“Women, Peace, and Security: Toward a U.S. Action Plan”

written by On May 9, 2011 in 2010-2016, Uncategorized, WIIS Blog

“Women, Peace, and Security: Toward a U.S. Action Plan”

by Sarah Williamson, Senior Consultant with Global Emergency Group



Ten years after the UN Security Council passed a landmark resolution encouraging greater participation of women in all aspects of international peace and security, the United States is just now developing a National Action Plan to put the resolution into effect across the government, in cooperation with civil society. Resolution 1325 calls for further international action on women’s involvement in the political process and security sector, inclusion of women in peacekeeping operations, protection of women from sexual violence, and improving responsiveness to women’s specific needs in relief operations.


The U.S. has strategic interests in countries where failures to protect women are indicative of weak governance, poor economic infrastructure, and fragile societies. Investments in women can have a significant impact on global stability. The U.S. National Action Plan on 1325 is expected to look at how current investments in international conflict and stability operations include and impact women. The plan also has the potential to make a greater impact on how women benefit from multilateral partnerships with UN agencies such as the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), which is increasingly mandated with the protection of civilians and prevention of gender violence.


What is Security Council Resolution 1325?

The United States is in the process of developing a National Action Plan to support the goals of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls on member states to make a greater commitment to women in peace and security. The resolution is comprised of four pillars: encouraging the participation of women in the political process; protection of women in peacekeeping mandates; prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict; and a greater emphasis on the needs of displaced women and girls in relief and recovery operations.


Security Council Resolution 1325 passed in October of 2000. The U.S. voted for the resolution. In the ten years since the resolution passed, twenty-four countries have developed a National Action Plan (NAP) on the implementation of the resolution. However, the U.S. did not take specific action on it until last year when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would begin to develop its own plan to realize the resolution’s goals.


U.S. Plan in Progress

The development of a U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) is underway, with an inter-agency process convened by the National Security Council (NSC). The Department of State (DoS), Department of Defense (DoD), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are meeting regularly to assess women’s participation in U.S. political and security institutions. They are also reviewing programs across all agencies that touch on the protection of women, prevention of sexual violence, and relief efforts. This assessment is expected to highlight the good work already being done, and to generate new initiatives that boost the impact of current resources.


The U.S. plan has the potential to review domestic commitment to 1325 principles, bilateral programs, and multilateral partnerships with UN agencies to determine their collective impact on women and girls. The recently released Department of State’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) highlights programs of strategic interest, and serves as an indicator of where the USG might look to strengthen efforts. For example, the State Department has bilateral programs to train and equip foreign militaries that contribute to international peacekeeping missions, but no specific gender standards are applied to these programs that would encourage women’s participation. There are additional ways to ensure that forces trained with U.S. resources have the operational skills to protect women from violence as part of their mandates.


The U.S. is also the largest donor to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), but it is unclear how U.S. financial support increases the goal of having more female officers in UN missions. Women currently make up only 3{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of all UN forces. The U.S. National Action Plan can bring these efforts under a coherent strategy to increase support for women’s participation.


Examples from Denmark and Canada

Denmark and Canada are good examples of how donor countries have been able to achieve two objectives in their plans: 1) assess their domestic obligations under 1325 and 2) measure the impact of bilateral and multilateral contributions to women, peace, and security.


In October 2010, the U.S. embassy in Denmark held a conference on the ten-year anniversary of the resolution to discuss lessons learned and the path forward. The Government of Denmark plan on 1325 was discussed as one example for the United States to consider. The Denmark plan sets goals and objectives for each of the four pillars, with specific examples of how the country is achieving gender equality internally and how that translates to positive international action at the regional and global level. Denmark’s plan gives specific considerations for the promotion of 1325 within the European Union (EU), Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It also includes a commitment to ongoing consultations with Danish civil society organizations, including a provision about using their expertise in the training of Danish police and defense forces.


