U.S. WILPF work on resolution 1325.With the release this past December of the first U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (NAP) and President Obama's accompanying Executive Order directing the implementation of same, the landscape shifted for continued U.S. Section advocacy on Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325). Although our talking points remain the same, the opportunities for advancing them are more various and may require us to adopt new strategies and tactics. How well we can adapt to the new situation will determine how relevant WILPF's positions remain to the ongoing evolution of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda here, and by implication, abroad.
At the international level, WILPF's advocacy campaigns, strategic interventions, and enduring projects are all directed at reducing military spending. Using the familiar tools of documenting, monitoring and convening, WILPF works to hold national governments and the United Nations itself accountable to the aspiration of the U.N. Charter, in particular Article 26, which requires U.N. member states to spend the least amount possible on defense. Restricting military spending lessens the hold of arms-producing corporations over civic life, while releasing more of the public treasury to meeting human needs. Reducing the amount of weapons produced and traded increases the physical security of women (and everyone), enabling the development of a more complex and vibrant civil society.
At International WILPF Congresses, we become aware of tensions between the Global North and South, between developed and developing nations, between occupier and occupied countries. But these differences among our sections contribute to the strength, relevance, and resilience of our political work. Other divides have the potential to disrupt our ability to act effectively as an international organization: the divide between the feminists and the humanists, between those who are willing to work with governments to reform them and those who are only willing to critique government from the outside, and between those who use their professional status to advance WILPF's work and those who feel that WILPF's work be best advanced from the "grassroots." Each of these divides surfaced over the past year, as the U.S. section sought to influence the NAP during the drafting process.
When WILPF U.S.'s Advancing Human Rights Committee announced that the U.S. Department of State had agreed to participate in five civil society consultations to gather information relevant to the U.S. National Action Plan on SCR 1325, considerable controversy erupted among our section's members, demonstrating that as deeply invested as WILPF has been in using SCR 1325 as leverage to change the terms--and indeed the very meaning--of peace, the applications of SCR 1325 have not thus far yielded the transformations for which we hope.
Some members of our section had worked very hard to convince the State Department to undertake broad civil society consultations outside the beltway, and to these members the fact that government representatives were willing to travel outside of Washington, D.C., to meet with grassroots women and local experts on matters of national security was a breakthrough of historic importance. Since the October 26, 2010, announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of her intention that the U.S. create a plan for implementing SCR 1325, these members had, on behalf of the WILPF Section, been advocating three points identified as integral to unleashing the transformative potential of SCR 1325: (1) that the NAP be responsive to the security concerns of women living in the U.S. as well as women living in conflict areas abroad; (2) that the NAP address domestic situations where women living in the U.S. could be shown to be negatively impacted by the country's engagement in armed conflicts; and (3) that the NAP take a holistic, human security approach in addressing armed conflict within its social context. These members saw, in the prospect of the consultations, a possibility that women's voices could become part of the NAP drafting process.
Other members were less impressed. A number questioned why the section would invest precious resources in creating venues where other, non-WILPF women could talk about their issues. Why were we championing women's political participation rather than lobbying Congress directly with our analysis of military spending and disarmament issues? What was the point of dwelling on women's vulnerabilities? On their lives and the life of their communities? Going down another path of inquiry, some WILPF members questioned the wisdom of cooperating with the U.S. Department of State. At worst, they felt such cooperation could only corrupt, coopt, sully or otherwise overwhelm WILPF's reputation. At best, facilitating civil society con consultations in preparation of the NAP would raise expectations without yielding any concrete results. All of this internal dissent, while useful in sharpening our own methodology for the consultations, was also demoralizing to the volunteers who were tasked with organizing the venues, materials, and participation for the consultations.
While enjoying the full support of WILPF International leaders, WILPF U.S.'s "talking points" on the NAP, in particular the first one, were not embraced by the community of women's NGOs based in Washington, D.C. and comprised primarily of humanitarian aid organizations. I won't speculate here on the motives behind their initial resistance, but will point out the obvious: the women in different social locations do not necessarily have the same practical interests. The women involved in the five civil society consultations were often very poor, frequently displaced, with a history of violence and the residual physical and mental effects of the same. Sometimes, they were women who had served in the U.S. armed forces. They spoke from their personal experiences, with frequent reference to one or another human rights instrument. Most were not WILPF members, but every single one of them might have been.
Disagreements over how and to what purpose SCR 1325 should be implemented are not unique to the United States, although given the enormity of the U.S. military budget and the history of U.S. aggression throughout the world, there may seem to be more at stake in the U.S. NAP. In developing our priorities and strategy for intervention, WILPF U.S. sought advice both from WILPF's Peacewomen Project and from WILPF sections in countries that had already developed National Action Plans. This input allowed us to understand that what really was unique about the U.S. was that while it acted as an occupier/developed country, the status of women's rights within the U.S. itself was more similar to that of occupied/developing countries. This insight was key to the arguments we presented in our policy statement.
The recent call by the International Executive Committee for dialogue and action planning in relationship to the future of the WILPF SCR 1325 agenda challenges us to respond as a coherent section. Over the coming months, members will have multiple opportunities to participate in crafting our section's response to this international call. Our hope is that through this process, we in WILPF can learn from the differences among us to become stronger and more accountable in supporting a larger, organization-wide vision. Do we have the courage to accept the changes we've been struggling for when they happen, and to leverage the opportunities history is presenting to us today?
Laura Roskos is president of WILPF U.S. Section and a member of the Advancing Human Rights Issue Committee.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325: Women, Peace, and Security
In 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution (S/RES/1325) on Women, Peace, and Security, reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and in post-conflict reconstruction, and stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women, and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. 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, in situations of armed conflict. In December, 2011, the U.S. released its National Action Plan, which is the mechanism by which the United States carries out the mandates of Resolution 1325.