Women at the Center of Peace: UN Security Council Resolution 1325

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
Ambassador Chowdhury presiding over a meeting of the Security Council

Anwarul K. Chowdhury served as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York from 1996 to 2001. As President of the UN Security Council in early 2000, he brought the issue of women and peace & security onto the Council's agenda, hoping that the outcome would be a Security Council Resolution, but this was not possible due to opposition from key states. Finally, he convinced all 15 members to issue a Security Council Press Statement on the theme of women and peace on 8 March 2000, International Women's Day. This prepared the way for the landmark Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and peace & security, which was passed on 31 October the same year. Here, he comments on the 10th anniversary celebrations.

The vicinity of the United Nations in New York experienced a tremendous expression of energy and vibrancy last week as civil society observed the 10th anniversary of the adoption of UNSCR 1325. From morning till evening in the course of the five-day 1325 Peace Fair organized wonderfully by the civil society organizations (CSOs), we expressed spirited enthusiasm and determination to move forward a task, a commitment, an agenda that has never been seen before in respect of any UN Security Council action on any issue.

Tracking back from my own vantage point on 1325, International Women's Day in 2000 was an extraordinary day for me and will remain so for the rest of my life. That day, I had the honor, on behalf of the United Nations Security Council as its President, of issuing a statement that formally brought to global attention the unrecognized, underutilized and under-valued contribution women have been making to preventing war, to building peace and to engaging individuals and societies to live in harmony. The members of the Security Council recognized that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men and affirmed the equal access and full participation of women in power structures and their full involvement in all efforts for peace and security.

The conventional impression of women as helpless victims of wars and conflicts was overtaken, at least in principle, by the assertion of the role of women in fostering peace in their communities and beyond. Thereby, the seed for Security Council Resolution 1325 was sown.

The core focus of this action is women's participation at all levels of decision-making and thereby structuring the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. That is why women need to be at the peace tables, women need to be involved in the decision-making and in the peacekeeping teams, particularly as civilians to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace.

1325 marked the first time that increasing participation of women was recognized as an objective of the Security Council for ensuring peace and security. 1325 is an impressive step forward for the women's equality agenda in the context of contemporary security politics. As such, its meaningful implementation places a unique and all-embracing responsibility on the international community, particularly the United Nations.

However, the historic and operational value of the resolution as the first international policy mechanism that explicitly recognized the gendered nature of war and peace processes has been undercut by the frustrating record of its implementation. The complicity of the Security Council in international practices that make women insecure, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements, is disappointing. Also, we should keep in mind that the Security Council itself, despite all those follow-up resolutions, is yet to internalize gender considerations into operational behavior of its actions.

A major concern emerging from various studies is that the themes most frequently referenced in country-specific resolutions by the Security Council tend to refer to women as victims rather than as active agents in the peacebuilding process, such as in governance, peace negotiations and post-conflict peacebuilding. It should be realized by the Council that women are not just a vulnerable group, but, more importantly, they are empowering as well.

My own experience in the course of my different responsibilities, more so during the last 20 years, has shown that the participation of women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding assures that their experiences, priorities and solutions contribute to stability, inclusive governance and sustainable peace.

Members of the first all-female UN Peacekeeing Force, Monrovia, Liberia, 2007 [Issuof Sanogo/AFP]

Let me present a reality check at this point. The Security Council, which held a much-anticipated ministerial open debate on 26 October 2010 on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 1325, failed to live up to general expectation on its outcome. Yes, I agree that the participation was good--90 countries made statements--and the level was also good, with a number of Ministers making important speeches. But, instead of an expected resolution as is normal in such high-level meetings, the Council adopted a Presidential Statement, lowering the status of its action. Its political savvy has been proved by its smartness in avoiding key issues in that Statement--no mention of the need for working with civil society closely; no mention of the Peacebuilding Commission or its support office that has a major role in the involvement of women in post-conflict peacebuilding; no support to the National Action Plans; no role for the regional organizations like the African Union; no assertion that the new entity UN Women should include 1325 in its mandate. For good or not, even the indicators proposed by the Secretary-General did not get endorsed.

Only the part on sexual exploitation and abuse shows some positive aspects. But, in that area too, our great concern continues to be those abhorrent acts by the UN peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel that remain ignored, tolerated and left unpunished for years by the UN. There should be no impunity whatsoever in the name of national sovereignty as is the practice now. The UN should initiate moves to change its agreements with the troop contributing countries so that such perpetrators are brought before the International Criminal Court for trial.

Given the decision that the Security Council has now asked the Secretary-General to propose next year a strategic framework including targets and indicators to guide the UN's implementation of the resolution, more deskbound exercise by the Secretariat is expected. In this context, he has also been asked to include policy and institutional reforms for improved response by the UN to women and peace & security issues. That means instead of the big push that all expected on the 10th anniversary, in reality no forward movement is possible till the Council takes action on that report from the Secretary-General earliest next October on the 11th anniversary.

The role of the UN Secretariat, the Secretary-General in particular, remains much to be desired to say the least. Undoubtedly there is a clear need for his genuinely active and dedicated engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325.

The UN has to take the lead in the implementation. The Secretary-General has to lead the UN in taking that lead. Many of us wonder where 1325 belongs in the UN system--which secretariat entity has the coordinating responsibility for this? Some member states claim that the mandate of UN Women does not include 1325.

Of 192 UN member states, only 23 have prepared their 1325 National Action Plans so far--a meager one-third of which are by developing countries. Please remember that governments of developing countries, particularly of the most vulnerable and the poorest ones, would not move unless there is international support and encouragement to them. That should come from the UN--with UN Resident Coordinators who represent the UN and the Secretary-General at the national level taking the initiative to energize the national leadership. The much-needed and talked-about directive from the Secretary-General to Resident Coordinators is still mired in the UN bureaucracy. The UN can take a lesson from Secretary of State Clinton's directive to all the US Ambassadors abroad regarding 1325.

The Secretary-General needs also to take the lead in setting up six-monthly inclusive consultative processes for 1325 implementation with civil society organizations at all levels involving all relevant UN entities. He should encourage a similar consultative process with non-governmental organizations at country level.

As my personal contribution to the effective implementation of 1325, I launched in July 2010 at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC, my own proposal titled "Doable First-Track Indicators for Realizing the 1325 Promise into Reality," outlining measures that could be initiated at global and national levels within the existing mandates and without delaying anymore.

As we face the reality after the 10th anniversary, the international community's commitment for 2011 is crucial. Ten years of expectation and exasperation has to end! Anniversaries are good to lift the spirit and energize us. But the time to act was yesterday! Our work and advocacy should now be aimed for every day--never to give up.

1325 belongs to humanity: it is owned by us all--it is for the benefit of all--it was intended to be so since March 2000 when the conceptual breakthrough was made. Therefore, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary at the peace gathering of civil society in New York on 25 October 2010, I declared 1325 "a common heritage of humanity" wherein the global objectives of peace, equality and development are reflected in a uniquely historic, universal document of the United Nations.

We should never forget that when women are marginalized, there is little chance for our world to get peace in the real sense!

This article is excerpted from a speech given by Ambassador Chowdhury at the "Women and War" conference held in celebration of the 10th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 in Washington DC on 4 November 2010.

After serving as Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York, from 2000 to 2007, Anwarul K. Chowdhury was Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations for the world's most vulnerable nations. During his time at the UN he also spearheaded the adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1999 of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.