More Women to the Negotiating Table: Meaningful Participation and National Action Plans
The idea that war is a “man’s business” persists even twenty years after the adoption of resolution 1325,1 which together with its successor resolutions forms the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. Accompanying this, the ending of hostilities through peace talks also tends to be seen as a task for men. Women are still heavily outnumbered in peace negotiations. The current negotiations between Ukraine and the Russian Federation are no exception – despite the fact that almost half of Ukrainians (43 percent) support the participation of women in the negotiations, according to a survey by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).2
Adopted unanimously in 2000, resolution 1325 was hailed as a major success. It consists of four pillars: participation, prevention, protection, and relief and recovery.3 Public attention often focuses on the protection of women and girls against sexual violence. This concern is undoubtedly a top priority. In the war in Ukraine too, reports of sexual violence are piling up. Yet it is forgotten that the resolution also calls for the participation of women, and aims to prevent conflicts.
One instrument intended to advance implementation are the so-called National Action Plans (NAP): Each UN member is supposed to draw up a NAP to implement the WPS agenda. This article focuses on NAPs as an implementation tool, examining their potential for achieving meaningful participation of women in peace processes. It also considers the extent to which the NAPs may perpetuate often-criticized shortcomings of the WPS agenda.
Why women should not be absent from peace negotiations
The background to the WPS agenda is the dual realization that peace processes in which women participate4 are more sustainable, and furthermore that a society’s propensity for conflict increases with growing gender inequality.5 One possible reason for this is that with higher gender inequality the acceptance of violence as a means of conflict resolution rises, and so the potential for peaceful settlements decreases. Men often feel that their interests were met in the society before the conflict broke out, whereas women perceive the conflict as a continuum, since they experience violence before, during, and after conflict. Under such conditions, a return to how things were before the conflict erupted is not an improvement for women. Consequently, they aim their efforts at setting a course for positive change through peace processes.6 The lack of representation of marginalized groups in negotiations – such as women or ethnic minorities – in turn has a negative impact on the acceptance of the outcome.7
Another argument that is repeatedly brought into play for greater participation of women in peace processes is that by nature they are peaceful and reconciliatory. But caution should be exercised here: The generalizing assumption that women are more peaceful is based on a stereotypical image of women. It ignores the fact that women – like men – also participate in armed conflicts as combatants. Conversely, this assumption also implies that men are naturally aggressive. This ascription of quasi-natural characteristics is problematic because it creates acceptance of certain forms and actors of violence (“that’s just the way men are”).
For this reason, participation should be seen more as a democratic right for women. Peace negotiations have a significant shaping effect on a society. Women make up at least half of society and therefore have the right to make up half of the people involved in decision-making. Yet in major peace processes between 1992 and 2019, on average only 13 percent of negotiators, 6 percent of mediators and 6 percent of signatories were women, while seven out of ten processes had no women as mediators or signatories.8 The demand for meaningful participation goes beyond the mere quantitative participation of women, and refers also to the quality of participation: Women should be equally involved and able to exert influence; they should be qualified and know their rights.
Implementation of the WPS agenda at national level
But how can the agenda be implemented? National Action Plans are a valuable tool for implementing the WPS agenda, but they have not received much attention in the literature to date. UN member states develop NAPs for implementation within their own sphere of influence.
A NAP is a document detailing the steps a country is currently taking to achieve the goals outlined in resolution 1325, as well as the initiatives it will undertake within a specified timeframe to meet the commitments set forth in all WPS resolutions.9 Denmark adopted the first plan in 2005, and has now launched the fourth generation. The first country affected by conflict to develop a NAP was Côte d’Ivoire in 2008.10 After a slow start, 98 states have now produced NAPs, representing 51 percent of UN member states.11
The plans take different forms and vary according to the initial situation and generation. A rough distinction can be made depending on whether the NAPs are directed at their own country (“inward looking”) or at other countries, for example in the case of international missions (“outward looking”).12 The NAPs of countries affected by conflict and/or where violence against women is widespread tend to be inward looking. Countries that have not been affected by armed conflicts for many years tend to have outward-looking plans.13 Many plans have a focus, but do not exclusively pursue one approach.
