A Decade On, No Seats for Women at the Peace Table

Source: IPS News

(IPS) – It was a historic moment for the United Nations when, 10 years ago, the Security Council unanimously recognised "the intrinsic role of women in global peace and security" through Resolution 1325, said Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh at a panel at the U.N. Thursday, April 22, on the continuing obstacles to its implementation.

"The resolution was primarily based on a simple thesis that the equal access and full participation of women in all layers of power structures, as well as their full participation in prevention and resolution of conflicts were essential elements for making and sustaining peace," explained Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, the permanent representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, and the moderator of the panel, cosponsored by Bangladesh, Canada and Sweden.

But efforts to implement 1325 and other "sister resolutions" as Ambassador Henri-Paul Normandin, the deputy permanent representative of Canada, described them, have been largely stymied for the past decade.

Chowdhury, also a former U.N. under-secretary-general, cited the fact that only 19 out of 192 member states have developed national action plans to implement 1325, as one reason for the stalled progress. He also expressed deep regret about the number of reports of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

"It’s a shame that even peacekeepers are engaged in these kinds of things," he said, criticising the lack of accountability in bringing those accused of sexual abuse to justice, particularly those deployed by the U.N.

"During the last three years from 2007 to 2009, 450 cases of abuse [by peacekeepers] have been reported, and would you believe, only 29 have been acted on," said Chowdhury.

"If we have an International Criminal Court now, which has recognised rape and sexual exploitation as a crime against humanity, why can’t these cases be taken up by the [Security] Council?" he asked.

Theresa Kambobe, a senior gender advisor in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, blamed limited accountability for gender mainstreaming processes and a lack of funding on the ground to implement gender-training programmes.

"The first challenge of course is the limited numbers," Kambobe said, "Limited numbers across the board," referring to the number of uniformed peacekeepers, and civilian personnel able to train and implement gender programmes.

"The other challenge is limited resources on gender," said Kambobe. "Our own gender advisors are always telling us that they can’t do the little things that they wish to do because they have no budget."

Sarah Taylor, the executive coordinator of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, stressed that the term "accountability" should be the watchword over the next 10 years in looking at issues related to women, peace and security, and stressed the need for action over rhetoric.

"There has been a lot of policy development, there has been a lot of thinking and a lot of research, and there has been the attempts to implement a number of policies on women peace and security," said Taylor.

"And yet, when it comes to ensuring that women are at the table in decision-making positions, the numbers, as startling as they are, are dropping. They are decreasing, not to mention the fact that women’s rights are often excluded from the conversations, from the agreements," she said, expressing her exasperation at this, and at what she sees as the biggest obstacle to including women in processes of building and maintaining peace.

"Despite four resolutions, despite the fact that 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889 and related resolutions, such as those on the protection of civilians, this is still not taken seriously as a security issue," she said. "This is something that it’s nice to include if we can, but once we meet resistance, it’s one of the first things kicked off the table."

Ambassador Chowdhury focused on the role of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in advancing the implementation of the resolution, and energising member states to hold themselves accountable to the terms of 1325.

"I believe in the current context, the U.N. system, particularly the secretary-general, can do a lot to advance the cause of implementation," Chowdhury said.

"I believe that the role of the secretary-general, he, or she maybe in the future, should be in initiating, triggering and generating momentum for implementation, and I believe that the first thing that we can expect of the Secretary-General is his visibility on 1325," he said. "He should be seen to be engaged substantively in this process."