Rousbeh Legatis interviews MAVIC CABRERA-BALLEZA, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

Eleven years ago, 192 countries – all the United Nations member states – agreed to step up the integration of women in international peacebuilding and security processes, a promise that has remained largely unmet.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza notes that by having specific provisions compelling their members to implement and report progress, regional organisations like the European Union and the African Union "are a step ahead" of the United Nations, which lacks a regular accountability mechanism.

As international coordinator of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), consisting of 50 women's and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Latin America, Cabrera-Balleza spoke to IPS about developments and challenges in supporting women around the world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Recently you conducted a stock-taking study to look at the progress made in 11 countries in terms of women's involvement in national efforts to prevent war and build peace. What did you find?

A: One of the biggest problems is what we refer to as the 'accountability gap'. There is nothing that compels U.N. member states to report on what they are doing to put resolution 1325 [on women, peace and security] into practice, apart from the beautiful statements that they all say during the open debate in the U. N. Security Council every October. But that is not an accurate reporting.

A second finding of our report is the enduring lack of women 's participation in decision-making, which is also related to an absence of women in official peace negotiations. When negotiations are informal then women are there and recognised, when they become official and national they disappear. The reason is that in these peace negations a bigger premium is put into parties who had guns or who were engaged in actual combat. So it is not because women do not have anything to contribute, but there are structural barriers to their participation and that has to be changed.

We have also found that women's participation in the justice and security sector is still very low, in general, across the 11 countries. There has been a change in the judiciary, but not in critical mass, meaning at least 30 percent. The security sector – police and military – is still very male in all the analysed countries. Women's participation in the military, for example, was less than nine percent in eight of the nine countries for which data were provided.

Q: Did you find ways to confront these problems?

A: To begin to fill the 'accountability gap' we have been advocating for the adoption of a general recommendation on armed conflict for the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The general recommendation is the CEDAW Committee's interpretation of state obligations under international laws.

So what will happen if a general recommendation on women and armed conflicts gets adopted is that member states who have ratified the CEDAW – there are around 186 of them – will be obliged to include in their regular compliance report to the Committee how they are actually implementing resolution 1325.

And NGOs which are providing or presenting on their own shadow reports to CEDAW will also more consciously integrate 1325 implementation, even when they are already do it. It will raise their awareness.

Q: Some critics say that NGOs and U.N. agencies are competing for visibility and resources instead of working together.

A: This happens a lot, I cannot believe how much it happens. We [women's groups, civil society organisations and U.N. agencies] go to the same donors. What we are encouraging the U.N. is that they should not duplicate what NGOs or other agencies are already doing, but provide the models or catalytic examples, meaning examples that one can replicate in other areas.

The world is big, there are many problems. We should not try all of us working in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Afghanistan. There are many places which need attention.

The existing lack of appreciation and the competition is in some ways driven by the need for visibility and the need to attract donors' attention to our individual work and not to our collective work. And here I would really challenge the donor community to encourage collective work, partnership and not just to put their stake on the bigger and more visible agencies or organisations.

They are accountable to their constituencies, to their parliaments and to their congresses, but they should also educate their constituencies and not just work on one priority country when there is already presence there.

Q: GNWP was part of the NGO executive committee at the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which just held two weeks of meetings in New York. What do you see as the greatest challenges yet to overcome?

A: The CSW remains the only regular global policy discussion space dedicated to women, there is nothing else. It brings in a very good number of participants together, no matter what the theme is. I want for the CSW and U.N. Women, which serves as a secretariat to the Commission, to realise the convening and mobilising power of this event.

Unfortunately, there is a persistent procedural or you may say structural problem with the CSW. It is not clear where do the agreed conclusions – which is the main outcome document at the end of the two-week meeting – actually go to, how are they influencing other U.N. policy discussions.

Another persistent problem is the refusal by some U.N. member states to recognise that gender equality is upfront and central in any policy discussion. There is no escaping it, women are totally part of the equation. When you are talking about peace, human rights and development – which are the major areas of U.N. work – gender is an integral component. There is no meaningful, substantive discussion that could happen in this policies if do not integrate that.