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This fall marks both the fifteenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security and the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action: two momentous and pivotal moments for women and women’s rights. Among other things, these two documents called for women to be included in decision making and leadership positions. Resolution 1325 in particular demands that women be viewed not only as victims of war, but also as agents of change—leaders in peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.
In celebration of this occasion, I hosted a CFR roundtable with Ambassador Swanee Hunt, founder and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy program and founder of the Institute for Inclusive Security. Ambassador Hunt has played a critical role in the women, peace, and security discussion and continues to be a force for inclusive security, a term she founded in 2001. As she noted at the roundtable, reframing the discussion as “inclusive security” is critical because “in much of the policy world, when you talk about women, one eye glazes over. And when you talk about peace, the other eye glazes over.” Framing the issue as “inclusive security” places women at the center of security matters and emphasizes the value that women bring to the table, while keeping policymakers engaged.
The benefits of involving women at every level of the security sector are myriad: women negotiators often have a more collaborative style, making it easier for them to work through differences; on the ground, women may be more in touch with their community, knowing which teenagers are disaffected or most likely to fall in with radical groups; in many parts of the world, women’s status as second class citizens allows them to go places without being noticed; and the list goes on.
But an equal number of questions and challenges remain.
For one, much of the argument for increasing women’s roles in peacemaking rests on the assumption that women are inherently peaceful or better at compromise. Yet what of the examples throughout history of women who disprove this idea? Consider the legacies of Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir, both strong, hawkish women leaders. Or more recently, consider the end of the combat ban on women serving in the U.S. military and the potential for women’s formal inclusion in the Special Forces. Prominent modern feminists have also called for military action to defend women’s rights—for example, Eleanor Smeal’s recent support for an ongoing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
And even if women are broadly peace-oriented now, will this change as more and more leadership roles are taken over by women? If the trend of women leaders creating more sustainable peace is dependent on the traditionally female traits of nurturing or caregiving, will that peace break down along with those socially constructed gender roles?
Security Council Resolution 1325 invites countries to incorporate guidelines on the protection, rights, and needs of women into their national security programs, leading many to craft National Action Plans (NAPs) for the resolution’s implementation. But how effective are the NAPs and would more inclusive peace and security processes lead to better outcomes?