This October will mark 20 years since the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 or the Women, Peace and Security Resolution was unanimously adopted. The Resolution is linked with the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) which will also celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.
Both global commitments underscore the importance of women’s rights and agency. The UNSCR 1325, in particular, aims to ensure that women and girls are more sustainably integrated into peace and security activities and initiatives. It emphasises how women and girls are affected and impacted differently in times of conflict and war.
In 2018, a study of 33 peace negotiations revealed only 4 percent of participants were women. Out of 1,789 agreements, spanning from 1900 to 2018, only 353 of them included provisions addressing women, girls or gender.
Exclusion of women and girls in conflict prevention and resolution processes is not acceptable. Peace can only be durable and sustainable if processes and actors are gender blind.
It is believed that when women participate in peace processes, the peace agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years. Additionally, a sperate study revealed that when civil society groups, including women’s organisations participate, it makes the resulting agreement 64 percent less likely to fail.
WPS in ASEAN and its varying progress
In the Southeast Asian context, conflict in the region has given little to no reference to the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda. Its commitment to the adoption of UNSCR 1325 remains skin-deep and rudimentary.
While all ten ASEAN states have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, not all countries have developed a National Action Plan on WPS. In fact, only Indonesia and the Philippines have developed National Action Plans. This systemic inertia in ASEAN’s adoption of UNSCR 1325 is not helpful considering that the majority of ASEAN states are post-conflict countries or still grappling with political transition and conflict.
Reality underlines the need for WPS Action Plans. Rohingyas who were forced to flee Myanmar suffered from sexual violence proving that to this day sexual violence remains to be an instrument of war.
To date, opportunities for women to participate in formal peace negotiations remain elusive.
How do we move forward?
In a report of the UN Secretary General in October 2019, citing the independent assessment initiated by UN Women, there are three crucial factors identified for a successful WPS implementation: (1) the degree to which gender equality and women and peace and security are consistently prioritized and sufficiently resourced; (2) the presence of specific accountability mechanisms, as well as mechanisms to track and monitor progress; and (3) the presence and influence of gender expertise at senior levels and across political and technical components of peacekeeping and special political missions and other United Nations system entities.
ASEAN can and must work on contextualizing and integrating these factors into ASEAN’s plans and priorities.
Firstly on the provision of sufficient resources for gender equality and WPS, an initial step that can be taken is through individual states’ adoption of a National Action Plan on WPS and providing resources for gender equality programs and campaigns. A National Action Plan is important as it would map out the impacts of conflict on women and would allocate resources and initiate activities to respond to the needs of women and girls. While a National Action Plan is not mandatory, it does provide a framework to assist in translating UNSCR 1325 into local contexts. WPS will not move forward unless ASEAN members are held accountable for their commitments.
Secondly ASEAN must work on establishing an accountability mechanism that can track and monitor progress across member states. Other regional blocs, such as the African Union and the EU already have regional WPS Plans in place. ASEAN should step up and develop its own Regional Action Plan (RAP) on WPS.
A RAP can also aid in galvanising collective action and ensure the provision of resources for the effective and meaningful implementation of WPS. It will spotlight gaps in WPS commitments and aid in formulating strategies across individual states in ASEAN.
Thirdly, it is important that spaces be provided to gender experts in the departments under ASEAN, especially the Political-Security Community Department. There have been movements related to gender mainstreaming in the Socio-Cultural Community department but it is crucial that gender experts are involved in all decision-making processes to truly ensure that policies are reflective of an inclusive and people-centred ASEAN.
Small steps have already been taken to achieve regional cooperation such as in 2017, when ASEAN member states adopted a joint statement on WPS and participated in a dialogue on WPS last year. The joint statement is the starting point to translating ASEAN’s steps to concrete commitments for the WPS agenda.
WPS finally being on the radar for ASEAN doesn’t seem impactful and meaningful unless it is translated into action plans with sufficient resources and programs. With some members states lacking National Action Plans and no existing Regional Action Plan for ASEAN as a whole, the work on mainstreaming WPS must continue.
This year, with the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action and the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, commitments made decades ago must be matched with action.