Talking about Women, Peace and Security: Bucharest Workshop on Security Council Resolution 1325

  • 18 October 2005

Five years ago, largely at the urging of women's groups and developing countries, the UN Security Council passed its landmark Resolution 1325, the first international agreement to specifically recognize the impact of armed conflict on women and their role as builders of peace. A UNFPA-sponsored workshop (Reassessing Institutional Support for Security Council Resolution 1325, 17- 20 October) brought together UNFPA staff, partners and international experts to discuss ways to narrow the gap between the provisions of this legal instrument and the reality on the ground.

BUCHAREST, Romania — Participants came to a workshop on women, peace and security from some of the most desperate or ravaged places on earth – Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Liberia, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Timor-Leste, Haiti, Sudan, Kosovo.

In all these places, and in other theatres of conflict, men wage war, but women often bear a disproportionate share of suffering, speakers at the workshop reported. Sexual and gender-based violence escalates during conflict and military occupation. Cultural norms break down. Trafficking and other human rights violations multiply. Women are increasingly at risk of rape and other horrendous forms of sexual abuse, which are increasingly being used as a systematic strategy of war.

“The nature of war has changed,” said Elizabeth Rehn, a UN independent expert and the keynote speaker at the workshop, which was sponsored by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. “Violence against civilians, especially women, has become a tool of war. Eighty per cent of victims are civilians. Half a million women were raped in Rwanda.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was a response that was instigated by women for women. The seeds for it were sown ten years ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, said Sanam Anderlini, an expert on women and security who was involved with a group of NGOs that spearheaded its drafting. At the fifth year review of Beijing in 2000, 60 organizations brought the issue to the table. Back and forth consultations reached out to some 300 women's groups around the world for input. “The resolution reflects the voices of the world's women” Anderlini added.

Key provisions of the resolution are captured by “three P's”: protection of the human rights of women and girls during times of conflict, the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, and the equal participation of women in peace building and reconstruction.

But in spite of the well-crafted resolution and the lip service it has been given, the emissaries from the front lines of conflict reported that the situation on the ground remains grim five years after the resolution was adopted. The UN has not done enough to implement the resolution, participants agreed, and in some operations, peacekeeping forces have made situations worse. “Resolution 1325 is not a solution,” said Ms. Anderlini. “It's only a tool. But because it is international law, it's a very powerful tool.”

The resolution has spurred greater political participation of women in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia and Sudan. However, implementation has been ad hoc. Several participants gave powerful testimonies of frustration about the ongoing violations of women's rights on the ground, lack of responses from the highest levels and the difficulty of addressing gender-based violence. “We have all these agreements on paper, but we are still crying in the wilderness,” said Sevdije Ahmeti, Founder and Executive Director, Centre for Protection of Women and Children in Kosovo.

The next three days of the workshop will address how to move beyond words on paper through sharing of experiences and methodologies. “UNFPA and other UN agencies, as well as national and international partners have all learned a great deal from efforts to mobilize protection and support for women during and after armed conflicts. But lessons learned are squandered if not effectively translated into standard practice,” said Sahir Abdul-Hadi, from UNFPA's Women, Peace and Security Initiative and the organizer of the workshop.

In a videotaped address to the group, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Kunio Wakio called upon the group to come away with ambitious and practical plans of action.

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The Bucharest workshop (17-20 October 2005) was organized by the Women, Peace and Security Initiative of the Technical Support Division of UNFPA

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