Canada’s response to implementing 1325 is also worth noting. In 2001, the government established a Canadian Committee on Women, Peace, and Security that included government officials, parliamentarians, and civil society representatives to inform the development of a National Action Plan. The committee tracks lessons learned in specific country contexts such as Haiti and Afghanistan, and monitors progress on Canada’s implementation of all Security Council resolutions pertaining to women and conflict. Canada now has an expanded plan on 1325 that takes other resolutions into consideration. One practical outcome of Canada’s plan is a Gender Training Initiative (GTI) for military and civilian personnel involved in Peace Support Operations (PSO) to become familiar with international humanitarian law and case studies on gender violence. Canada’s plan also establishes specific indicators and designates agencies within the government response for tracking progress.


Status of Implementation

In preparation for the tenth anniversary of resolution 1325, multiple UN agencies help their own review of progress made to date. While all aspects of the resolution were considered, peacekeeping issues received the most attention. This is in part due to recent missions in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where peacekeepers have been unable to prevent widespread violence against women.


Resolution 1325 specifically recognizes “the urgent need to mainstream a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations” and ensure that “field operations include a gender component”. With 120,000 personnel deployed in fifteen theatres around the world, UN peacekeeping operations can be more inclusive of female officers and be better prepared to meet mandates to protect women.


The DPKO Department of Field Support commissioned a “Ten-year Impact Study” on 1325, finding that while peacekeeping missions had some success in elevating women’s participation in elections by improving the overall security environment, increasing women’s participation in the security sector remains difficult and protecting women against violence is a formidable challenge. While DPKO institute a policy on gender balance in 2006 and developed a gender unit within its headquarters that provides a gender advisor to each mission in the field, this has proved to be a limited indicator of progress. In another report, on the status of 1325, Canada acknowledged that mission mandates must have an explicit gender components or it will be very difficult for gender advisors to make the case once the mission is already underway. The DPKO Impact Study calls for tailored gender training for senior managers that will help them integrate gender perspectives into their work, regardless of the mission’s mandate.


In order to improve the UN performance of the protection of women, the Secretary General appointed a new Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margaret Wallstrom, and the Untied Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) was consolidated with several other agencies into a new organization, UN Women, led by former Prime Minister of Chile, Michelle Blanchett. These offices, together with support from DPKO, released another report on the anniversary of resolution 1325, “An Analytical Inventory of Peacekeeping in Practice,” which reviews operational strategies for preventing sexual violence against women.


The inventory offers tasks and tactics that protect women, such as night and firewood collection patrols, joint protection teams with military and civilian personnel, deterrence strategies, and advise on how to liaise with community leaders. The inventory can serve as a practical “how to” guide for protecting women. Efforts are also underway to develop operational scenarios that help peacekeeping missions put the inventory into practice. However, the guidance is not yet available to missions that are also being tasked with protecting other civilians from harm.


The Protection of Civilians

The effort to clearly define the protection of civilians in peacekeeping mandates is happening concurrently with the anniversary of 1325. While the protection of civilians and gender issues are dealt with separately within the UN system, they are inherently connected. Women do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of families and communities. Where women are vulnerable to violence, the entire community is more likely to be at risk of harm.


While Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has stated that the United Nations charter places human security at the core of international responsibility, he also acknowledges that the need to “operationalize the concept of human protection” has only recently emerged wit the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and with new peacekeeping mandates that include the protection of civilians. Although peacekeepers have a long history of interacting with the humanitarian agencies by providing access to vulnerable people, they are not accustomed to communicating directly with communities. On the ground, peacekeepers often disagree about what it means to protect civilians in practice, and most forces do not know how to appropriately engage with women and communities at risk. Without engaging the population to listen to their fears and identify their vulnerabilities, protection is a nearly impossible task.


The UN is trying to fill this gap in a number of ways. The best practices division of DPKO developed an Operational Concept on the Protection of Civilians in 2010, laying out three different notions within the UN system; 1) establishing a protective environment, 2) protection through political processes, and 3) protection from physical harm. The concept paper does not weigh the importance of one perspective over another or clearly define the “protection of civilians” mandate for forces expected to carry it out. However, new training modules are being developed with operational scenarios to exemplify each of the above perspectives and will eventually become part of in-mission training.


