Gender and Development

Committing to Action on Women, Peace and Security for Sustainable Peace

As the UN reorients its work towards sustainable peace, it aims to prioritize conflict prevention and focus on what is working in society. Marina Kumskova writes that this means supporting institutions that transform gendered power, encouraging local practices that make communities thrive, and ensuring participatory, inclusive and responsive decision-making.


As Madeleine Rees, the Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), rightly pointed out at the 2018 Stockholm Forum for Gender Equality, while working for peace from different angles and through different strategies, “we keep hitting a brick wall, which does not let us move forward; this wall is patriarchy.” A slow transformation to transcend this wall is ongoing.

In 2015, the UN made tremendous accomplishments in laying the groundwork for transformative change. Through the Review of UN Peace Operations, the Peacebuilding Architecture Review, and the Global Study on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security, different stakeholders within the UN system came to recognize the key gaps in their operations that have helped sustain power relations and militarized political economies for decades. These gaps include the absence of partnerships with civil society, exclusive decision-making and a strong focus on crisis response.

Since then, the cycle of change, generally normative rather than practical, started slowly moving away from crisis response toward conflict prevention, from gender-blindness toward gender analysis, from limited engagement toward opening a space for women’s leaders to efforts to directly engage with the UN actors, manifesting itself in the adoption of a joint General Assembly-Security Council Resolution 2282.

This resolution challenges traditional political thinking, and invites Member States and all relevant stakeholders to look at what is working in society – the positive aspects of resilience – as well as techniques to continue building on these. It invites international financial institutions to change the way they invest, shifting from “freezing patriarchy” to re-creating the way political economies operate. Resolution 2282, in a revolutionary manner, assumes that everyone has a stake in the future of peace, which erodes the very foundation of patriarchy – privilege.

The task of the international community, civil society and world leaders now is to leverage this framework to foster transformative change, ensuring that we do not have to wait another three centuries for gender equality and peace to arrive.

To this end, leveraging the expertise of local groups that play an important role in bringing about positive change in conflict settings is key. Grassroots organizations forge new solidarity and strengthen reconstruction efforts, often at considerable personal risk to themselves and their families. Women’s groups and organizations best understand the concerns and opportunities on the ground and can identify, design and implement practical strategies to overcome the challenges. Local organizations and groups in Cameroon, for example, trained their members and other community leaders to ensure awareness of Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR1325) on Women, Peace and Security  and encouraged the development of Cameroon’s NAP on UNSCR1325, with a renewed commitment to increasing women’s political participation and prioritizing disarmament.

To facilitate change, we know that we have to address challenging gendered norms, which lead to discrimination of marginalized groups. Gender norms are part of the fabric of many societies, playing an important role in determining how men, women, boys and girls access services and rights, how much power they have over resources, and how they can influence decision-making. These norms normalize the use of force for dispute resolution. A gender analysis of governance and peace and security efforts is, therefore, essential for moving towards a vision of sustainable peace requiring us to look at the root causes of conflict, with gendered norms being one of the first, if not the first, on the list.

We know the world has money for transformative change. Millions are being funneled into offshore bank accounts, trillions are spent on wars. Only two percent of aid to peace and security for fragile states in 2012-2013 targeted gender equality; and Member States have only begun to integrate gender equality into national budgets in a limited manner, with significant cuts in public health and social service-related expenditures. In Bosnia, a peace agreement, which included the constitution drawn up by the perpetrators of the conflict and the absence of a comprehensive transitional justice strategy, has led to the institutionalization of nationalism and economic divisions. Undertaking a gendered and human rights-based analysis of the impacts of macro-economic reforms imposed by international financial institutions, as well as developing gender-sensitive budgeting, following the examples of Timor Leste, Uruguay and Sweden, are essential steps to address barriers to women’s participation.

In fact, sustaining peace is a much more gendered task than it seems at first; therefore, it requires a more holistic commitment to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and Feminist Political Economies. Without strengthening action on addressing power relations, the question of privilege and empowering all, breaking through the wall of patriarchy is barely possible.

Proactive measures aimed at building sustainable peace should be based on reinforcing the structures, attitudes, and institutions that underpin it. This includes empowering expertise and analysis of women-led civil society, understanding the power relations that shape policies and attitudes in each given context, and properly financing areas that work for peace.

Marina Kumskova is a Programme Associate in the Women, Peace and Security Programme of WILPF. She holds a Master’s Degree in Human Rights from Columbia University and has previously worked for several non-profit and academic research centres, where she conducted in-depth human rights analysis across the security spectrum. Now, she is pursuing WILPF’s work on promoting states’ accountability for women’s rights violations and a conflict prevention approach through disarmament and women’s empowerment.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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