Australia and the UN women, peace and security agenda: 20 years on
27 Nov 2020|

As the nature of war has changed in recent decades to involve proportionally more civilians, and internal conflicts continue to tear nations apart, we cannot achieve sustainable peace without involving women more closely in preventing and resolving violence.

That means addressing gender inequalities.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

Unanimously adopted on 31 October 2000, resolution 1325 reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian responses and post-conflict reconstruction. It also stresses women’s ‘equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security’.

The resolution was born out of the recognition that in the second half of the 20th century the nature of conflict was changing. Conflicts increasingly involved civilians as well as combatants, and intra-state and communal conflict became more common. We also learned that women were disproportionately affected by violence, including sexual violence, in conflict situations. Women’s vital role in peace negotiations wasn’t recognised and there was little consideration of women’s participation and decision-making being critical to recovery in a post-conflict settings.

The UN secretary-general’s most recent report on women, peace and security highlights that while the WPS agenda has evolved over the past 20 years, there is still much to be done.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres observes that we live in a world where women still face exclusion from peace and political processes; where attacks against women, human rights defenders, humanitarians and peacebuilders continue to rise; and where the impacts of Covid-19 risk undermining progress made towards gender equality. Also striking is the report’s recognition that there is a strong correlation between gender inequality and conflict risk.

We know that when girls have access to quality education, when more women are in positions as key decision-makers and participants in all stages of political processes, and when women are economically empowered and live without threats of violence and harm, their communities are more economically prosperous, stable and secure.

Put simply, we cannot achieve sustainable peace and security for all without addressing gender inequalities.

In places with ongoing conflict, we must also redouble our efforts to engage women. The Council on Foreign Relations’ recent report Women’s participation in peace processes notes that between 1992 and 2019 women constituted, on average, 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators and 6% of signatories in major peace processes around the world.

While these statistics are sobering, the counter-factual—what happens when we include women in peace processes—is worth reflecting on, not least for the hope it offers.

The International Peace Institute has found that when women participate in peace processes the resulting agreements are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years. When there’s participation by civil society groups, including women’s rights organisations, peace agreements are 64% less likely to fail.

Here in the Indo-Pacific region, we have seen an increased focus on the WPS agenda as a framework for addressing drivers of conflict and instability, as well as new and emerging threats to security.

In Australia, we introduced our first national action plan on WPS in 2012 and we’re in the process of developing our second. In addition to the action plan, we have increased our focus on WPS through enhanced coordination across defence, foreign policy, humanitarian and development programs. Our defence force has worked to increase the number of women in its operations and provide training for gender advisers. We can be proud of Australian women like Major General Cheryl Pearce who commands the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus.

Australia has recognised the importance of building a deeper understanding of what drives radicalisation to violence, and of the role of women and girls in terrorist organisations. We have played a leading role in mainstreaming gender into policies for countering violent extremism through the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum. As co-chair with Indonesia of the CVE working group, we have developed practical guidance to inform effective policy and programming.

ASEAN issued its first joint statement on WPS in 2017 and has been making important progress on advancing its commitments ever since. We are encouraged by interest in developing an ASEAN regional action plan and look forward to opportunities for furthering regional collaboration and learning.

Australia is committed to hosting the second ASEAN–Australia WPS dialogue as soon as possible. This will build on the successful dialogue held in 2018, when regional stakeholders came together to share lessons and enhance cooperation on implementing the WPS agenda.

Now, of course, our region is confronting one of the greatest challenges, in Covid-19, to our shared prosperity, stability and security in over a century. As Guterres remarked, Covid-19 has exacerbated inequalities, including gender inequalities.

But continuing inequalities are by no means inevitable. We have evidence of what works to safeguard women’s rights in the aftermath of a crisis. Indeed, the four core pillars of the WPS agenda—participation, prevention, protection, and relief and recovery—provide an important framework for addressing the challenges of Covid-19.

In responding to the crisis, Australia recognised immediately the need to maintain a focus on gender equality and that the WPS framework is a practical tool to enhance our response.

Under the Australian government’s Partnerships for Recovery Strategy, we provided additional support to UN Women for its Global Facility on Women, Peace and Security to maintain activities on countering violent extremism, supporting women in peacekeeping operations, strengthening leadership of young women, and promoting cooperation and knowledge-sharing among diverse stakeholders on the WPS agenda.

Adopted in 2000, it was the first international collective statement to recognise the disproportionate impact of conflict and crises on women and the importance of their role in maintaining peace, stability and security. Now, 20 years later, in the midst of this current global crisis, we need to remember why an inclusive approach to sustainable peace and security is important and apply whole-heartedly the lessons learned from the last two decades of implementing this agenda.

For Australia’s part, we are committed to working with others to drive greater awareness of the agenda as a relevant and practical tool in our efforts to ensure a prosperous, stable and secure region.