Making the Women, Peace and Security Agenda ‘Local’?

Aligning the broader goals of the the United Nations' WPS Agenda with the immediate needs of local women's and grassroots organizations.

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda launched in 2000 with the United Nation’s adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (hereafter 1325). 1325 promotes women's equal participation in conflict resolution, post-war reconstruction, peace negotiations, and security and governance through four pillars: participation, prevention, protection, and relief and recovery of conflict-affected nations. Since 2005, the UN has encouraged countries to adopt National Action Plans (NAPs) to implement UNSCR 1325 measures. Over the last 20+ years, 1325 NAPs have been seen as making pioneering steps towards enhancing gender equality and women's empowerment in postwar contexts.

Indeed, countries have made some progress in increasing women’s equal participation in peace, security, and development since 1325’s debut. For example, Nepal, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among others, have tried to make good on their obligations to deliver the WPS Agenda. Nepal had its first 1325 NAP from 2011 until 2016 and is currently preparing a second NAP. Nepal’s first NAP led to the country’s recent Constitution, which allocated 33% of the Constitutional Assembly for women, 34% at the provincial level, and 40% in local government. Compared to 1997, when women had only 5% seats in the constituent assembly, this reservation dramatically increased women’s representation. Similarly, the DRC adopted its first NAP in 2010 and after eight years, the government prepared a second-generation 1325 NAP (2019-2022) in which it commits to enhancing women's and girls' human rights and preventing gender-based violence. Liberia’s 1325 NAP has advanced the security sector by calling for a 20% quota for women, and established a gender unit to draft, adopt and disseminate gender-sensitive policies. This has increased women's engagement in diverse empowerment activities and supported women's economic and social empowerment. Even in countries like Sri Lanka, where there is no NAP yet, the 1325 framework serves as a tool for women’s rights advocates working in non-governmental groups such as the Women and Media Collective (WMC). The WMC has, for example, used 1325 principles to draw attention to policy areas that impact women post-conflict, including economic struggles, particularly for war widows. Sri Lankan activists such as Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa use 1325 principles in organizing for women’s rights.

1325 localization and grassroots women’s agenda

Despite these steps toward progress, 1325 is criticized for being west-centric; pushing global international norms that are unfit for local realities and discouraging local ownership of the NAPs. Building on these debates, we call for the localization of 1325 and NAPs through an increased diversity of grassroots women’s organizations and individual grassroots women in respect to the four pillars of 1325: participation, prevention, protection, and relief and recovery. Localization is often understood as country-level observance. However, Amitav Acharya has countered that localization of new norms always entails integration with existing local norms. We draw on this to suggest that localization must include a range of local actors to ensure a robust localization. There is tension around who counts as “local” when it comes to national-level/nationwide organizations in a country versus organizations working at regional, district or even village levels. Often, national organizations are well situated with access to resources and funding opportunities to plan and implement the 1325 agenda. Such national organizations agenda set priorities, which tend to reflect the hegemonic values that dominate at the national level. Examples from Rwanda, Nepal, and Somalia show that 1325 and NAPs are centralized and implemented by national women’s organizations, meaning that grassroots women’s demands are left out. As the scholarship on war and post-war studies reveals, women are not equally impacted by war. ​In particular, women from the grassroots such as survivors of political and sexual violence, ex-combatants, internally displaced, refugees, and/or war widows are more likely to be disproportionately impacted during and after the war. Such difficulties diverge from the experiences of more locally privileged women, who are better positioned to voice their agendas, including having access to funding through their work in national women’s organizations. For this reason, grassroots women’s priorities then are often absent from the NAPs while more privileged women’s interests come to the fore.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic also brings further challenges to the WPS Agenda. Those in war-affected countries such as Myanmar, Nepal, Liberia, and Sri Lanka women and girls are at particular risk of experiencing social, economic, political, and personal crises—where ongoing precarity due to conflict and other troubles already constrain women's everyday lives. For instance, Voluntary Service Overseas reports that after COVID-19 led to school closures, girl’s child marriage surged in rural Nepal. Similarly, a UN Women survey found that in Myanmar, 90.7% of women work in the informal economy. With the COVID-19 lockdowns, 50% of the 700,000 predominantly female workers in the garment sector are at risk of either being suspended without pay or of losing their jobs permanently. Now, in the pandemic and post-pandemic era (wherever it is reached), localization of 1325 is urgent and is key to addressing women’s needs and interests, particularly those of grassroots women.

We propose the following to localize WPS and 1325:

  • Develop concrete action plans to fund grassroots women’s organizations and their local initiatives in 1325 and WPS agenda activities to promote a diversity of grassroots women’s participation in the four pillars of 1325.
  • Collaborate with grassroot women’s organizations and promote their initiatives and priorities.
  • Organize robust coordination, reporting, and dissemination of the mechanisms of 1325 that include grassroots women’s work and issues in all domains of the WPS priorities.
  • Track women’s participation in the four pillars of participation, prevention, protection, and relief and recovery by applying an intersectional lens to ensure that all women are included in WPS activities, including across intersecting factors such as gender, race, caste, religion, age, location, ethnicity, education, and disability. This data will allow researchers and policy makers to understand which women and organizations get funding and are engaged in 1325 and NAPs planning and implementation. Such data can ultimately be used to further a diversity of women’s participation.
  • Integrate grassroots women’s issues that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 (such as unpaid care work, rise of poverty, gender-based violence) in 1325 NAPs (both ongoing and in progress).

The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Nafisa Ahmed Abdulhamid for reading a previous draft of this blog and offering her excellent feedback.

Dr. Luna K.C.’s contribution to this blog was enabled by the Research Network-Women Peace Security funded by the Government of Canada Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program.

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