When will they ever learn?

Women, men and peace-building

Published on Open Democracy, by Lesley Abdela, March 6, 2008.

International Women’s Day is a moment to press global power-brokers to realise the aspiration of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to allow women to take their rightful place at the heart of peace-building, says Lesley Abdela.

The seventh International Women’s Day since the passage of the fabled United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 arrives on 8 March 2008 at a time when the gap between the resolution’s fine aspirations and their practical accomplishment seems to be widening. This is particularly clear in the area of conflict resolution and peace-building.

Resolution 1325 – passed unanimously on 31 October 2000 – was and remains a landmark declaration by the international community in favour of women’s civic equality. The resolution calls on all United Nations member-states to ensure the full participation of women and the integration of a gender perspective in peace and security, policy-making, conflict management and peace-building. It urges UN member-states to increase the representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict …

… The gap between Resolution 1325’s words and the reality of today’s unresolved conflicts creates a challenge for everyone committed to democracy and human rights: how to trigger determined commitment from politicians to implement 1325 (and its European parliament sister resolution, passed on 30 November 2000)?

International Women’s Day in 2008 is an occasion to highlight need and fuel energy. It is time to call, email and send text-messages to UN Security Council members to introduce an amendment update UNSCR 1325. This would set targets and make the resolution enforceable, such that by 2015 all peace talks must (and not just should) comprise at least 40% women and at least 40% men (the rest either women or men). This would ensure that no more than 60% of any one gender is appointed to the top decision-making levels of international peace-talk teams.

In 2005, I wrote an article for openDemocracy which said: “the British suffragette slogan ‘deeds not words’ keeps running through my head. Both [the UN and European parliament] resolutions lack sanctions against non-compliance: their implementation relies on advocacy, persuasion and goodwill. And resolutions alone are insufficient – it is the implementation that counts” (see “1325: deeds not words”, 16 October 2005).

Two and a half years on, the situation is unchanged – as are the underlying realities of conflict in the world. Women really can make the difference between peace and war, and to make peace last. Today, the suffragette slogan links in my head with the haunting words of the anti-war song: “When will they ever learn?” The answer is, only when women persuade them. (full text).

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