Gender Inequality

Why women need a bigger role in peace negotiations

Winnie Byanyima
Undersecretary-General of the United Nations; Executive Director, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)
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Gender Inequality

Women across the globe are playing a distinctly important role as advocates for peace-building and security, for women and men. At Oxfam we see this around the world, and the evidence for it is revealing in places like Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan and Yemen. I have seen this role personally too, both as a grassroots activist and as a former parliamentarian in Uganda.

Understanding this informal and formal role is timely and critical, not least as we witness today the destructive impacts of conflict and persecution worldwide. 2015 marks 15 years since the UN Security Council adopted the Resolution SCR1325 on ‘Women, Peace and Security’ to uphold women’s rights in conflict and their roles in peace and security. The UN is holding a High Level Review in October to assess the progress and challenges of the Resolution, and to set new commitments.

Ensuring that decisions reflect the needs and views of the majority of a population is never more important than when it comes to peace and security. In Uganda, for example, women currently occupy around 34% of the seats in Parliament, thanks partly to constitutional quotas. The battle for equality is far from over for Ugandan women – but there are representatives who can give voice to Ugandan women’s concerns when decisions are being made.

Unfortunately, the kind of progress that has seen record numbers of women enter politics in countries such as, Rwanda, Uganda or Afghanistan has not been matched by similar representation in peace processes and security institutions worldwide. It remains a relatively rare experience for women the world over, as a recent Oxfam report titled “Women, Peace and Security: Keeping the Promise” finds.


From 1992 to 2011, less than 4% of signatories to peace agreements were women. Similarly, women represented less than 4% of participants and less than 10% of negotiators at peace talks. In peacekeeping missions and domestic security services, women have been similarly underrepresented in conflict-affected areas worldwide.

Such exclusion of women makes little sense. Conflicts threaten everyone but impose particular risks for women and girls, such as sexual violence, trafficking, and deepening existing inequalities. Attempts to tackle such issues are bound to be self-limiting unless women’s perspectives and contributions are properly integrated into efforts to prevent and recover from conflicts.

This is why Resolution SCR1325 was a breakthrough. Since then six additional UN Security Council resolutions have helped develop the policy framework. More than 50 countries today have National Action Plans to implement it, and several have been influential champions of the agenda.

But as the continued near absence of women from peace talks shows, overall progress in fulfilling SCR1325 has been limited.

Courage must be found by international leaders to prevent conflicts and focus on their root causes – without this, implementing SCR1325 is out of reach. Many of these conflicts are marked by gender-based violence – often facilitated by an unchecked flow of small arms and a culture of impunity.

Moreover, meaningful participation of women in peace and security is critical to revitalizing the UNSCR1325 agenda. This means ensuring that women’s roles and demands are effectively integrated into all international, regional and national peace and security processes. It is crucial to both increase women’s participation and strengthen accountability to grassroots participation.

The UN can lead by example by ensuring women achieve a minimum of a 40% share of senior positions across the UN’s peace, security and development architecture by 2020.

Funding for Women, Peace and Security has grown – but remains far too low to fulfill commitments. Local women’s rights organisations – at the frontline of efforts to prevent and recover from conflict – struggle for funds. Many National Action Plans lack a meaningful budget – or any resources at all.

As the world prepares to mark the 15th anniversary of UNSCR1325 this month, these are the kinds of issues that must be addressed. The UN High Level Review on the Resolution is a critical opportunity that must be seized with bold ambition. The gravity of this occasion is being felt as dozens of ministers and senior officials will discuss proposals at a conference this week in New York.

There is no time to waste. The number of conflicts that have risen over the past decade are a global challenge for communities and governments worldwide. There has never been a better time for the UN and governments to ensure women can contribute more effectively to peace and security efforts across a troubled world.

Have you read?
Why closing the gender gap should be a priority for all of us
Do women lead differently?
How much would the global economy benefit from tackling gender equality?

Author: Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International.

Image: Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (3rd R) stands beside other officials during a news conference to announce the new team of principal officials appointed in Hong Kong June 28, 2012, ahead of the 15th anniversary of the territory’s transfer from British rule to China on July 1. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

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Gender InequalityInternational SecurityGlobal Governance
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