I was asked to speak at the second anniversary of the African Women’s Decade by Make Every Woman Count, held on 31st October 2012 which marked the 12th anniversary of the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. What follows is reconstructed from my notes for the evening.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was a resolution passed by the Security Council in 2000. It came out of conversations that women from different conflicts in different parts of the world had which found similarity of experience – that women had been instrumental in bringing about peace processes, keeping communities going during and after conflict, their experiences were fundamentally different than those of men but that they were sidelined from official peace negotiations.
They started a global campaign to get issues of women, peace and security seen as important in places of global power – including the Security Council. Bangladesh and Namibia were the first countries to support the idea of the Resolution. It was passed in 2000 and was the first time the Security Council required parties to a conflict to respect women’s rights, recognised the role that women play in peacebuilding and supported women’s participation in peace negotiations and post conflict reconstruction. The Resolution continues to be used by women’s rights organisations all over the world to hold their governments and national, regional and international institutions to account.
It is important to know the history of it. The Resolution is not something that those who are the most powerful in the world came up with, but women working for peace all over the world and from countries that had experienced conflict and understood what it meant.
So, has the fact that the Security Council passed this in 2000 meant women are now included in all peace negotiations, peacekeeping and other decision making, there is no more rape and sexual abuse in armed conflict and all peace agreements consider the needs and protect the rights of women and girls? Not surprisingly, the answer is no.
Unfortunately, despite calling for and working towards peace, human rights and justice, women continue to be excluded and marginalised. Those who have the power to decide often simply do not view involving or thinking of women as a priority.
In the past 25 years, only one in forty signatories to peace agreements have been women. Only sixteen percent of peace agreements concluded between 1990 and 2010 even mention the word ‘women’ and even of these 16%, many mention ‘women’ to restrict their rights and say what women can and cannot do.
Let us see what has been happening across North Africa over the past two years. Women were active in, and in many cases, led the revolutions but have faced marginalisation and violence. In Tunisia, considered to be the regional leader in promoting women’s rights, the first march for women’s rights ended in attacks with shouts that women should ‘go back to the kitchen.’ Women’s rights activists in Egypt talk of an epidemic of sexual harassment in every-day life – and of course we know about the so-called ‘virginity testing’ that was carried out on female protestors by the military to intimidate and discredit them. There have been proposals to cancel women’s rights to initiate divorce, reduce the age of marriage and decriminalise female genital mutilation. As a Libyan activist said following the overthrow of Gadafi, ‘We have got rid of the big patriarch; we now need to break free of the little patriarchs everywhere.’
The situation for women across Africa continues to be that of the strength of women’s organising not being reflected adequately in national, foreign and international policies and practices. It is not just African governments but international institutions too. I recently met someone who was involved in the Darfur peace process who told me that UN officials involved didn’t know that the Security Council had said that women must participate in peace negotiations.
So, the story so far is of uneven progress – it is a bit frustrating that we have not progressed further in the past 12 years but there is increasing attention and awareness being paid to women’s rights in conflict.
Every year in October, women from conflict affected countries come and speak to the Security Council. There are now 5 Security Council Resolutions that make up the Security Council agenda on women, peace and security and commitments. There has been lots of discussion about sexual violence committed by peacekeepers. It has opened up a whole world that existed in the past but was never discussed in ‘hard’ security spaces. There is a women, peace and security movement with networks all over the world that use Security Council Resolutions and other international and regional human rights law and other standards to hold governments and institutions to account. National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security have been developed in 36 countries, (incl Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda) setting out how governments intend to take action on women, peace and security commitments. The real gap is between the rhetoric that takes place in New York at the UN and the reality of what happens in conflict affected countries.
As one of the Liberian women’s rights activists who was part of the movement to end their civil war once told me ‘We need to go back, pick up 1325 and carry it forward to the place we are now.’