whole with regard to 1325.

Third, urgent attention should be given to stop altogether the sexual violence and abuses which take place in the name of peacekeeping and have been ignored, tolerated and left unpunished for years by the UN. There should be no impunity whatsoever in the name of national sovereignty as is the practice now.

Fourth, Secretary-General needs to take the lead in setting up a six-monthly inclusive consultative process for 1325 implementation with civil society organizations at all levels involving all relevant UN entities. He should encourage similar consultative process with non-governmental organizations at country level.

Member States should strengthen their national commitments and capacity to implement 1325, including through national and regional action plans and strategies. National Action Plans that would contain a blueprint of measures, clear targets and benchmarks would effectively enhance implementation.

Here I would like to commend the leadership of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for energizing the involvement of all American Ambassadors abroad in working closely with the governments and civil society of countries where they are stationed to encourage and support 1325 implementation. UN leadership should learn a lesson from that initiative.

A gender-responsive justice system is an integral element of effective peace processes and a necessary component of nation-building activities in post-conflict situations. When women are able to participate in peace processes, the development of such a system is one of the priority concerns they raise. Such a justice system helps to break the continuing cycle of violence against women, and ensure their meaningful participation not only in peace negotiations but in rebuilding their communities and in transforming their societies.

Calling upon warring parties to adopt "a gender perspective" on peace negotiations and "gender mainstreaming" in all UN peacekeeping missions would sound hollow and meaningless unless we build women’s capacity and provide real opportunity and support to ensure women’s political and economic empowerment, a place at the peace negotiation table and represented equally at all levels of decision-making.


As my personal contribution to the effective implementation of 1325, I have launched last July at a meeting on 1325 at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC my own proposal entitled "Doable First-Track Indicators for Realizing the 1325 Promise into Reality" outlining measures that could be initiated without delaying anymore and without prolonging our agony and frustration after ten years of wait in expectation and exasperation.

1325 belongs to humanity -- it is owned by us all -- it was intended to be so since March 2000 when the conceptual breakthrough was made. Therefore, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary at the peace gathering of civil society in New York, on October 25, 2010 I declared "1325 a common heritage of humanity" wherein the global objectives of peace, equality and development are reflected in a uniquely historic, universal document of the United Nations!

We should never forget that when women are marginalized, there is little chance for the international community to get peace in the real sense.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury was Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations (2002-2007). He contributed this Viewpoint on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women and Peace & Security. (IDN-InDepthNews/31.10.2010)
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