Experts’ Opinion: The Role of Women in Peace and Security


This month, a selection of experts answered three questions on the role of women in peace and security:

  1. What was a major advancement for the role of women in peace and security processes?
  2. What are the main obstacles to the integration of women in peace and security processes?
  3. How can the UN boost the role of women in peace and security processes?


Professor Dianne Otto – Francine V McNiff Chair in Human Rights Law, Melbourne Law School (Australia) and Director, Institute for International Law and the Humanities (IILAH).

“A major advancement for the role of women in peace and security was the establishment of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915 and its ongoing activism for disarmament, gender equality and positive peace. In addition to that, the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 that emphasized on women’s participation (rather than victimhood) in conflict prevention and resolution and post-conflict peacebuilding. 

Nevertheless, obstacles for women still exist in peace and security processes. One of which is the persistence of gendered ways of thinking at all levels of society whereby ‘men’ are assumed to be ‘natural’ leaders, negotiators and thinkers, while ‘women’ are assumed to be more emotional and domestically focused and therefore less capable than men in the public sphere. This gendered mindset also understands ‘armed conflict’ as largely a matter for men, and fears the involvement of women will be a ‘sign of weakness’.

Women’s role in peace and security can be boosted by international organizations’ support of grassroots, national and international women’s peace movements to determine and pursue their own priorities (including by providing funding) and ensure their experiences and voices are taken more seriously by international institutions and acted on responsively rather than in a one-size-fits-all manner.”

Professor Dr. María Martín de Almagro Adjunct Professor, Vesalius College (Brussels, Belgium) and Education ExpertBelgium Ministry of Development Cooperation.

 “I think that the major advancement for the role of women in peace and security processes has been the enactment of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in 2000[1]. The Resolution urges member states and UN institutions to adopt a gender perspective on peace and security, recognising that women experience conflict in a gender-specific way and that women have a right to contribute to conflict resolution and peacebuilding at all levels. It was groundbreaking in the sense that it led to  the appointment of a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict[3] and annual reporting by the Secretary-General. The Resolution has also led to the design and implementation of National Action Plans around the world. In general, the Resolution has been very successful in putting women concerns at the top of the political agenda of post-conflict countries. We have seen an enormous increase of percentage of women in Parliaments and in police and military forces.

Although UNSCR 1325 has certainly increased awareness among international actors about women and gender issues in armed conflict and created opportunities for new resources for women’s rights, success remains limited due to two kinds of obstacles: ideological and material. Ideological obstacles firstly refer to the international community’s conceptualization of women’s roles in conflict and post-conflict areas and the policy options available for promoting the role of women in peace and security, which are limited by the traditional feminine roles attributed to women[3]. Secondly, ideological obstacles involve the narrow understanding of security in UNSCR 1325 (focused on institutional and staff reforms), which does not encompass structural mechanisms generating inequalities (socio-economic prejudices, female personnel treated differently, given ‘female’ tasks, and discriminated). Material obstacles refer to the low number of countries that have adopted National Action Plans and lack of implementation by those that have done so. This has led to claims that the commitments towards the Women, Peace and Security Agenda is more rhetorical than real. In particular, the participation of local women in peace processes is very weak and there are almost no resources put forward to prioritise their concerns and make their situation better.

The UN is the first actor that has to comply with UNSCR 1325 provisions, which are primarily directed to UN institutions and UN peace operations. In order to boost women’s role in peace and security, UN Peacekeeping operations’ mandates need to be more explicit as to which specific actions they will carry out in order to boost the role of women in peace and security processes. For instance, the UN is leading the Syrian peace process since 2013. As rounds of talk have taken place in Geneva and will certainly take place again in the near future, the question is not if women shall participate in the talks, but how they shall be included in the process. The UN should make the participation of women therefore a condition sine qua non to the organisation and funding of the talks, according to the UNSCR1325 [4].”

Professor Sabrina Karim  Assistant Professor, Government Department of Cornell University (New York, U.S.A) and PhD candidate at Emory University (Georgia, U.S.A).

