Twenty years ago, and after many years of mobilization and advocacy by women’s movements and civil society, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security, was unanimously ratified. The evidence was overwhelming that the inclusion of women in peace negotiations results in a more stable, just, inclusive, and sustainable peace, and so 1325 was inevitable.
I have always been a believer in the power of women to bring about peace that is genuine and lasting, and in 2005 I had the power to bring 1325 to reality. As Canada’s Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan I had the opportunity to insist on including the Darfurian women in the peace talks. The male negotiators refused but eventually with the help of the UN, we managed to bring 17 women to the table. Those women changed the course of negotiations and brought invaluable experience and knowledge with them. I will never forget that during the negotiations, the men were arguing about a river, and one of the women got up and said
“I don’t know why you are arguing about this. As a little girl I remember going to the river and fetching water. Since I have been married the river has dried up.”
Women are the doers, they know the community like the back of their hand, and they bring a perspective into the negotiations that the men are not aware of. And 1325 is all about that.
Canada played a pivotal role in the creation of 1325, and a critical role in mobilizing for its ratification. The resolution set out to ensure the following:
- Increased participation and representation of women at all levels of decision-making and in all tracks of peace processes.
- Increased participation of women in mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict;
- Protecting women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and in emergency and humanitarian situations such as refugee camps.
- Strengthening women’s rights under national law; and supporting local women’s peace initiatives and conflict resolution processes.
- Advancing relief and recovery measures to address international crises through a gendered lens
If this resolution was truly implemented, even partially. My guess is that the world would have less strife, less conflict and less suffering.
Women save lives, save families, and there are many examples of how they do that. One of the recent examples happened in Yemen where thousands of young men from both sides of the conflict were being forcibly disappeared, some were taken by the Houthis, and some by the Yemeni government. Mediation efforts by the United Nations envoys, the Red Cross, and many other international organizations have not been successful. No one where these boys and young men were, whether they were being tortured or killed. A group of mothers, sisters and wives of these young men mobilized for five years to free their loved ones. They worked together and formed a united association, even though they come from warring sides of the Yemeni conflict. One of the leading figures of this association, told us that she would stand outside the homes and offices of politicians and peace envoys for hours and hours to try to talk to them and get them to help her find her abducted son. Politicians and envoys, obviously all men, did not listen to her, so she went and formed a coalition of women from both sides who were also looking for their family members. These women protested for years, they got beaten up, their lives were threatened several times. But these women secured the freedom of hundreds of young Yemeni men and boys. They succeeded where everyone else failed, and just a few weeks ago, they greeted their returning loved ones. These women negotiated deals, resolved conflict, made peace with the opposing side in their conflict, and they managed to do what the UN, the Red Cross, and peace envoys failed to do. Can you imagine if these powerful resourceful negotiators were at the Yemeni Peace talks? Can you imagine the kind of results they would get, and the sustainability of the peace agreement they could reach?
And yet, 1325 remains largely not implemented, and instead of actions, the UN Security Council continues to ratify more Women, Peace and Security resolutions, more ink on paper.
Twenty years and 10 United Nations Security Council resolutions, but globally, women remain captive to the very same arguments and barriers to our inclusion in peace talks as we were decades ago.
Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres said,
“We must move beyond words and aspirational commitments”
But we only have words now, and we will be flooded with celebratory messages and congratulations from across the board on every platform, not noticing in the middle of our celebrations that twenty years after 1325, the Afghan women, the Syrian women, the Yemeni women, among others are still absent from the peace negotiations of their countries. They still struggle to be heard. Women continue to face the same barriers to their inclusion as they did decades ago. In reality, very little has changed. To those women peacebuilders working tirelessly in their communities, the reality remains the same. Men with guns continue to shape their future and the future of their communities. Men with guns are vital to the peace tables, but peacebuilders are not. Mediators and envoys do not want to rock the boat, or as I was told back in 2002 during the Darfur talks, “bringing in women now will only stall the process”.
As Canadians and as Parliamentarians, we can sit back and resign ourselves to the excuse that there is nothing we, Canada, can do. But we know this is not the case. We know that we have influence, we have allies, and we have power.
It is our duty, not only as signatories, but as co-creators of UNSCR 1325 to see that it doesn’t stagger, that it doesn’t falter, and that we don’t move backwards.
In our own backyard, we need to work together to make sure our achievements on Women, Peace and Security will not be taken from us. It is indeed a great step to have a WPS ambassador, but it took 17 years after the ratification of 1325 for us to appoint an ambassador. Our gains can be taken away easily. It is time we turn the agenda into law. It is time for Canada to have its Women Peace and Security Bill, so that we ensure that the values in this agenda are not captive to political will, rather engrained in our laws.
On a global level, it is through our politicians and our representatives that we can ensure these values are upheld. Canada can insist on the inclusion of women in peace talks on every occasion, we can mobilize to make it happen, and we can focus our sight on ongoing peace talks. We can make the difference between a fragile unsustainable unjust agreement, and a real peace agreement that will benefit us as much as the rest of the world.
Let us turn that ink on paper to action on the ground.