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Women, Peace and Security in Europe: opportunitiesand pitfalls

European security does not operate in a bubble. Global gender norms shape security and defence policy at both national and regional levels. A case in point here is the WPS agenda. This has provided a key lobbying tool for civil society actors across Europe to hold governments (and the EU, NATO and OSCE) to account for their record on integrating gender concerns into external relations. It is this agenda, and European engagement with it, which this chapter turns to examine.

On All Hallows Eve 2000, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325 (United Nations Security Council, 2000). This Resolution encapsulated the WPS agenda. The date led some to question whether this Resolution was a ‘trick’ or a ‘treat’ (Tryggestad, 2009). The Resolution acknowledges both the disproportionate impact of conflict on women, and their crucial role in resolving it. The intention was to transform international security through challenging its gendered construction. Yet, in so doing, it painted women as both victims and agents of change, roles that appear difficult for any individual to reconcile (Shepherd, 2011, p. 510). Ultimately, the Resolution was the result of the necessary compromises resulting from its passage through the Security Council. Indeed, it was the first time the UN Security Council had formally discussed gender.

The Resolution was also groundbreaking because of the role of feminist civil society in realising its adoption. They worked through the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, an umbrella grouping bringing together a number of NGOs interested in WPS, to lobby for, draft and redraft the final Resolution (Hill, Aboitiz, and Poehlman-Doumbouya, 2009, pp. 1258-1260). Their intention was not to ‘make war safe for women’. Rather, it was to gain an acknowledgement that war has a different and disproportionate impact on women and also that women have an important role in conflict prevention and resolution (Cook, 2009, p. 126). The efforts of women positioned in civil society at the local and international level, within member states, as academics and at the UN were critical to the realisation of the Resolution and were unprecedented at the Security Council. This led to the Resolution being claimed as a ‘feminist achievement’ (Cockbum, 2011).

The adoption of the Resolution was far from a foregone conclusion in 2000. The role of‘a lucky coincidence’ of supportive permanent and non-permanent Security Council members was also key (Otto, 2010, p. 100). These included Namibia, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Canada, the Netherlands, and the UK. In addition to lobbying for the Resolution, these states led a series of initiatives that culminated in UNSCR 1325. Namibia initiated the open debate on WPS preceding the Resolution, building on the findings of a workshop it had hosted on gender mainstreaming in peace operations, and Bangladesh laid some of the groundwork during its presidency of the Security Council by releasing the first ever statement to mark International Women’s Day (Tryggestad, 2009, p. 547). Canada also provided support, in particular through launching the ‘Friends of 1325’ initiative, bringing together like-minded states to support and monitor the implementation of WPS going forward and working closely with the NGO Working Group on WPS (Hill, 2005, p. 4; Tryggestad, 2009, p. 547). The UK, as a permanent member, became the ‘penholder’ for WPS and has taken the lead in drafting Security Council decisions on this theme going forward (Green, 2016, p. 8).

The actors involved in championing the Resolution had to ensure its adoption by the Security Council and compromises were necessary. Among the NGO Working Group, the majority of whose members did not define themselves as ‘feminist’ or ‘anti-war’, there was also a lack of consensus on the extent to which the Resolution should challenge existing practices (Cohn, 2011, p. 134). As a result, some of the groups making up the NGO Working Group viewed discussion of the arms trade or militarism as off limits because they found the subject ‘too political’ (Cohn, 2011, p. 134). This contributes to explaining the noticeable absence from UNSCR 1325 of the Security Council’s own responsibilities under the UN Charter to establish arms regulations systems (Otto, 2004, p. 12). A key member, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), regretted the absence of any mention of ending war itself, one of the founding principles of the UN and the Security Council’s brief (Cockbum, 2007, p. 147). Certainly, there continues to be a contradiction between the Security Council, with an implicit support for a militarised interstate system, and a normative Resolution on women and armed conflict, precisely because of the challenges to women’s security resulting from the current setup of the international arena (Basu, 2010, p. 289).

The passage of UNSCR 1325 through the Security Council also removed some of the political and radical feminist understandings of gender and reproduced them in a non-challenging way, palatable for a conservative institution. One prime example of this is the language within the Resolution that consistently associates ‘gender’ with ‘women’, making 34 references to women and none to men. The Resolution’s calls for gender mainstreaming are, therefore, read as only applicable to the concerns of women. This leaves gender transformed into a ‘safe idea’ for policy makers, leaving behind its radical potential to produce change (Puechguirbal, 2010, p. 184). The language of the Resolution is also relatively weak compared to other Security Council Resolutions, for example, the inclusion of‘urges’, ‘encourages’ and ‘calls’, rather than stronger language demanding action from states (Tryggestad, 2009, p. 544).

