Reflections on the May 2022 WPS Focal Points Network Meeting

Susan Bazilli is the Director of the International Women’s Rights Project. She is a feminist international human rights lawyer who has worked for 40 years on women’s rights issues globally. a member of the WPSN-C since its inception, she currently serves on the WPSN-C Steering Committee.

The Fourth Capital Meeting of the WPS Focal Points Network was held in Geneva on 18-19 May 2022. I had the privilege of representing the WPSN-C.

This is my first “blog” and it is a combination of my personal reflections as well as information on the meeting for those who did not attend or are not familiar with this meeting process.  

What is the WPS Focal Points Network?

The Women, Peace and Security Focal Points Network was launched in 2016 to assist UN Member States and regional organizations, in close collaboration with civil society, to improve and strengthen the implementation of the WPS agenda at the origin of decision-making processes.

Canada and Uruguay had been the co-chairs of the network for 2020-21 and their focus was on impact driven NAPs. The WPS Focal Points website has  more details on the network, past reports and themes.

Sara Rose-Carswell (Global Affairs Canada), Paige Kreps (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada), Susan Bazilli (WPSN-C), and Gwyn Kutz (Global Affairs Canada)

The co-chair role passed to South Africa and Switzerland this year. The meeting’s theme was “partnering for change – translating the WPS Agenda into Action” – since there has been very little positive change this was no surprise. There were three working group sessions that focused on three critical areas – women and peace processes; protection of women’s rights and recognizing women’s agency; and WPS action plans need to respond to conflict and crisis situations.

The Canadian ‘Delegation’

 I attended courtesy of Global Affairs Canada (GAC).  Sara Rose-Carswell, from the WPS Policy Unit of the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs) and Gwyn Kutz, the Director General of PSOPs were representing GAC. Paige Kreps represented Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, who  received the “Women, Peace and Security Civil Society Leadership Award” in February 2022 for their work and achievements toward protecting and promoting the human rights of Inuit women. I have to say that we made a very good Team Canada and the four of us worked together very well.

The Meeting

.  It was my first Focal Points meeting. But it was also my first in person meeting with feminist activists since the WPSN meeting in January 2020. Aside from everything else, there was a palpable joy at experiencing seeing friends and colleagues in person after 2.5 years. Virtual and hybrid meetings are really great and so much more accessible for many women who are unable to travel for reasons of ability, resources and visa restrictions. BUT there is nothing like a hug in person!

Setting the tone, Pramila Patton, Special Representative of the UNSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, opened the meeting talking about accountability for the least condemned crime, the rising tide of sexual violence in conflict, and how to convert reporting to response and reparations. She noted how this weapon of war has become a tactical terrorism tool of political repression. A critical point that resonated throughout the meeting was about the need for the mobilization of resources for specific needs of survivors during this time of deep cuts to ODA during current crisis. Bineta Diop, the Special Envoy on WPS at the African Union, highlighted the need for feminist approaches to climate insecurity and climate disasters as well as Covid 19 and how they need to be included in the WPS agenda.

For me one of the most moving talks was given by Hanna Manoilenko, a feminist disarmament peace activist from Ukraine, a WILPF member who is working with the Ukraine Women’s Fund. She spoke on the podium, from the audience, and informally at the dinner table. She talked about the heartbreak at living with the contradiction that one morning you can wake up, for her on Feb 25th after the invasion of Ukraine, and find yourself in a position of having to go into exile and begin to call publicly for the need for arms and weapons to be sent to defend one’s country. How many of us in this network can imagine being in that position; or indeed may have been in that position.

After opening plenaries, delegates selected a working group with a concept note and guiding questions. 

Group 1 – Women’s Participation in Peace Processes

The international normative framework on women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace processes is well developed. We are all familiar with UN Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 urging all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts. We are equally familiar with the extremely slow progress. Negotiation tables mirror existing gender inequalities in societies at large. The inclusion of women-led civil society organizations and women peacebuilders at different levels and formats in peace processes is fraught with challenges, including lack of resources, limited political will, as well as seemingly opposing value-systems. The barriers and obstacles to women’s participation in peace processes entrench existing gender inequalities. The lack of women’s inclusion remains a challenge to substantive conflict transformation. 

For me personally and as a WPSN-C network representative, the discussion of the inclusion of civil society is the most critical. We know that women-led organizations and women peacebuilders are often at the forefront of preventing the outbreak of violent conflict through ongoing peace work, facilitating dialogue at the community-level, and providing humanitarian response. However, they are routinely excluded from formal negotiations from the outset. In the early stages of negotiations, mainly male military and political actors usually negotiate ceasefires as well as the conditions for a formal peace process. Yet, this is difficult for women to access and the challenge carries on as the formal peace process progresses. 

The exclusivity of formal peace processes is rooted in their fragility and the trade-offs made between the short-term benefits of settling violent conflicts through a negotiated agreement and the longterm benefits of gender-equal societies. We are all too aware that despite the existing elaborate normative framework, progress in the inclusion of women remains difficult to achieve. The discussion in this group focused on the questioning of the current structures and formats of peace negotiations and peace processes. As Hanna said, “what does ‘meaningful participation’ mean in 1325 to me as a feminist peace activists while Russia is raping torturing and killing – there nothing meaningful in these ‘negotiations.’”