As well as advancing local implementation of the WPS agenda as a whole, many NAPs also refer to the participation of women in peace processes. A 2019 review of all NAPs by UN Women found that 61 of 82 plans contained measures for women’s participation in peace processes – including those of Germany, Ghana and Norway.14
Comparison of three NAPs: Germany, Ghana and Norway
The potentials and weaknesses of NAPs for facilitating women’s participation in peace processes will now be illustrated with the example of these three documents. They are well suited to this purpose because they show different approaches to the agenda.
First of all, it is important for the participation of women that the plans are actually implemented. The criteria for sustained implementation are considered to be: first the political will, second effective monitoring, and third sustained budgeting. A helpful way to assess political will is to look at the body that drew up the plan. This gives an indication of the importance attached to the plan. The plans of Germany and Norway are convincing in this respect. The three plans differ when it comes to effective monitoring and sustained budgeting, although the budget is a weak point in all of them. Nevertheless, the Norwegian NAP does a very good job of involving civil society at many levels of implementation and monitoring, while the Ghanaian NAP stands out for its concrete implementation measures and goals. Finally, this article looks at the extent to which frequently voiced criticisms of the agenda are borne out by the plans – although consideration is limited to the points of orientation (inward/outward), militarization and victimization/infantilization.
These “weaknesses” stand in the way of effective participation by women, in different ways. A one-sided outward orientation is problematic because it means that prevention in one’s own country is often neglected. Then there is the point about militarization: The agenda, so the criticism goes, serves to legitimize military operations and armament, instead of achieving greater security through demilitarization and disarmament measures. It is therefore important that efforts to ensure more security for women should not focus one-sidedly on military aspects, at the expense of conflict prevention. The third point of criticism (victimization and infantilization) also stands in the way of effective participation. Victimization means that women are primarily portrayed as victims of (sexual) violence, while harmful male stereotypes are ignored. Infantilization is closely linked to this. It is expressed in the fact that women are often mentioned in the same breath as children (“women and children”) in UN texts, which places them in the category of persons in need of protection. This is significant because NAPs that victimize and infantilize women tend to perpetuate counter-emancipatory images of dependent, immature women who need to be protected (possibly by military means), but who are not recognized as relevant stakeholders in peace and reconciliation processes.
Germany ranks 11th in the 2021/22 Global Index for Women, Peace and Security.15 The current NAP is the country’s third plan and is valid from 2021 to 2024. The first NAP was adopted in 2013. The NAP was prepared by an interministerial working group (Federal Foreign Office, Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, Federal Ministry of Defense, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development). The German federal government is generally responsible for funding and implementation. Evaluation and monitoring have been extended compared to the previous version. Consultation with civil society is planned halfway through the action plan. Details are to be provided at a later point in time.
The orientation of the plan is predominantly outward looking, with some inward elements: increased diversity in government, promoting awareness of the WPS agenda in Germany. It is notable that the German NAP takes all genders into account. It mentions “all genders” and “LGBTI people” in various places. Harmful stereotypes are addressed:
“Discriminatory, binary and gender-based stereotypical roles that encourage violence and conflict are being eradicated in Germany, in crisis regions, fragile settings and in the context of flight, displacement and migration.”16
The combination “women and girls” appears fifteen times, but so does “women and LGBTI people” three times and “women and youth” five times. The familiar phrase “women and children” does not occur. It is also notable that the plan directly calls for access to safe abortion. The issue is controversial among the states participating in the implementation of the agenda with a NAP. The plan also touches on the topic of arms control and disarmament, but this is not a main focus. In particular, it calls for gender-based analyses to be taken into account in controls of small arms and light firearms, in disarmament, and in arms controls and export controls.
In summary, the plan has several positive aspects. The advantage of having an a interministerial working group to draw up the NAP is that the subject is not assigned to the Ministry of Women / Family Affairs as a “women’s issue” and ignored by other ministries. Instead, it is made into a cross-cutting issue. This indicates a strong political will in support of women’s participation. The clear commitment to sexual and reproductive rights including safe access to abortion, and the expansion of the agenda to include LGBTI people are also positive signs. Sexual self-determination has always been an important factor for social participation. Expanding the agenda to include queer identities also enables trans women to participate effectively, for example. Furthermore it is an expression of an open, pluralistic society that does not adhere to rigid role models. This ultimately benefits all women (and people). Points of criticism, on the other hand, are that the NAP remains vague in some respects about the implementation, does not specify any targets, and certainly has no clear budget. In the NAP, Germany also commits itself to demilitarization and disarmament, and refers to the Arms Trade Treaty adopted in 2013 to regulate the trade in conventional weapons. Despite this, Germany was still the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter17 in 2021, which undermines the efforts of the plan.