Another key area of contention is the framing of women as both victims and agents of change within UNSCR 1325. On the one hand, the Resolution presents women as victims of conflict, identifying the ‘particular’ and ‘special needs’ of women in conflict situations, making reference to the protection of women five times. In contrast, it also frames women as agents, ‘stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security’ (United Nations Security

Council, 2000). For some, including Cohn et al. (2004, p. 139), there is no contradiction here and it is possible to acknowledge both the disproportionate impact of war on women while still ‘making women’s agency vibrantly visible’. For others, the language of the Resolution has created a victim-agent dichotomy, in particular missing an opportunity to challenge myths that sustain beliefs about women’s helplessness in the face of sexual violence by also acknowledging their capacity to be agents of change (Otto, 2010, p. 117).

Realising the Women, Peace and Security agenda beyond UNSCR 1325

After an initially slow engagement with the agenda by the international community and the Security Council, the UN Secretary General called for states to produce National Action Plans (NAPs) for its implementation. The intention was to provide a means to hold states to account in their efforts to implement WPS. European states, specifically Denmark and the UK, were at the forefront of producing NAPs and Europe remains at the vanguard of formal engagement with the agenda. Indeed, Europe, and the Global North more broadly, is often assumed to lead engagement with WPS as the ‘conceptual, material and (not least) institutional home of the resolutions’ (Basu, 2016, p. 362). Engagement by IOs and states in Europe has been criticised for being outward facing and resembling an ‘imperialist’ project (Pratt, 2013, p. 774). However, while these claims have validity, they do not exclude the agency of the Global South in contributing to, and shaping, the WPS agenda more broadly -as has been evidenced above with their role in the adoption of UNSCR 1325. We should, therefore, understand the Global South as far from just a passive recipient of WPS interventions from the Global North but, rather, constitutive of the WPS agenda at both the local and intergovernmental levels (Basu, 2016, p. 362). So, while our focus in this chapter is on European engagement with WPS, it is important that WPS should not be understood as solely a European project.

A few years after states began to produce NAPs, work began in the Security Council to broaden and widen the WPS agenda. While UNSCR 1325 focused primarily on women’s participation (WP) and protection, a focus began to emerge on sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in conflict. The seven resulting WPS resolutions (see Table 9.1) at once serve to provide a more nuanced understanding of WPS, while also widening the agenda.

Table 9.1 UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security

Resolution

1325

1820

1888

1880

1960

2106

2122

2242

Year

2000

2008

2009

2009

2010

2013

2013

2015

Focus

WP

SGBV

WP

SGBV

SGBV

SGBV

WP

WP & CVE

Proposer

Namibia

USA

USA

Vietnam

USA

UK

Azerbaijan

Spain

Month

Oct.

June

Sept.

Oct.

Dec.

June

Oct.

Oct.

As Table 9.1 also demonstrates, European states have not been at the forefront of proposing new WPS Resolutions. However, the two Resolutions supported by the UK and Spain, UNSCRs 2106 and 2242, are worth examining in further detail here given what they can tell us about European perspectives on WPS. The first, UNSCR 2106 on SGBV in conflict, was proposed as part of a series of initiatives forming part of the UK’s high profile foreign policy deliverable on preventing sexual violence in conflict (PSVI). Critiques of this high-profile engagement with PSVI have underscored the initiative's value as political capital for then UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague. They also draw attention to the disparity between the rhetoric on this agenda, and the reality that at the same time the UK government was championing PSVI, it was cutting funding for women’s refugees in the UK (Meger, 2016, p. 154). UNSCR 2242, proposed by Spain in autumn 2015, brought together the WPS agenda and countering violent extremism (CVE) for the first time. The widening of the agenda has proved problematic in some instances. For example, the pairing of the WPS and CVE agendas sit uncomfortably together and pose a risk that WPS will be hijacked and commodified as an agenda, rather than viewed as an agenda of value in its own right (Aolain, 2016, p. 277). That is, WPS will become only of value to advancing CVE, rather than as an agenda in its own right.

The focus here has been on the WPS Resolutions. And while it has been important to outline these and their passage through the Security Council in order to understand the politics and wider context underpinning WPS, it is not the whole story. Rather, the WPS agenda should be understood as more than the sum of the Security Council Resolutions. The role of civil society remains crucial for holding the Security Council, governments and international organisations to account for their implementation of the agenda. They serve a crucial role in helping to mitigate some of the weaknesses inherent in the Resolutions. Civil society actors are not the only actors who provide meaning to the WPS beyond a strict reading of the Resolutions. WPS is also interpreted by states and regional institutions seeking to implement it. These interpretations can provide new meaning to WPS beyond that envisaged at the Security Council. Within Europe at the regional level, the EU has been somewhat of a laggard on engagement with WPS. Rather, it has been NATO that has become the leading forum for state engagement on the issue, while the OSCE also engaged early on with the agenda (Tryggestad, 2009, p. 549). It is European regional level engagement with WPS that the chapter now turns to examine.

 
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