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Mary Robinson Headshot
Bineta Diop Headshot

Want Peace and Security? Empower and Protect Women

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Women continue to pay a heavy price in ongoing conflicts around the world. Impunity for crimes against women in conflict-affected countries is the norm. Equally troubling, when women stand up and make their voices heard in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconciliation they often face security risks, are denied seats at the table, and are excluded from planning that determines their futures.

Ten years ago this week, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 as a response to these harsh realities. For the first time, the Council publicly recognized that sustainable peace could not be achieved without the full participation -- and protection -- of women.

In the decade since the resolution was adopted, we have witnessed gains for women as agents of peace. One important example of how women have made a difference is their central role in ending the war in Liberia. Liberian Christian and Muslim women united in prayer protests for peace and even barricaded the site of stalled peace talks in Ghana and announced they would not move until a deal was reached. Their demonstrations culminated in the exile of Charles Taylor and the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, African's first female head of state. Their efforts, and recent work by women leaders in Guinea, Zimbabwe, and Fiji, show how effective women can be in promoting, achieving, and protecting peace and security.

Now there are signs that the UN is finally getting serious about implementing the women, peace and security agenda. Three additional Security Council resolutions have been adopted that strengthen accountability -- particularly on sexual violence committed in conflict settings. In the last three years the Secretary-General has appointed ten female Special and Deputy Special Representatives and two Special Envoys. The recent establishment of UN Women and the appointment of former President Michelle Bachelet of Chile as its first head is a welcome step forward. At the same time, a small but steadily growing number of nations, mostly in Europe and Africa, have developed National Action Plans to implement the provisions of Resolution 1325 throughout their domestic legal systems. All of these developments prove that progress is possible.

Nonetheless, the promise of an international community fully committed to protecting women in conflict zones and supporting their contributions to peace remains unmet. Barriers abound on the ground and in policy-making circles alike. While opponents criticize the 1325 agenda for giving women "special" treatment, women are targets of the worst forms of violence during conflict and excluded from participation in resolution and reconciliation efforts. Others claim there is not enough money to involve women more, though advocates of 1325 call only for existing resources to be used more wisely. Still others suggest the priority must be to reduce the number of soldiers and guns before dealing with "softer" women's issues. In reality up to one-third of women are associated with fighting forces -- and if reconstruction efforts are shaping a society in which women's concerns come second, what kind of society are we building?

In advance of Resolution 1325's 10th anniversary, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro created a Civil Society Advisory Group to the UN on Women, Peace and Security to offer advice on how to address criticisms and set a course for future actions. As co-chairs of this group, we have spent much of this year consulting with civil society activists on what governments and the UN should be doing differently to make good on their commitments. We have heard repeatedly -- most recently at a gathering of African women's civil society organizations in Kampala -- that a key challenge for women working on the ground is a lack of resources. We've also heard that the UN system must develop a more coherent and coordinated approach to implementing 1325, and proactively include the perspectives of women and men working in their own communities for peace.

We call on the Security Council to endorse new monitoring and accountability mechanisms on women, peace and security. Member states should ensure UN Women is equipped with the resources to actually become the UN system's guide on women, peace and security. They should support specific programs on the ground in conflict-affected countries that allow women to participate directly in all aspects of conflict reconciliation, prevention and reconstruction.

Civil society must continue to work collaboratively to enhance its own work on women, peace and security and find constructive collaboration with governments and UN actors.

Much remains to be done to gain real results on peace and security for women on the ground. Women, girls, and the world cannot wait another ten years for action.

Mary Robinson is a former president of Ireland and president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative. Bineta Diop is executive director of Femmes Africa Solidarité. They co-chair the Civil Society Advisory Group to the UN on Women, Peace and Security.