Norway has now launched its fourth NAP (2019-2022). The Scandinavian country was an early supporter of the WPS agenda, producing its first NAP in 2006. Norway has not been involved in an armed conflict since the Second World War, but takes part in international missions. Norway ranks in first place in the WPS index.18
The Norwegian plan was also drawn up by an interministerial working group (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Justice, Public Security and Migration, and the Ministry of Children and Equality). Universities, research institutes and civil society provided input.
The NAP makes detailed provisions for implementation: Relevant ministries report on the implementation. The reports are shared with civil society, and information meetings are held. The plan uses quantitative indicators to measure implementation, such as the proportion of women in various positions. However, no specific targets are formulated. The plan devotes a lot of attention to the evaluation of results, but does not contain an allocated budget. Nevertheless, the Norwegian plan is the only one of the three plans compared here which includes some specific funding figures.
The orientation is predominantly outward looking, although there are also inward-looking elements. In contrast to its predecessors, the NAP is more strongly focused on implementing the agenda in its own country. However, some inward targets relate indirectly to an outward context, such as the gender ratio in the Norwegian armed forces. Their composition in international missions is a long way from parity, as the plan self-critically notes: In 2016-2017, only about 35 percent of internationally deployed police and 10 percent of military personnel were female.
A special feature introduced by the third plan is “priority countries”. These are countries on which a particular focus is placed. Four out of six embassies set goals and developed plans to advance the WPS agenda. Countries are selected based either on Norway’s involvement in the peace process there, or on the potential for trying out new methods. The budget at country level is 50 million Norwegian crowns (about 5 million euros).
The NAP identifies the genders addressed: “women and men, girls and boys”. It discusses the roles of boys/men based on a binary understanding of gender. Overall, the language comes across as sensitized: The phrases “women and children” and “women and girls” each occur only once, while “women and men” appears 28 times, the word “girls” 31 times and “boys” 22 times.
Regarding the accusation of militarization, the plan leaves a mixed picture. It does emphasize the importance of conflict prevention. But on the other hand international missions and operations take up a lot of space, and the plan has a strong focus on increasing the number of women in the military.
In summary, a positive aspect of the plan is its systematic involvement of civil society. However, the plan does not provide more detailed information on the criteria used to select the representatives and the groups they represent. Furthermore, the priority countries approach has the potential to prove effective internationally. It provides a way to prioritize and achieve concrete goals locally. Yet this approach could also be accused of having imperialistic traits. It is one-sidedly directed outward. Norway assumes it is entitled to decide which countries should be particularly targeted or are of interest in terms of the agenda.
Ghana gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, and is now a stable presidential republic. The country ranks 69th in the WPS index.19 Although there are occasional violent clashes between various population groups, these do not meet the threshold of armed conflict20 – the plan itself speaks of “relative peace”.21
The West African country’s NAP runs from 2020 to 2025, and follows the first plan dating from 2012. The Ghanaian NAP was developed by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, but various other ministries are consistently included. Local, regional and international partners were also involved in its development. These include the Women, Peace and Security Institute, founded in 2011, which trains women in mediation and conflict resolution. The NAP states that all other stakeholders who were part of the NAP development processes provided technical and financial support. It is not clear whether foreign donors had any influence on the content of the plan.
The plan begins with a highly critical examination of the security situation for women and girls in Ghana. In terms of implementation, the NAP stands out for its very concrete and measurable targets. The number of women actively working in early warning systems and other peacebuilding activities is to be increased to 30 percent; detailed initiatives are planned, such as training 50 women per district per year to collect information and monitor early warning signals for conflict prevention, or sponsoring 32 women (two from each region) annually to undergo training in mediation skills.
The plan also contains clear specifications for evaluation: A monitoring and evaluation framework sets out precisely scheduled meetings involving numerous ministries and civil society representatives. The plan does not have a fixed budget. One of the lessons learned from the first plan was that the lack of a dedicated budget or fundraising strategy was an obstacle to success. Now the Ministry of Finance is responsible for allocating budget lines for implementation.
