Resolution 1325 is a Starting Point

November 5, 2010 | Sanam Anderlini

Sanam Anderlini, a leading international advocate, researcher, trainer and writer on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, is co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN). She was a leading advocate and drafter of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The opinions expressed in this article are her own, and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations or Women, War & Peace.

A decade ago, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted U.N.S.C.R. 1325 on women peace and security. This landmark document is a legal and political framework under which national governments, regional organizations, the U.N. system, as well as non-state actors are obliged to address the situation of women in war – to increase their participation in conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding and protect their legal and physical wellbeing. It is not about making war safe for women, it is about using every resource to prevent the outbreak and continuation of warfare. As such, it is the first resolution acknowledging the need for and contributions of half the world’s population to international peace and security.   

U.N.S.C.R. 1325 is a product of its time and persistent, organized advocacy by women worldwide. It emerged a decade after the end of the Cold War when new kinds of violence and warfare were already evident, including intra-state conflicts and the bitter manipulation of ethnicity and religion for power and resource. The impact on civilians was (and remains) most profound as states and armed groups were perpetrating systemic acts of terror against them.

Women’s experiences of this changing warfare were similar across conflict zones. Not only were the wars being fought on women’s bodies through the use of sexual violence, but women were literally swept up into the frontlines as the wars were fought in communities and villages. As the social fabric and trust within communities was destroyed, building peace and promoting reconciliation was also becoming more complex. Yet the international system charged with promoting peace and security was clearly limited in its capacity to prevent such wars. The genocide in Rwanda, the wars in Bosnia, the DRC, and elsewhere raged on while the U.N. system struggled to overcome the principles of state sovereignty and non-interference in domestic issues.

As the conflicts came to women, women also reacted. In Cambodia, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Africa throughout the 1990s, women were emerging as voices of peace, mobilizing across communities, and using their social roles and networks to mediate and mitigate violence. They wanted the world community to acknowledge and include them in peace and security decision-making. They knew through experience that the 20th century systems for resolving warfare – where governments and violent actors alone were legitimized in peace processes – were no longer adequate for 21st century conflicts and violence. They were demanding attention to the complex issues and people that define peace and peacebuilding, not just the ending of warfare or power-sharing.

As a result, while often dubbed as the “women’s resolution,” U.N.S.C.R. 1325 is first and foremost about peace and security. The resolution is not about the inclusion of women for the sake of political correctness. It is rooted in the premise that women’s inclusion – their participation and contributions to the process and substance of negotiations – will improve the chances of attaining viable and sustainable peace. It is also rooted in the knowledge that gender equality itself is a source of sustainable peace.  Similarly, the resolution’s attention to the protection of women’s physical well-being, as well as their legal and political rights, is not simply as an end in itself. Rather it is recognition of the fact that if half the population faces discrimination and violence, peace is not viable.  Moreover, U.N.S.C.R. 1325 (and subsequent resolutions) acknowledges that violence against women – especially sexual violence – is itself a gross provocation and threat to peace and security. In adopting the resolution, the Security Council provided the international community with an entry point to address and adopt an inclusive approach to all phases of conflict resolution and peacebuilding to better address the security challenges of the 21st century.

Equally importantly, 1325 is an important tool for women, giving recognition to their peace work, enabling them to mobilize on a global scale to assert their claims and demands for a place at the table where issues of war peace and security are resolved. It has marked a turning point in the relationship between civil society, especially women’s organizations, and their expectations of the international system and the Security Council in particular.

Resolution 1325 is referred to as a watershed issue because it casts women in the roles of agents who can be transformative when involved in the power dynamic. And unfortunately, this is why in these 10 years it has been so hard to see it implemented. Nobody wants to shift away from business as usual. That needs to end.

By limiting peace talks to only belligerents – state and non-state actors – and marginalizing peace groups, the international community is rewarding violence while ignoring those who are committed to peace.  The onus to gain access to peace talks still remains primarily on the shoulders of women activists and civil society groups. The bar for qualification and credibility is arbitrary across different settings – at times determined by the whim or interest of the mediators involved. It seems women only qualify to participate in peace talks if they are simultaneously prominent leaders with experience in high-level negotiations and grassroots activists with a large constituency. Even then there are no guarantees.  The qualification for armed actors, meanwhile, is their capacity to wreak violence.

It also seems that as long as women are not a “security threat” – their interests can be sidelined or sold away. This could be happening in Afghanistan now. It has happened time and again in other countries.

We also have to ask what kind of peace are we settling for? If you take the case of Aceh, Indonesia, the Finnish mediators and parties to the conflict excluded the women from the peace process and now they have Sharia law being imposed and women being the first to feel the repression in their daily lives.

If I had to amend 1325, I would go back and strengthen it so that it had the force of the original draft that we created. We focused on disarmament and on prevention. Prevention now has come to mean sexual violence prevention, but the initial promise of 1325 had to do with conflict prevention. This is something the U.N. is still struggling to address. That needs to change.

When I look back at the decade that has lapsed since the passage of 1325, my takeaways are not all left wanting. In 2000, many of these conversations about women’s roles in conflict resolution and prevention were not happening. Even as recently as five years ago, peacekeepers did not think their primary mandate was the protection of civilians. In the grand scheme of things – have we made progress? Absolutely. Has this become a global movement? Absolutely. But we cannot judge and congratulate ourselves for things said or done in New York and Washington.

The constituency and raison d’être for this resolution are the women and girls as well as the men and boys caught in the vortex of warfare. They are the best and most important judges of how we are doing.

For a different take on Resolution 1325, read Paula Donovan’s related essay, Resolution 1325 has Failed Women.