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GLOBAL | summer 2003

Resolution 1325 - Use It or Lose It

Ms. Summer 2003

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Last winter, as the United States waged a pre-emptive war against Iraq, another war against the United Nations raged in the media and on Capitol Hill. It became commonplace to hear the U.N. dismissed as an expensive and pointless “talk shop.”

Tell that to the women of war-ravaged Sierra Leone, Burundi or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

U.N. peacekeepers arriving in Sierra Leone from dozens of countries (Including Ukraine, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia and Jordan) were, for perhaps the first time in contemporary history, trained in gender sensitivity and the prevention of HIV and sexual violence. In Burundi, an all-party women’s peace conference, organized in part by UNIFEM, led to a 50-woman delegation proposing their vision for peace and reconciliation to mediator Nelson Mandela. He adopted 19 of their recommendations in the final peace accord. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women organized a national TV debate, an all-party women’s dialogue and an ongoing lobbying effort to ensure more women would take their place at the peace table.

All this women’s activism springs from the Security Council’s Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Among other things, the resolution calls for:

  • The prosecution of crimes against women
  • Increased protection for women and girls during war
  • The appointment of more women to U.N. peacekeeping operations
  • And more women in negotiations, peace talks and post-war reconstruction efforts

There aren’t any teeth to the resolution, of course; the U.N. has no way to enforce it. But the landmark text has been eagerly snatched up by grassroots women’s groups and U.N. agencies as a lever for progress.
A group of countries called Friends of 1325, organized and led by Canada, is keeping up the international pressure to make sure that 1325 is implemented as widely as possible.

Even for the U.N., such alertness to women’s wellbeing is revolutionary. It all began with Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Women’s Affairs in Namibia. When it was that country’s turn to chair the Security Council for the month of October 2000, Nandi-Ndaitwah thought that her country’s contribution should take the form of a resolution on Women, Peace and Security. The cause was taken up by Ina Iiyambo, first secretary at the Namibian Mission to the U.N. By the end of October, with the successful lobbying efforts of dozens of women’s organizations and UNIFEM, the resolution won unanimous approval.

As feminists know, consciousness-raising isn’t just talk; it is a powerful action in itself, and Resolution 1325 is virtual consciousness-raising on a global scale. Furthermore, it was the creation primarily of African women, putting the lie to that old slander about feminism being a strictly North American imposition. More significantly still, the resolution has been taken to heart, used and advanced by grassroots women around the world.

Alert organizations such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom were quick to note how applicable Resolution 1325 would be to Iraq. Here was a perfect opportunity: a country that had a past history of secular government and a large population of educated women, and was poised to rebuild its civil society and governance from the rubble up. Yet now, as the U.S. sponsors “town hall” meetings in Iraq with 80 men and 5 women, prospects for an egalitarian peace look grim.
Pam DeLargy, chief of the humanitarian response unit of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) says that Resolution 1325 is a wonderful tool, if only authorities can be made to pay attention to it: “It’s important to identify the women leaders and make sure their voices are heard.”
Not only are women at highest risk during a war, but post-war instability, internal power struggles and a spike in domestic violence all call out for increased attention to women’s security needs. Post-war governments especially need to focus on training police to understand and act against gender violence.

Resolution 1325, says DeLargy, could be a vital instrument in the toughest post-war task of all: the reconstruction of human psyches.