“There are major improvements in female participation with regards to peacekeeping missions since 1948. In fact, nowadays there are very few missions without female peacekeepers. This is a major success. Now peacekeeping missions have extensive mandates around gender, such as including gender equality in peace building efforts (i.e. prevent sexual and gender-based violence, increase women’s roles in the domestic security forces of the host country, etc.). Additionally, the all-female police units are a novel innovation for peacekeeping. 

However, there is a persistent idea that women are suited for some jobs and men for others. Women still only comprise about 3% of military operations and about 10% of police missionsAdditionally, female peacekeepers are more likely to be sent to the safest countries and not the ones where they are most needed.  For example, female peacekeepers are less likely to be deployed to missions where there were high levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during the conflict, to least developed countries, and countries that had higher levels of battle fatalities. This means that while female peacekeepers are supposed to be helping people, especially survivors of SGBV, they are not being deployed to the right places to do so.

To improve the situation, the UN would do well to go to contributing countries and help train females in their military and police formations. The UN could develop mentorship networks in contributing countries to encourage more women to apply, as well as change recruitment and promotion standards (such as for media parades, where women are recruited based on the aim of gender equality). Additionally, the mission leadership (Special Representative of the Secretary-Geneal, police commissioner, and force commander) must make gender equality a serious focus of the mission.

Visit the UN website to learn more about gender and peacekeeping

Magalie Bemba, Ingrid Silalahi, Alice Stelmach, and Sophie L. Vériter

[1] The UNSCR 1325 is the first of a cluster of 7 resolutions: UNSCR 1325 (2000), UNSCR 1820 (2008), UNSCR 1888 (2009), UNSCR 1889 (2009), UNSCR 1960 (2010), UNSCR 2106 (2013) and UNSCR 2122 (2013). It includes 18 provisions for the inclusion of women in all aspects and at all levels of peace and security processes, often organized under the four pillars of ‘women, peace and security’: (1) Participation of women in peacebuilding and reconstruction processes as well as participation of women in policy-making; (2) Protection from violence against women and gender-based violence; (3) Prevention of gender-based violence, including sexual violence committed as a tactic of war; (4) Peacebuilding so as to prevent the relapse of conflict.

[2] Margot Wallström in 2010, now Zainab Bangura since 2012.

[3] For example, UNSCR1325 understands women as “naturally” contributing to conflict resolution due to their innate feminine characteristics making of them great mothers, carers and peacemakers. This can have devastating consequences for women after war, because these arguments can backfire and put pressure on women to return to their traditional ‘feminine’ roles in caring activities at home. Additionally, essentialising women this way contributes to leaving behind a diversity of women experiences of war, such as those of women ex-combatants.

[4] The UN Special Envoy has also made explicit commitment to the importance of including women in the talks in an article in The Guardian, where he indicated that “Women’s leadership and participation in conflict resolution are critical for sustainable solutions. The engagement of women in shaping the future of Syria is more important now than ever before.” But, how are we going to make sure that the UN and its Special Envoy do more than empty words? With this purpose, the Women’s international League for Peace and Freedom made four recommendations: (1) ensuring a 30% women’s quota, the setup of an independent women-only delegation, and the inclusion of an independent civil society delegation with a 50% women’s quota at any negotiating table; (2) increasing women mediators directly engaged in the negotiations to get a gender-balanced envoys and teams and in the International Syria Support Group, and also increase women’s participation among member state delegations; (3) Formally-attached to the negotiations: officially-endorsed civil society consultative forum, 50% women’s quota and officially-endorsed broad-based public consultations inside and outside of Syria with women’s participation; (4) strengthen and increase support for the informal processes around the negotiations by ensuring women’s participation in track 1,5 initiatives, support advocacy campaigns, lobbying at the national/ international levels, ensure mass-mobilisation efforts to build movements, including media and online social media campaigns and support to grassroots initiatives and organised campaigns.



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