The plan is based on a binary understanding of gender. The phrase “women and girls” occurs 31 times, “women and children” once, while “men and boys” does not appear at all. Thus the gender roles of men and boys tend to be disregarded. At the same time, a lot of responsibility is placed on women and girls. One goal is to “strengthen women and girlsʼ capacity to resist sexual and gender based violence during conflict and ordinary times”.22 The activity by which this is to be achieved is “culturally acceptable sexuality education”.23 It is therefore also (implicitly) assumed here that only women and girls are victims of violence, which originates from men, yet the role of men is not addressed.
In summary, the plan’s concrete, measurable goals are compelling. In this way, it has the potential to bring about meaningful participation for women in peace processes, particularly within the country and through international missions. However, there is a risk that the goals will not be achieved due to a lack of funding. Regarding the accusation of militarization, the early warning systems for conflict prevention are a positive feature. Finally, a traditional cultural approach to gender roles and sexuality is evident. At this juncture, however, it is worth pointing out that the author of this article is socialized in Germany and has internalized a rather liberal understanding of women’s rights. It should also be noted that the rejection of homosexuality and transsexuality is often a legacy of colonial laws – in this case British laws.24
The three plans presented here identify ways in which women can be given the opportunity to participate meaningfully in peace processes: by setting concrete targets, training women to be mediators, and providing the impetus for further development of the agenda such as expansion to include LGBTIQ+ people. At the same time, however, the plans also reveal weaknesses of the agenda or fall short of what could be achieved, especially with regard to vaguely formulated and unbudgeted NAPs. None of the three NAPs has an allocated budget. Only just over one-third of all NAPs (36 countries, around 35 percent) include an allocated budget for implementation.25 In human rights protection, it is not uncommon for areas that specifically address women’s rights to have weaker funding.
The accusation that the agenda legitimizes armament and military operations is partially confirmed. Originally, the WPS agenda was also intended as an agenda for disarmament.26 Even now, many plans do not sufficiently address conflict prevention; there is a focus on military operations, particularly with greater participation by female soldiers – this at least is suggested by the images used, which do not reflect the current proportion of women among military personnel. Moreover, only 31 NAPs (32 percent) contain references and specific proposals for action on disarmament and demilitarization.27 The war in Europe is likely to exacerbate this trend.
Finally, the plans illustrate different sets of values. That is not negative in itself, but shows that the agenda can be interpreted in different ways and that diverse approaches are possible. Challenges arise as soon as countries start implementing their plans outside their own national territory and exporting values (as Germany and Norway do). A lot of tact is required here to ensure that the agenda is not perceived and rejected as a Western initiative. It should not be forgotten that countries of the global South have been instrumental in advancing the agenda. Representatives of the global South hosted three of the four World Conferences on Women, in Mexico City, Nairobi and Beijing. Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh, former President of the UN Security Council, laid an important foundation for the adoption of resolution 1325 with his famous statement on the link between women and peace − “peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men”.28 And Namibia held the UN Security Council presidency when resolution 1325 was unanimously adopted.29
On the other hand, the three plans also show a lot of potential. Norway’s NAP does a particularly good job of involving civil society. Seventy NAPs (72 percent) assign civil society organizations a specific role in implementation.30 The NGOs themselves can use the plan in their work and base demands on it. The plans provide a way of breaking down a mammoth task into smaller parts. Concrete goals can be set, and therefore success can be measured – as the Ghanaian NAP in particular illustrates.
New efforts can be made on different levels at the same time. Each NAP can make a contribution to improving participation in peace processes. Their limited duration allows plans to be regularly adjusted and evaluated. This means that changes can be taken into account, but also that lessons can be learned from experience. All three plans critically examine their predecessors. Such a “reality check” is useful, since new instruments must demonstrate what they are actually capable of. Despite various shortcomings, National Action Plans have the potential to ensure that there are more women at the negotiating table and facilitate meaningful participation. It is to be hoped that this will continue to be achieved step by step, with positive approaches such as those presented here setting an example and promoting the agenda in its full breadth.
1 Security Council resolution no. 1325 Women and Peace and Security of October 31, 2000 (00-72018 (E)).
2 Nordås, Ragnhild et al. (2022): Ukrainian Women Engage in Resistance and Should Be in the Peace Talks. In: New Survey Evidence, blog post of April 29, 2022.https://blogs.prio.org/2022/04/ukrainian-women-engage-in-resistance-and-should-be-in-the-peace-talks-new-survey-evidence/ (accessed May 15, 2022).
3 Ormhaug, Christian (2014): OSCE Study on National Action Plans on the Implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Wien, p. 86.
