Institutionalisation of the WPS agenda: political implications

Resolution 1325 was adopted at the turn of the century, at a time when the understandings of peace and security were being re-interpreted in the international realm. While the provisions built upon long-standing feminist policy initiatives and advocacy, there was little to draw on from within the Security Council on the subject of gender, peace, and security. As has been argued elsewhere, the provisions of UNSCR 1325 reflected and were incorporated into “business-as-usual” at the Security Council (see, for instance, Shepherd, 2008). That said, recognition — within the institutional context of the Security Council — of the use of violence against women as a tool of war and women’s significance in peace processes afforded an opportunity to the Security Council, relevant UN agencies, and indeed member states to reenvision women’s roles and responsibilities in prevention, resolution, and transformation of armed conflicts. Soon after, however, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in the United States in 2001 changed the larger security context within which the Resolution was to be implemented. With the expansion of the Global War on Terror and escalation of civil conflicts in many parts of the world, and then the funding cuts brought on by the economic recession in 2008, the WPS agenda was pushed down the priorities list of member states and international agencies that hold deliberative and material power. Since June 2008, nine followup WPS resolutions have been adopted. But the extent to which this entails a transformation in conflict prevention and peacebuilding remains to be seen. This section examines steps taken by some of the key actors in this respect.

At the UN, consistent efforts have been made by international non-governmental organisations, especially those that are members of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, UNIFEM and (later) UN Women, as well as some leading member states such as Canada and the United Kingdom, to push forward the implementation of the resolutions. In the Security Council’s own work, references to WPS issues in country-specific, peacekeeping, and thematic resolutions have increased manifold since the passage of the Resolutions. Monitoring by WILPF’s PeaceWomen project suggests that, on an average, more than 45 per cent of the Council’s resolutions make references to some aspect of WPS since 2000; as of

November 2018, 65 per cent of resolutions adopted by the Council included such references (PeaceWomen, 2020; also see Coomaraswamy et al., 2015). For comparison, it is notable that only 4 per cent of the resolutions adopted by the Council during the period between January 1994 to October 2000, explicitly mentioned or considered women, girls, and gender (True-Frost, 2007). Further, a complex array of system-wide policies and independent reports (Coomaraswamy et al., 2015) have lent support towards realisation of the WPS agenda at the UN. Leading 13 peacekeeping operations across the world, the Department of Peace Operations is well-placed to integrate gender into the UN’s work in the field. It identifies the promotion of WPS as one of its key areas of work; addressing conflict-related sexual violence is also included in its mandate of protection of civilians in armed conflict (see DPO, 2020). As with other UN entities, however, DPO’s initiatives are shaped not only by bureaucratic interests and imperatives, but also the political will and concrete contributions of member states.

The salience of the UN and its agencies in the institutionalisation of the WPS agenda notwithstanding, member states play a decisive role in taking the WPS agenda forward. As indicated earlier, as of December 2019, 83 countries have adopted National Action Plans (NAPs) for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and, more broadly, the WPS agenda. The NAPs are designed to guide national policies relating to WPS as well as their contributions, in terms of funds, personnel, and impetus to the UN and other, including nongovernmental agencies. An overview suggests that there are two “types” of countries that are likely to adopt NAPs, donor member states from the global north and countries, mainly from the global south, that are emerging from armed conflicts. The first set of NAPs, barring a few exceptions such as that of the Republic of Ireland, have been critiqued for their “outward orientation” wherein WPS agenda is understood to be irrelevant for domestic politics (Barrow, 2016, p. 274; Shepherd, 2016). In the second set, the likelihood of adoption of NAPs increases in cases where the UN has been involved. In the South Asian region, for instance, Nepal and Afghanistan were the first two countries to adopt NAPs even though neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are also home to well-documented conflicts and disturbances; it is no coincidence that both countries have hosted UN political missions.1 Again, there are exceptions; Bangladesh adopted its NAP in November 2019. However, at the global scale, an asymmetry in national adaptations of the WPS agenda becomes apparent. Notably, countries in the global south tend to be more “inward-looking” demonstrating “holistic understanding of violence beyond war”, at least in some cases (Hudson, 2017, 23; also see Barrow, 2016).

Feminist scholars have observed that member states often have their own “national interests” in relation to the WPS Agenda (Aroussi, 2017, p. 34). An early example is the US invocation of Resolution 1325: when domestic support for its military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq began to wane, key US leaders presented the protection and liberation of local women and girls as the rationale for their continuing presence in these countries. The outward-oriented NAPs of the global north, it has been argued, are tools to “gender-wash” their interests and unwarranted influence in relatively weaker parts of the world. These NAPs and, more broadly, the WPS agenda have also been used by countries, especially from the global north, to gain traction in the international peace and security realm, including in campaigns for a seat on the Security Council (Basu, 2016b). Such manoeuvring also plays out at the discursive level. Motoyama (2018) notes, for instance, that the Japanese government has embraced the WPS agenda in order to advance its stature as a country that belongs to the international community of “liberal” states and to soften the image of its militaristic past. In the global south, Liberia and Sierra Leone (whose NAPs were enacted in 2009 and 2010 respectively) also align themselves with the overarching liberal agenda that sees democratic institutions and alignment with global market economy as panacea for conflict management (Ryan and Basini, 2017).

While the focus here has been on the UN and its member states, regional organisations and associations like the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have instituted policies relating to the WPS agenda. Finally, international non-governmental organisations have made consistent efforts to advocate for and monitor WPS policies. While their role in advancing the WPS agenda cannot be underestimated, there have been concerns about their pragmatic approach seeking to balance ideas of feminist peace with that of militarised peace which dominate security institutions (Gibbings, 2011; Naraghi Anderlini, 2007; see also Ansorg, Haastrup, and Wright, this volume). There has been little emphasis on conflict prevention in the WPS resolutions (Basu and Confortini, 2016); except for the NAPs of Germany, Japan, and Argentina, a commitment to disarmament is still lacking (PeaceWomen, 2020). NATO’s Regional Action Plan is located within an institutional context characterised by hegemonic masculinity, sustained “through cultural norms and an organisational culture” (Wright, 2016). As such, thus, institutionalisation of the WPS agenda following the passage of the WPS resolutions has by and large been delineated by the discursive boundaries of security institutions.

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