Critical Issues

Through our context analysis, WILPF has identified five critical issues relevant to peace and security. These resonate with WILPF’s mandate, and underline the areas of change which WILPF aims to address. The issues identified are complex, interlinked and are not exhaustive of current and emerging threats to peace. They play out differently in different contexts and therefore have varying implications for local, national and international levels of response.

Critical Issues
Patriarchy, Inequalities and Violent Masculinities

Patriarchy, inequalities, militarised masculinities and discriminatory power structures inhibit inclusive peace and violate women’s rights and participation. Masculinity becomes too often equated with violence and armed response. Women are reduced to victims or passive spectators of political and social decision making. In reality, however, violence is gendered in complex ways and violent masculinities shape both institutions and intimate lives. They reduce space for participation and support exclusion and inequality.

Militarised masculinity, and the gendered inequality to which it is bound, is tightly connected to violence both in the home and the wider world. War, violence, and conflict are all rooted in and contribute to gender inequality. Yet policies continue to incorrectly assume a fair playing field and ignore gender power relations perpetuating inequality and violence. The gendered dimension of power and inequalities, and the use of violence to maintain these, must be analysed.

Patterns of gender inequality and violations of human rights exist not only during conflict, but also before and afterward. For example, in Bosnia, women’s effective participation in post-war economic and political decision making was precluded. This contributed to deepened gender inequalities and the continuation of violence.

The situation of women in conflict-affected settings is rooted in systemic gender inequality. Such inequality is facilitated by patriarchal structures that normalise gendered exploitation and violence. Other expressions of masculinities, such as nonviolent, conscientious objectors, sexual and other minorities, must be included. The perception of women only as victims and lacking agency must be challenged and replaced with recognition of women as active agents and leaders of change.


Militarisation continues to be used as a process for normalising armed conflict and armed violence. Militarism is underpinned by the assumption that the use of force or the threat thereof is the most appropriate response to conflicts. These ideas are fuelled in large part by profitability. The international arms trade is currently valued at $70 billion per year. Global military spending totalled over $1.8 trillion in 2018. The profits from weapons production and sales provide economic incentive to governments, corporations and individuals. International law has often been subordinated to the profits of war. Alternative approaches to conflict and tensions are typically painted as naive. Meanwhile investments continue to flow towards the tools of violence rather than social goods e.g. social welfare, renewable energy, gender equality, education, health and preventive mechanisms for conflict.

Violations of women’s human rights, militarised security and violent masculinities are closely interconnected in the realities of violent extremism today. The response to violent extremism is based on the use of force and unequal power-relations. This in turn contributes to the rise of armed non-state actors such as ISIS/Daesh and Boko Haram. This results in an escalation of militarisation, violence and insecurity, which have serious impacts on women. Women’s rights have been instrumentalised as a tool for countering violent extremism and even used as a justification for acts of war and violence.

Moreover, militarisation can be fuelled by a quest to control natural resources. Human security is therefore, interlinked with environmental sustainability. Threats of conflicts related to exploitation of natural resources need to be included within the traditional conception of security.

Social, economic and ecological injustice

Unequal access to and distribution of social, economic and ecological resources results in injustice which in turn has direct and indirect links to the causes and consequences of violence and conflict, all of which are gendered. The realities play out differently in different contexts and are particularly severe for those facing discrimination on intersecting grounds such as gender, race, socioeconomic status and disability. Governments are struggling to meet human rights obligations including those derived from economic, social and cultural rights. They are also struggling to remove barriers to economic and political equality.

Economic injustices include various factors. Trends show how genderbiased macroeconomic policies, supply-chains, labour markets and political economic norms can negatively impact women and girls. Privatisation and private control over basic services have, in many countries, had a huge impact on affordability of services for women, especially with regard to health, jobs and education. Policies of international financial institutions, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, multilateral corporations and private finance institutions often adversely affect marginalised communities and individuals. These policies can facilitate or contribute to increased violence, inequality and injustice. Moreover, financial and development institutions, policies and structures are poorly connected and lack a comprehensive conflict and gender perspective. Furthermore, corporations can be complicit in human rights abuses in situations of instability or armed conflict. Corporations can benefit from increased militarisation of society that can repress protests against human rights violations or demands for due consultation of the people affected by corporate projects. Companies can also benefit from conflict when such conflicts cause internal displacement, thus facilitating land-grabbing schemes. Moreover, many states are currently committing themselves to trade agreements that do not guarantee the prevention of human rights abuses.

Ecological injustices, linked to economic and social factors, show an increasing trend of global instability caused by an unsustainable relationship with the environment. This pattern can be seen in many conflicts where access to natural resources such as oil, water, food and minerals is an underlying cause of conflict. International dependence on production, research and development of weapons and other military requirements exacerbates war and inequality worldwide. Military spending globally exceeds the total combined spending on developing technologies for new energy sources, improving human health, raising agricultural productivity, and controlling pollution. Worldwide, military activities use large tracts of land and airspace. In its ongoing work, global militarism has at its disposal a significant portion of the world’s human and financial resources. The development of the military sector of the economy takes place at the expense of the civilian sector.

A feminist political economy lens is required to uncover these power and conflict drivers and dynamics that often are invisible in political and security discourses. WILPF has a legacy of taking on economic issues at global and local levels most notably with respect to the arms trade and both state and corporate responsibility. Recent and continuing emphasis on feminist political economy includes a focus on ‘moving the money’ from war to peace in terms of global spending and identifying and engaging with the daily realities and gendered impacts of financing for post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding in specific conflict settings (e.g. Bosnia). We also integrate environmental concerns and factors into analysing root causes and shaping responses for just peace.


Fear, Polarisation and Fragmentation

WILPF believes there is a dangerous rise in rhetoric and actions based on fear, hate and lack of solidarity. This is coupled with a shift toward xenophobic and polarising nationalist policies. This has been further compounded by decision makers failing to respond to chronic violent conflicts, both at the global and national level, including, for example, Syria, as well as the related refugee crisis in Europe.

In parallel, nonviolent alternatives for mobilising civil action are under threat and their spaces are shrinking. Feminist activism for peace challenges the status quo of injustice, militarisation and existing power structures. As such, feminist and peace activism is often met with opposition and violence from state and non-state actors. There have been increased direct and serious threats to the WILPF Community which add difficulties to our mobilisation efforts.

These growing trends of political uncertainty and instability in countries previously considered stable and democratic signal a real threat to the legitimacy of existing human rights, rule of law and the normative framework of international peace, security and development that emerged in the aftermath of World War II. These threats are also testing the resilience of institutions and norms that we have taken for granted in supporting peace and equality.

Lack of Effective Implementation and Accountability Mechanisms

The multilateral system suffers from a lack of accountability, transparency and poor implementation of commitments. As the 2015 Global Study on UNSCR 1325 found, there is a “consistent, striking disparity between policy commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and the financial allocations to achieve them”. Lack of action and implementation remains the critical challenge across agendas. This multiplies the burdens on women and fosters violent masculinities but there are opportunities for change. One example is the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, if effectively implemented, promise to end poverty, promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies, reduce inequality, and tackle climate change within the next fifteen years. To be consistent with human rights obligations and effective in creating sustainable development and long-term peace, WILPF believes the SDGs must be implemented through a feminist peace lens. Empowerment, equality and peaceful, progressive societies cannot be realised while trading weapons, sustaining warlords and waging wars. Furthermore, the multilateral system is a vital space to shift narratives and thinking on security. The United Nations needs to be reclaimed as the peace organisation it was intended to be. WILPF has opened spaces even within this constrained system.