4 UN Women (2015): Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace. A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. New York City, pp. 41 ff.
5 Caprioli, Mary (2005): Primed for Violence: The Role of Gender Inequality in Predicting Internal Conflict. In: International Studies Quarterly 49, pp. 161, 163.
6 Boysen, Sigrid (2019): Repräsentation und Repräsentativität. Geschlechterfragen im Internationalen Demokratiediskurs. In: Eckertz-Höfer, Marion / Schuler-Harms, Margarete (eds.): Gleichberechtigung und Demokratie – Gleichberechtigung in der Demokratie. (Rechts-)Wissenschaftliche Annäherungen. Baden-Baden, pp. 85, 97.
7 Saliternik, Michal (2016): Perpetuating Democratic Peace: Procedural Justice in Peace Negotiations. In: European Journal of International Law 27, pp. 617, 618, 628.
8 UN Women/UNDP (2022): Women’s Meaningful Participation in Transitional Justice: Advancing Gender Equality and Building Sustainable Peace. https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-03/Research-paper-Womens-meaningful-participation-in-transitional-justice-en.pdf (accessed May 15, 2022).
9 Popovic, Nicola / Lyytikainen, Minna and Barr, Corey (2010): Planning for Action on Women, Peace and Security. New York City, pp. 27 f.
10 Barrow, Amy (2016): Operationalizing Security Council Resolution 1325: The Role of National Action Plans. In: Journal of Conflict and Security Law 21, pp. 247, 248, 258.
11 1325naps.peacewomen.org (accessed May 15, 2022).
12 Hudson, Heidi (2017): The power of mixed messages: Women, peace, and security language in national action plans from Africa. In: Africa Spectrum 52, pp. 3, 7; Barrow, Amy (2016), pp. 247, 269.
13 Hudson, Heidi (2017), pp. 3, 7.
14 UN Women (2019): Increasing Womenʼs Participation in Mediation Processes: What Roles for the United Nations, Regional Organizations and Member States? Annex 2.
15 https://giwps.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/WPS-Index-2021.pdf (accessed May 15, 2022): The index was developed in 2017 and relates women’s participation and their access to justice to security statistics.
16 All NAPs are available at http://1325naps.peacewomen.org/index.php/nap-overview/ (accessed May 15, 2022).
17 SPIRI (2022): Press release of April 25, 2022. https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2022/world-military-expenditure-passes-2-trillion-first-time (accessed April 29, 2022). The plan refers to not only large military equipment but also small arms and light firearms, which can have a serious impact on the situation of women and children in conflicts. On this point, see https://amnesty-frauen.de/unsere-gruppe/themen/kleinwaffen/ (accessed May 18, 2022).
18 See endnote 16.
19 See endnote 16.
20 According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, https://ucdp.uu.se/country/452 (accessed May 15, 2022).
21 See endnote 19.
22 See endnote 19.
23 See endnote 19.
24 Brooks, Lewis and Daly, Felicity (2016): The Commonwealth is working to undo the British empire’s homophobic legacy. The Guardian, April 24, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/apr/24/criminalise-gay-sex-commonwealth-undo-british-empires-homophobic-legacy (accessed May 15, 2022).
25 http://1325naps.peacewomen.org/ (accessed May 15, 2022).
26 For a detailed discussion, see: Otto, Diane: Women, Peace and Security: A Critical Analysis of the Security Councilʼs Vision. In: Ní Aoláin, Fionnuala et al. (eds.) (2018): The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Conflict. Oxford, pp. 105, 111.
28 Chowdury, Anwarul Karim (2000): Peace Inextricably Linked with Equality Between Women and Men Says Security Council. International Women’s Day Statement, UN Security Council, 2000, Press Release SC/6816. www.peacewomen.org/node/98284 (accessed May 15, 2022).
29 Iileka, Nekwaya and Imene-Chanduru, Julia (2020): How Namibia helped birth UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, In: Africa Renewal, October 27, 2020. https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/october-2020/how-namibia-helped-birth-un-resolution-1325-women-peace-and-security (accessed May 15, 2022).
Maureen Macoun is a research associate at the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg, where she is currently pursuing a doctorate in international law under Prof. Dr. Sigrid Boysen. Her research centers on the role of women in peace processes, with a special focus on National Action Plans as an implementation strategy of the “Women, Peace, and Security” agenda. She studied law at the University of Hamburg and completed her legal clerkship in Schleswig-Holstein.