New Zealand finalised its National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security in support of the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2015 at the same time as it sought a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Like many other member states, New Zealand has been tardy in preparing a NAP on UNSCR 1325. Again like many others, the plan lacks meaningful, measureable, time-bound goals and indicators, clearly assigned responsibilities and accountability mechanisms. Civil society, including women’s organisations, had limited involvement in the plan’s development; their role in review and evaluation processes is similarly limited. Rather than being key agents in matters affecting them, women are side-lined yet again.
The UNSCR 1325 (2000) and eight other resolutions together comprise the Women, Peace and Security agenda. These resolutions are the result of extensive efforts of grass-roots activists around the world to focus attention on the gendered impact of armed conflict, in particular the impact of sexual and gender-based violence. The sexual and gender-based violence that women are subject to in situations of armed conflict is in addition to the burdens of poverty, injustice and violence that disproportionately characterise the lives of many women globally. By attracting the attention of the UNSC, the UN’s premier security institution, women sought to galvanise member states to promote and protect the rights of, and end all forms of violence against, all women. However, shining a light on the gendered nature of violence in armed conflict was not intended to shift attention from violence at home to violent conflict in other places, but to highlight the links between the two and the gender inequalities that underpin both.
So why has UNSCR 1325 failed to achieve its goals? How is it that despite widespread agreement that the meaningful participation of –women in peace negotiations leads to more durable and sustainable solutions to conflict, it is the men who wield the guns who continue to monopolise the seats at the table? How is it that despite the eloquence of the rhetoric on and goals of Women, Peace and Security, women continue to be excluded not only from peace negotiations but from wider decision-making on conflict prevention and post-conflict reconciliation?
In the 1990s, while still anticipating a peace dividend with the end of the cold war, many activists began to frame concerns about rising inequalities in terms of security so as to attract attention and resources that, it was argued, were no longer needed for militaries. Security framing can attract political attention, and sometimes resources, but it also has its down-side. Informed by a threat-defence logic, security discourses shift the debate from the political to the security sphere where militarised responses are emphasised. When these fail, rather than questioning the logic of intervention, attention is focused on increasing the effectiveness of operations. Including women and mainstreaming gender in military and policing policy and practices is seen as the means to better protect women in situations of armed conflict. However, it is assumed that gender sensitization of militaries and police can happen in isolation from the wider social and political context of which they are a part and without addressing the heart of the issue – relationships that (re)produce gender equality and women’s empowerment. In a curious twist of logic, mainstreaming gender in military and policing has meant women have been co-opted into supporting the very institutions that perpetuate the violence they are seeking to overcome.
Security institutions are conservative by nature and so tend to reflect the society in which they sit rather than lead radical social and political change. Women’s representation and meaningful participation in all walks of life is unlikely to be realised without society-wide transformation – the kind of radical transformation women were seeking through the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Resolution and Platform for Action, and the Special Session of the General Assembly in 2000 and subsequent follow up events. It was the failure of these mechanisms to make meaningful change for women that led women and other activists to turn to the UN Security Council for binding resolutions that in ending all forms of violence against women would also bring an end to violent conflict.
New Zealand governments of all persuasions lay claim to being a fair-minded, independent multilateralist and a good international citizen that ‘continually punches above its weight’ in international affairs. Yet New Zealand has no national plan to bring about gender equality or women’s empowerment for women in New Zealand. The last National Action Plan for Women expired in 2009 and there are no plans for another. Claims that such a plan is unnecessary are belied, among other things, by the statistics on violence against women, the gender pay gap, and occupational segregation. Moreover, as the UN Human Rights Council noted, the New Zealand government is unable to even produce statistics on the status of Maori women, and women from other minority groups. In the absence of such information, it is impossible to develop meaningful, measureable and reliable indicators of change and assess progress.
A National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 is an opportunity for New Zealand to reflect on its commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment at home and abroad: we cannot hope to be effective there until we are first effective here. Our security institutions reflect who we are and will only change when gender inequalities are addressed and significant progress made on eliminating all forms of violence against women in New Zealand. When that happens, New Zealand will be better placed to work in solidarity with communities to prevent violent conflict in the first instance, to alleviate suffering in the midst of it and to rebuild sustainable communities in the aftermath. Only then will the claim that New Zealand ‘punches above its weight’ in the international arena be more than rhetoric.
Suzanne Loughlin is a PhD candidate in Politics and International Relations at the University of Auckland. She has worked for the former New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID) managing the New Zealand aid programme in Afghanistan and for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Her interest in the convergence of security and development in peace operations arose from those experiences.