Twenty years ago, an epoch making resolution shaped the course of global action and advocacy around the rights of women against sexual violence in armed conflict. Resolution 1325, adopted in October 2000, proved to be a significant milestone in the global women’s movement. It established the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, and called for the protection of women in armed conflict, the prevention of sexual violence in armed conflict, the increased participation of women in peace processes and conflict resolution programs, and relief and recovery for survivors of sexual violence in armed conflict.
The run up to Resolution 1325
The United Nations began addressing gender equality through world conferences from 1975 onward. In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women culminated in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which centred on the inclusion of women in peacemaking programs, among other objectives. However, following this, the Rwandan Genocide and the Bosnian War following the Fall of the former Yugoslavia presented overwhelming evidence of the prevalence of sexual violence in armed conflict.
Unlike previous times when the occurrence of sexual violence was dismissed as a “by-product” of conflict, both these wars showed that women were targeted through rape and sexual violence – acts that were later read into International Criminal jurisprudence and legislation as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and acts constituting genocide. Women were also not able to access peace processes and participate in attempts toward conflict resolution, peacemaking, and transitional justice.
Women’s groups – specifically, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM, now UN Women) – lobbied and called for attention to the prevalence of sexual violence in armed conflict. The NGO Working Group held open sessions on women, peace, and security, and provided members of the Security Council with relevant information.
On the eve of the adoption of the resolution, Eugenia Piza-Lopez, Head of Policy and Advocacy for InternationalAlert, issued a statement, saying:
“At this morning’s session with the Security Council, we spoke on behalf of the hundreds of women’s groups and local organizations that struggle every day to prevent war and to bring peace and security to their ravaged communities in the midst of the most horrendous conflicts.
In ethnic conflicts, women and girls are sexually assaulted, raped and murdered, promoting ethnic cleansing and genocide. In many regions, women have endured decades of military occupation, in constant threat of violence.
Women are also the indirect victims of warfare. Armed forces attack their homes. Their crops are destroyed. They are forcibly displaced to refugee camps where they are forced into prostitution, trafficking and criminal activities in order to survive.
There should be no silent witnesses to these abuses. All too often, peacekeepers and military forces turn a blind eye or contribute to the exploitation of these women. A culture of silence and impunity prevails. Yet even in the most dangerous of circumstances, women have shown their courage and leadership as problem solvers and peacemakers.
In Latin America, wives and sisters dared to question the military juntas about their “disappeared” relatives. In Mali and Liberia, women rallied together to call for disarmament. In the Philippines, women run peace zones around villages protecting their children.
Their work is rarely acknowledged nor recognized. Time and again when it comes to peace deals and high level negotiations, women’s voices and experiences are excluded and marginalized. Even though women head the majority of households after war and know what is needed to rebuild peace, they are neglected by their own governments and the international community.
This morning we asked the Security Council to ensure that women have equal representation in all peace processes. We also asked that they consider the plight of women in war zones, to give them the protection they need and end the culture of impunity that exists around crimes committed against women in war.”
Adopting 1325 at the Security Council
Namibia took over as the chair of the Security Council in 2000, its Minister of Women’s Affairs Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, initiated the resolution at the Security Council. Bangladesh, the Council President, represented by Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, made significant contributions to the resolution’s text, and called for attention to women’s contributions to peace and security. A two-day debate on the resolution followed: marking the first ever discussion dedicated to women in the history of the United Nations. The resolution was adopted unanimously on October 31, 2000.
Recognizing the historic moment, Cynthia Cockburn wrote:
The Resolution was achieved by a wide, nameless, ad hoc transnational network of women in local and international NGOs, joined by women from member state governments, several UN departments and agencies, and academic feminists in universities. It entailed co-operation between women very differently positioned in relation to structures of power, and differently located in relation to wars. It was an informal, unnamed but highly productive alliance, that came together for no other purpose than this specific project. It involved the skilled handling of complicated mechanisms of power at the UN, in which they encountered resistance from many sources, including reluctant individuals and governments, and the inertia of institutional processes.
What does Resolution 1325 say?
Broadly, Resolution 1325 established the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda. It was the first official acknowledgement at the international level that sexual violence in armed conflict was not a mere by-product of war, but rather a calculated, strategically deployed war tactic. It also acknowledged that women and girls have – and do already play – a significant role in conflict resolution, peacemaking, peacebuilding, and post-conflict transition processes. It established that the participation of women is critical to ensuring that peace processes culminate in achieving and sustaining peace and stability.
Resolution 1325 placed the responsibility on states to not only address sexual violence in conflict through both prevention, protection, and relief and recovery measures, but to also enable the enhanced and increased participation of women in peace processes. These are the four pillars of Resolution 1325. Participation requires the increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making, peace processes, negotiations, peace operations, and in conflict resolution and prevention. Prevention requires states to commit to improving intervention strategies that strive to prevent sexual violence against women by prosecuting those who violate international law, strengthening women’s rights under national law regimes, and enabling and supporting women’s initiatives for peace and conflict resolution. Protection calls on states to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence across a range of humanitarian situations both during armed conflict and in the post-conflict transition stages, as well as in refugee camps and other humanitarian settings. Relief and Recovery requires the deployment of a gender lens to understand and respond to international crises and calls for states to respect the civilian and humanitarian nature of refugee camps, with due regard for the unique challenges that women and girls face in these settings.
Implementing Resolution 1325
Establishing this framework, the resolution placed the onus on states to step up and implement the key provisions within their domestic jurisdictions. While it does not establish a single route for its implementation, National Action Plans (NAPs) emerged as a prominent means since 2005, with Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom among the first nations in the world to launch their NAPs to implement Resolution 1325. Today, 84 nations have NAPs addressing the four pillars of the WPS Agenda.
Scholar Betty Reardon called for “People’s Action Plans” as an approach to implementing the WPS Agenda, acknowledging that governments world over had failed to implement the resolution despite being obliged to under Article 25 of the UN Charter, which makes the Security Council’s resolutions binding on member states.
Read the full text on Resolution 1325 here.
References Anwarul Chowdhury, (31 October 2010). “A.K. Chowdhury: Women Are Essential for Sustainable Peace”. Universal Peace Federation. Retrieved 17 December 2014. (Read) Cynthia Cockburn, “Snagged On The Contradiction: NATO, UNSC Resolution 1325, and Feminist Responses” April 15-17, 2011. (Read) NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security (2000) (Read) Dharmapuri, Sahana (November 2011). “A Survey of UN 1325 National Action Plan Mechanisms for Implementation, Monitoring, Reporting and Evaluation” (Read) Torunn L. Tryggestad (1 October 2009). “Trick or treat? The UN and implementation of security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security,” Global Governance 15(4): 539–557 (Read)