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Women at the Peace Table
by Rene Wadlow
2014-10-31 09:43:19
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On 31 October 2002, the UN Security Council adopted unanimously Resolution 1325 urging “Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts.” Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was the first time that the UN Security Council acknowledged that women play a key role in promoting sustainable peace and stressed the participation of women in peace processes from the prevention of conflict, to negotiations, to post-war reconstruction and reconciliation.

Work for such a resolution in the Security Council had begun at least five years earlier at the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women with its Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and especially at the non-governmental forum which had been held just outside Beijing, where peacemaking was an important theme.

In January 2000, to mark five years since the Beijing Conference, there was an important meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) along with governmental observers, at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. With more than 650 participants from 51 countries, there was a broad cross section of views. It was the first such NGO conference since the 1990 end of the Cold War. Thus there were a large number of representatives from Russia, other states of the former Soviet Union as well as Eastern Europe.

The report of the Conference stressed in particular that “It is necessary that women participate politically in all decisions which influence their lives, especially at conception, execution and evaluation of development programmes and of official peace negotiations. Participation in economic decisions should be guaranteed at all levels of decision-making. Consideration must be given to women’s diversity: particularly young and older women must be fully integrated in decision-making and the policy process. In order to assume women’s equality and participation at all levels of public life, governments must recognize NGOs as an essential factor of democracy.”

A good number of the participants both women and men, including myself, had had long experience with the UN system. We thought that a resolution by the UN Security Council would have the most impact since it rarely discussed social issues. There had been numerous resolutions of the UN Economic and Social Council or the UN Commission on Human Rights dealing with the equality and importance of women. However such resolutions had had limited impact on national governments’ policy or UN agencies. A UN Security Council resolution would get more attention and indicate a link between the security of States — the chief mandate of the Security Council — and what was increasingly called ‘human security’ — that is, the security of people. Thus following the Geneva meeting, there was a need to convince the members of the Security Council, which meets in New York, that such a resolution was needed.

Intense contacts were made between NGO representatives in New York and Security Council members, as well as with Foreign Ministry officials. It would be too much to say that there was enthusiasm for such a resolution among government representatives but there were few governments which wanted to say publicly that women are not important. Moreover the 1990s had been a decade of intrastate conflicts especially in former Yugoslavia, the former USSR, and Africa. The fate of women and children was on the minds of many governmental delegates, and so the resolution called attention to the “special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction.” The skills women bring to their leadership positions can enhance their capacity to handles conflicts constructively. This includes the ability to develop empathy, especially by sharing personal experiences, the capacity to nurture connections and to create personal networks, the tendency to form coalitions across conflict lines, the willingness to address emotional issues constructively, and persistence in striving to increase mutual understanding.

It was also important to find the balance between calling attention to the special needs of women and children in times of conflict and yet not reinforce the stereotype of women as victims only. Thus, there was a need to stress the important positive role that women play as peace-builders and their potential role in peace processes and negotiations.

NGO representatives and  friendly governments on the Security Council took up the issue. Government representatives saw that NGOs would deal with such a resolution in a positive way and make efforts to inform women of the resolution and train women to move to action. The planning of the Security Council meetings was such that the resolution was adopted on 31 October — a day which is marked in the USA as Halloween. At Halloween, children dress up in costumes such as ghosts and witches. This led to some unkind but private remarks concerning the large number of women in the public section of the Security Council chamber that “the witches are out tonight.”

Resolution 1325 is an important building tool for the role of women in peacemaking. The resolution, by itself, has not changed things radically. There are still few women at the table when serious peace negotiations or re-construction planning is undertaken. However, Resolution 1325 sets out the guidelines, and now NGOs, governments, and UN agencies can work to transform these guidelines into practice. The major problem is that there are very few “peace tables” around which negotiations can take place. There are neither men nor women negotiating on the armed conflicts and tensions of the Middle East, Ukraine, and Africa − Libya, Mali, Darfur, South Sudan, Central African Republic. There was an effort by NGOs to have more women involved in the four-day effort of negotiations of the conflicts in Syria held at the UN's Palais des Nations in Geneva. The government and the Syrian opposition refused to meet in the same room or to set an agenda for issues that could be discussed in the future, leading to the resignation of the UN/League of Arab States mediator.

There is a role for NGOs and academic institutions to train more women in negotiating and conflict resolution skills. However, the real effort must be to prepare the parties for negotiations by an analysis of conflict issues and seeking common ground for compromise.


René Wadlow, president and a U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens and editor of Transnational Perspectives.

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