The present day Women, Peace and Security agenda (WPS) is the result of more than a century of activism from part of a global constituency of women’s organizations and advocates (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 28). Adopted on October 31st 2000 by the Security Council, Resolution 1325 “reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts (…) stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security (…) [it] urges all actors to increase the participation of women (…), it also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse”(OSAGI).The purpose of this resolution is based on the logic that women’s inclusion will increase the chances of attaining true and sustainable peace (Anderlini & Naraghi, 2010, p. 3). In other words, the revolutionary idea was that “peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men” (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 28). This achievement was not sudden nor spontaneous but rather a work in progress for many decades, it results from civil society’s peace activism, such as global women’s civil society movement for peace born in protest to the widespread devastation of World War I and also the creation of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in 1946 in charge of gender equality and the advancement of women (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 29). Likewise, during the Cold War the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 which lay the foundations of today’s concept of women’s participation and leadership in the WPS agenda (Coomaraswamy,2015, p.29). A network of NGO’s concretized the creation and adoption of Resolution 1325 following months of intense work (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 30). Consequently, the WPS normative framework is a true historical achievement and can be used to illustrate the effectiveness of a hardworking civil society in order to put forward women’s agenda. As stated in Fegan-Wyles’s (2015) speech, “Resolution 1325 was indeed a milestone in the global efforts to protect women from violence, and to promote the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict, and the construction of stable and just societies” (p.1). Nonetheless, many academics, experts or even individual women do not share this very statement. Although the contemporary WPS framework, and more specifically resolution 1325, have enforced the role and presence of women in peace and security issues the outcomes have been ineffective and insufficient in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo where authentic progress and implementation of true gender equality is needed the most. The main components of the WPS framework will be briefly analysed, their major achievements as well, to then dive into key issues and aspects that limit future development, women empowerment and gender equality using the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a concrete case study.
Since resolution 1325 was adopted the normative framework for the protection and promotion of women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict settings has in fact dramatically expanded with the Security Council’s adoption of other resolutions which focus on obligations to protect women in conflict settings: resolution 1820 (2008), 1888 (2008), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013) and 2242 in 2015 (Coomaraswamy,2015, p.30). While other resolutions focus more on women’s participation in conflict prevention and response, resolutions 1889(2009) and 2122 (2013) focus on women’s leadership roles in peace making and conflict prevention. Furthermore, resolution 1889 calls upon the Secretary-General to include gender advisors in peacekeeping missions while resolution 2122 requires that UN missions implement women’s complete participation in reconstruction activities such as elections, disarmament and judicial reforms (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 31). Resolution 2106 (2013) and the declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict adopted by the G8, two months earlier, break the anchored practices by including men and boys into the comprehensive services to victims, consequently for the first time the WPS architecture acknowledged their presence in the discussion (Dolan, 2014, p. 80). Likewise, due to security being constituted through gendered binaries such as male/ female, protector / protected, international/domestic, war / peace and active /passive, advocates believe that this resolution breaks down these binaries (Pratt, 2013, p. 773).
The WPS agenda comprises 4 crucial pillars: Participation and representation of women at all levels of decision-making, Conflict Prevention by the incorporation of a gender perspective in order to prevent conflict, Protection of rights and needs of women and girls in conflict/post-conflict situations and, lastly, Relief & Recovery through access to health services and trauma counselling (Peace Women, 2013, p. 5). Furthermore, major international components of the framework include; UN Women created by the General Assembly in 2010 which is the UN entity for Gender Equality and empowerment of Women whose main objective is to promote women’s rights worldwide (Coomaraswamy,2015, p.31), UN initiatives such as Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict and the appointment of Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General on Violence Against Children in 2009 (El-Bushra, 2016, slide 8).
It is crucial to keep in mind that the WPS architecture refers not only to the “Security Council resolution[s], but also the international NGOs monitoring WPS and the policy developed to implement the WPS documents “(Hagen, 2016, p.317). Accordingly, the whole international community needs to play a key role in order to achieve tangible results. The resolutions are the means not the ends that need to be reached. States are increasingly obliged to uphold the WPS agenda, the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) ensures both compliance of member States and addresses the obligations of Non-State actors such as corporations or organized criminal groups. In addition, at least 54 States have adopted National Action Plans (NAPs) for the implementation of resolution 1325 (Coomaraswamy,2015, p.32). Achievements of the WPS framework have been thoroughly researched and analysed by prominent expert Radhika Coomaraswamy, the former Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, who led the Global Study on the implementation of resolution 1325 requested by the Secretary General of the United Nations and submitted in 2015. When looking at achievements after 15 years since the birth of resolution 1325 there has been a rise in the number of references to women in peace agreements, before the year 2000 only 11% of texts referenced women in contrast to 27% post-2000. Likewise, overall participation of women in peace processes has also been increasing with women in senior positions corresponding to 75% of peace processes led or co-led by the UN compared to only 35% in 2011 (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 44-45). Also, a growing number of countries have increased the percentage of women in their armed forces (…) by 2013 policies and legislation for women’s participation in armed forces were in place in all 28 NATO countries compared to only 5 countries in 2000 (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 137). An apparent correlation exists been women’s rights and a decrease in violent extremism. Indeed, the international community has initiated a nation building approach which includes human rights and women’s rights as part of a counter-terrorism approach (Coomaraswamy, 2015, p. 227-230). Significant advances have also been made in terms of women’s representation in parliaments in post-conflict countries, surprisingly countries emerging from conflict such as Afghanistan, Burundi, Croatia and Iraq are those with the highest representation of women (Coomaraswamy, 2015, p. 175). Furthermore, Member States’ growing contribution and commitment to implement resolution 1325 can be demonstrated with the growing number of NAPs, for instance Sierra Leone’s NAP process in establishing a Government-Civil Society Task Force, the WANMAR1325 Task Force, combining 35 government representatives, civil society and local organizations (Coomaraswamy, 2015, p. 242).
