INTERNATIONAL: Peace Before Women's Rights, or Women's Rights Before Peace?

Friday, February 25, 2011
IPS News
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

1325. It's a combination of digits that might not mean much to the majority of the world's population, but these four numbers are a crucial tool in the global struggle for gender equality.

Introduced in October 2000, 1325 is the first United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at fighting gender-based violence in conflict, and increasing the number of women at the decision making tables of peace and security.

However, while the spirit of 1325 is clear - women's rights must be achieved before any type of peace can prevail - its implementation in both the U.N. system and member states has been frustratingly slow.

Dr. Abdul Momen, the Bangladeshi ambassador and permanent representative to the U.N., is among those at the forefront of advocating the importance of the resolution.

Momen is a rare breed: a male diplomat and women's rights activist, he has long voiced the value of bringing more women into positions of power.

And while he believes 1325 has achieved measurable progress in gender equality, he acknowledges the U.N. and its member states could do more to boost its adoption across the world.

"It's unfortunate that implementation of 1325 has been very slow," Momen told IPS. "We have the resolution, we know about it, and we discuss it from time to time but that's it – it does not go into development."

"That's where we need the involvement of civil society, NGOs and the media also," he added.

In Bangladesh, a country of Muslim majority, women have made great strides in fighting for equality, despite living in an historically conservative state.

However, although females now hold many positions of power, including the prime ministership, women and girls continue to face serious challenges such as sex trafficking and gender-based violence.

Momen said the strength of Bangladesh's grassroots organisations, which continue to push for women's rights from the ground up, have been key to the gains in gender equality.

And while his country still has progress to make, he said other states that are lagging behind in women's rights could learn from the Bangladeshi approach, by investing in education.

"Bottlenecks (in achieving gender equality) are mindsets, a perceived notion about weakness of women, a perceived notion that women are less beneficial to society; old age notions," he said. "To change those, we have to improve education of women, we have to educate people that women are the agents of change."

The future of 1325, and the status of women, peace and security worldwide, has been one of the key topics discussed at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the U.N. in New York this week.

Among the key speakers attending the two-week event is Martha Quintero, an economist and activist from Colombia, one of the countries that has largely failed to implement 1325, despite ratifying the resolution.

Quintero told IPS the male-dominated Colombian government had put women's rights on the back burner in order to fight the ongoing drug wars.

"They think we have many problems, [saying] 'We need to start with the other problems and then we'll solve women's problems'," she said.

"Now women's movements are getting together and working to push the government that this issue is important, telling them that at the same time as working on other issues, they can work on women's issues."

Despite this, she added: "The cultura machista (culture of machismo) is not changing quickly."

Maria Butler, from the women's advocacy project PeaceWomen, monitors the implementation of 1325 and said Colombia's approach of "peace before equality" was common among conflict-ridden states.

"This is something we've heard in several conflicts," Butler told IPS. "Often people say: 'it's too early to include women's rights, we want to address stability first'. And our response is very emphatically: 'it's never too early, it's already way too late'.

"We believe a cause of conflict is also the disenfranchisement of women, the marginalisation of women's rights, the violation of women's rights and so we need to tackle those fundamental causes."

Despite the protracted battle in the realm of gender equality, there have been signs of progress in many states, including Nepal where the government has recently adopted a National Action Plan (NAP) on women, peace and security.

Nepal's NAP, launched at the CSW this week, is the first in South Asia and second in Asia, after the Philippines.

Worldwide, only 24 out of 195 countries have adopted such plans.

According to Dr. Momen, more progress could be made if a greater number of men took up the cause of women's rights.

He told IPS both men and women were responsible for challenging stereotypes and ensuring the objectives set out in resolutions such as 1325 were achieved.

"In any war it is the women and children who are severely victimised," he said. "Unless we have them participating, it's difficult to have sustained peace."