Group 2 — Protection of Women’s Rights and Recognizing Women’s Agency

This second group focused  on strengthening the protection pillar. We learned that National Action Plans (NAPs) on WPS contain few references to disarmament and the control of Small Arms Light Weapons (SALW). They do not incorporate the latest evidence. For example, killings or injuries are now known to be only the tip of the iceberg for small arms-related GBV. In many cases, perpetrators are able to commit violence simply because their victims know that they are armed or own a weapon. More frightening is that when the overall numbers of these deaths decrease due to the de-escalation of conflict, the number of women murdered does not decrease at the same rate.  The gendered impacts of small arms-related violence is critical for policies and interventions to address women’s protection needs effectively. Similarly, GBV prevention strategies should include evidence-based SALW control and disarmament interventions. 

Paige and I both attended this working group. I chose it because the title made it sound like it was going to expand the discussion on WPS to include the importance of women’s agency and women’s rights – to me that meant the necessity of resourcing women’s rights NGOs to broaden women’s rights to include WPS and to broaden WPS to include women’s agency. However since I was not familiar with the discussion in WPS terms about the gendered impact of small arms, it was interesting to learn more about this important issue — but the real issue of women’s agency was not discussed. Paige raised a very important point from the perspective of indigenous women, as far as I could tell the only indigenous voice at the whole meeting, about the use of guns in their communities for hunting and traditional food gathering. 

I am writing this blog just after the Buffalo and Texas shootings. It was astonishing to me that people from the State Department of the US government could participate in this workshop without acknowledging the decades of mass murders committed in their country while the mantra of no to gun control continues to echo….

Another important point raised from the floor during the report back sessions was from Salma Al Nins from Jordan, asking why are we not stopping the countries that are exporting arms nor addressing the profits of the private sector selling arms.

Group 3 – WPS National Action Plans – Responding to Conflict and Crisis Situations

The WPS Focal Points Network focuses on supporting its members in developing, implementing, and monitoring their respective NAPs. The Network aims to share and incorporate best practices and lessons learned from action plans in different countries and regions to ensure that gender equality and women’s rights have a central role in sustainable peace efforts. 

The Network highlighted a number of points for action plans: the need to develop action plans even in regions and countries where there is no armed conflict; the requirement that regional and national action plans should be forward thinking and flexible to address emerging issues, conflicts and concerns; action plans ought to be both inward-looking and outward-facing; plans should have clear budget allocations and realistically achievable results; how the leadership role of WPS special envoys, ambassadors and high-level advisers on gender equality can improve coordination and implementation of national and regional action plans; and ways in which supporting and investing in participatory processes and localization initiatives can strengthen NAP impact. I want to reinforce this point about budget allocations as we know that funding has decreased significantly during COVID to women’s  organizations. Gwyn Kutz made this point in her concluding address. Given the limited, if existing, budgets for WPS work, Network members and Focal Points need to push their governments on this point.

The important summary of this group was the linkages between WPS NAPs and other national plans and strategies. WPS NAPs should ensure synergy with other plans and strategies that address emergency and humanitarian response, refugees and IDPs, climate change, countering all forms of extremism and radicalization, issues of trafficking including SALW, and gender-responsive early-warning systems.

And again, for me, the importance of building bridges between governments and civil society organizations and codifying civil society representation in NAP committees. Youth representatives should be supported to engage in WPS NAP development processes and to create linkages between women, peace and security and youth, peace and security.

Canadian Perspective – Civil Society

The GAC representatives spoke about the need to develop more assistance to women’s civil society organizations who wish to develop their own networks and strengthen advisory groups and to develop WPS champions and partnerships. They presented the WPSN-C model where PSOPS and WPSN-C meet regularly throughout the NAP life cycle to discuss challenges, develop solutions, and provide best practices with regular and special meetings. It was important to hear GAC stress the critical need to embed meaningful participation of civil society into the NAP process. For Canada, this also means an integral relationship between Canada’s WPS NAP (or CNAP) and the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP). Additionally, Canada acknowledged that the CNAP is critical in a domestic perspective, which we know at WPSN-C is both a challenge and an obligation.

Going home

I love Geneva but it feels like being in a form of Disneyworld. The Palais Nation is spectacularly sanitized from the atrocities being committed a 10 hour drive away, or a 10 hour flight away. Time and again I question the importance of attending such meetings. In fact, I wrote my whole PhD thesis on this question. But I know it is the sharing of experiences, the power of women’s networks, the solidarity we share, the generosity of our support for and of each other, and the role that progressive government representatives can embody, that fuels us to continue the struggle. In a domestic context, we use this space to further our relationships back home which can only help to enrich our own dialogues.

One final point on Disability and WPS

As with so many meetings I have attended over the years – there is a glaring absence of any focus on ability/ disability. Women and girls with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by armed conflicts but underreported and excluded from peace processes. See a recent 2021 submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by the International Disability Alliance.

I hold myself complicit in this omission as I did not raise these issues at the meeting and I did not read this report until after the meeting was over. We must all ensure that women with disabilities are not omitted in our policies and I suggest that at least one woman with a focus on the disability feminist activist community attend the next focal group meeting with Canada. There is much that Member States can do (see the OHCHR report recommendations) and Canada could lead the way.

1 thought on “Reflections on the May 2022 WPS Focal Points Network Meeting

  1. Sara RC Reply

    Dear Susan,

    Thank you for sharing your insights and perspectives and for helping to make our Team Canada a stronger and more representative delegation at this meeting. It was a pleasure to get to know you and I hope our paths cross again soon. Warm wishes, Sara

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *