When it Comes to Peace-Building, Add Women and then Add More

SGI Quarterly January 2011

In October, three incredible women were recognized for their perseverance and unwavering support in the global campaign to empower women. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace campaigner, and Tawakkul Kaman, a Yemeni journalist and pro-democracy activist in sharing the prestigious rank of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The three women co-share the honor this year, a first in the history of the Nobel, which hasn’t been presented to a woman since the recently passed Wangari Maathai accepted it in 2004. Even with this year’s Laureates, individual female honorees represent a mere 6.6% of Nobel Peace Prize winners since 1901.

The Nobel is perhaps the most widely known and esteemed award in peace, but October witnessed another momentous and often overlooked event regarding women in peace-building.

October 31st marked the 11-year anniversary of the signing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, the Council’s landmark act that addresses the importance of women’s rights as human rights. A central tenet of 1325 is the participation of women in all stages of the peace-building process. The potential for women to advocate for their own rights in decision-making forums, lessening the burden of conflict and its aftermath to them, is a key element in female representation.

In the ten years following the inception of 1325, scholars have attempted to measure the success and effectiveness of the resolution. Because of widespread availability and easy access to peace agreements and resolutions, some scholars have evaluated the language contained in these documents post-2000. This mode of analysis aims to quantify references to women and gender found in peace agreements, and to assess whether the language and objectives replicate those of 1325 for developing policy initiatives.

Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke are two scholars conducting research on the implementation of 1325 into peace agreement text. They find that of the 186 resolutions implemented in the decade following UNSCR 1325, 27%, used language referencing women and gender as opposed to 11% prior to 2000. Their evaluation also reveals that while references to women and gender overall have risen substantially, many of these resolutions may be “repeat” resolutions within ongoing peace processes rather than newly established agreements. This suggests that peace agreements may act more as “road maps” than “contracts”, often encountering roadblocks to implementation and leading to the introduction of additional resolutions.

This underlines the need for continued research examining the referencing of women and gender in peace agreements. It also suggests that an analysis of the textual content of peace agreements is not the most accurate way to measure the success and effectiveness of UNSCR 1325. Additionally, an assessment of 1325 based solely on peace agreement text is overly simplistic because it ignores the direct effect of the resolution on women in post-conflict societies, and as part of peace-building processes and organizations.

An additional or alternative method to measure the success of 1325 is an analysis of the number of women holding administrative, political, and field-based positions within the UN and in national and local bodies.

If women are going to become more visible in administrative and political roles, the place to initiate change is the UN itself. Although the percentage of women in peacekeeping roles has risen in the past decade, women remain largely underrepresented in the UN. Last year, 3,332 of 99,926 UN peace keepers deployed internationally were women.

Female UN Peace Keepers

The UN Security Council’s permanent member states must also assess their own accountability in increasing the number of women in visibly important roles. The United Kingdom’s envoy to Nepal has been criticized for advising the Nepalese government and peace-building organizations to include more women, when women in the UK account for less than 25% of the members of Parliament. Since 2000, a number of UN member states have adapted national action plans as a road map to streamline the implementation of 1325. Currently, the United States has not developed this protocol. Resistance to the adoption of a national action plan sends a conflicting message to peacekeeping missions. Sadly, it also perpetuates the belief that women don’t deserve a seat at the negotiating table to make decisions about their own protection and security.

In the realm of international resolutions, 1325 is new to the scene. Because the research related to the resolution lacks data to definitively prove the added benefit of increased female involvement in peace-building operations, some researchers have concluded that consciously including more women does not improve peace and security, uncharitably nicknaming the actions outlined in 1325 “add women and stir”. While it is true that the international community and governments could do more to address the specific needs of women and men, negating the effect of simply including more women not only threatens the international growth of 1325, but also the global status of women. What’s more, in the case of Liberia, home to two of this year’s Nobel Laureates, the inclusion of women resulted not only in one of the most influential civil society movements to date, but also produced a peace agreement as documented in the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”.

UN Photo/E. Kanalstein

This year’s Nobel Peace Laureates have been recognized for their uncontested commitment to women as a core component of the peace-building process. The Nobel recognition honors their pledge to increase the security of women. It also reminds us that millions more struggle to find peace in their daily existence.

Contemplate that with the addition of dedicated women everywhere, we can stir things up.

And when this task almost seems too daunting, consider Ellen Sirleaf Johnson’s advice: “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”


Author: Courtney R. Rowe

Courtney is in the process of completing her M.S. in Leadership and Policy Studies from DePaul University and holds a B.A. in International Affairs from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her areas of interest include wartime sexual violence and its effects during the transitional and post-conflict phases, the role of women in peace building with a focus on civil society, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of women and former child soldiers, and intimate partner violence in the United States. In 2011, Courtney's chapter "The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers" was published by the National Defense University Press in the book, The Monopoly of Force. Courtney recently worked on Department of State grant-funded projects in Iraq with DePaul University's International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI). Prior to her experience at IHRLI, she held a research assistant position with the Social Science Research Center.

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