Women, peace and security – 20 years on sees launch of International Women’s Peace Centre in Windhoek
By Nekwaya Iileka and Julia Imene-Chanduru
When the UN Security Council twenty years ago unanimously adopted the groundbreaking Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security it was the culmination of many years of activism and work by civil society organisations, countries, and others.
This resolution underscores the important role that women play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and calls for their equal representation in peacebuilding processes.
Namibia held the Presidency of the 15-member Council during that October in 2000. Together with Mali and Tunisia, the three countries represented Africa at the UN body.
Ambassador Selma Ashipala-Musavyi was Namibia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN at the time and in the thick of the negotiations. She recalls the mood at the UN Security Council.
“Following the introduction of the theme [on women, peace and security], what followed then was a minute of silence, followed by a mix of laughter, plain astonishment accompanied by sophisticated ridicule”.
Ms. Ashipala-Musavyi, now a retired Executive Director of the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, recounts the incident, saying, “Resolution 1325 didn’t come on a silver platter. The feeling was that the topic of choice [women, peace and security] has no place in the UN Security Council, but should rather be discussed by the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.”
“However, due to our insistence, and the push from civil society organisations and other Member States in our camp, the Security Council eventually deliberated on the topic. The UNSC Resolution 1325 was adopted and the rest is history.”
Martin Andjaba (Namibia), President of the Council, reads a statement on behalf of Council members during the unanimous adoption of resolution 1325 (2000). Photo: UN Photo/Milton Grant
Journey started in Beijing
When the world converged in Beijing, China, for the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, it undoubtedly marked a significant turning point for the global agenda on gender equality.
For Namibia, then only five years into its independence, this was a particularly significant opportunity for the country to engage as a sovereign nation and shift the national approach on the empowerment of Namibian women.
This same spirit galvanised the Namibian campaign to join the UN Security Council in 1999. Determined to mainstream the Beijing Conference principles, Namibia was committed to a positive and lasting contribution to international peace, informed too by its own liberation struggle and the constitution negotiated out of that past.
While Namibia’s experience of conflict demonstrated that women are often among the principal victims of war, conflict, and insecurity, it also showed that women were integral to the independence struggle for instance as teachers, doctors, fighters and at the negotiation tables.
In 1999, the Namibian delegation to the UN understood the role of women as indispensable partners in the creation and maintenance of international peace and security, not to be relegated to ‘victimhood’.
Up until then, references to women in UN Security Council documents were mostly as victims of rape, or when the use of rape as a weapon of war was discussed. There was no suggestion nor expectation of the capabilities of women in conflict prevention, resolution and settlement.
Namibia believed that the world was ready to acknowledge a role for women in contributing to peace processes through a focused agenda, which was informed by regional and international experiences of women, leading to its championing of Resolution 1325.
The country has remained at the forefront of the cause, and is a founding member of the Women, Peace and Security Focal Points Network launched in 2016, with the primary purpose of implementing the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda at national level.
However, due to our insistence, and the push from civil society organisations and other Member States in our camp, the Security Council eventually deliberated on the topic. The UNSC Resolution 1325 was adopted and the rest is history.
Ambassador Selma Ashipala-Musavyi, retired Executive Director in the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation.
Plans for 2020
To mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1325 and to take forward the commitment to women in peace and security, Namibia will launch the International Women’s Peace Centre in Windhoek, on 31 October 2020.
The centre is planned as an institute of excellence for mediation and conflict prevention, to support women and to grow skills intended to contribute to humanity’s future.
Over the last three decades, Namibia has consistently championed gender equality, including by implementing laws and policies to provide equal opportunities for women and men.
Namibia has made bold decisions, including when the ruling political party introduced a gender quota, which has now become the norm in national politics, resulting in 47 per cent women representation in the national parliament.
This has also translated into other tangible gains such as an increased number of girls enrolling in primary and secondary school, and growing numbers of women in the private sector.
There has also been progress in integrating gender-focused policies and awareness in national planning and budgeting, as well as training for officials, and advocacy for women in decision-making positions and political leadership in general.
Despite these gains towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, gender violence remains an area of concern and innovation is needed to ensure that women can play their roles as agents of peace at community and national levels.
In the international space, as well as regionally and locally, much remains to be done to broaden the space for women’s participation in peace processes, including training women mediators and advocating for gender equality measures as critical to security policies and practices.
Although much of the 1995 Beijing Platform of Action has been implemented, much still remains outstanding.
On this 20th anniversary of this important resolution on women, peace and security, we must all continue to sensitize the global community to fully embrace the critical role that women can and do play for peace and security everywhere.
On 31 October 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 calling for participation of women in the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict. UN Photo/Milton Grant