Remarks for Panel Presentation: International Assistance Review Consultation on Peace and Security, 7 June 2016

On June 7, 2016, Global Affairs Canada hosted a Consultation on Peace and Security as part of the International Assistance Review.

Beth Woroniuk, WPSN-C Coordinator, was invited to speak on the opening panel on ‘advancing women, peace and security.’ Here is the text of her remarks.

Thanks to Global Affairs Canada for the invitation to speak at this Consultation. It is an honour to share this platform with such distinguished thinkers and practitioners.

Last year’s Global Study on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 notes that of the more than 2200 resolutions adopted by the Security Council it is hard to think of one resolution that is better known for its name, its number and content than resolution 1325. It was born out of activism by the women’s and peace movements and based in the revolutionary ideas that peace is only sustainable when women are fully included and that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men. Yet the Study also notes that for many, many women around the world, the resolution has been a failure, that progress has been too slow and that resource commitments have not matched global rhetoric.

This afternoon I’ll cover 3 themes – although there are many others:

  • What are we talking about when we’re talking about the women, peace and security agenda?
  • Why is it important?
  • The implications for Canada.

So first, “the women, peace and security agenda”. It’s become a short-hand of sorts and there are many misconceptions and incomplete notions of what this agenda involves. For example, it is more than increasing the number of women peacekeepers, more than hand-wringing over conflict-related sexual violence.

Generally we think of the agenda as having 4 pillars or components:

  • Participation: strengthened women’s representation and participation in peacebuilding, conflict prevention, peace negotiations and post-conflict rebuilding. In particular, this pillar highlights the important role played by grassroots women’s organizations.
  • Protection: support for preventing and responding to sexual & gender-based violence during and after armed conflict.
  • Investing in conflict prevention and addressing the root causes of armed conflict
  • Relief and recovery: support for women’s equitable participation and gender mainstreaming in all post-conflict, peacebuilding and recovery processes as well as humanitarian assistance.

As well, repeated throughout the women, peace and security resolutions is the call for actors to use a gender perspective in all peace and security efforts.

And that’s just the official agenda. Activists have pushed further, arguing that this agenda should be broader – for example linking climate change, women’s participation and armed conflict or making the connections among extractive industries, armed conflict and violence against women and girls and ensuring the participation of indigenous women in peace processes. Activists urge challenging power structures and militarization. Here we have some elements of a feminist foreign policy.

In other words, there are strong feminist insights and goals underlying this agenda.

Questions for the Aid Review include:

    • How do we address – in a coherent fashion – all the elements of the women, peace and security agenda?
    • How do we avoid conflating this agenda to just one issue or perspective?
      How do build on the cutting-edge elements in this agenda?

Second: Why is the women, peace and security agenda important?

I could make the case in terms of human rights or in term of commitments to gender equality. These are important reasons to advance this agenda, but there are other rationales that people in this room might find more relevant.

At its core, the women, peace and security agenda is about sustainable peace.

There is research that shows that peace agreements are more likely to be reached and to last when women’s organizations are involved in a meaningful fashion. Research that shows that states with greater gender equality are less likely to engage in armed conflict with their neighbors. Research that shows that humanitarian assistance is more effective when actors understand and respond to gender differences and inequalities.

Women’s organizations and activists have developed effective strategies to counter violent extremism – when they have the resources to set and follow their own agendas.

Some security forces – militaries and police – are embracing gender analysis and looking to increase the number of women serving because it makes them more effective. In April, General Vance, Canada’s Chief of Defense Staff told the House Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development – quote: “As we plan new armed forces operations, we are making sure that gender-based analysis plus is undertaken to improve our operational effectiveness and our understanding of the situation.”

I could go on – but the message is strong and unequivocal. If sustainable peace is a goal, if you want to improve operational effectiveness, if you want to implement more effective programs, then women, peace and security insights and goals should be at the heart of your analysis and programming.

Yet – this all begs a crucial question: with all of this research – and there is more every day – why is this sector so immune to these insights? Why is a gender analysis an afterthought if it is done at all? Why are gender dimensions missing from our understandings of and responses to fragile states? Why do women have to push so hard to get a seat at peace talks? Why was the “new deal” – about which I’m sure we’ll hear more later on – so weak on gender equality issues?

Here we need an open dialogue among people in this sector about how we can move the analysis of gender dimensions out of the margins and locate it more centrally in conversations and actions on peace and security.

Finally, what does this mean for Canada?

Canada does have a strong global reputation and an emerging brand – we chair the Friends of the 1325 at the UN in New York, our Prime Minister makes global headlines when he calls himself a feminist, and we have engaged in high level advocacy on conflict related sexual violence.

Canada’s national action plan on women, peace and security expired in March. Perfect timing for a new, more robust approach. The Women, Peace and Security Network-Canada has commented on extensively on the strengths and weaknesses of the Action Plan and I’d be happy to talk about this in more detail.

A crucial question here is: What does Canada need to do to be a leader on women, peace and security?

There was a strong consensus among Canadian organizations testifying at the House Standing Committee. They advised:

  • Listen to women’ rights organizations and build a mechanism (or several mechanisms) to fund these organizations and women’s movements
  • Set targets (possibly 15%) for programming and financial investments that have gender equality/women’s empowerment as their primary objective
  • Improve the status of Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security so that it becomes a policy defining directive, not a sideline.
  • Improve gender analysis across the department, building capacities of staff and strengthening accountabilities.

There are many other recommendations but these provide a starting point for discussion.

In conclusion – If Canada wants to move beyond lip service on women, peace and security, then investments, resources, capacities and political leadership are required. At the same time, the current moment couldn’t be better. We have a feminist Prime Minister, we have a mandate to bring a feminist lens to our development work, we have lessons from the global community and we have brave and courageous women’s organizations building peace around the world.

Beth Woroniuk is an independent consultant and coordinator of the WPSN-C.  The views here do not necessarily reflect those of all the members of the WPSN-C.

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