The month in women, peace and security: January 2019

WPS on the agenda at the United Nations

Women, peace and security was in focus at the United Nations in January, with a number of high-profile events and new developments.

The UN Security Council held an Arria-formula meeting on women, peace and security in the Middle East and North Africa to explore ideas for promoting national action plans and their capacity to advance women’s rights in these regions. Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority are currently the only governments in the Middle East that have adopted national action plans.

The UN held a ministerial preparatory meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. WPS was the conference’s key theme, emphasising the importance of the issue ahead of the high-level meeting on peacekeeping scheduled for next month. The meeting highlighted the 2015 commitment made by member states to double the number of women deployed in peacekeeping operations and the importance of continuing to work towards that goal.

Shannon Zimmerman, a researcher at the Asia–Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, recently wrote that until women’s participation increases in the national forces of the countries that make major troop contributions to peacekeeping missions, militaries of developed nations like Australia should bridge the gender gap, particularly at higher levels, and show the value of gender parity in peace operations.

In the lead-up to the Addis Ababa meeting, UN Peacekeeping announced a new Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018–2028 as a part of broader reforms focused on gender at the UN. Writing for PassBlue, Annie Marie Goetz and Paige Arthur addressed the difficult road to implementing these reforms. They argue that one of the obstacles is a lack of political will among senior UN staff.

In a positive step, Syrian women gave their first-ever briefing to the UN Security Council in an Arria-formula meeting. Three women civil-society leaders discussed how the UN could achieve greater inclusion in the Geneva II peace talks and participated in several bilateral meetings with UN permanent missions.

The Taliban talks and the rights of Afghan women

The US and the Taliban held six days of peace talks in January, with experts claiming that it was the closest the two parties had come to a deal to achieve peace in Afghanistan since intermittent peace efforts began nine years ago.

While Afghans are eager for peace, there are fears that any agreement that empowers the Taliban may ‘herald a new war on women’. Many Afghan women recall stories of horrific punishment imposed by the Taliban’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

The Afghan constitution guarantees women’s civil and human rights, but a deal with the Taliban could involve changes to that document. Afghan women have so far been sidelined in the peace process, and are concerned that no women will be present at the final peace-negotiating table.

Anne-Marie Slaughter and Ashley Jackson argue that the rest of the international community could play a greater role in including women in dialogue with the Taliban, given the current failure of the US-led negotiations to do so.

Women’s participation in peace processes in Myanmar and beyond

The exclusion of women from the peace process is the focus of a new report released by the Peace Research Institute in Norway. The report provides a ‘numbers and narratives’ overview of Myanmar’s peace process, exploring the difficulties women face in seeking to engage in the negotiations. The country’s ethnic armed organisations have included far more women in the peace talks than the military, but their role remains limited and their potential undervalued.

For a global picture, visit the Council on Foreign Relations’ regularly updated interactive website on women’s participation in current and historical peace negotiations around the world.

Mixed results in Colombia

News from Colombia highlights the challenges for women even when the peace process successfully incorporates gender issues. Women’s rights were at the forefront of the 2016 peace accord, but those provisions have been poorly implemented. Some analysts blame the liberal economic order and continued emphasis on militarism and resource extraction, both traditionally linked to gendered violence and the economic subordination of women.

US midterms boosted number of women in national security in Congress

The 116th US Congress, sworn in on 4 January, has more women than ever with national security backgrounds. Two former CIA officers, Abigail Spanberger and Elissa Slotkin, are joined by retired US Navy commander Elaine Luria, air force veteran Chrissy Houlahan, and former navy pilot Mikie Sherrill. The Trump administration’s Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017 commits the US to prioritising women’s roles in peacekeeping and security operations.

Gender in counterterrorism

Catherine Powell and Rebecca Turkington, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, have published an article looking at gender, masculinity and counterterrorism. In this piece, they welcome a more nuanced gender lens in counterterrorism studies, and point out that the relationship between masculinity and violent extremism has been under-researched. They explore how gender influences the recruitment and radicalisation of both men and women, arguing that incorporating such a perspective would increase the effectiveness of counterterrorism policies.

‘Seeking Peace’ podcast series

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security has launched a podcast series called Seeking Peace, which highlights the roles of women in war and peace.

Masterclass underway in Canberra

ASPI’s masterclass on women, peace and security is on today. Follow @ASPI_org for live updates.