Role of Women in International Peace and Security – Is the UN Doing Enough?

The current representation of women in terms of peace and security is lacking, despite women being the worst affected by the issue. The concept of security and international peace is at the core of the UN charter. In the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, governments from around the world agreed to a minimum quota of 30% women in decision-making levels. Unfortunately, even this vague and arbitrary quota has not been achieved. This not only allows the perpetuation of keeping women disadvantaged but also actively hinders the fight for equality. 

UN charter, no amendments?

 In 2005 during the United Nations World Summit (responsibility to Protect), a pledge was made to all the people of the world ensuring the safeguarding of their fundamental human rights through collective security. The summit was coupled with the promise to protect people against atrocities such as genocides, war crimes and all crimes against humanity. These are put in check by bodies such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure that international peace and security is preserved. The most obvious problem with this is the inherent inequalities embedded within the UN itself. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) responds to crises around the world on an ad-hoc basis. This allows them to handle each situation according to what the UNSC deems to be urgent. The UNSC consists of fifteen Members. With the People’s Republic of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America being permanent members and the rest of the participant nations being temporary members. Non-permanent members are elected every two years. They are selected in such a way to allow a consensus of the different parts of the globe. It is inefficient, as the idea of some nations yielding more power than others does not further the ideals of equal representation. Instead, it allows the opinions of certain ‘superpowers’ to dominate the political arena. This is done by there being permanent and non-permanent members. If the UN is unable to alter the core beliefs of its founding fathers, a pessimistic view would mean that progress can only be limited unless the changing of the UN charter is made to a top priority. This is impossible for an organisation that is in theory for the people, but unfortunately, in reality, not. So, if peace requires collective security, how can this happen with the current situation in the UN? 

Peacekeeping or preserving the status quo?  

The United Nations’ own definition of peace-keeping operation is:

“an operation involving military personnel, but without enforcement powers, undertaken by the United Nations to help maintain or restore international peace and security in areas of conflict. These operations are voluntary and are based on consent and co-operation.”

The Blue Helmets: A Review of United Nations Peacekeeping, UN Department of Public
Information, New York, 1990), pp. 4-5.

Using this definition as a guide, the UN should further emphasise the cooperation of nations in terms of peace and security rather than having actual authority over individual nation-states. 

An example of this can be seen in the most recent election in Guyana. At first international bodies were welcomed to ‘inspect’ the polls to ensure fair and democratic elections to take place. Shortly after the elections, the foreign bodies were requested to leave, and so they reluctantly did. The UN was not involved in the initial observation and Guyana does, in fact, have an observation policy which states that observation – not intervention – of external bodies (which included EU, Commonwealth and CARICOM representatives) is allowed to ensure fair and democratic elections. 

The UN has now called for Guyana to hold new elections to ensure democracy is preserved, but it  has no legal authority to enforce the decision. What the UN can do is to impose sanctions – it is one way they can put into practise the concept of international peace and security. So far the only restrictions placed have been set by the US such as visa restrictions and diplomatic hostility which could cause the closure of the US embassy. At times, the UN does seem to hold mostly eurocentric ideas. This is shown through the “observation” of countries that do not follow ideals that the UN deems democratic, but the UN itself does not follow this. If the elections take place with the aim of representation, how can the permanent members of the UNSC mainly be representative of the western hemisphere of the world; this also makes it hard to separate the interests of the US – a superpower to the UN. The problem in security and international peace subsequently becomes the fear that the benefits of exclusive members are put forward first. 

Exclusive members; Resolution 1325 

So far it is apparent that particular interests within the UN body exist, changes are being made, and one of those changes are the implementation of resolution 1325 which calls on the equal participation of women in the peacekeeping arena. Implementation of the resolution reaffirms the urgent need for the better humanitarian right protection for women which include gender-based violence. The resolution shows the acknowledgement of lack of sufficient security for women around the world as they are actively still the most affected in situations such as civil wars, genocides, and general crimes against humanity.

 A simple explanation, though not justified, is that according to UN Women, 33% of the world’s global extreme poverty cases women were found to be disproportionately impacted due to their roles as caregivers and managers of resources at home. Even in changing times, women are instead expected to adapt and carry this “double shift” or burden if you’d like. This is apparent not only to women faced with crisis but all women around the globe. A study conducted by a sociology professor Melissa Milkie at the University of Toronto found that mothers today work five more hours overall per week with mothers working 73 and fathers working 68 hours per week, respectively. So one can clock the importance of such resolutions for the stability of women in the peace and security agenda. So far, there is no systematic approach to collect and analyse sex discrimination in relations to conflict’s impact on women.

A continually growing research base has now recognised the importance of women’s involvement in peace and security issues in achieving long-lasting stability. In 2000, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) formally acknowledged through the creation of Resolution 1325 the need for change. This is because, in terms of unstable times, women are increasingly targeted in gender-based crimes and yet are still excluded from participation in peace processes. The resolution addresses explicitly how women and girls are differentially impacted by conflict and war and admit the critical role that women need to have in peacebuilding. UNSCR 1325 affirms that peace and security efforts are more sustainable when women are equal partners in the prevention of violent conflict in the forging of lasting peace.