Also, public awareness of sexual and gender-based violence has increased due to the proliferation of media attention, social media activism and public health campaigns thus directing these issues in policy-making circles. The development of tools used in order to enhance the WPS framework such as community-based approaches to early warning should also be seen as great achievements. For instance, the Dutch foundation CORDAID has developed the ‘Barometer of local Women’s Security’, which has been implemented in seven conflict-affected countries (Coomaraswamy,2015, p.199). Investigative reporting has also been a truly powerful tool, in 2006, filmmaker Lisa Jackson travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to interview women survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (…) [and] in recent years, media outlets around the world have highlighted rape as a weapon of war in the DRC (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 292) thus contributing to WPS.
Needless to say, the greatest success of the framework is that of having acquired an international salience via regional security organizations. In fact, cooperation in the area of peace and security between the United Nations and regional or sub-regional organizations such as the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) has boosted especially with the creation of new partnerships such as the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo under the auspices of the AU and the UN (Coomaraswamy, 2015, p. 256-7).
In spite of marked achievements mentioned above, the WPS framework has been greatly ineffective in addressing the main cause, in other words, the gender norms that trigger violence before, during and after war (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 71) as can be analysed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Understanding Gender is a necessity for effective policies; Contrary to what many may think, ‘Women’ are not a monolithic group. The diversity of women is due to identities and experiences shaped by numerous factors such as age, economic class, race clan and geographic location. Likewise, gender is a complex term used in a variety of ways, for instance, policymakers in international institutions regard ‘gender’ as a neutral synonym for ‘women’ (Cohn, 2012, p.2-3) thus highly affecting the accuracy of organizations in targeting those that should benefit from their services. Indeed, Cohn (2012) states that “Gender is, at its heart, a structural power relation (Cohn, 2012, p.4). Additionally, despite women’s leadership roles during conflicts, they subsequently find themselves excluded from decision-making when it comes to building a new society after the conflict ends (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 168). Furthermore, present programs initiated by the international community tend to be very limited in the sense that their goals seem to simply be that of bringing a female body to the table with some technical expertise (Coomaraswamy,2015, p. 40) rather than creating a genuine inclusive negotiation process. Sharing a global definition of Gender is essential since how those who implement the WPS architecture define gender has substantial ramifications for policy development. As a matter of fact, UNSCR 1325 appropriately mentions ‘Gender’ ten times while resolution 1820, the second most frequently referenced resolution for WPS documents, uses the terms ‘women and girls’ when denoting victim populations (Hagen, 2016, p. 327) consequently reinforcing a limited discourse of gender by creating narrow categories when dealing with gender-based insecurity in conflict related environments (Hagen, 2016, p. 318). The rare mention to ‘men’ or ‘boys’ in these resolutions is paradoxical since data reveals that sexual violence against men is not an extraordinary occurrence, in fact as many as one in three survivors of sexual violence are men (Hagen, 2016, p. 317-8). Hence, the resolutions create a multi-layered hierarchy of victims due to ignoring sexual violence against boys or men (Pratt, 2013, p. 776).
Likewise, only once was explicit reference to Sexual and Gender-based violence (SGBV) against LGBTQ been made after 15 years since the creation of WPS (Hagen, 2016, p. 315). Consequently, Cisprivilege is omnipresent in the WPS architecture, concretely resulting in lack of funding for aid to survivors of SGBV since rape is primarily defined as perpetrated by men against women, thus excluding LGBTQ victims (Hagen, 2016, p. 324) even though “the U.S. State Department reports that LGBT people in the DRC face societal disapproval and harassment” (Human Rights First, 2014, p.8). Although war in DRC formally ended in 2007, a combination of ethnic tensions, corruption and fight for natural resources have resulted in sporadic violence killing 5,5 million lives since 1998. Likewise, sexual violence is rampant and used as a strategy of war; one woman is raped every two hours in the eastern province of South Kivu according to UNOCHA (Diakonia, 2011, p. 155). One must always keep in mind that increasing and continuous gendered violence breeds rising levels of insecurity where women may likely be the first affected category, thus resulting in restrictive freedom of movement, increased risk of assault in public areas and many other incidents (Coomaraswamy, 2015, p. 198). It is essential that women in the DRC be understood as participants, protestors, and agents making the best of bad circumstances whilst also being victims of war (Cohn, 2012, p. 25). Congolese women and girls are constantly excluded from national peace and political processes while at the same time being subjected to sexual violence yet they cannot rely on their justice system which permits perpetrators to operate with impunity (Varanasi, 2015). Although UNSCR 1325 inspired promising initiatives in the DRC to reduce sexual violence, this crime remains widespread and continues to rise. According to the American Journal of Public Health 400,000 women in the DRC are raped due to the absence of a robust response from the international community(0’Connor). For instance, women-led organizations such as Lusenge’s SOFEPADI unremittingly work without solid support a priori called for in 1325 to provide full range of care for sexual violence survivors(Varanasi). Even more crucial, the resolution calls for an end on sexually based crimes yet doesn’t account for violence perpetrated by UN forces, in 2005 40% of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Congolese women were substantiated and have continued to increase. The first six months of 2013 saw 108 accusations reported compared to 59 in 2009 (O’Connor). Furthermore, through the WPS framework the international community positions itself as the saviour of the ‘brown women’ from the ‘brown men’ thus evoking the language of colonialism by re-inscription of racial-sexual hierarchies in which the international community is levelled above the conflict zone.