Future historians will mark 2020 as the year dominated by a global pandemic, armed conflict, incredible human suffering and an economic global downturn which pushed an untold number of people into existential economic hardship, food insecurity, and lack of access to health care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only exacerbated previously existing health and economic disparities experienced by vulnerable communities; it has also disproportionately impacted women as frontline workers, providers and caregivers.
Despite these challenges, 2020 also marks the centennial anniversary in the United States of the right for women to vote, the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the 20th anniversary of the historic UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was the result of years of civil society action and pressure, especially from women and women-led groups in the global south. This groundbreaking resolution enshrines the important role women play globally in the prevention, mitigation and resolution of conflicts and peace-building efforts in their societies. It has now been expanded to include an additional nine resolutions, which, together, make up the Women, Peace and Security agenda. These ten resolutions point out that international peace and security can only be achieved if and when women are truly equal participants in the decision-making process at all levels.
Nations with greater gender inequality suffer from higher rates of disease, lower life expectancy, and a greater likelihood of both intra- and inter-state violence.
The basis of the Women, Peace and Security agenda is rooted in evidence that proves that women’s inclusion improves state stability. When women are meaningfully included in peace negotiations, peace agreements are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years. Nations with greater gender inequality suffer from higher rates of disease, lower life expectancy, and a greater likelihood of both intra- and inter-state violence. Despite all of this evidence, unfortunately even after 20 years, the full implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda remains elusive.
And yet, women leaders all over the world have continued the legacy of the women who initiated UN Security Council Resolution 1325 by stepping up, even under the most daunting and dire circumstances. In 2020, we recognize the key roles women have played in Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Burma, and Belarus. As Belarus opposition leader Maria Kalesnikava, Afghan Mayor Zarifa Ghafari, or women leaders in Rohingya can attest, these roles come with significant personal risk. Across the board, these women have faced abduction and death threats, yet they exemplify the success the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda has to offer.
In 2017, the United States codified the principles of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 into law with broad bipartisan support. The Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017 was the result of a long and hard-fought advocacy campaign by civil society organizations, which demanded that the principles of the Women, Peace and Security agenda must also be fundamental foreign policy priorities of the United States. The act required the US Administration to develop a government-wide Women, Peace and Security strategy, supported by specific implementation plans of all relevant US government agencies.
But the brave women who risk their lives every day in their dangerous work to make their societies better and who change the paradigm of what security really means for them and their families deserve more than just references in government strategy papers or legal code citations.
To follow through on their true bipartisan commitment to those women, Representative Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Representative Michael Waltz (R-FL) created the Congressional Women, Peace and Security Caucus in the US House of Representatives earlier this year.
This Caucus will not only monitor the full implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Act, but will also serve as a platform to ensure that the voice of women from all over the world will be heard in the powerful halls of the US Congress. The Caucus will ensure that policy principles will be contrasted with the realities on the ground — and ensure that necessary adjustments be made.
No matter who wins the US election in November, the commitment to the Women, Peace and Security principles must remain bipartisan. Women, Peace and Security is not a spectator sport, it remains critically important that all of us raise our voice in support of those women who risk so much by stepping up all over the world to demand a seat at the decision-making table.
The Women, Peace and Security agenda provides a framework to reevaluate what security means. It gives states the opportunity to take a human security approach in how they interpret and implement security, and it does so in a way that makes both moral and practical sense. The full implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda has the potential to redefine security, both domestically and internationally, and allow us to more successfully work toward peace.
Sahana Dharmapuri is the Director of Our Secure Future, and has previously served as an independent gender advisor with high-level government agencies.
Hans Hogrefe is the Congressional Fellow for Our Secure Future, and has extensive previous experience in the US Congress.
Hannah Proctor is the Women, Peace and Security Project Specialist at Our Secure Future.