What is UNSCR 1325?

Resolution 1325 was created through the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) established under the Security Council. During the establishment of the UN charter, the security council was one of the six main organs, and its sole purpose is to provide and maintain peace. According to the Charter, the United Nations has four objectives: international peace and security; keeping diplomatic relations; combating regional and global problems as one body to promote human rights; and to make fair and accurate compromises. While other organs of the United Nations make suggestions, only the Security Council has the power to make decisions that members have to oblige under the UN Charter. It is assumed that all members agree to execute the decisions made by the UNSCR, which is not always accurate; this can be seen through the infamous ‘peacekeeping’ in Rwanda, which was a failure. The United Nations Assistance for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in the late 1990s through the peacekeeping operation found itself adding to the need for female representation for vulnerable Tutsis and moderate Hutu women. 

When a complaint concerning a threat to peace is brought about, the Council’s first action is usually to recommend that the parties try to reach agreement by peaceful means. This allowed a passive operation when Rwanda needed the UN the most. Despite dedicated people like Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire, the operation was a complete failure and left vulnerable Tutsis and moderate Hutus to a genocide that claimed millions.  

How is resolution 1325 implemented?

The best way to demonstrate this is by making a checklist of the four pillars of resolution 1325, participation, protection, prevention and relief and recovery:

Participation and or decision-making.

The UN now actively runs operations to help tackle this deeply rooted problem in nation states today. One of the most notable examples is the first all-female formed police unit (FFPU), which became active in United Nations peacekeeping in January 2007. The task force consisted of 105 women forming the peacekeepers of India recruited from across the Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary police organisation.

Protection and prevention.

As of 2017, the task force had been deployed nine times to Liberia. Although there has been an increase in acceptance and eagerness from young women in India, it is still evident that the initiative has not been sufficiently funded to increase training, further enforcing gender beliefs. According to the World Economic Forum, there was a 21.4% rise in the rates of violence committed against women in Liberia; at the state level, too, the results were consistent, posting a 22.5% jump. At first glance, the blame is put on the abilities of these ladies to provide peace and security, but a further look pins it down to the effort put into providing aid to these women such as the lack of consistent growth of the task force since 2007. All that remains from the goal of resolution 1325 are the relief and recovery plan, and even then they are not fully committed to the protection and prevention of gender-based inequalities.

UN Women, is that enough? 

Creating organisations to combat sex-based inequalities by putting the interests of women first is important. The UN seems to acknowledge this at a very basic level. On July 2, 2010, the General Assembly voted unanimously for the creation of an organ in the UN that tackles the inequalities women face around the world; this is supposedly done by promoting female empowerment in terms of social, political and economic aspects. UN Women has been operational for over nine years and therefore we are able to assess if the UN is providing enough support for UN Women to do their part. Significant progress on paper has been made, notably the Beijing Declaration of 1995. Although a declaration to commit was made to impose equal rights and opportunities for women in every form as well as eliminating any and all forms of gender violence, this has not been the case. The UN itself has been publishing articles on the increase of violence towards women and children in relations to the pandemic. UN Women, rightfully so, titled their article in April 2020 as Violence against women and girls: the shadow pandemic. By using numerical data from helplines, police reports and ER reports, they were able to estimate and bring to light the fear some women have faced during the pandemic. According to UN Women, even before COVID-19 existed, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations. In 2019, over 200 million women and girls across the world were subjected to sexual or physical violence by a significant other.

UN Women was created to ensure accountability is preserved in the mission of promoting equal opportunities for the sexes. UN Women has acknowledged how far from functional the UN is to changing this deeply rooted problem. In their implementation and evaluation section, they stress the need to learn the best ways to achieve women empowerment. Efficiency does not mean having or creating new organisations as this just provides a paper town effect. The most disappointing aspect of it all is that the UN fails to put the findings of the UN Women into practice.

The future should be women.

Regardless, the efforts towards the inclusion of women have been very promising, mainly since the introduction of the millennium development goals (MDGs). The fear many might have is the lack of legitimacy resolution 1325 has in terms of jurisdiction. As seen above, the UNSCR has not achieved all the goals set out for the empowerment of women. The future should be for women if any real progress is to happen. Doing so will be difficult when the UN was forced to amend and reevaluate its plans for women four times (Resolutions 1261 (1999) of 25 August 1999, 1265 (1999) of 17 September 1999, 1296 (2000) of 19 April 2000 and 1314 (2000) of 11 August 2000 ). The most prominent critics of the resolution, Christine Bell & Catherine O’Rourke, in their work in ‘Peace Agreements or Pieces of Paper – The Impact of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Peace Processes’ fear that resolution 1325 is merely just a piece of paper. This is because although there has been an increase in operations and resolutions to resolve conflict, such as the first all-female led police unit; the UN charter remains the same as it was when it was first signed. Some nations yield more power than others. 

Leave a Reply