No Women, No Peace


It was a long way before the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 on the prevention of war and sexual violence against women got on track. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the resolution, Barbara Unmüßig speaks about what steps and actions have to be taken to approach the goal of female participation in phases of conflict.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,

I am very pleased to be able to welcome you this afternoon to this discussion at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, to mark the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325.

I would particularly like to welcome our four panellists. I am particularly delighted that you are here to join the discussions, Nomarussia, and that we get to see each other again. In 2017, Nomarussia Bonase won the Heinrich Böll Foundation‘s Anne Klein Women‘s Award for all her initiatives, many of them relating to today’s theme of conflict prevention and conflict management.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation and, in particular, our Gunda Werner Institute for Feminism and Gender Democracy, has been following UN Resolution 1325, which was passed 20 years ago, right from the start. I am proud to be able to tell you that we can take our share of the credit for the fact that the resolution is well known in Germany and for the networks that have brought pressure to bear on policy-makers to ensure that it was enacted in the first place.

I think it would therefore be useful if, as with this online event, we acknowledge what we have achieved, while at the same time highlighting what still needs to be done for sexual violence in war and conflict situations to be prevented and all perpetrators to be brought to justice, for gender-specific causes of conflicts to be part of prevention work and for women to be involved on an equal footing in all phases of a conflict.

When the UN Resolution 1325 was passed on 31 October 2000, it was a milestone, a great breakthrough, to be imputed to the tireless lobbying of deeply committed women. Finally, women would no longer be an afterthought in foreign, security and peace policy.

Our online dossier contains portraits of 22 women, who are also representative of many, many others, from all regions of the world, whom we celebrate for their dedication to ensuring specific protection of women and girls and for peace and security.

Taking stock after 20 years

Ten years ago, at the end of the Resolution‘s first decade of existence, I attended a similar event, where we took stock of everything that had been achieved since the Resolution was passed. With the sole exception of the fighting spirit of women, it was a depressing exercise. Just 24 out of a total of 192 UN member countries had developed National Action Plans. The Federal Republic of Germany was not one of them.

In the last decade, our constant pressure on governments has achieved a little more: UN Resolution 1325 has been followed by nine more resolutions, mainly going into greater depth on the theme of sexual violence in conflicts and all containing many references to its. In the meantime, many governments (83), mostly in the EU, are pushing forward the implementation of Resolution 1325 and its objectives more systematically than ever with National Action Plans. With its concept of a feminist foreign and security policy, Sweden started a major ball-rolling in 2014. France, Norway, Canada and Mexico have followed its lead.

The German federal government intends to present what will be its third National Action Plan to implement Resolution 1325 by International Women‘s Day 2021. To date, however, civil society is still waiting for the opportunity to comment on the draft version, promised for the end of August.

In Colombia, the peace agreement between the government and the FARC rebels includes more than 100 measures to take the gender perspective into account or relating specifically to women. That is chiefly the result of the persistence and quality of the work of Colombian women’s organisations and represents one of the first flagship integrative peace processes. Resolution 1325 was a crucial instrument for the women’s movement in Colombia. At the same time, however, Colombia is also an example of just how cheap words can be. The women’s organisations we work with in the country tell us how little involvement and how few of the resources required to accompany what is already a feeble peace process they have been given.

In the Philippines, the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro rebels were led by the world’s first female chief negotiator – Miriam Coronel Ferrer.

Intra-Afghan dialogue resumed in Doha on 12 September 2020. For the first time in 19 years of warfare, peace talks are finally taking place: the Taliban are sitting around a table with a delegation of the Afghan government that includes four women. But even so! These examples clearly show that women can be change agents and not just victims. All it takes is the political will!

Failings and required actions

But these are exceptions. Today, 20 years on, we are forced to conclude that there are still not enough women involved in peace negotiations and conflict resolution. Women account for less than 10% of all people sitting around negotiating tables.

UNSC Resolution 2493, which Germany brought in on 29 October 2019, states amongst other things that “… [for the] far greater implementation of the women, peace and security agenda, [we remain] deeply concerned by persisting barriers to the full implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) and the frequent under-representation of women in many formal processes and bodies related to the maintenance of international peace and security, the relatively low number of women in senior positions in political, peace and security-related national, regional and international institutions, the lack of adequate gender-sensitive humanitarian responses and support for women’s leadership roles in these settings, insufficient financing for Women, Peace and Security, and the resulting detrimental impact on the maintenance of international peace and security”.

There’s really nothing to add to that.

It is shocking and disturbing that female activists all over the world have cause to fear for their lives if they stand up for peace and conflict prevention. From Colombia to Afghanistan, they face  immense personal dangers; there are kidnappings, rapes and murders.

Although UN Resolution 1325 is binding international law and the states have obligations, they need to fear no sanctions. It also lacks specific timeframes, quota systems and monitoring mechanisms.

Additionally, giving women formal involvement in peace talks is not enough. There must be concrete agreements in the peace processes, there must be concrete projects. Simply passing them is not enough; resolutions must be implemented, mechanisms must be institutionalised, supported by financial resources and their implementation systematically complied with. To achieve this, a far more active role for the European Union and its Member States is needed. It requires pioneers and role models who are deeply committed to the prevention of welfare and sexual violence, and to securing the full participation of women in all phases of conflict.

We must make sure that everybody, everywhere, understands this very clear message: No Women, No Peace.

I hope that we will all find our discussions today both fascinating and inspirational.