Kofi Annan, Champion for Women’s Rights
This blog was coauthored by Maiya Moncino, a research associate in international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations.
On August 18th, Kofi Annan—the seventh secretary-general of the UN—passed away. He should be remembered not only for his work to fight poverty, eliminate HIV/AIDS, and promote economic development, but also for his efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, which was adopted unanimously during Annan’s first term as secretary-general in October 2000.
Resolution 1325 carried a four-way recommendation—to encourage women’s participation in peace-making; to protect women and girls from gender-based and other forms of violence; to improve measures aimed to prevent women’s rights violations; and to address the specific needs of women and girls in relief and recovery efforts, including in refugee camps and settlements. It was a breakthrough in acknowledging that women and girls are disproportionately affected by war and conflict and that they should be offered a place at the table in peacebuilding efforts.
Annan called the resolution “a landmark step” and worked to ensure its successful implementation. In the conclusion to a report produced on the second anniversary of the resolution, Annan recommended establishing connections with women’s groups in post-conflict zones, to increase information flows and track the success of interventions intended to protect women and girls. “Resolution 1325 holds out a promise to women across the globe that their rights will be protected and that barriers to their equal participation and full involvement in the maintenance and promotion of sustainable peace will be removed,” Annan wrote in 2004. “We must uphold this promise.”
As Catherine has written about previously, the idea that women are more likely to promote peace than men is fraught. Arguments suggesting that women are naturally more peaceful than men are instrumentalist and essentialist, and the research in favor of this theory suffers from some methodological flaws.
However, empirical evidence suggests that involving women in peace processes is at least correlated with more favorable results, and advances the likelihood of sustainable peace. In the Nation, Catherine wrote about how women, more than men, tend to focus on “positive peace,” i.e. building strong institutions that prevent new conflict, as well as “negative peace,” or the simple absence of conflict. Rather than being inherently more peaceful, women’s social experience—for instance their role as primary care-takers, or exclusion from combat—imbues them with experiential differences that bring new and important perspectives to the table.
Resolution 1325 was an important moment for opening a conversation about the specific needs of women in conflict and relief zones, and the importance of including women in efforts to create lasting peace. The Resolution was adopted thanks to advocacy efforts by civil society and member states, and importantly, buy-in from UN leadership. And for that, in large part, we can thank Kofi Annan.