Measuring Progress

UN efforts to improve the implementation of 1325 and protection of civilians can inform the U.S. National Action Plan. The U.S. effort to implement a “Whole of Government” approach to women’s empowerment is similar to the UN challenge of “Delivering as One”. Given the extent of the resolution, multiple agencies will be involved in delivering results. This can lead to tremendous internal effort to get everyone on the same page, all the while losing sight of what is needed to make improvements on the ground. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recently admitted that when it comes to the UN response to human protection, “our words are ahead of our deeds”.


The U.S. can overcome this challenge by measuring progress at the country level. How does U.S. action make a difference in the lives of women in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Sudan? Making the impact on women clear in countries where the U.S. is most involved in providing security and stability would be a good start.


The UN has agreed to a set of twenty-six indicators of tracking progress on 1325. These indicators rely heavily on the compilation of statistical data by states, resulting in criticism that measuring improvements in this way doesn’t show real change. What is needed is basic information such as: Are women more engaged? Are they safer? How do people in need of protection view the effectiveness of international efforts? Do military and peacekeeping personnel know what to do when confronted with situations of gender-based violence?


Getting concrete results will require field level analysis that tracks how funding, training, and equipping agencies charged with a protection mandate have made changes on the ground. Given the extent of U.S. international engagement, this is a unique contribution the U.S. Government can make toward implementing 1325, and is one reason why civil society is so engaged in the process.


Civil Society Engagement

Secretary Clinton’s interest in renewing U.S. commitment to 1325 has galvanized civil society support for the resolution at the national level. The high profile conference on Women and War hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and Women In International Security in November 2010 brought together US. government officials to discuss ways to turn the promise of the resolution into reality. USIP has also been at the forefront of convening a civil society working group on 1325 in Washington, D.C. that brings together think tanks, researchers and international organizations to provide insight and advice to officials developing the National Action Plan. The umbrella coalition of U.S. based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Interaction, has a Protection Working Group that focuses on addressing the needs of vulnerable people in conflict and disaster. They have provided additional analysis on the resolution to USIP. In addition, the United Nations Foundation has supported the Partnership for Effective Peacekeeping (PEP), led by Refugees International and other organizations such as Citizens for Global Solutions. PEP meets together monthly at the Stimson Center. The group frequently invites government officials and DPKO mission representatives to join the discussion.


What these organizations have to offer is extensive knowledge on how to turn the intent of the resolution into good practice at the field level. International organizations have a wealth of case studies and program data that can feed into knowing what works and how to expand on best practices. Civil society organizations in the U.S. are connected to civil society organizations around the world whose valuable insight is often not considered within their own countries.


Humanitarian organizations also have different perspectives on what protection means, and the methods they use to deter violence vary. However, the humanitarian imperative requires agencies to define their success through the eyes of the beneficiary. If women are not sufficiently empowered, if they are consistently being violated, if relief does not reach the most vulnerable, then humanitarian agencies can and will strive to do better. The international system is striving in the direction of 1325, and the United States National Action Plan can serve as a catalyst for taking the resolution to the next level.



There is an unprecedented level of commitment to global women’s issues within the U.S. government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear that advancing the situation of women and girls is at the heart of U.S. foreign policy. The process of developing a U.S. National Action Plan for Security Council Resolution 1325 takes this commitment even further, and promises to have a significant impact on the multilateral institutions supported by the United States.


Security Council Resolution 1325 was intended to make substantial improvements in the participation of women in government and peacekeeping, protection of women in conflict, prevention of sexual violence, and gendered responses to humanitarian relief efforts. Ten years later, the U.S. National Action Plan can still make a difference by narrowing the gap between the intent of the resolution and concrete action for women. Civil society has high expectations that the plan will both elevate women’s role in global security and make women more secure. As the largest donor to numerous peace and security initiatives, the U.S. can bring a coherent strategy, consistency of approach, and real indicators of progress to the table.

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